Have you ever had a random encounter where you walked away thinking “What the fudge just happened?”

Like it was so surreal, you couldn’t possibly capture the essence of the encounter with words alone? That your words simply wouldn’t do it justice?

I had such an encounter. I won’t be able to reproduce the scene with great accuracy, but I think you’ll get the gist. Bear with me while I narrate my bizarro experience.

We were sitting outside of a café soaking in the sun’s warmth as we sipped our hot drinks and ate our pastries. We were on a short holiday at a seaside town on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, Australia.

An old man walked by and tapped my husband on the shoulder.

“Excuse me young man, could you watch over these while I get a trolley?”

My husband offered to carry the box of plastic hangers to where the man needed but the man declined. The old man needed the trolley for support while he walked several blocks towards his house and didn’t want to inconvenience my husband.

After retrieving a trolley from the nearby supermarket, the old man thanked my husband. Shortly after, the existence of two children and a woman suddenly became apparent to him. Gesturing to me, the old man told my husband that he had a pretty wife.

“You’re very pretty. Where do you come from?”

Knowing that he didn’t mean where I lived in Melbourne, I replied that I was Vietnamese even though technically, I considered myself Australian. But I knew he didn’t mean any offence and was curious about my heritage.

“Did you meet your pretty wife in Vietnam?”

My husband explained that we met as students while in University some twenty years ago.

“What do you do? How much do you make? 80K, 100K? Where do you live? Are you rich? You must be to have such a beautiful wife. I’m not saying you’re ugly. You’re a good-looking bloke yourself.”

He might as well have asked if I was a mail-order bride or a gold digger.

Turning to me, he asked if I had been in Australia long. It must have confused him hearing me speak English without an accent.

“I was born in Australia.” 

The conversation was ridiculous, but I wasn’t offended by his assumptions, just amused. He must not have met many Australian-born Asians.

“Have you got a friend you can introduce to me? My wife died of breast cancer decades ago. I’ve been alone for you wouldn’t believe how long.”

Bah! How do you respond to that?! After laughing awkwardly, I replied with no.

“How old do you think I am? Guess. Take a stab.”

If this wasn’t a loaded question… My husband said 78 while I said 68 to be safe.

“I’m 73 years old. I walk every day and go for a swim first thing when the water is cold. Asian women don’t really like going into the water. They don’t like wearing bikinis and getting into the sea, do they?”

“You look like you’re in your forties,” he said, looking at me.

Now, this when I felt offended. I didn’t care too much about his stereotyping of Asian women or his suggestion that my husband had scored a mail-order bride.

No, I was offended that he thought I was in my forties. I’m still two years off my forties thank you very much! Seriously, it’s a universal faux pas to even hint at a woman’s age. Old age must have addled this poor man’s brain. That’s the ONLY explanation for why he thought I was older than my years!

“Do you want to come to my house for beer? I live just a street away. Are you sure you don’t have a lady friend like you to introduce to me?”

The poor man was lonely and just wanted to have a yarn – I could understand that. While I have a soft spot for the elderly and usually didn’t mind humouring people, we did have to be somewhere. So we ended the conversation and parted ways.

When I’m a dotty old lady and craving companionship and conversation, I wonder if young people will spare a moment to indulge me?

If they do, I’ll be sure to keep my opinions to myself… especially when it comes to a woman’s age.

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