On Leaving Chiang Mai

One night this week, as I was zooming along the outside of the city moat on my way to the North Gate Jazz Co-op, I passed what could only be described as a Thai hipster fixie convention. They gathered in their tens outside of Velocity, a bicycle shop on the north side of the moat, with their skinny black jeans, tattoos, stretched earlobes, and über-cool haircuts. And they all had fixies.

Now, some of you might not know what a hipster is or, indeed, what a fixie is. Let me explain.

A hipster is a category of youth subculture, known for a fairly understated but distinctive attire that usually consists of dark, tight-fitting jeans, hoodies or t-shirts, often with obscure cultural allusions or ironic messages, and bicycle hats, beanies, or fedoras. Tattoos and piercings are generally de rigueur.

Many wear ironic-looking glasses, meaning that on somebody else they might look dorky, but on the hipster they are the height of fashion. The glasses speak with confidence about the hipster’s ability to transform the mundane, the tedious, the gauche into the impertinent, the daring, the innovative with just a hint of ironic self-consciousness. Ditto for ironic-looking mustaches.

Don't Hate, Appreciate: Mission Hipsters

Hipsters tend to like independent music and film and are often of an intellectual or artistic bent. According to negative stereotypes, they are apathetic, phlegmatic, and supercilious. In short, they are too cool for school.

I was first exposed to the hipster genus in the San Francisco Mission District, where they are a dime a dozen. Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood is also notorious for its hipsters.

Let me come clean here and declare right off the bat that I ♥ hipsters. And I’m not being ironic. Amongst the general population it seems to be rather fashionable to hate hipsters, but I cannot condone this hatred.

The arguments I hear about why it is appropriate to direct one’s contempt at hipsters is that they all look alike and are unoriginal trend-followers posing as balkers of convention, inverters of fashion, as unique individuals who refuse to conform to society’s mores. To this I say: whatevs.

For a start, just because one likes to dress in a way that is against mainstream culture, it doesn’t follow that one cannot dress like anybody else. Hipsters need a sense of belonging just as much as anybody else, and their dress code serves to identify them as part of that particular subculture. Why should we hate them for that? Hipster haters, as far as I can tell, are just projecting their own insecurities about individuality and conformity onto the hipsters they hate. They should turn the mirror inwards and leave the hipsters alone.

I ♥ Hipsters

If we’re talking about hipsters who hate other hipsters for being hipsters, well that’s a different issue altogether. This is the only group of hipsters it is permissible to hate, as far as I’m concerned, which is why I “like” this Facebook page a Mission hipster friend of mine created: Hipsters who Hate Hipsters who Hate Other Hipsters for Being Hipsters. ‘Nuff said.

Another reason hipsters might dress alike is that the clothing is quite functional, given the hipster lifestyle. Big baggy jeans are not going to work so well on a bicycle, now are they?

And here we have another reason to love hipsters—they often travel by bike. Surely, we should extol the virtues of any group of individuals that encourages us to ditch the gas-guzzlers in favor of human-powered, energy-efficient, environmentally-sustainable transportation. All praise the hipsters!

Which gets us to the fixies. A “fixie” is a fixed-gear (or fixed-wheel) bicycle. It has one speed only. There is no coasting on a fixie because if the wheels are moving, so are the pedals, which allows the rider to stop without a brake, to stay stopped (at a light, say) without putting a foot to the ground, and also to ride in reverse.

A "Fixie" or Fixed-gear Bicycle

Riding around a corner and stopping safely might be tricky for the novice fixie rider and accidents are common in the early days of fixie use. There are, apparently, advantages to the fixed-geared bicycle, though I don’t really know what they are. It has always been a mystery to me why hipsters love their fixies, but it is an empirically undeniable truth that they do.

And now, I have discovered, it is a universal truth. Thai hipsters also love their fixies.

In the past month or so, all of a sudden I’ve been seeing gaggles of Thai hipsters riding around Chiang Mai on their fixies. One Friday night I thought perhaps that Critical Mass, the massive monthly biking event that originated in San Francisco in the nineties, had reached Thailand. And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get more exciting, the hipster fixie convention outside of Velocity.

As I zoomed past on my scooter (I was a mod in my teens, hence the scooter), I thought about stopping to join the party, see what was going on. But I didn’t.

It was not because I thought the hipsters would sneer at me. They might be hipsters, but they are still Thai and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Thai person sneer in my life, so I was not worried about that. No, it was more that I didn’t have the need to stop. Just knowing they exist is enough for me.

I continued along the moat road, then did a U-turn to get inside the old city, where the North Gate Jazz Co-op is. I slowed down as I passed Velocity again from the inside and looked across the moat at the reveling hipsters on their bikes.

“Damn,” I thought, “I’m going to miss this city.”