I saw him again today. He probably knows I’m staring at him, can see the disapproval in my eyes. He never looks back at me, always keeps his head down. Today he had the shirt on again, the bright green one. It’s been two weeks now. If I was a stronger, more confident man, I’d rip it right off his back.
For several justifiable reasons.
REASON #1: About a month ago, someone made a note on the whiteboard in the front of my apartment building about clothes donations. In fact, that’s all it said. “Clothes Donations.” And then there was an arrow pointing at the floor under the whiteboard. So I went and took all the shirts I don’t love any longer out of my closet and placed them there. Under the arrow. The green shirt was one of them. And then a few weeks later, I saw him wearing it.
Who is he? He’s the husband of the desk lady that works in my apartment building, which wasn’t really who I had in mind. Clothes donations? I assumed they were going to some poor Chinese workers in the village by our school. Not to the husband of the desk lady. That’s like donating your body to science and then learning it was taken by a crazy club-footed lab assistant who wanted new feet.
“Say, Seymour, do you know where that body disappeared to? And what happened to your limp?”
REASON #2: Two weeks, man. He’s been wearing my shirt every day for two weeks straight. Like it’s all he has. Like he’s a cartoon character. Like he’s been sentenced to wear for all of eternity by Nickelodeon.
Which brings us to the larger issue. See, back at home in the USA, it would be considered embarrassing to wear the same thing two days in a row. It just doesn’t happen. Wearing the same thing two days consecutively implies laziness and possible poverty. It would almost be like coming to work with a different hairstyle every day. People would find it odd and off-putting. That’s sort of how things work in an American office. The hair stays consistent, and the clothes always alter.
But that is not how they roll in China. From what I’ve gathered, it’s pretty common to wear the same outfit multiple days in a row. The Chinese teachers at my school constantly wear the same thing, sometimes three or four days straight. It’s kind of funny. A teacher will show up wearing a bright, colorful dress, and I’ll be like, “Wow, that’s a beautiful dress!”
And then the next day it’s the same dress. And the next day. And then I feel like the strong aesthetic value of that particular dress is actually having a negative impact overall, because the thing is too noticeable, too conspicuous to wear three days in a row. Maybe if it was a dull black shirt and some grey jeans, then I’d look past it without paying attention.
“Say, hasn’t Zheng Zheng been wearing the same thing for a month?”
“I dunno. Maybe. Or maybe she just has multiple black shirts.”
But when you wear your Oscar night dress for a whole week, it’s a bit obvious. I sometimes go over to the person and quietly inform them that I’ve noticed.
“You really like that dress, huh?”
The funny thing, I guess, is that I’m not that much better. I mean, it’s not like I have an endless closet. I basically wear the same rotation of dress shirts and pants every week. The key, though, is that I change the dress shirt each day, which, in my mind, adds spark and variety.
“What should I wear today?” I’ve asked Feng Deng on occasion.
“Wear what you wore yesterday,” she’ll say. “It looked good.”
“But I wore it yesterday.”
I’m not sure how to answer this.
“It will look weird. I’ll seem dirty.”
“What are you talking about? It’s not dirty. You only wore it one day.”
I know it’s true, but still.
Is it the cleanliness? Is it the monotony? What is it in Western thinking that says wearing the same shirt twice in a row is wrong? Is uncool? What is it that makes me cringe every time I see the desk girl’s husband, walking around in the same green shirt from Uniqlo?
I believe, after having thought about this, that it boils down to the great fear that my life isn’t going anywhere. That every day is just a dull repetition of the last. That my whole existence is just a skipping record, one where the same song spins endlessly. Wearing the same shirt every day is basically conceding to the idea that one day is no different from the next. It’s saying that today is the same as yesterday, and that tomorrow will replicate both. Each time that dude wears the green Uniqlo shirt, he reminds me that two weeks of my life have gone by, and nothing especially interesting has really happened.
Which is depressing.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll drop another shirt off under the white board. Just to give him another option, and to let him know that there’s hope.