Shopping mindfully during Tet

January 29, 2022 | 10:00 pm PT
Jesse Peterson Teacher
One of the signs Tet has arrived is the supermarket's overflow of sugar and spice, but it's not always so nice.

I think there is a turtle in one of my fish ponds. I bought him from an old man on the side of the road for VND50,000. I dropped the little turtle into the water and have only seen him once; the other day I saw him surface, eat a snail, and disappear beneath the darkness of the pond.

I like the turtle a lot because he is like a reflection of how the locals see me. I covered my house in thick vines; people often remark that they didn't know there was a door here.

And, I only really come out to go to the local supermarket. Like my turtle or like an old man set in his ways.

Even my father calls me old man. My ex-girlfriend's boyfriend called me old man. Everyone I've worked with eventually comes to the same conclusion: old man.

I don't feel old exactly. That makes me wonder if a turtle considers himself slow.

I don't feel old but I am.

Other things that remind me that I'm getting old; the new guy at the supermarket. When I see him I think,

Go faster boy, you're as slow as a turtle.

Speak Vietnamese, I can't understand you.

No I don't have a card.

Old man gives a lecture on giving away our consumer information to corporations.

I can still feel young, sometimes.

I feel young when I chat with the regular ladies that work there, rejuvenated when I joke with them.

Can I not pay today?

Can I pay with a song?

Can I borrow money?

I don't have enough. Can I work for it?

Now the supermarket is overflowing with gifts for Tet and I spend a little more time to pick out the truly good products like jasmine tea on sale and buy like 10 boxes for the whole year.

The old man in me is not really amused with most of the gifts though. I think good gifts are more like the kinds of things you need but you can't normally justify the purchase of.

The turtle needs me to catch him snails every day from my outside pond. That's really only reason I know that the turtle is still here and I didn't just see a ghost turtle; the snails who were at one time a menace almost impossible to be rid of have now disappeared completely from the turtle's pond. The outside pond supplies almost endless snail gifts to the turtle.

I think if someone asked me what I needed instead of what I wanted it would give a different answer.

I live perfectly balanced within my means. If time went on forever in this moment, then I would never have to struggle to continuously adapt to the changing demand of society's innovation. In this case, what I need is just some tea or some more snails.

What I want is some whiskey that when you drink it, it tastes like a memory of dark wood and delicious chocolate, bitter coffee and the depths of an Irish pub at 2 a.m., the room so smoky you couldn't barely see the exit and therefore resolved to stay and drink.

That's a young man's mistake but the old man occasionally forgets and partakes.

However, what I really need is to put the bottle down and invest my thoughts a little more thoughtful into something that betters my life, like a meditation bell or a book by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Or for the community, tea or candied ginger to welcome people for conversation. Or those Danish cookies in the blue metal container I sometimes get addicted to each year. Something so that guests remember the taste of butter cookie when they think on their visit with the old man. Someone once said that addiction is an investment.

I think of a gift as something that can touch the heart, and the more thought put into the selection for buying the gift of course the deeper the effect on the person receiving the gift. Emotions can run deep; like all things perhaps the depths are bottomless. They can run as deep as a whale's song or the invisible turtle's house in the bottom of the fishpond.

During Tet it's nice to give an investment to show love. Unfortunately, I have another old man trait: frugality after a pandemic. I think many old men learn this feeling.

However, Tet is a good time to stimulate the economy with ‘mindful shopping,’ a whole economy stimulated by gifts with meaning that are uplifting, bringing love, depth, and happiness to the people. An ecosystem of sharing is caring.

I've little time to waste on giving gifts without significance. Time goes faster, the sequence of days starts to meld together. Sundays blend into the next Sunday instead of the ‘thousand year day’ that 5-year-old me used to enjoy. I'm too old, time is running out. Though I move around as much as a tortoise, time flies by like a turtle while a rabbit sleeps.

*Jesse Peterson is an English teacher. The opinions expressed are his own.

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