After my haircut this morning, I went down to Chinatown to pick up some groceries and goods. Whenever I go to specific stores or street carts over the last 15 years of living in New York City, the vendors and workers have always addressed me the same way by calling me “mui mui” or “moi moi” (Cantonese or Toisan for “little sister,” which is how a younger woman/girl is addressed in a semi-affectionate/friendly manner). Usually when you get older, people will either call you “jie jie” (big sister) or even “tai tai” (married woman). But that’s never happened to me in any Chinatown I’ve visited, whether it was 15 years ago or now. The funny thing I did notice between 2008 and 2019 when I visited Vietnam was that in 2008, everyone addressed me as “little sister” there, but in 2019, everyone addressed me as “big sister,” so clearly in their eyes, I was “older” the second time around.
I was meeting Chris for lunch and wanted to try a place that had been on my list but I hadn’t eaten at yet, so I chose S Wan Cafe, a hole-in-the-wall Hong Kong style cafe that had been around forever, but was a true “locals” joint; everyone in there was speaking either Cantonese or Toisan, and they were all older than me. There were barely four tables in there, and the vast majority of people ordering were doing takeout. When Chris came in, he realized how “local” and no-frills it felt, and he said he was adding diversity to the place as the only non-Chinese person there. I told him that I was adding diversity because I was younger. He kind of scoffed at me and said that I wasn’t actually much younger than some of the women in there, who could easily have been in their mid forties if not even younger. I retorted back, okay, maybe, but I look younger than most of the people here!
That’s the thing, though. Even though at heart, I don’t feel old, and I certainly look and sound younger than I am, the truth is that yes, I am getting older every day like everyone else. I’m 37 years old and quickly approaching “middle age.” In Chinatown for whatever reason, I rarely think or feel this because of how I am treated and addressed. But then I thought: how would I get treated if people actually did realize I wasn’t some 20- or early 30-something year old person, and I was actually in my late 30s and quickly approaching my 40s? Would the treatment actually get better or worse? Would there be any deferential treatment at all? I’m not sure.