SUMMER LIVING IN THE STRATA – Asian-Caucasian Relationships
One Friday evening at 9:30 after a hot day I went to the pool. When it is 35 degrees centigrade I stay out of the sun and wait till sundown to swim. The added benefit is an empty pool, which is always heated to 30 degrees. At that time, parents with kids are happy that the little ones have finally zonked out, so they have some time for themselves, and the oldies are down for the night.
It is extremely lovely, the sun completely disappeared behind the mountains, but a glow still hanging back in the west and the water still and backlit from under water spotlights. I glided into the water; my skin does not even pucker up with goose bumps, that’s how balmy the temperature of the water is, silky and therapeutic.
I swim, most times, for about 20 to 30 minutes. This night I was joined in the pool by a women of Asian descent with a strong accent that I noticed when she said hello and commented on how nice it is to swim at night. We talked for a while while enjoying the smooth, salty pool water and our buoyancy. Salt water carries the body, making swimming effortless and this is immediately noticeable with the first steps out of the water, when my body reoccupies its usual space and limbs seems heavier, as if each arm and leg gains two pounds instantly.
The lady’s name was Didi. We talked about living in the strata. She had already six years of history here with her man in one of the largest and most desirable units, on the corner with three bedrooms and a large deck on the sunny side. We talked real estate; she was comparing prices and was looking to buy a condo for her son. She invited me to be at the pool the next day and bring some dish, as she and some friends were going to have a potluck dinner at 6 PM. She assured me I would be welcome and I committed. She emphasized six again when she left the pool and went home, pointing to the unit where she lived, right across from the pool area. It was about ten at night; all was quiet in the neighborhood.
The next day I went shopping as usual for the whole week and bought chicken to turn into sateh for the potluck. I marinated the meat and soaked some bamboo skewers, so they would not burn right away on the grill and put some spicy peanut sauce in a plastic jar. I made sure everything I brought was in plastic or metal containers, as glass is not allowed in the pool area. My usual glass of wine with dinner I poured into a plastic water bottle, not fancy, but it works. I had no idea who the other guests would be and was kind of curious.
I was ready at 5:30 PM and went to the pool, as my food needed to be grilled yet. The way Didi emphasized 6 PM made me thing food would be served at 6. No Didi yet to be seen; I guess in Asian terms maybe 6 is not quite six. I fired up the communal BBQ and when it was hot enough, I started grilling the skewers.
At ten to six some other people arrived at the pool, carrying large coolers and dishes, heading for the BBQ patio. I approached them: two Asian women and two Caucasian men.
“Excuse me, are you here for the pot luck with Didi? She invited me too and told me to be here at six, but I haven’t seen her yet,” I explained. The ladies were immediately friendly to me and introduced themselves and their male companions. They were couples, calling the men their boyfriends. The men were rather aloof, in contrast to the women, all of mature age, although the men looked remarkably more aged.
Technically they had no right to be there in the pool without Didi, as the rules stipulate. Lucky for them I was there; they could have been my guests. I did not think about this at the time, but it dawned on me later. Smart Didi, making sure I would be there at 6!
The guests also happened to bring chicken skewers and the two women started cooking those as well on the hot grill. When Didi arrived about forty minutes later, all the food was ready to be eaten; the guests had brought everything, a rice dish, vegetables cooked in foil on the BBQ and home made curry sauce for the skewers. It was a delicious meal that we ate from the picnic table on the lawn by the pool. Much mutual compliments passed back and forth about the food and questions asked about what spices and methods each used to cook the dishes. Ages were disclosed and what we each did for a living, natural and easy flowing conversations.
The two men were blue collar workers, a long haul trucker and a worker in the Fort McMurray oilfields, usually working away from home. For some reason they acted towards me with suspicion, right from the start, the Canadian born guy even with marked skepticism, if not hostility, especially after I suggested he should drink his beer from a plastic glass, as glass bottles were not allowed in the pool area. During and after the meal, the men sat together, apart from the women. The other guy was an Austrian immigrant, more jolly and friendly; he later shared jokes with the women in the pool.
We women chatted away and as women do, anything is a good subject for conversation. We stumbled into an interesting discussion, or really, it wasn’t even that, just some remarks about Caucasian men and Asian women, instigated by Didi. She commented that Caucasian men think Caucasian women want too much. “They say give me half of everything and then bye bye.” I couldn’t help myself and laughed, so did the other women. Another continued:”They like Asian women better, as they are nicer to them and easier to get along with,” commented Vicky, whose English was fluent and with an accent like a born Canadian.
Then it was time for me to say something. “Yes, that’s right, that happened to me with my husband, who now has a girlfriend from Malaysia.” The silence was a sign that the girls were quite shocked and their faces showed it. After a few beats, Didi asked me carefully with empathy in her voice how long ago that was. I responded that we split up a long time ago and that my ex found his Asian girlfriend about 5 years ago or so. They took their cue from me and, as my tone of voice had been light-hearted, we moved on to other subjects.
Then we girls went for a swim and the chatting continued. Didi’s guests were originally from the Philippines, while Didi originated from Vietnam. Her partner was not to be seen, but he is a Canadian Caucasian, I was informed. Vicky shared with me when I asked about him, that Didi’s partner was not feeling well lately, so wasn’t in the pool. What a good coincidence, Didi was a caregiver by trade; she had been living here for 6 years in the strata with her Canadian man. Vicky worked in the hospital, a care aid as well. All three women were fifty years old. They were startled to know I was their senior and had 15 years on them. Didi commented that Caucasian women did not show their age as much as Asian women do. I protested and said they did not look a day older than maybe thirty five. They did not believe me.
Eventually the Austrian also came into the pool and the women circled around him in the pool while they were telling jokes, really innocent and lighthearted, delightful, really.
I marveled at the easy atmosphere and the simple enjoyments of good home made food, good will, and good-hearted banter. I set out to finish my daily swim and then bade them good night. I felt somewhat chastised for my ideas about the coupling of Asian women and Caucasian men from before tonight. I felt grateful for having been part of this group of women that unexpectedly had invited me into their circle and treated me as a human being, one of them.
A few nights later the three women were again in the pool when I went for my daily swim and enthusiastically greeted me. We chatted and swam again together; they invited me to go out on the town later, but I declined, as I had other plans. The Strata is a community, as diverse as the world is, in miniature. In the close quarters of the pool, it is sink or swim metaphorically speaking and being social while swimming is really a lot of fun.