“… And then we have the whole Christmas shit to figure out,” Feng sighs.
A usual scene at home. It’s around 7 p.m. and we are waiting for a contractor to hopefully show up and check if our leaky fridge can be fixed. Mark is throwing tantrums, Feng and I have no energy left but the day isn’t over yet, far from it. This evening, Christmas considerations are not a cheery perspective but yet another chore to add to our never-ending to-do list.
“There is nothing to figure out,” I reply. “I’m buying your parents a microwave.”
The last time I was over at their place, for Mark’s and Feng’s birthdays, I noticed they still used the ten-year-old microwave that barely heats anything. And in Chinese households, you need a microwave to reheat the millions of “cài” (dish) accompanying rice or noodles. As a joke, I said I’d buy them a new microwave for Christmas—they are usually the ones who constantly want to upgrade our life. I fully intend to follow through, though, just to provide further proof that I am just as stubborn and rebellious as they think I am—because of course they declined the offer.
“What do you want for Christmas?”
“I don’t know. What do you want for Christmas?”
Our words sounded needlessly adversarial. We don’t do gift giving very well at home. Or rather, we do it well without pressure, but it’s hard to buy something just because you have to. And I hate offering useless presents “just for the sake of it”. This is probably why I have never mastered—or complied with—the endless gift-giving rituals in China where you give folks something, anything, and expect some kind of crap as well in return but none of the parties actually need or want whatever traded hands.
“I’ll be honest, I ran out of ideas right now,” I admitted.
I’ve been creative this year. I gave Feng a rare band t-shirt because he had attended the concert in 1996 (and the band no longer exists, thanks Ebay and collectors). And for his birthday, I imported the DVD of a Chinese TV series that was very popular in the 1980s—took me a month and the help of my old Chinese dictionary to order it and have it shipped straight from the middle kingdom.
“Is there anything you need?”
“Nah… and I like to buy my own stuff.”
Me too. That’s the problem. Modern family—we both work and have separate bank accounts (I highly recommend it, no arguments!). When we want something and can afford it, we buy it. For instance, in September, I decided to replace my old broken Espe bag. I research options (browsing handbags is my version of soft porn) and walked into a Fossil store where I bought myself the model I wanted. Voilà.
I can’t think of a material good I need or want right now. Such a first-world problem, I know.
When we came back from France in August, I decided I was finally going to set up my own “office”. Since 2010, I have been working everywhere in the house with my laptop but I didn’t have a dedicated spot. I worked in Mark’s room when I was looking after him, I worked on the couch downstairs when he was sleeping, I worked sitting on the floor in the living room when he was crawling around me. Meanwhile, Feng was working in our bedroom. I had enough. Stuck between two guys, their toys and schedules, demands and needs, I needed to claim a corner of our small house.
So I cleaned up the spare room, emptied it from all the cheap furniture and memories stored there. I gathered my stuff and “moved” from the master bedroom/Feng’s office to this “new” room. I sorted out clothes and paperwork. I put all of my clothes in the walk-in closet and made countless trips to the Dollar Store to buy enough hangers. I threw away old underwear, socks with holes and pens that had ran out of ink sometime in 2003 or 2004. I bought a bright-red chest at IKEA and spent a few hours assembling it all by myself.
I love the result. It’s my private universe, uncluttered, cozy and organized the way I like it. I can work, relax and when Feng or Mark (or both) annoy me, I just close the door and ignore them. Very mature, I know.
During the tedious process of sorting out the stuff I had accumulated over the past ten years of my life in Canada, I realized something: I have everything I need. My closet isn’t Sex-in-the-City extravagant, but I have several pairs of jeans, a bunch of t-shirts, sweaters, more scarves than anyone should and enough nice underwear that I can lose a few at the doctor’s office.
I haven’t bought anything major (other than the handbag) since August because every time I browse clothes in a store, I close my eye and picture a similar item already hanging in my closet.
So no, I don’t think I need anything material, as new-agey as it sounds. Do you ever feel nauseous when you see all the food on display in large buffet-style restaurants? That’s how I feel these days when I go to the mall. Too much clutter, too much stuff.
I’m lucky to be at a stage of my life that if I really want something up to, let’s say, $150, I can probably buy it.
What I’m after is life experiences, surprises—good ones. What I need is sleep, peace of mind, practical help occasionally. What feels nice is someone doing something for me.
I’m not sure how to put that on my list.