Tonight was my second Thanksgiving in China and it made me think about how that had come to be.
Last year Thanksgiving fell about a week after I’d arrived, and it was the topic of one of my first serious essays telling the story of my China adventure. I remember that I was just getting my feet on the ground and making the transition from the natural born isolated, anti-social me to the expat me, one with friends and a social calendar. I debated at the time whether or not going to someone’s house, a co-worker to boot for such a traditional holiday was something that I really wanted to do. But at the urging of My Lovely Wife I decided to do it and so I arming myself with 4 or 5 bottles of wine and a big bouquet of flowers for the lady of the house and off I went. As it turned out, I had to be the “dad”, the carver of the turkey and the organizer of the dinner because no one else there had ever filled that role. And I had a great time; it was a true family day and just what I needed at the time.
This year was different. Our favorite expat bar entrepreneur Wayne Hou conceived of the brilliant idea of a traditional Thanksgiving meal for his favorite patrons. So we made our reservations, aligned our tables and went into town, braving the rush hour traffic to try and capture a bit of home in this dark corner of Asia. On the way in I practiced my Chinese, attempting to relate the tale of how Turkey is a big deal and the father stands at the head of the table while every sits around and observes his carving technique. Minus the tones, it comes out along the lines of “Tamen zou zhou de pangbian, baba zhan qie houqi”. Remember that for next year’s meal.
Tonight was wonderful in its own way, conjuring up scenes of people around the world, far away yet carrying on in a way that brings some regular life to their situation and location. A couple of tables of people, lots of wine and beer and the feast – roast turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, carrots and believe it or not, green bean casserole. Topping it off was as sophisticated an apple crisp as I’ve ever had. Between the laughter, the food and the drink, it was almost possible to forget where we were and why we were there. A great idea that bore itself out in the result, reminding me that real life can be just below the surface of this place. A thing that’s often hard to remember and yet one that can truly make or break any given day. A night like this will never replace being in my home with the ones I love, but at least it went quite a ways towards making this place seem just a bit better than it did yesterday.