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Smoke and Mirrors: A Wet Shaver's Guide To Hookah (Part 1)

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smoking hookah

Mark posted on Reddit’s Wicked_Edge subreddit, asking for help and input from wet shavers on writing an article about hookah. Well I nearly jumped out of my skin when I read that, because those are my favorite two hobbies that I’m very passionate about. My friends would call me mildly obsessed, you’ll probably find them saying things like “Yeah, he’s REALLY into shaving and hookah bars. It’s kind of weird.” So I had to jump at the opportunity and provide my two cents. Especially since I owe pretty much everything I’ve learned about traditional wet shaving to Mark’s Mantic59 video series on YouTube, as well as the very well written article on Art of Manliness that eventually led me to his videos. So this is me paying it forward and giving back.

I want to begin by an excellent comment on Mark’s Reddit post by user ak_doug that perfectly sums up what I was thinking and what I’ll be getting into on this article in a nutshell:

“That is a very interesting article subject, a hookah is a better way to enjoy smoking, but is viewed as old fashioned and weird. The water filtering makes it much smoother, and the coal heat is much better than burning the tobacco. It takes a bit more time, and more upfront cost, but makes for a much more pleasant experience and lower cost in the long run.”

This hits the nail straight on the head as a good summary, so let’s begin.    

My “Qualifications”

First off a brief background on who I am and why I feel I’m pretty well qualified and versed to speak on this subject. Now I don’t consider myself an expert on either subjects by any means…but I can definitely say with confidence I have sufficient experience on both subject to provide some good insights.

First off I am Pakistani, and with my ethnicity usually comes with the genetic curse/blessing of having very thick and coarse facial hair. As I’m writing this article, I am 25 years old. I started shaving around the tender age of 13. By the age of 14 I had a full, thick beard. It had haunted and burdened me for YEARS of my adolescence; I had to constantly shave so I didn’t look like the wolf man all throughout middle school and beginning of high school. I currently live and grew up in Texas, so being one of few Pakistanis in my school my racial genetics made me the only boy my age with that thick and that much facial hair.

I only recently switched to wet shaving September 2012 and since then my face has been for the better. Modern multi-blade cartridge shaving was always left my face irritated and very dry. I literally had to shave every day, 5 o’clock shadow was usually there before noon. Here’s a picture of me in 2011 when I decided to participate in No-Shave-November at my office, this was about mid-way through the month.

I had never grown my facial hair longer than a week without trimming it, so as you see it becomes Viking-like in a short period of time. Since making the switch to traditional wet shaving, the techniques I’ve learned let me take control of my frantic follicles.

Hookah smoking has also been a huge passion of mine, there are plenty of hookah bars around where I live here in Dallas, Texas. It has become especially huge in the college scene, we have about a dozen or so hookah bars on my old college campus. So I’d frequent them on the weekends, we also have several smoke shops around and decided to buy a few hookahs myself. To this day I round up a gang of my friends on the weekends and go to new bars around my town. There was a time for about 3-4 months or so that my friends and I would go literally every weekend. It became a bit of an obsession. So I’ve become very well acquainted with the culture for the past few years. So enough about me already! Let’s get started.

Hookahs – What are they, their history and cultural impact

So if you don’t know already on what a hookah is, here’s a simple diagram with a bit of summary.

Much like wet shaving and all the terminology associated; it’s good to know the individual parts and terminology. Especially since most of these parts can be interchangeable and more importantly customizable (more on that later). But a lot of the words have synonyms (e.g., the water jar you will also hear called vase) so just be aware of that.

Hookahs are basically a water pipe. It’s generally accepted and seen as a traditional smoke pipe of the Middle Eastern cultures rather than a juvenile piece of paraphernalia. I like to call it – A Gentleman’s Bong.

It vaporizes tobacco (typically flavored) by filtering it through water in the vase into a cool, clear and clean smoke that is inhaled by a hose by one or several people at the same time. It’s a huge part of typical Middle Eastern culture and history. According to Wikipedia, it was invented around mid-1500s to late 1600s by an Indian emperor and used among the wealthy and noblemen in Persia and India, so it was essentially something used by gentlemen to purify smoke and enjoy. Apparently physicians believed it had health benefits, but we know now that’s far from the truth.

