“Hey Suwen, there’s this Fringe show where you ride your bike around the city at 3am until sunrise. Do you want to do it with me?” said my dad.
My dad is a 63-year-old retired accountant who brings his own Chinese tea leaves to Chinese restaurants because he thinks the tea served isn’t good enough.
“Um, no,” I replied. I looked at my dad closely. He looked like a normal middle-aged Asian man but I knew the truth. He wasn’t normal at all. He was a middle-aged Asian hipster.
Memories of my dad when I was school-aged is that of any regular Asian dad. He mowed the lawn with an accountant’s precision, got drunk when he played mah-jong and told me to study medicine in year 12. But when he retired, the veneer was shed.
I remember innocently speaking to my brother about quinoa one day.
“Quinoa!” my dad exclaimed. “The South Americans have been eating that for years. You people think you discovered it.” He looked at us in disgust. I looked at him in perplexity. Since when was my dad a spokesperson for the gentrified seeds of the world? When did he start caring?
I suppose I should have expected it. There were signs earlier in my life when I’d been too self-absorbed to notice. Like my dad sneaking us into a Tibetan town when I was 14 that we, as technically Western tourists, shouldn’t have been allowed in. There was a 12-hour bus ride during which I’m quite sure I went into urinary retention. There was a minute of bated breath when police came on the bus at the border. Then there was my dad inhaling the yak-scented Tibetan air and dancing unreservedly in the town square with the locals.
It’s only 11 years later that it occurs to me that this is kind of a strange holiday to take your family on. A holiday someone perhaps in their twenties whose favorite butter is made of almonds might enjoy. Not someone like my dad. He might look like he dresses in a cultivated normcore fashion but that’s just how he dresses.
My dad went on a solo trip to Iran last year. He booked a one-way ticket there because he wasn’t sure how long it would take him to meander through this country of burgeoning political unrest. He stayed in guesthouses and hostels he would randomly wander into at 8.30pm and call us every two weeks to tell us about all the barbari bread he’d been eating.
Eventually, he came back with three boxes of dates. He looked slightly more emaciated than I remembered. Almost like one of those bedraggled hipster varieties who eschews most forms of modern medicine, preferring the salty ocean air and an open night sky to antibiotics.
“That was slightly harder than I thought it was going to be,” he said.
“Thanks for the dates, Dad,” I replied.
For the last two months, my dad has been cycling through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia by himself. With his 63-year-old osteoarthritic knees and subpar visual acuity.
“I’ve been in an accident,” said my dad last night over the phone. “I was cycling when these two motorbikes collided. One of them slid across the road and hit me. I’m okay.”
You might be okay… but are you normal? That’s what I want to say to my dad most of the time. When he makes feijoada because he watched it on some Brazilian foreign language movie when he was up at 3am. When he urges me to go to Cuba for my overseas university elective so I can fully appreciate this time-trapped country before the US embargo is lifted. But then he salts his own duck eggs and I’m reminded that he may be borderline OG hipster but brewing scobies may be one step too far for him.
I call my dad a hipster in disguise but I wonder if that is really the term I should be using. If we consider a hipster to be someone who spurns the mainstream then I suppose he is. But on closer inspection, I think he is a variety of human being unto himself.
Sometimes I wonder what my dad would be like if he was born in 1993 like me. If he was born in Australia and not on a plantation in Malaysia with 20 siblings. Would he be a bearded, vegan leather aficionado (limited by his Asian facial hair shortcomings) or would he be an accounting student with a penchant for questionable overseas travel? Is he a product of his upbringing or just a bizarre prototype?
My dad is a weird mixture of pragmatism and straight-up crazy. He won’t let me travel anywhere without travel insurance but encourages me to travel to countries under communist rule. He taught me how to drive, how to file a tax return and how to securely store my passwords. He taught me you don’t have to be a privileged White male to be a (maybe) hipster. He’s taught me a lot.