The (un)kindness of strangers

I was at the shopping centre yesterday, and the shop’s assistant kept calling me 姐姐 (older sister). Except~ at the end, after I paid, when suddenly she switched to 妹妹 (younger sister).

No idea what that was about, but I didn’t like.

And aside from Eldest Daughter trauma and the general meh of “don’t try to feign an intimacy you don’t feel just to make a sale, it triggers me because I’ve been lied to far too many times by worse people for pettier causes”, I was struck by the gut reaction of “oh no, I thought this person was older than me when I looked at her, and her calling me ‘older sister’ is oh no” that I had.

I couldn’t resist asking the friend I was with, “did the shop assistant look younger than me? It’s okay, just tell me the truth”, and my friend left it at “yeah, she did”.

So there I was sat, with my feelings I didn’t want, and I had to sort through them all.

It wasn’t just “where’s the brain bleach, I wanna wash the ageism right out of myself”.

Not just “oh whoa, ouch, personal perception fail”.

But also, after having to come to terms of “what it means to be a fat woman in our gods-forsaken society, but especially in Taiwan”, and “how it feels to be disabled, chronically ill, and with the accompanying lack of gainful employment in our capitalist environs”, apparently now it’s time to really deal with “being seen as old, with all its accompanying terrible connotations, in a world that prizes youth”.

I should clarify here that I have been uncannily privileged for most of my life in some aspects with regards perception of age.

I was mistaken for a grade schooler when I was 18.

People assumed I was shortly out of college when I did grad school around 30.

Often, people will think my younger brother (by 5 years) is older. My younger cousins (by 8 years) have been mistaken for the eldest out of the three of us on multiple occasions.

I thought it wasn’t something I really valued, because many people are assholes and try to get away with denying you your rights and paid services when they think you appear younger, particularly in Taiwan.

Yesterday was an extremely rude wake-up call.

I had a sleep on it, and it came muzzily to me in the tangle of half-waking: it isn’t really about anything, except the (un)kindness of strangers.

The gut-deep feeling of “oh no”, so much of it was bound up in “ah, one more thing that will make more strangers be disinclined to help me if I need it”.

I saw someone say, yesterday, part of the reason I suddenly asked that question of my friend:
“I hate being 38, even though the specifics of my life are much better than they were at 23. The potential feels much more constrained. This has been the best year of my adult life. It feels ok. It’s fine. When I was 23, my life sucked so much, but it felt more plausible it’d yet go somewhere.” – Sridhar Ramesh (

I don’t know OP.

I don’t know the particulars of OP’s life.

But generally, I didn’t appreciate that floating across my screen because it doesn’t much matter if OP came at it from an ageist standpoint; it’s how it’s going to be taken by a lot of people.

More ammo for the “life ends at 30” ravening crowd.

The thing is, it’s a self-fulling prophecy.

The more people who believe “if you haven’t lived a life before 30, then you’re doomed and it’s all done for”, then the more people will be unkind to themselves and other “older” people and more doors will shut.

Because often it’s not age that’s stopping anyone — it’s all the ageist assholes who have arbitrarily decided that someone is not worth dealing with based on how many circles they’ve made around the sun.

I learned, when I moved to Taiwan, that many landlords here will not rent to older people, because they fear them dying in their flats and making things gross. Both physically and metaphysically.

And whereas no one wants to clean up a decaying corpse and perhaps some renters might be squeamish about certain things…

It is ridiculously unfair that old people past a certain age who already have a hard time of it have to deal with the fear of becoming homeless.

After that thought came to me,

I still have age anxiety.

Just as I still have disability anxiety.

Just as I still have fat woman anxiety.

But I grew up Other, always Other.

Whether it was being seen as Taiwanese in Shanghai in the 2000s or arriving in Taiwan in fourth grade, all but illiterate, or growing up a first-gen immigrant in the US, or being AuDHD as an Asian woman, or being fat and disabled and Other and unrepentant for any of it, or or…

I have always relied on the expectation of the kindness of strangers, because as much as people can be terribly awful…there will always be at least one kind stranger.

The world hangs by that thread.

My world hangs by that thread.

(if you can’t find your kind stranger in this mess, I can be yours)

The truth is, even if some people have tried to gain access to you by feigning kindness, then gaslighting you the entire way.

Even if some people lied about their motives, lied about what kept them coming back, then dropped you the moment you made it clear you really weren’t for sale that way.

Even if some people are so broken they can’t help but hurt you and themselves in the name of love.

Even if.

Even if the warmth was temporary and fleeting, by choice or no.

Even if.

We cross the river of time one stone at a time.

Maybe we can’t see where the next stone will come from.

Perhaps the next step won’t show for ever and ever, until you’ve lost hope it could possibly will.

But at least you have the rock beneath you.

Somewhere, sometime, someone showed you love, and that is how we stand here today.

So many days I feel like I’m drowning.

In myself. In hatred, both external and internal. In all the inescapable woes. In the utter despair of the world-mother burning, burning, for nothing at all.

But there is stone beneath me.

Somewhere, sometime, someone showed me love, and that is how we stand here today.

Over and over before, in the now, some indefinite point in the future, I will fall upon the kindness of a stranger, and I will set another stone in this bridge across time.

It will be no grand bridge, no monument at all, most likely it won’t survive even me, but future-me can look back across lifetimes and remember I once lit a path across the long river of time, with the kindness of strangers.

If you need a moment of kindness from a stranger, let me be that stranger for you.

Let me light a part of your path forward, across the tides of this life, that we might reach the unbearably vast star sea.

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