Here in the US, it is having a huge resurgence. Typically you’ll see these served in Middle Eastern themed bars and a lot Mediterranean restaurants to provide customers with the “back home” atmosphere. Since it is such a big part of Middle Eastern countries and cultures, my friends from Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and etc. say that essentially hookah bars are like the Starbucks and coffee shops of the Middle East. Just a casual leisurely getaway and a good way to pass time among friends, study, conduct business meeting among colleagues, enjoy music, eat some delicious shwarma and hummus and watch a belly dancer work her seductive hips. This is all translating and adapting very well into the college youth scene. So besides the obvious youth and Middle Eastern families, I also see more and more military members at these locations – perhaps do to time served overseas in the Middle East, they have adapted parts of their cultures over to their homeland. So we’re seeing a new face and crowd of young, hip, modern consumers.

This is very similar to the traditional wet shaving emergence we’re seeing today – with large corporations such as Procter & Gamble noticing that we’re slowly getting away from their modern multi-blade cartridge razors in favor of an old traditional money saving options. Their acquisition of Art of Shaving was a smart move that helped retain their modern Gillette shaver that turned into a traditional wet shaver. I personally attribute people switching back because of a combination of reasons; one being the nostalgic feeling we men grew up seeing our father’s and grandfather’s wet shave with a brush and old razor, so we want to go back to the traditional ways of being a gentlemen and feel like a man. Also due to the global economy and US specially suffering from a long time recession for the past decade, people becoming frugal and trying to cut cost any way possible. The savings that traditional wet shaving can entail is a very attractive reason. Others like myself were just not satisfied with their shave and skin condition, the “bad taste” modern shaving left in my mouth wanting for more. “There’s GOT to be a better way,” I thought.

Also similar to how barbershops are here in the US, these were very common in the early days – an old tradition and hobby where men shared stories and where there was commodore. You could sit back, have a beer, talk about your day, get business advice, have a laugh and etc. So hookah bars and very equivalent to barbershops, both being old traditional breeding grounds for young men in different cultural locations, but also attract many variety of people from any age or gender. Both also started as a way to better your health as recommended by early doctors and physicians would practice in Barbershops. Some barbershops also serve hookah in many parts of the Middle East, so you could have the whole “man cave” experience at a one-stop shop. We’re seeing both of these businesses make a comeback because it turns two basic things that traditionally men do: smoking and shaving, and turn them back into pleasurable hobbies.

I could also be said that cigarettes are the equivalent to modern cartridge or electric shaving. It’s quick, it’s easy but the overall outcome isn’t truly satisfying; you just get your quick fix and you’re out. It’s almost like a chore at times. Most active smokers buy a pack a week (extreme cases a few packs a day), so costs can add up. With hookah it’s more meditated, it takes time and it’s much more satisfying. Just like how people find smoking cigars relaxing and a pleasurable hobby. With cigarettes you’re basically treating yourself to “fast food” version of smoking. It’s the same analogy that modern cartridge shaving is “fast food” shaving, you get your fix – and you get out, again not very satisfying. To most it’s enough and all they need, but nothing beats a nice home cooked meal. Sure costs might seem cheaper for fast food at first, but if you buy your own groceries and take the time make your own meals, you’ll be saving money and leave feeling satisfied.

Part 2 coming next week….

Wajahat Khan

Wajahat Khan


16 thoughts on “Smoke and Mirrors: A Wet Shaver's Guide To Hookah (Part 1)”

  1. Thanks for this article Wajikay. As a cigar smoker living in SE Michigan, I’ve seen hookah bars and know of hookahs but never tried one. This has been a good read. I’ll be jumping over to read part two as soon as I can.

  2. An interesting article so far. I hope you will explore the actual use of the products in your next piece. I am a sometime pipe-smoker and would like to hear about tobacco selection, how the coals are used and so on. Tobacco pipe smokers have hundreds of choices for tobaccos and pipes. Is it the same for hookah users?

    1. Oh yes part 2 goes into detail of types or hookah and tobacco (and yes TONS of variety). This was originally one long article, was a bit lengthy so Mark decided to split it to two parts to keep it easy to follow.
      So thanks for your interest so far, hopefully you’ll enjoy part “deux” later this week.

  3. I’m your average gamer, ok i’m obsessed with gaming. I spend all my time in my house. I don’t like going to flashy places, loud places like movie theaters etc.. Being someone that’s been groomed; programmed by American culture “STAY INSIDE, THERE’S RAZORS IN THE APPLES AND AMERICANIZED KILLING BEES WITH M16’S ON THEIR BACKS”.
    With so much unnecessary fear and alert, green alert i like to call it. It’s nice to have a smoke every now and then in a relaxing environment.

