One Black Coat

One black coat – for lack of a better article of clothing, that’s been what I’ve been wearing in this extreme cold (for someone from Malaysia/California) of Princeton. Really, I don’t think it’s a particularly good trench coat – it’s thin, does not insulate well, and frankly, it’s way too big for me. It’s wide enough to probably fit someone a hundred pounds heavier than me. I’ve called it a “Stalinist-esque” jacket, and when I wear it, it sometimes looks like I’m wearing a big garbage bag.

But I’m never going to throw it out, no matter how dowdy it looks or worn it may be. Clothing has always been a vexation for me, but for different reasons than most.

Perhaps the reason why that coat is so ill-fitting is because my mom bought it for, secondhand (or third or fourth) from a Goodwill store. I guess a real good one would cost $100+, and as this was only twenty bucks, my mom got it. I can’t complain about it, my mother got it. Twenty dollars may seem insignificant, but as I learned since young, saying something was only a certain amount of money (say, 5 dollars) got the response in Manglish: “Only five dollars one ah? Do you got any idea how many papers I need to deliver for twenty dollars?”

That leads me to the first of two points I wish to make in this post. Really, sitting here in Firestone, listening to music (via iPod) and typing, sitting down comfortably, I feel guilty. I make $10.60 an hour. But what about my sister, who makes something like $8 an hour, has to stand and run around helping people at Staples’ copy center, and comes home completely exhausted? On what basis should I receive a higher pay? Or my mother, who has to get up at 2AM every morning to deliver over 800 papers in the freezing cold and rain, all for minumum wage? I don’t feel worthy. Comparatively, my life is luxurious and my job, non-chalant. Every dollar is important, yet I have not been a good steward of my money (luckily, I haven’t become a horrible spender here). It’s not the money that’s important – it’s knowing the energy and work that goes into getting that money that’s truly important.

The second point is related to my coat. It reminds me of the time when I was about 9 or 10. Kids at that age can be particularly mean to each other, and my classmates were no exeption. From the age of 8-9, I had studied in the monastery (not to become a monk, BTW) learning Chinese. As a result, I had no idea of anything that was cool or popular by the time I went back to regular school at DVS. For example, I did not know who Jay Chou was at the time (vaguely, I remember them discussing him) or any other music for that matter, didn’t know what movies were “cool”, or anything trendy whatsoever. My clothing as a kid was looking back, really sad. My pants were home-made out of some thin cotton fabric, and my shirts mostly came from Goodwill and garage sales. This sort of clothing ripped very easily, which made me an even greater target for ridicule.

Of course, I’m not saying that people have ridiculed my jacket here at Princeton, for no one has. But I think it’s a funny all the same. It reminds me of my family’s love, and how far I have to go in attempting to repay that kindness.

Keep your eyes peeled for the walking garbage bag on campus! šŸ˜›

Posted on: January 25, 2008, by : Q.Z.

3 thoughts on “One Black Coat

  1. I come from a similar background; when i was growing up, garage sale items were the only items of clothing my parents could afford and pretty much the most excursions of my early days. My brother never had to grow up in that so he’s not as frugal, but yeah, what can you do right? I actually don’t like buying things for myself – I rarely ever do. I am much more willing to spend money on others than myself, and my mom just bought me a coat too. I can see that she would like to get me one of those nice ones that all the girls are wearing nowadays, but I always say no. So one day when we were in Ross, my mom decided to spend $50 on a coat for me and wouldn’t let me say no, saying it was my Christmas gift. Everytime I see it, I can’t help but feel guilty šŸ™

    Speaking of Firestone, what do you do there? šŸ™‚

  2. Hey —

    It’s true that having nice material things can bring a sort of guilt. It does make a huge difference, though, that you are very aware of the meaning of what you have and the work that your mom puts in for you and your family’s benefit. As (what I consider to be) a privileged girl who went to a high school with many similarly privileged students, I talked about this issue with a lot of people. What really matters is that you never forget your roots and that you do meaningful things with what you have — something that, from knowing you, I think you definitely get.

    Have I seen this coat?

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