Luxury Or Something Like It

by Wendy Long
Portrait by Chino Sardea
28 Mar 2019

As I write this article, I’ve just tossed 20-plus yu sheng (I’ve lost count after the 20th) on the 15th day of Lunar New Year 2019, signifying the conclusion of the festivities. A simple math will tell you that 20-plus yu shengs over 15 days means I’ve been practically eating salads for lunches and dinners for two weeks, which is kind of like every other day of the year, really, for me.

Actually, my yu sheng meals are still ongoing post-lunar New Year celebration. I’ve two more to go on the 16th and 18th days. So, surely this Year of the Pig will be a bountiful and prosperous year! Which is what we believe in, with each symbolic toss, peppered with auspicious sayings and more importantly, loaded with our desires and wishes, like better career prospects, prosperous business endeavors, good grades, healthy dogs (wishes from the pawrents among us), obedient kids (though I’ve also overheard wishes for obedient husbands and thrifty wives… tsk, tsk), and for the ladies, definitely younger, skinnier, sexier and prettier.

The one that really tickled me was what my friend’s parents wished for, earnestly, with each toss, “En-bloc go through”, as their decades old property has finally garnered the minimum 80 per cent consent from owners, after many previous unsuccessful attempts. My friend told me that her Mum would remind her Dad, before every yu sheng toss, in all seriousness, to wish for a successful en-bloc this year, and this was uttered not just once per yu sheng, but multiple times in the same seating, fervently believing that with each symbolic toss of shredded carrots and raw fish, it will bring them closer to fulfilling their hearts’ desires. It is a very specific wish and if we think about it, how different is that from religions where believers project their wishes upon ceramic or wooden objects or even ancient trees and imposing mountains. In fact, I was just shown a photo, taken in Bhutan, of what the Bhutanese pray to for fertility. For the uninitiated, do look it up. It is quite an eye-opener, or should I say, jaw-dropper?

Now what has all of these got to do with luxury? My first instinct about luxury was the idea of having the freedom to do whatever one desires, buy whatever we love without hesitation, experience any journeys or moments that we fancy without obligations – essentially, the concept of being unshackled from servitude, obligations, expectations and just living according to what we desire and getting what we want and yearn for, at our own chosen time and by our own preferred paths.

Fundamentally, when we wish upon a toss, we are projecting our inner desires and wants, hoping to fulfill a need and materialize a dream. As I listened to all that everyone desires and wishes for over a high margin salad dish, I thought to myself, wouldn’t the ultimate luxury be the freedom to have anything that we wish to have, just the way we want it? Like the luxury of not worrying whether I’m overpaying for something or whether it will be on the sale three months later, and I’m a fool to pay for the full price now. I’m just buying whatever I want in the moment that I want it.

Or the luxury of drinking a 50-year-old bottle of first growth, knowing that there is nothing to show for after that last drop other than the beautiful memories of that moment to savor on for years to come. Or the luxury of time, which we all know, cannot be bought, as time and tide wait for no man.

Before I started writing about my thoughts on luxury, an epiphany jolted me: In the midst of abs-crunching core exercises, in between balancing and pivoting; luxury is when we do not need or want anything. We set ourselves up for disappointments when we do not achieve our goals or if we fall short of expectations and have unfulfilled desires. Imagine a state of neutrality where one is completely lacking in desires, where nothing matters and all that matters is that you do not care for anything. A complete freedom where one is not held captive by their own inner desires and is luxuriating in the freedom of things being just as it is. Nothing more, nothing less. Luxury is in knowing that one can have it but choose not to have it because one does not feel the need to have it, whatever it may be, and it doesn’t matter what it is because it just does not matter.

Luxury is also in knowing that certain memories can only be made known to those who know it, as it’s an experience that has the luxury of being forever encapsulated in the abyss of time and it does not matter if there are any material souvenirs to remember it by simply because it does not matter.