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Today I had a strange encounter at the gym. As I was walking happily on the treadmill, singing along to Rihanna’s Breaking Dishes song, a man – in his mid-50s, I reckon – walks up beside me and says hello. I’ve seen him at the gym a few times and we say hello to each other. One time, he was nice enough to help me with one of the machines. Here’s how our conversation went:

Him: G’day. Are you tired? 

Me: Nope, not really. Why, what’s up?

Him: My girlfriend is coming out here in two weeks and she needs to go out more often. 

Me: You should take here her to the gym to meet other women.

Him: I don’t know. One time, I got her to ride my ex-wife’s push bike but I just left her in the dust. She didn’t like it at all.

Me: Well, I have to force myself to go to the gym so you’ll just have to encourage her.

Silence. I keep on walking on the treadmill, waiting for him to say something.

Me: So where is she from, originally? Sydney? Newcastle?

Him: Oh no. She’s Thai. She’s coming from Thailand.

Me: I can’t speak Thai, you know.

Him: That’s alright. She speaks a little English but she’s a bit shy.

Me: Has she been here before?

Him: Yes, this is her second visit.

Me: Have you been to Thailand? I’ve only ever been to Bangkok. 

Him: Yes, I’ve been to Bangkok. I didn’t like it very much. But I’ve been to Chiang Mai. I liked that place. I was also going to go to the Philippines but I never got around to it.

Me: Ah, the Philippines. See, that’s where I’m from originally.

Him: I figured that out as soon as you spoke. I wasn’t sure if you were or weren’t. You don’t exactly look… 

His voice trailed off. I wanted to ask, “Exactly look like what?” But I think I sort of figured out what he wanted to say. I didn’t exactly look Asian, or so I’ve been told. Remember this post? Because I am Asian, I can sort of tell the subtle difference between Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, or Filipino. And it’s usually because of the intonation of their speech rather than the language itself. To non-Asians, particularly to Australians and probably most Caucasians, the best way to tell if an Asian is Filipino is through the accent. Apparently, we sound American. Also, to them, all Asians look the same – Chinese.

But going back to this strange conversation…

Him: You know – and I don’t want to sound insensitive – I tell my girlfriend that I’m not a walking wallet. I’m not rich, I tell her.

Me: I know what you’re trying to say. Filipinas are in the same generalised category too. I once met a physiotherapist in Muswellbrook who was so amazed to have finally met a Filipina not married to an Australian. I take no offense. Some are and some aren’t.

By this time, I’d finished my time on the treadmill and was ready to move on to the stationary bike. So I smiled and said, I need to get going and that I’ll see him around. He said goodbye and walked off to chat to friend who spotted him at the gym.

So what was I supposed to do in two weeks’ time? Meet up with him and his Thai girlfriend? At the gym? I wasn’t really sure. He didn’t even introduce himself and I never thought to tell him my name either. Strange. Very strange indeed.