Thanksgiving 2013

JISHOU, HUNAN — First, I am going to pimp my mention in NPR’s Protojournalist blog. They invited expats around the world to contribute short reports on how we were celebrating the holiday. None of my photos on Instagram got used, but you can see a few of them here.

Thursday is a work day for me this term. I have morning Oral English classes till just before noon. The only Western holiday we foreign teachers have off is Christmas, and only a day at that, so all other holidays are working days for me. It’s just something you have to accept as expat. On the bright side, Chinese universities typically take four to six weeks off for winter holiday and six weeks off for the summer, plus there are other shorter holidays scattered throughout the year.

After classes, I met Laura Liu for lunch. I have mentioned her in an earlier post about my students. Laura and I are close friends, but she had other plans for dinner, so we met for lunch at a place downtown that serve noodles Yunnan style. It’s one of my favorite places to eat in Jishou, and I hadn’t been there for months. The service is unique. The server brings out thinly sliced bits of meat and fish, vegetables, mushrooms, and tiny eggs (I’m not sure from which kind of bird) first. Then, a covered clay pot containing boiling broth comes out. The server drops the eggs in first, then the meat, mushers and veggies, and puts the lid back on. A few minutes later, the server returns with soft rice noodles, which are added to the pot and the dish is now ready to eat. Delicious!

Tomato and egg (with Joyce's love)

Tomato and egg (with Joyce’s love)

For dinner, several juniors from class G4 had offered to come to my flat to cook dinner. But, my house was a mess — dishes in the sink, stains on the countertop, and the living room floor hadn’t been mopped in a week. So, I did a blitz cleaning of the flat, and still had time for a short nap before 4 pm, when they planned to arrive.

Diced pork with cucumbers and chilies

Diced pork with cucumbers and chilies

Eight students came. One, “Trans” Li, has been my student the last two years. Six others were all transfers from junior colleges, and new to me and Jishou since September. The last was not even my student, but still a student in our college. The best part: I didn’t need to do a thing, except tell them where the rice and kitchen things were. I could take photos and chat with the girls who were not busy with food prep and cooking.

Braised fish with chili pepper

Braised fish with chili pepper and garlic

Here’s a brief rundown of the food items. Fruit salad with dressing (With cucumbers! It actually works.) Sliced huái shān (淮山 wild yams), cooked with a little chili pepper until hot but still crunchy. Diced pork with chili pepper. Braised fish with chilies and garlic. Boiled fish with chilies and fresh cilantro. Shoestring potatoes lightly fried in oil. Tomatoes and egg. Preserved (“thousand-year-old”) eggs. Chinese cabbage. Diced pork with cucumber and cilantro (and chilies). And lots of rice.

Cook Amy Gong presents her contribution

Cook Amy Gong presents her contribution

My Nikon D60 is out for repairs, so I am relying on my cellphone camera and the photos Trans Li (short for “translator,” btw) took before her camera batteries died. In all, there were 12 of us in my tiny flat: the eight students, James, my fellow American teacher, and Ukrainians Tanya and Irina, who teach voice and dance, respectively, in the music college. And we still had leftovers.

Some of the happy party: from left, Amy G, Lilyth, me, Tanya, Irina, Joyce, Joanna

Some of the happy party: from left, Amy G, Lilyth, me, Tanya, Irina, Joyce, Joanna

Every Thanksgiving here has been different each time. On three occasions, we ate out. Yesterday’s feast was the third that took place in my home, or someone else’s. This one was more international than earlier ones, since I invited my Ukrainian neighbors to join us. Each one has been a happy, enjoyable affair, with good food, great company and friendship. I got to talk with (and pose for photos with) some of my newer students, which took down some of the barriers that language teachers need to breach to get their students speaking their target language. And the food was wonderful. The four cooks, we all agreed, should open a restaurant outside the school.

Chatting on the couch

Chatting on the couch

Working abroad, apart from your family, can be hard on some people. It’s one reason why many working abroad eventually return to their home country. I will admit, I miss my kids and my extended family, not to mention all the familiar Thanksgiving Day foods and customs (the Macy’s parade!). I know they miss me. I have not been part of a family holiday going on six years now. So, I am thankful for my family’s willingness to put up with my absence, and thankful for the opportunity to forge new friendships in my new home here in Jishou. I am also thankful that the world is full of caring, generous people who welcome strangers into their midst.

I hope everyone reading this has a great holiday. Mazel tov.

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