This morning I was making breakfast and looked at the box of tea above the bowl of bananas sitting on an antique dry sink in my chamber of cooking. The label says “Manufactured in America.” What struck me about that was that the first ships with the flag of the new nation — the United States of America — were sent to trade with China to exchange furs for tea. Random, barely awake, no-coffee-yet kind of thought but still interesting.
It seems we’ve always been at war with someone about trade with China, even arguing with ourselves about it.
During my time in China — ’82/’83 — before Walmart and modernization really took off, I saw all the lovely but somewhat pitiful efforts being made to produce things foreigners — specifically Americans — would buy. I came home a confirmed globalist and had lots of arguments with my mom about that. Her point was that buying things from foreign countries took jobs away from Americans. About a decade later, she took me to Walmart in Billings, my first foray into that subculture. I was horrified by the sheer amount of stuff. It really overwhelmed me. Most of it was made in China.
My mom loved Walmart. I still hate it.
A worldwide consumer economy doesn’t seem to be new. I was thinking about tea, ivory, color and paint, the Silk Road, Venice, Roman jewelry and glass found in Viking archeological sites — this thing of wandering around with stuff and selling it to people in order to get different stuff seems pretty human, maybe should be included in the definition of humanity. Maybe it is, and I just don’t know it.
I’m a lousy consumer. I don’t have a lot of disposable income, first salient point, and the stuff I could buy with it (clothes and interior decoration, etc.) doesn’t interest me. And then, the stuff I buy is meant to create products of my own for others to buy. Yep. That’s it. That’s what we do, I guess.
This tea: I drink it in the late afternoon when my responsibilities are over. It’s a kind of ritual, I guess, and the dogs recognize the moment when the kettle goes on the stove as the moment they will be fed. I’ve realized (since COVID) how much certain things “mean” to the dogs and how they ground me. It’s interesting, too, that when they hear me fill the kettle, they know. I’ve lived with a lot of dogs, but never known any of them as well as I know these two.