I’ve been thinking lately about growing older. I suppose I’m the right age for that, having turned 54 this year. Though actually, I had my first midlife crisis back when I was 27, so this aging thing has been a periodic preoccupation for me. Like they say, getting older certainly beats the alternative. And currently, I find myself wanting to do new things: like I acted, playing a character for the first time, in Offender Quentin’s upcoming feature WHITE FROG. Also, I’ve learned that I enjoy cooking for my family (for some really easy, yet really tasty, recipes, I recommend Ming Tsai’s book SIMPLY MING). Moreover, I’ve started rediscovering some earlier interests. Back in college and during my 20’s, I was a jazz and electric violinist. I’d let my music go over the decades, but recently, I picked my instrument up again and started playing some gigs. So, as midlife crises go, this one’s been pretty enjoyable and constructive.
One compensation of getting older if you’re Asian American, is that people tend to think you’re younger than you actually are. Sometimes when friends point this out, I reply that looking younger now makes up for having spent my early-20’s looking like a 15 year-old, which was no fun at all. A middle-aged Asian guy once shared with me his theory about this: he believed that Asian males develop physically more slowly than our non-Asian counterparts. It seemed like a wacky idea at the time, but over the years, the notion has sorta stuck in my head. I mean, I do think I hit puberty later than most of my friends, and it didn’t finish for me til I was like 22. Whereas in general, we tend think of puberty happening, what, like between 12 and 18-19, right?
I figure the Offenders are as good a group as any to poll on this issue. Is it possible that Asians, as a very broad generalization, are physical “late bloomers,” which then ends up being advantageous in middle age? (This guy’s theory concerned men, but let’s include
women too.) Or is the whole notion ridiculous and my own experience was just a personal thing?
And here’s a bonus question: in my mind, I think I’m still 35. How old are you in your own mind?
JEROME: I’ll field the bonus question. I feel like my body is a vessel for my brain, which is itself a time-traveling entity. The only restriction in its chronological travels is that it can travel only to my body at any given time. Of course in order for my brain to do this, it must swap places with the brain in the body it wants to inhabit.
So say I am 35 and my 35-year-old brain wants to go to 50-year-old me – to do this, the 50-year-old brain must in turn inhabit my 35-year-old body.
What I am trying to say in a roundabout way is that my mental age fluctuates constantly. The day my brain age becomes less than fluid – well, let’s just say that’ll be a sad, sad day.
QUENTIN: Believe or not, I’ve always identified with middle-aged American housewives since a teenager. Maybe I watched too many Steven Spielberg movies as a kid. And I seem to get along with middle-aged American women. I remember meeting my friend Tara working on my friend’s set in the summer of 1998 (I was 27 then) and I totally bonded with her. After the shoot, I spent 2 weeks with her in her New York apartment doing everything together from Taibo to hanging out in Central Park. Now I’m finally middle-aged and am trying to find the balance between things you do in your 20s and “mature” adult things. And I hope life is always an adventure. It’s interesting to note how we view ourselves in America vs. in Asia. In America I feel more Asian and in Asia I feel more American. Particularly in Hong Kong I’m put in the median of people (or friends) my age, I feel even more different and I’d like to treat each of our experience as personal and unique as possible.
ROGER: Hmm… You pose a very interesting question Mr. Hwang. Do Asian’s age slower than other flavors of people on Earth?
Like you, my puberty came later when compared to my white, black, and brown counterparts. Junior high sucked big time for this very reason. It made me want to take a sharpie to color in some patch so that I had some mane to envy while being forced to partake in communal showers after gym class. It was equivalent to water-boarding, just worse.
Day one of my freshman year in high school I clocked in at 5’2” and 98 pounds. Upon graduation, I was 5’10” and about 135 pounds. Finally, by my junior year in college, I peaked at 6’1” and 185 pounds. My penis evolved accordingly. So yeah, I did not fully pubercize until about 21/22 years of age.
Now I’m no scientist (but I played one on TV), but if I had to make an educated guess to support the theory that Asians age slower than other races, I would say this – our cells divide slower. Somehow through evolution or evolutionary accident, our yellow-bodied cells carry DNA telling them to divide slower. There’s that theory that the body you’re born with is not the body that your sport today – that all the cells that you originated with divided a new you (over and over and over again) and the old you died along with the old cells. Continuing with this theory, science generally agrees that a single human cell, in a perfect world of no accident and disease, can divide and replicate itself up to about 121 years. And upon that time, all the other cells that make up a human being’s being (organs, bones, nerves, etc) will retire too. Almost all of us will not live long enough to test this cell division ceiling since many of us shorten our lifespan with the drink, the smoke, the dope, stress, fatty foods, and random, lethal cougar attacks.