    1. Dafuq bro. Lol.
      But yes. There’s tons of variety in hookah lounges too, most popular ones are loud and noisy like a nightclub. But traditionally they are VERY laid back and chill. Not too quiet with a light ambience of middle eastern tunes but it’s very relaxing. You should try medditerian themed restaurants vs the bar/club scene.

  4. I am of Lebanese descent, and I can tell you that a lot of old men smoke a waterpipe while watching television in the evenings.
    Normally it is used for smoking tobacco only, so the term Gentleman’s bong is not appropriate. The Lebanese prefer the Ajami tobacco from Iran as the Lebanese tobacco is pretty bad, the tobacco is cut and moistened with water, and squeezed into a plug inside a damp cloth, then placed on the pipe head, and pricked with a piece of wire before lighting with charcoal. Once it is alight, it will smoke for three hours or so. There is a real risk of getting tuberculosis from pipe sharing.
    I am a non smoker these days, but I used to have a water pipe or hookah. It was once regarded as the gentlemanly thing to do.

    1. My apologies. I just called it a “gentleman’s bong” cause I say silly things.
      Yeah I go into health risks and shisha types in part 2. I’m still a notive when it comes to hookah and shaving. This was just meant to be a comparative overview of hookah to wetshavers. I hope I’m doing justice to these topics.

      1. My apologies. I just called it a “gentleman’s bong” cause I say silly things.
        Yeah I go into health risks and shisha types in part 2. I’m still a novice when it comes to hookah and shaving. This was just meant to be a comparative overview of hookah to wetshavers. I hope I’m doing justice to these topics.

  5. Sounds like that guy up there is still in some kind of mourning from a loss… NO one could possibly trolling that hard about absolutely nothing at all. Good article waji.

  6. Sounds like a gimmick to make a disgusting and deadly habit seem less disgusting…Just another pusher pushing his addictive substance to the “newer” generation…Sad and pathetic…and it makes me wonder why any educated young person such as yourself would want to subject themselves to such a health risk. Have you ever seen someone struggling to breathe because their lungs are full of cancerous tissue? I have…there is nothing glorious about that…oh I know…It will never happen to you, right?

    1. Well this is just part one of the article. Part two will go into the obvious health risk. Nobody is forcing anyone to smoke anything, this is article food for thought for alternative ways of smoking. In fact if you notice, this website is branching of from a men’s shaving/grooming blog to a men’s lifestyle blog and smoking is a cultural and tradition men have shared. If you don’t wanna smoke then don’t. But I believe anything in moderation is ok, like alcohol for example can be as damaging if not more to your health if not kept in moderation obviously. So Hanukkah matata.

    2. Why do you have to be such a downer? Just let people enjoy what they want to enjoy. Its not hurting you, is it?

    3. I’ve seen people dying of lung cancer from tobacco, obesity from hamburgers, diabetes from soda, and liver failure from alcohol.
      Maybe I should give up all hamburgers, soda, and alcohol? Or I could just enjoy them as they were intended – in moderation. People who like to talk about their passion for fine cigars, or antique wooden pipes aren’t peddling their “habit”, they’re sharing an interest.
      Nobody claimed power-chiefing several hookahs a day wouldn’t have negative side-effects, but then again this article isn’t promoting that, so maybe be less of a sniveling twat for five minutes.

    4. Btw bud I HAVE seen first hand the negative effects, I’ve lost family members to it and never said “It won’t happen to me” you’re putting words in my mouth. It’s my choice how I live my life, so obviously I live with the consequences. I’m sure you sound like you lost someone near and dear to you but being bitter and judgmental toward others is not going to stop people from smoking. A positive nurturing environment is way more beneficial to quit addiction and bad habits. Also I’m not addicted to hookah, I said used to go often and now go on occasion with friends. Again just like drinking in moderation it’s ok in my book, so I get what you’re saying and respect where your coming from but I wrote a really long article that he decided to split into two parts. Part two has the health risks so I would watch out for the next one to get the FULL picture of what I’m saying.

  7. Make sure the hookah bottle is clean, otherwise you’re inhaling toxins and dirt into your lungs. It’s unpleasant and really messes you up.

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