The immigrant’s son

I’ve been listening to Blamo! recently (which is an awesome podcast btw) on my work commutes and many of the interviewees mention their style influences come from their dads. My story is a little different and my dad definitely does not have a sense of style!

Arriving in Sydney from China as a little immigrant kid, I grew up on the streets of Cabramatta in the 90s. This was during the violent, drug rampant era where fights broke out on the streets, junkies were literally shooting up in the stairwell of the flat where we lived, and John Newman was assassinated. My primary school friends were all little hoodlums and the coolest shit back then were Nike hats, baggy sweats and massive baggy pants. Naturally we appropriated gang culture and gangsta rap tropes. For some reason the school principal at the time thought it wise not to enforce school uniform rules so me and my friends would turn up to school in our homie G attire. The only rule was we had to take our caps off during class. 

When I say I grew up the streets, I literally spent most of my days out with my friends. Being an only child, you’d think my parents would try to keep track of where I was but I just disappeared and came back at dinnertime. We would ride our bikes, go to my friend’s cousin’s house and watch movies on laser disc (yes, huuuuge laser discs), and let off firecrackers. I guess it was simpler times back then. Yeah there were junkies and drug dealers everywhere but you left them alone and they left you alone. They’d occasionally crack a slurred joke at you or ask for a hot chip but mostly they were too busy scoring or running away from the police.

I had this hat which I loved which was a black Nike cap with the white swoosh like Tiger Woods had. I wore that hat for years and the black was all faded to a browny maroon colour. One day I thought it would be a good idea to liquid paper my name on the inside because I saw my friend do it, and the liquid paper went through to the other side and it looked like I had a semen stain on my head. I was devo for days. But then I just coloured it in with a black permanent marker and kept wearing it (it looked like shit but my parents were never going to buy me another one).

I wouldn’t say we were poor. Poor is not knowing where your next meal is coming from. But we had buckets for seats for a few weeks before we got some donated furniture and my dad had to work three jobs to make ends meet. I remember this one couch had a ripped seam under the cushion and I’d reach in there every now and then and find a toy which I thought was cool at the time but now I think about it, it’s kinda gross. My mum once bought me a Sportsgirl hoodie before I could understand English and then eventually when I worked out what it said, she sewed a teddy bear over the “girl” part.

We didn’t really bring anything from China except the essentials so I didn’t own anything of sentimental value until I was a teenager and we visited my grandparents for the first time since we moved. He presented me with his old watch, an Omega from the 70s on one of those cool old expanding bracelets. It actually still kept relatively good time. He probably shouldn’t have entrusted me with such a delicate item… I wore it for a year, winding it up every day. And then one day it just stopped. Knowing what I know now, it was probably in severe need of a service and something likely went bang inside. I still have it and I’m planning to get it fixed in the near future. I think that’s what got me interested in mechanical watches in the first place. That and my mum used to work in a watch factory in China and she would explain to me how they worked and I always thought that was cool.

When I started working and started buying clothes for myself, I was baffled by the choice so I did what most other guys did and aped what I saw other guys wear. I was always a bit averse to the trendiest things so I would usually fall a bit short of the latest skinny pants or hairdos. I guess it was from a fear of fucking up or standing out (which is probably true of most men). I don’t know exactly when but the thing about me is that I’m a little bit borderline obsessive compulsive so one day I realised I could do better than just follow everyone else. I think it’s probably an age thing. Somewhere along the way I just said “fuck it” and started wearing what I wanted to wear. The confidence comes with age and experience too. The fear of standing out or making mistakes just doesn’t carry as much weight anymore. It is expensive road of trial and error. Like most people who didn’t have a lot when they were younger, I did go through the phase of acquiring way too much shit way too early.

And this is an age thing too: I started to buy into the whole buy less buy better thing. I’m not quite there yet… Now it seems to just be buy better but not necessarily less. I’m not the only one who thinks like that. My wife often gifts me things that are “heirloom quality”. I think, being kids of first generation immigrants, you feel the need to start your own traditions and create sentimental items for your kids. Maybe in a few generations, my great grandchild might have this awesome vintage Atomic espresso maker that they cherish.

It’s probably a romanticising of a bygone era too. Who knows if non-immigrant dads even teach their sons how to tie a tie or shave with a safety razor anymore. The internet seems to be educating our generation such that we are teaching our dads how to tie a tie. But someone’s got to fill the cup of knowledge so it can fill the next cup. Even if I can just instill a little interest in my son to start him off, that would make me happy.

My wife asked me “What if he doesn’t want your watch?”
I answered “I don’t know of any son who doesn’t want their father’s watch”.

But I was momentarily panicked as the thought had never even occurred to me. Hopefully he will just listen to my stories and see the dents and scratches on the steel and what they represent. Plus he’s constantly trying to steal it already…

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