So yeah, I support your theory Mr. Hwang. I believe Asians age slower than other races of humans. That being said, I will continue to use heavy moisturizer and cream in anticipation of becoming the first human to test the 121 year, cell-divide ceiling. What better way to cement this myth into scientific theory than to be over a century old, yet look like the Asian Justin Bieber. : )
ANDERSON: I absolutely think that Asians age slower, but then again, I also believe that there is a more drastic transformation from our younger self to our senior citizen self. White people tend to age quicker, but the transition is pretty constant. For Asians, from say 19 through 55, we’ll look relatively the same, but then BAM!, overnight, we’ve aged 50 years, wearing visors to cover our faces, power walk in the Mall, and eat lots of Bitter Melon.
ELAINE: I second the late bloomer syndrome and have managed to survive my mid age by still passing for younger. It’s my grumpiness though that gives my age away. That said I am bracing myself for that day when I wake up, look in the mirror and see myself with puffy, black permed hair – the hairstyle of choice by all aging Asian ladies who need the extra volume to plump up the thinning hair. I’ll have to get the knock off Christian Dior 80s saucer sized sun glasses to compliment. Age-wise, I feel very much 28 going on 65. Absorbed and stimulated by work and play, but ready at any moment to retire and putter around while eating bonbons and watching late night tv.
PHILIP: This is all interesting, haven’t thought of it in this way. Just assumed Asians were blessed with good genes. But makes sense to me–personally I feel 18 but more 18 than when I was 18 ‘cause I had a lot of teenage angst back then which probably prevented me from enjoying life as much as I should have. Now it’s more about embracing and appreciating life with that mindset of waking up everyday with the attitude that anything is possible and to make the most of things. That probably also means I’m a lot more immature than I should be. But fuck it–I feel good and there’s plenty of time to get old and respectable later.
IRIS: I actually sprouted quickly and since I was usually one of the tallest kids in class until Junior High, everyone thought I was older. In my teens, people thought I was in my twenties. I don’t know if that ruins your theory. But after college, I guess people generally thought I looked younger than my age. I’d like to think that I’m still young at heart, but after I got married, I inherited a gaggle of nephews and nieces–a few that are now old enough to be in college. That’s a real bubble burster being called “Auntie Iris” by full grown adults.
EMMIE: Your theory makes sense to me. While it’s true that younger Asian men can eternally look like they’re 18 (which, IMO, is a great thing – but I can understand how it would be frustrating/annoying in key circumstances), older Asian guys look awesome and hot for their age, and much better, I’d say, than Caucasian fellows.
My (Asian) friend Calvin once announced that because Asian females look youthful well into their 30’s, they are fertile/of healthy child-bearing age for an extended period of time. He went on to name several friends who had gotten pregnant with no problem at ages 39, 40, 41. I don’t totally buy into his belief since I know a few Asians who’ve had trouble conceiving in their early or mid-30’s, but I like the idea.
I wonder, do older Asian men and women have more energy/vitality than older non-Asians? If so, that would provide nice support for the hypothesis.
Regarding age, I’ve had “50” in my head for the past few years. I should try a new number (99? 120?), especially since I seem to injure myself easily while getting my exercise on. A friend recently suggested that I consider myself 20, and that my body would respond accordingly.
When I was a kid, my dad used to say, “You might think you are young now, but before you know it, you’ll be 40, and then 50, and then 60 years old! Don’t think you are young now! You are not young!!!!!”
I don’t remember when the “feeling old” thing hit me; it may have been at 16. Definitely by 22.
On an unrelated note, it’s very cool that you can play jazz violin.
ALFREDO: you wanna cruel reality check? Go to your high school reunion (and I’m not talking the tenth, either – that’s still baby fat and pimples, far as I’m concerned). You will be shocked. You will think, “Ohmigod, they look so old! Thank God I don’t look like–HOLY CRAP–is that me in that picture?!” Breathe. Breathe. 1-2-3,-3-2-1. Breathe. Breathe.
But then it all becomes relative. Once you start chatting, and you see who’s given up and shoots off the bored/quietly despairing-middle-aged-vibe, and who is still fighting, laughing, struggling, crying and trying, then suddenly the same paunchy guys and gals born on the same year can seem decades apart. For that reason alone, I practice a strict regimen of daily laughing and crying. It confuses my kids, but they’ll understand. One day.