A recent cold front turned my thoughts to the winter jacket I needed replacing this year, and ended up turning us towards the closest shopping mall to eyeball a few just-arrived winter jackets. I admired the colors — plum, tangerine, teal, and ivory. At least, before I turned the price tags over.
“Aiya,” I said to my husband at a whisper, still reeling from some serious sticker-shock. “And they said this was a sale?”
But John just smiled. “Do you like any of them?” He sounded like a guy ready to whip out his platinum credit card for me — that any price was still a good price to him.
I shook my head. “Too expensive, we should just wait until the after-Christmas sales.”
“But you need a new jacket,” he said. He smiled again, as if to say, go ahead, look around, I have an undisclosed bank account I’m about to tell you about.
My pragmatic side didn’t even notice. “No, I’ll survive without it, my zipper still isn’t totally broken yet.”
I linked my arm with John’s arm and pulled him towards the door. I could have sworn I saw him taking one last, longing glance at the plum-colored parka I loved only moments before.
“You really wanted to buy me that jacket, didn’t you?” I asked him the following day.
He grinned and leaned back in his chair. “Sure, I just want to take care of you.” Then he met my glance and added, “It’s my responsibility.”
I’ve called John “husband” for years, but I still can’t get over the way he loves to take me shopping — and shower me with only the best (even if we end up leaving the place empty-handed).
Before I went to China, I never before knew any guy who would willingly take me to the shopping malls — without the requisite eye-rolling or jokes about all the guys who end up sitting outside the stores, holding their wives’ and girlfriends’ purses. But in November 1999, only a little over two months into my first foray into China, a Chinese guy — a guy who would fast become my first boyfriend in the country — specifically wanted to take me out shopping. Not for him, but for me. “I’d love to see you in bright clothing,” he once said, a phrase that perhaps belied his true feelings for me. But to me, the very idea was a revelation: that in this world, there existed men who didn’t consider shopping with a woman as an assault on their masculinity, and who didn’t mind holding my purse and waiting for me to try on, say, that bright red button-down shirt.
In August 2002, only weeks after John and I officially became an item, he decided my wardrobe needed a few more items as well. So off we went on a Sunday to Hangzhou’s Intime Department Store. I happened to wander into the Esprit store, a place where I never did much beyond just “window shopping,” and paused before a lovely knit sweater with large scarlet, purple and tan stripes. But I winced when I read the pricetag. Just as I was about to walk away, I ran into John — and a smile that suggested I stay put a little longer.
“Do you like it?” he asked me.
Did he have to ask? “Well, it is rather pretty,” I said. “But it’s a tad expensive, you know. Just forget it, I don’t really need it.”
Then John studied the pricetag. “Try it on, I’m buying.”
“Are you sure?” John just quit his job, and made only a fraction of what I did — how could he possibly have the cash for this?
After I returned from the fitting room with the right size, he strutted up to the cashier and dug 500 RMB out of his pocket (about $60 back then). He even carried the bags when we walked out, and smiled every time I mentioned wearing it for him.
I’m sure I would have smiled just a wide if John persuaded me to buy that gorgeous plum parka I saw the other night. But we’re long past the honeymoon stage of our relationship — when my husband was still borrowing cash from his friends to treat me (true story) — and now have to balance our wants and needs with the realities of a budget. We can’t go out shopping every weekend, and we wouldn’t want to anyhow. He has papers to read, I have stories to write, and we’re often catching up on things during Saturdays and Sundays. But as I left the store with my arm around John, I was sure of one thing. Come after Christmas, I knew he’d be right by my side, helping me pick out the perfect parka, holding my purse, and carrying the shopping bags for me.