The comedy and the irony of no one knowing your age
From the funny, the flattering, and the fantastic, anecdotes of a life where age is but a numbers game
I am eternally grateful to my Spanish grandfather for many things: from the shape of my nose to the desirability of my passport. But to my Asian genes I credit a commodity far more elusive and far more desirable, at least to Caucasians: eternal youth, or a semblance of it.
Asians don’t age, my ex-husband (British, white, condescending—you know the type) once observed.
Yes, I nodded, but we mature. Caucasians, on the other hand, age but do not necessarily mature.
Of course I was speaking then about one particular Caucasian.
Through the decades, I have often been mistaken for being younger than I really am, and of course I have delighted in the compliments. Who wouldn’t be chuffed to have a group of 16-year-old boys ask you to the movies this coming Friday while you, a recent bride of 26, are lounging by the pool in Hongkong Parkview? Who wouldn’t be amused and secretly thrilled when 10 year-old kids playing in front of your house in Amman, Jordan, ask you how old you are, and when you say talateen (30), they insist on correcting you and saying, “13 is talatash, not talateen!” Who wouldn’t be surprised and frankly giddy when a 25-year-old hunk hits on your 47-year-old self, thinking you can’t be more than 35? And who wouldn’t be tickled pink when a 19-year-old student (half-English, half-Sicilian, natch) mistakes you, now all of 52, for a fellow student when you settle your own 19-year-old daughter into her dorm room at university? I mean, that took the cake. It’s easy to be blithe about aging when you are somewhat blessed with the youthfulness gene. While other people fret about their sagging jowls and dulling skin, the dread you profess about the inexorable onslaught of wrinkles is more affected and sympathetic rather than real. You realize as you get older, while the non-Asians around you complain about wrinkles that have marked foreheads and pushed mouths downward a decade or two before they should, that growing up in the tropics, railing incessantly about the sweltering heat, has actually been the best thing: the very humidity that kept you fanning yourself maniacally and dabbing at your face with a tissue is the secret talisman that kept your skin wonderfully plumped and moisturized.
That has held true no matter the unforgiving climes I have found myself living in through most of my adult life, be it in the intense but arid heat of Jordan, the biting winters of Paris, the mercurial seasons of England, the endless blue skies but parched air of Johannesburg. Of course, I slathered myself with moisturizer, but whether the brand was La Prairie or Decleor or Biotherm or Nivea or Dr. Brandt or even Savane, the certified organic South African skincare range I helped launch, my routine was basic and fuss-free: cleanse, tone, and moisturize, perhaps exfoliate once a week. As I got older, I added a serum and facial oil at night-time, and fitted in a facial when I could, but otherwise I eschewed fillers or Botox or surgery.
Nature continues to be kind, I will admit, but I’d like to think that approaching life with a certain fearlessness keeps me youthful. As do humor and grace. And getting out of a bad marriage.