Ivan Živković works as a hairdresser in Sombor. Until he decided to go on an adventure. He has signed on the cruiser „Queen Elizabeth” for nine months and sailed almost all around the world. In the new post on the blog you can read what he experienced there and why he is now back at home.
When I need a new haircut in Sombor, I have been going to the salon Žika at Sonćanski put for a couple of years. You quickly realize that everybody there knows his or her craft. Nevertheless, for a long time, I haven’t known that the owner Slobodan Živković is one of the best hairdressers in Serbia and member of the world championship team of his country. I didn’t expect that in the Vojvodina province.
His son Ivan, born in 1993, already follows in his father’s footsteps and knows his craft excellently. After he has been gone for a couple of months, I asked him where he had been. „I went to sea”, Ivan told me happily. „As a hairdresser?”, I asked. „Yes, of course. I have worked for nine months on the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and almost sailed all around the world.”
It is only on second thought that you realize you can go to sea as a hairdresser. But true, the big cruisers are swimming hotels and offer everything that clients wish, even a top hairdresser.
„I was trained by my father and have worked for almost five years in his salon. I had a lot of work and I was content. However, I thought, additional experience could help me grow. Out of the comfort zone! That’s how me and my father had the idea of the cruise. Due to his participation in many international competitions, my father knew the right people and a couple of weeks later it has already begun”, Ivan tells me over a coffee.
Hairdresser job started with a day off on Rhodes
He signed on a British company that has spa centres on about 150 cruisers worldwide. First, Ivan has had to go to London for training and preparation for a couple of weeks.
Then the big day was to come: The „Queen Elizabeth” was supposed to land on Rhodes and Ivan was supposed to go aboard. But due to strong winds the docking manoeuvre of the swimming colossus was prevented. Thus Ivan’s nine-month adventure at sea started with a day off on Rhodes.
The next day, the weather got better and Ivan was able to go aboard. Then the surprise! On his new workplace he met Ema. She is from Stapar near Sombor and worked as a fitness trainer in Novi Sad. They knew each other and Ivan had went to school with her brother. Who would have thought: Two people from the municipality of Sombor work in the same department on a big cruiser.
Ivan had to get used to his new working environment first. He says: „The ‘Queen Elizabeth’ has 13 floors that are each divided into the areas A, B and C. The hallways are like broad streets with a lot of traffic. More than 1,000 people work on board and take care of about 2,000 passengers.”
While the spa centre offers a sea view, the cabins for the crew are situated inside of the tub. „The whole time, I shared my cabin with Giuseppe, an Italian. He was a nice guy, but it was actually tight – warm, no fresh air, a miniature bathroom, a TV and a bunk bed. That was it.”
The first days of work were really exhausting and in the evening he just fell asleep, Ivan remembers. At the spa centre, where he took care of the hairstyles of the guests, the clients could get pampered from head to toe: fitness, manicure, pedicure, beauty, massage, physical therapy – there was everything. Working hours from 7.30 am to 9.30 pm, a break of one hour each for lunch and supper.
Watching dolphins during hairedressing
The spa and salon were perfectly furnished – everything was very classy in a sedate British style. „I really liked that. Perhaps we’ll do that some time in Sombor”, says Ivan laughing.
„Sometimes we were accompanied by dolphins at sea. Then everybody jumped up and ran to the large window in order to watch the animals gliding in and out of the water – those are great experiences you will never forget”, he tells happily.
While Ivan at times allows himself a coffee and a cigarette at home, waiting for the next client, on board it is stressful from morning to night: „If you had no clients, you would stand in front of the spa area in the hallway and address guests who stroll around there. You have to show presence, present yourself, speak to people from all over the world in English and promote your business. That’s how it works. That is rather an American style of attracting clients. In the end it is about sales because the passengers have to pay extra for the spa and many other offers aboard.”
Gradually, says Ivan, on longer journeys, you get your own clientele. The people are as different as the countries they come from. „Some want to talk and be entertained, then, beside hairdressing, you also have to show some acting skills”, Ivan says smiling. Others prefer browsing a magazine in peace.
The first weeks, the „Queen Elizabeth” cruised with Ivan in the Mediterranean Sea. Afterwards, they made a trip to Hamburg, and from its home port Southampton the great Atlantic crossing started: „Soon it got really stormy out on the Atlantic Ocean. The cruiser has swivelled sideways for four days and we had to hold or tie everything in the salon. All trolleys with our equipment or the rotating wash stands – nothing was allowed to roll or fly through the salon and be able to hurt somebody. Cutting hair in such conditions is really a totally new experience.”
In between, Ivan also had a couple of free days. In the Mediterranean Sea he visited Dubrovnik, Kotor, Istanbul and Barcelona. Later, also Hamburg. He was especially looking forward to seeing America: New York, the Panama Canal, San Francisco and Hawaii.
The strict decisions of the US services
However, a huge disappointment in New York: the US immigration services didn’t grant him going ashore. „I’m young, I don’t have a family at home and it was my first time on a ship – it seems they were afraid I would run away and immigrate.” Even today he seems disappointed while talking about it. Other crew members didn’t have luck, too, and had to live with the strict decisions of the services.
As the entry had been denied for the whole United States, it meant for Ivan that he hasn’t been allowed to go ashore for hard four weeks. He was only allowed to go ashore in Mexico and Costa Rica. He was only able to see the US East Coast, San Francisco and Hawaii from the ship.
He experienced his personal highlight in New Zealand: „Auckland was my favourite city. I think I would be able to live there immediately. The people were so nice and relaxed, there was really a pleasant atmosphere in the city”, Ivan remembers.
Sydney also impressed the young hairdresser. The „Queen Elizabeth” docked near the famous opera. He and his colleagues had plenty of time to visit the city, to snorkel in the blue waters („fish like in an aquarium”) and to get a heavy Australian sunburn at the endless beaches. They fell asleep at the beach and almost missed the departure of their ship.
The ship sailed from Sydney to Asia and landed in Kobe (Japan), Shanghai and Hong Kong (both in China). But after nine months at sea and numerous cities, Ivan was jaded with impressions. „In Asia it was too stressful and hectic. I was just looking forward to coming home.”
„The last three weeks were the most relaxing part of the journey. I knew I would be home soon, I had made it and I had stood up to all pressures and challenges. Then me and my colleagues partied hard on our days off.”
On board there was a special lifestyle that you are not able to find anywhere ashore, he remembers. The „Queen Elizabeth” was a statement to British culture and tradition, even though it was only launched in 2010.
„And you meet a lot of interesting and even a couple of crazy people. An almost 90-year old British lady was on her eleventh trip around the world. She has lived for about five years on the ship.”
„Sombor has its charm”
And what did he take back to Sombor out of it, I ask Ivan: „I got to know a lot of colleagues from all over the world. And I gained a lot of experience. For all the things you do, experience and learn in nine months on board, you would need several years ashore”, he says.
Of course, I want to know if with all this international experience he now wants to move to a bigger city. „No”, Ivan says pensively. „Sombor has its charm. And: You don’t have to work in a big city to become successful and content. Years ago, my father also made the decision to stay in Sombor – in spite of international offers. My brother, my sister, my father and his sister work in this salon. My mother does the beauty. Here we have a great work-life and family balance. I attach great importance on that and I don’t want to give it up.”
I’m glad. My hairdresser stays in Sombor.
Recently, the family opened a new salon in the pedestrian precinct in Sombor.
Map: Here you will find salon Žika in Sombor
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Translation: Aleksandra Davidović, Belgrade