The narrative that had developed in my head thanks to my high school experience and beyond, was that the average Aussie guy was not remotely interested in me (and I quickly decided that the feeling was mutual – maybe out of a sense of self-preservation). There was one exception though – the desperate, lonely, divorced middle-aged man saw me as some sort of mail-order bride material.
During the gap year between high school and university, having secured a full-time job as a waitress at one of the eateries in the Queen Victoria Building, I would commute to work every morning by train. CT, who had left school at 14 and was now working with me, would join me in the commute.
There was this old Russian guy who sat by himself on the train most mornings, and he would burst into a melancholic warble – I thought he was odd, but after awhile CT and I got to talk to him. One day, we found out he had a son in his mid-30s, a construction worker or labourer, and divorced from his Australian wife. He had a 5yr-old child for whom the grandfather felt needed a mother figure.
So the old man offered me $5000 to marry his son so I could be a fulltime mother to his kid.
CT thought I should consider it. I guess I could probably attribute it to my Convent school years back in Malaysia, that we were nurtured to believe in ourselves. We had stellar role models growing up; one of our former students was a Cabinet Minister back home – we were expected to be leaders, not settle for a life of oblivion. Even having been ignored by the boys since arriving in this country, and with my self-esteem at rock bottom, I was incredibly offended. $5000 for my life? That was all I was worth? Screw that.
I met lots of interesting characters at the Old Vienna Coffee House, where I worked – it was as multicultural as it gets. The owner was Jewish; the managers were Greek; the staff were a mix of Aussie, Lebanese, Kiwi, British, and one of the cooks was a Malaysian guy. Coming from a country where the extent of my exposure to diff. ethnicities was almost exclusively limited to Malay/Chinese/Indian/Eurasian, I found all these cultural identities endlessly fascinating.
I remember the first Greek girl I had come across in high school here – I was floored and starry-eyed with being in the presence of someone associated with the Greek mythologies of old – given the right outfit, I could even see her as a Greek goddess. Likewise with the Italians and the Lebanese (wow, you speak French?!) immigrants, unencumbered as I then was with the negative stereotypes that Australian society held towards these groups – derogatorily and collectively referred to as ‘wogs’.
At work, I became good friends with a Czech lady – a career waitress – Beata. If these other cultures were exotic in my mind, even more so were East and North Europeans. At some point during our acquaintance, Beata decided she needed to play matchmaker and get me hooked up to a fellow Czech friend of hers.
I was excited; during the school break after our HSC exams, I had been following tennis on TV and my favourite player was the world no. 1 ranked Czech, Ivan Lendl. Never mind the Aussie blokes, I was going to get myself a European guy, I thought.
Beata arranged for him to come in at lunch one day and sit at one of my tables. When he showed up, I was horrified. Here was this scruffy, hairy guy with wild hair, in singlet and shorts, looking like he hadn’t bathed in weeks. He didn’t look so much like my hero Ivan Lendl as he did Ivan Milat (as I was to realise years later), Australia’s most notorious serial killer (http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/ivan-milat-cuts-off-a-finger/2009/01/27/1232818339450.html) – and about as old. To be polite I did introduce myself, but he was so gruff he didn’t even make any effort to be conversational.
I remained friends with Beata but was acutely aware from that point onwards, that she probably held me to the same kind of stereotype that older white Aussies had of me – that I was some kind of worthless, submissive Asian mail-order bride good for keeping house for some desperate old loser and not much else.