My first Thanksgiving in China. It was a bit messy and quite unorthodox. And it lasted 37 hours.
It began yesterday morning in China around 9:30 am. I walked to the school auditorium with tons of kids swarming around me, stumbling along with their chairs in hand. The Thanksgiving assembly started and I was an MC. I showed the kindergarten the foods an American typically eats on Thanksgiving with a PowerPoint presentation. As I was pronouncing “Green Bean Casserole” I was thinking about how my family never actually eats Green Bean Casserole. My mom makes Green Beans with Sesame Seeds. As I looked at a giant picture of Turkey Stuffing I’d pulled off the internet, I could smell my mom’s own stuffing. It has crab meat in it because she’s from Maryland. It’s my favorite Thanksgiving food.
After this brief presentation and many exclamations of “mmmmm” and “yummy-yummy,” I ushered ten of my own little tots on stage to perform “Ten Little Turkeys.” I’d spent the night before making turkey head bands for them to wear for that very moment.
When the assembly was over, the children returned to their classrooms to make and share Western-style sandwiches. It’s very hard to find turkey in Foshan, so ham was used instead. I had to teach a class in the primary school at this time, so I wasn’t there to share in the activity, but one of my co-teachers made one for me to enjoy later. She left it on my desk for me to discover.
I ate an ordinary lunch at the canteen in the primary school and figured that was going to be my Thanksgiving meal. During lunch, however, several of the Chinese teachers at the kindergarten brought in tons of food and were having a hot pot feast over there. As soon as I returned to the kindergarten, I was force-fed pork balls, fish balls, dumplings, sausages, vegetables, mushrooms, and glass after glass of coconut milk. I certainly didn’t have an appetite after my first lunch, but I felt obliged and those ladies are so pushy! In a loving way, of course. I thought they’d prepared the meal in honor of Thanksgiving, but once the coconut milk started flowing, I realized that it was for my co-worker’s birthday. I had found out two weeks prior that coconut milk is a birthday drink.
I finally put a stop to the feeding and walked away with 6 bowls of leftover hot pot, a giant bag full of fruit, cookies, and candy. I was relieved to get out of there because, really, my stomach was about to explode, but I was also very touched by the generosity and thoughtfulness of these women.
When I returned to the office to prepare for afternoon classes, I discovered the sandwich on my desk. And a rat turd next to it. And as I examined a little further, a little chunk missing from the ham. I sad, “Awww mannnnnnnnn, a rat pooped on my desk!” One teacher confirmed that the turd was indeed from a rat’s behind, another said “It wasn’t me!,” and a third–the teacher who had given the sandwich to me–declared that when she’d placed the sandwich on my desk, the rat poop was not there.
That’s when the nausea hit me. I don’t get riled up about rats or even their poop, so I think it was coincidental timing. I must have eaten something bad because I was out for the count for the next eight hours. Since I wasn’t well enough to teach my afternoon classes, I just sat at my desk and tried not to move, hoping the nausea would pass. Around 5pm, I wrote down what was going on around me so that I could remember this odd Thanksgiving and perhaps appreciate it in the future. Here’s what I wrote:
“Anna was inspired by Heidi’s decision to make cookies with her class. She found a mini-oven somewhere and brought it to the office. It’s sitting on the cabinet next to me. Cupcakes are baking inside and the smell is wafting through the air. She’s never baked before, so I wonder how these things will turn out. I’ve got my headphones on. I’m listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. album. When Bruce gets quiet between songs, I can hear the dinging of the mini-oven, the boisterous Cantonese dialogue surrounding my head, and the din of the children’s voices as the school day comes to a close and parents arrive to whisk them away. “
After hurling everything I’d eaten for lunch and leaving the office, I decided to take a short nap…I woke up at 9pm, two hours after I was supposed to leave for a birthday dinner celebration. I made it to the restaurant just in time to enjoy some homemade pumpkin pie and a few last laughs.
Around midnight that night, I was finally able to get steady enough internet connection to support a Skype call, fractured as it was, and see my family in the United States! The time difference is 13 hours, so for a few moments, I was able to relive the morning of Thanksgiving as I had grown to know and love it.
During my long, sickness-induced slumber, I had dreadful anxiety and horrible nightmares, but when I finally went to sleep for the night, I felt calm and happy and grateful to have been included in my family’s Thanksgiving all those miles and hours away. I believe I had sweet dreams.
I was able to Skype more successfully this morning between classes and catch my family one more time before their Thanksgiving had officially ended. I got to hear my brother play guitar and see my dad’s big grin. I got to introduce some of my students to my family and admire my mom’s pumpkin pie. It was wonderful.
This was a bizarre Thanksgiving. I expect it marked the beginning of a bizarre holiday season to come. I’m both saddened and excited by this. Thank God for Skype for allowing me to participate, however slightly, in a holiday celebration that I never before realized meant so much to me. And thank God for a bizarre Thanksgiving abroad for helping me realize the value of a wonderful family and strong traditions.