Lest We Forget

I spent my last day as full-fleged American engaged in that universal pastime of the privileged-—shopping. I was a little surprised to find myself strongly conflicted and happy to find it a spiritual dilemma.

The thing about shopping with your mom as an adult is that you’re never really sure what she’s buying and what you are. By rights, I should be buying all of my own things and then some. It’s really my turn. I mean, after all, she’s put out the money and effort to get me where I am. It’s time to return the favor. At the same time, she’s wanting to be a mom still—especially since I don’t have another dedicated female assigned to me.

As it turned out, my mom was willing to buy things for me, but only on certain terms. Basically, she had to be sure that I was going to really enjoy them. It was a good starting place.

Let me remind you that for my first year in China I made a single clothing purchase. It was enough athleticwear to play a game of basketball with some students (anyone unaware of my passion for exercise may be informed by discovering I’d moved around the world without a decent pair of shorts and t-shirt.). My reason for declining purchases was simple enough—I didn’t need anything. I felt bad enough as it was wearing a new outfit to class every day while I could identify my students, with notable exceptions, as effectively by the outfit they wore each week as I could by their unique faces or fingerprints—each of them had one, and they were always wearing it.

My suitcase was still unpacked, but I knew it was practically filled. It had been about at its limit flying east and I was only going to make a little room by leaving behind clothes I never got around to wearing.

Nothing in the various stores’ seductively overloaded racks struck quite the right tone. I satisfied my mom’s taste inquiries by relating that my style was defining itself into a few more simple, versatile pieces—especially favoring whites and blacks. I found none of the shirts quite as fitting as the blue striped shirt I’d found at that thrift store just shy of five years ago. I knew because I was wearing it.

Prices continued to shock me. I know Americans get paid American salaries in American dollars, but I still couldn’t stomach spending 350RMB on a shirt I’d be buying only because it seemed to fit the schema of a valuable shirt—decent fit, versatile, comfortable, simple. Sure the quality would be good. Yes, the look was refined. No, I hadn’t made much of the clothiers in China. But still.

I was considering if I should just plan to pay a little extra to fill a bag beyond the weight limit with clothes I knew I could fit in my closet after I got rid of those I never wore.

I walked out with a sweater and a shirt as a belated birthday gift from my mom. Both will get a lot of use. Both were on clearance. Both would attire me quite appropriately for the Kingdom life I’m finding in China.