I spilled tea on my laptop.
I spilled hot tea on my precious, under-$200 laptop because I was too cheap to buy anything else, and I knew that I would break everything anyway.
I had expensive glasses. I sat on them. Too many times. And I would just go around the world pretending as if I could see, but I could not. I put trash in the mailbox and mail in the trash can and all the cliché things you do when you cannot see.
Back to my story, I spilled tea on my laptop.
At that moment, when I watched the liquid floating out of the cup in slow motion onto the plastic keys, I almost thought that they should have merged together. And that I should let it happen. Because it was plastic and water goes in plastic cups, so as it transferred from one plastic to another it should have been fine. But, of course, it wasn’t. Because my screen shut down immediately.
The point was, it was not tea spilled on a laptop. It was tea spilled on one of the marks of my rite of passage. It was the first time I had a personal computer. One that I did not have to worry about deleting search history for the sake of my parents or keeping things in a separate folder with my name because everything was mine. Maybe it is different now because everyone has their own everything from a young age, be it an iPad or iPhone or any other iThing. But for me, watching tea spill on my laptop was watching myself fail at being an adult. I watched the screen saver that I chose turned pitch black. I watched my name on the corner of the screen, that little “Hi Nhu!” disappear. I watched my color-coded virtual sticky notes vanish into oblivion.
My computer was not the only thing that marked this rite of passage of mine. There was also my little scooter. And my phone. My phone because of reasons similar to that of the laptop. My scooter – I suppose this was self-explanatory – because of mobility. The ability to go from place to place without paying, with my own self behind the handle bars, when I could choose which path to take or to not take any path. The ability to not have to ask your parents or call an expensive cab or take the non-existent public transportation in Hanoi.
Sometimes I wonder if I had “commodity fetishism” and had fallen under the influence of capitalism, assigning meanings to object in order to justify my need for things and my shopaholic tendencies. Would it be more sustainable if I were not in love with my phone, my laptop, my scooter? On one hand, it would be sustainable, as I would try my best to keep them alive. On the other hand, I could have chosen to live without certain things all together, saving me from buying in the first place.
For me, things were never just things. I looked at my laptop and saw the unsustainable, toxic parts assembled in such a way that when one part broke down I would have to throw the whole laptop away and buy a new one; I could see the history of containerization unfolding as the laptop was delivered to me in one piece after one click of a button; I could see injustice and social inequality where the people who did the harmful work of inhaling battery lithium all day to put my laptop together and still got the worst paycheck.
I could see myself. A child. Stuck in a house yearning to go out into the world that I had not yet known to be dangerous and cruel. Until I got handed a laptop and through the tiny screen that showed me not enough and too much of what I could see, do, learn and a keyboard that allowed me to produce thoughts and trains of thoughts and too many thoughts.
Suppose I reversed this.
Suppose I spilled laptop on my tea.
Suppose I cared more about tea than laptop.
Suppose tea meant more to me because it reminded me of all the nice conversations I had over tea with people I could no longer be with, and what was laptop but an assemble of chips and plastic?
Suppose I cried over spoiled tea, and someone came over to tell me to get another cup of tea, but I could not explain to them what this cup of tea meant to me without taking hours of this person’s time, ranting about stories that no one cared about. But me.
Suppose I tried to get my tea fixed but unlike a laptop, there was no Earl Grey Repair Store in the Providence Place Mall.
Suppose I threw my tea away.
Photographs by Sara Montoya
Thumbnail image from Creative Commons
Edited by Cristina Taylor