During Thanksgiving, one of the most cherished American traditions, my housemates and I decided to honor another cherished American tradition: shopping! And so, we merrily went to Macy’s at midnight of Thanksgiving.
I have confessed my fondness for shopping before. To me the activity does not carry a lot of emotional or social expectations but rather a patient optimization between needs and resources. I don’t feel stressed to make decisions, I don’t feel obliged to buy, and I don’t feel concerned if someone else does not like what I like for myself, because most of the time I shop for my own enjoyment.
Once in a while I like to go into malls with my friends to observe the variety of products available there — it always amazes me how people can come up with so many different patterns and colors and clever marketing ideas for shirts. More importantly, I find it joyful if I can help a friend pick an item that they like; whenever they wear the item, it reminds me of the good time we had (especially when we’ve gotten a killer discount too!).
Personally, I like to wear clothes that were given to me by my family and friends — as long as the tastes are not too questionable — because they bring back good memories. I can always buy things by myself, but they do not carry the same meaning. I still keep some of those “Buss Figo” shirts that my mom bought for me from some Chinese shops when I had just moved to Singapore. Now whenever I look at them, I can recall my journey from Vietnam to Singapore through high school — these shirts still have the dorm laundry’s markings on them.
As someone who values gifts, I am also a fan of fixing old apparel. I have recently tried to fix a pair of Totoro slippers that my aunt gave me a couple of years ago. My aunt loves to buy me colorful slippers. Although these slippers look quite silly to modern eyes, I like to wear them because they were given to me by someone who loves me a lot, and there is an immense beauty in such love that Hugo Boss or Alfani cannot reproduce.
These slippers remind me that there is someone who has cared for me and has thought about me. Most of the time I am not concerned about the judgement of others, and I condemn unwanted judgement to the Field of Irrelevance. If someone persistently judges me negatively, I will reassess the continued necessity of our friendship. If we do not understand and appreciate each other, we should not be friends.
Some of my “silliest” items have come from my MIT friends. My friend group celebrated each other’s birthdays by pooling money together to buy cakes and awesome presents, but there was One Rule: among all the awesome items there must be at least one gag gift, and whatever gift is received must be worn to final exams that year.
One birthday, I received an oversized top hat, and as ridiculous as it looked on me, I abided by the One Rule and put it on during my finals. I gifted one of my best friends a lab coat his freshman year, and he wore it to every final exam. If you have seen a guy with a lab coat on in an exam hall, that might just be my friend.
At the end of the semester after final exams, house cleaning is necessary. There is a balance between the old and the new; if I keep myself solely to the past, there is no room to grow the future. House cleaning has always been hard for me, because I have to decide what to keep and what to let go. Letting go of the physical forms of my belongings allows me to focus on their spiritual essence; their absence reminds me to consciously reconnect with people and celebrate our connections: we exist in this very moment.
I keep things that are important to me, and whatever I keep serves as my anchor and points back into the continuum of memory across space and time.