So while all you people in America were polishing off your turkey dinners on the big T day, I was well into my Friday morning, finishing off my first class of the day. My “Thanksgiving” was a very standard day: wake up, eat, class, break, class, dinner, Chinese lesson, relax, done. I was going to bed when you were just waking up. When you were cooking, cleaning, traveling, going through the usual greeting and catching-up routines, I was sleeping and/or getting up Friday morning.
The Georgians always seemed to marvel a bit at the mystery of time differences. “What are they doing in California now?” they’d ask. And I’d make a guess as to what the folks on the other side of the world were doing. It is a bit strange and marvelous if you think about it. I thought warm and fond thoughts in the direction of home as I stood in my class teaching on Friday morning, knowing you were all together with families and friends.
Being out of the country and associating with people from all over the world, you see your own national and cultural celebrations in a different light. Thanksgiving. What’s that? What for? And you actually have to be able to verbalize this to people. Other Westerners might ask. Students will ask. And it helps if you don’t stand there with blank look on your face.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been away for Thanksgiving. I celebrated Thanksgiving in Oxford with all the other students in my program. We had a massive potluck and it was great fun. In Georgia, I took a weekend trip with friends and we celebrated at an Irish pub in the capital with gorgeous steaks and wine.
This year I attempted to rally the foreign teachers into having a potluck. Response to my cheery email was minimal. I was a little disappointed. It had been such a good email! In the end, we managed to scrape together four foreign teachers and two students for a potluck on Friday night. We had spaghetti Bolognese, mashed potatoes, fruit salad, veggies with Ranch dressing, cheese and crackers and apple crisp. I thought that considering our limited cooking facilities (no ovens and one hot plate each) we did quite well for ourselves. And we had gravy! A box from my mom which according to the tracking had been in China over a week without me receiving any notification was retrieved just hours before the event. In true Thanksgiving tradition, I had leftover mashed potatoes and gravy for breakfast the Saturday morning. An altogether pleasant state of affairs!
Saturday night we went to another Thanksgiving-type event at the home of a friend we met through Couch Surfing. She’s an amazing cook who served us a mixture of Chinese and Western dishes and refused to let us lift a finger. We reunited with two other CSers we met on our trip to Kaiping and also made friends with a German, a Swedish-Chinese, and another American. It was someone’s birthday and we decided to sing “Happy Birthday” in every language we jointly knew: English, Mandarin, Cantonese, French, Swedish, German, Spanish, and Georgian. I sang those last too alone and was not entirely on key. I’ve always loved the Georgian version as there are more words that just “happy birthday”:
Ra lamazi dghea
Ra nateli mzea
Imit’omrom dghes ________s
What a beautiful day!
What a clear sky!
Because today it’s _______’s birthday!
Standing there together, our glasses raised in a toast for a newly-met friend, I felt that the spirit of Thanksgiving had been more than fulfilled. In that moment, I didn’t feel liked I’d missed out on a thing. A memorable weekend, indeed.