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.

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