Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving, the Actual Celebration of

by Ruth

“I feel proud of us!” Laura said. “We pulled off a real Thanksgiving meal, just us kids.” We may not quite be kids anymore, but we certainly don’t feel we have reached the level of experienced adults - those people with china and silver and centerpieces. Nevertheless, it was a really good Thanksgiving.

There were thirteen of us in all, including a little baby who happily chewed on coasters while we ate Thanksgiving food. The rest were teachers from different cities in Shaanxi province plus Sherri, our “supervisor,” who is from a different province but loves us so much she just had to join in. Most of them arrived on Thursday evening and we spent the weekend laughing and playing games and cooking and eating and all those other things people do for fun.

Matt and Corrine, my teammates in Yangzhou, stayed with us and we had a happy reunion. About halfway through the visit I realized this would be the last time I’d see them for a really, really long time. They are moving back to Oregon in about a month. Three billion people notwithstanding, China will feel emptier without them. It’s so hard to see my friends in the States. They are all so spread out, and it doesn't help that we have to divide two months a year amongst everyone we know.

This weekend was great fun, though. After everyone arrived on Thursday night, we stayed up talking and laughing and telling funny/disturbing/embarrassing China stories until after 1am. The next night, we stayed up late playing Scattegories. Last night we were up til 2am having a movie marathon (Elf and Love Actually, after Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Family Man earlier in the day) In fact, I haven’t stayed up so late so consistently since college. I felt like a young, cool, fun person again. I also felt very tired.

We started a quote book to remember all the funny things people said, and by the end of our time we had pages of inside jokes. I would tell you some of them, but they wouldn't make a lot of sense. It was great to laugh so much. I don’t realize how much I miss that in daily life until I suddenly have it again. It was so great to be able hang out with people you can feel completely comfortable with and not worry about what you should say or if they will understand. It’s like having friends - the real life kind that are in your living room instead of ten thousand miles away. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Thursday we just taught classes all day, so our real Thanksgiving was on Saturday. Someone pointed out how well we had done with twelve people cooking different dishes in different houses, sharing two ovens and scrounging around for pans and counter space and nobody getting very stressed or fighting. When we finished, we had a table full of food. We opted out of turkey, since it’s hard to come by in China. Instead, we went for a chicken casserole and KFC. I put the KFC in a pretty bowl to make it look nicer, but Laura said, “We’re eating KFC at Thanksgiving. You’re really not going to be able to make that classy.” It was okay though. Kind of funny.

We filled up on two kinds of stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, various vegetables, a fruit salad, biscuits, and ratatouille. We had to wait for a few hours before we had room to dig into the pumpkin pie, walnut pie, cheesecake, and butterscotch cookies.

Sadly, I was disappointed by my famous sweet potatoes. People eating them for the first time said they were good, and they weren't bad. But they were not the "can’t wait to get a third helping, scraping the bottom of the pan fabulous" of past years. The sweet potatoes in this area are not that great. They aren’t as sweet, are hardly yellow at all, and have a denser texture, more like regular potatoes. They never got creamy like they were supposed to, and besides that, the brown sugar here is a little different. Since the recipe is about 1/3 sweet potatoes, 1/3 butter, and 1/3 brown sugar, those differences were rather noticeable. Fortunately, we did have butter for the recipe, after a little “butter scare” earlier in the week. We went to the supermarket and there was NO butter. How can you have Thanksgiving without butter? About ¾ of our dishes use butter. Fortunately, I found some at another store.

After eating, we sprawled out on couches and the floor in various levels of consciousness. We slept/watched “The Family Man,” then finally roused ourselves to sing some Christmas songs. We sang…with gusto and much laughing. I’m sure our neighbors heard and thought we were even crazier than usual.

Half of the teachers left on Saturday evening. I hugged the Hanings goodbye about five times and continued my moaning about how we would never see each other ever again. It was sad to watch people leave. When we come together, it is such an intense time. We don’t get to have the same kind of normal groups of friends and easy acquaintanceships. I felt like I needed to be talking to someone every minute of the day and laughing to make up for the rest of the semester and soaking in the community to store up for all the other times when it’s far away.

I forget how much I miss that feeling of community, of friendship, until I actually have it. That’s why it’s so intense. Intensely happy and satisfying, as I realize how great things are. Intensely sad at having to say goodbye to another good friend who I won’t see for months or years (now that I think of it, I’ve never had a friendship which doesn’t involve that kind of goodbye). And intensely poignant – that moment when you look around and realize how great everything is right now and that you’re about to lose it again.

Of course, I’ll hardly have time to think about that before we re-experience that crazy intense feeling at Thailand. This month is one of the busiest of the year, as we rush into the Christmas season, our final weeks of classes, final exams, and finishing up masters work. Kevin and I just started meeting with a Chinese tutor, and I am just starting to study with some girls, so almost every week night is booked. Students are asking for help with speeches, for visits to their dorm, and more or less inviting themselves over to visit us. “This is good,” I think, as I rush from one thing to the next. “But why do they always wait until the busiest time?” Before we know it, Christmas will be over, the semester will be over (at approximately the same time), and we’ll be heading to Thailand. By way of Malaysia and Cambodia.

Yeah, we have a good life. I missed my family, who were all home for Thanksgiving, and now I miss my friends, who have gone back to their own busyness, but to think – some people never even have those things to miss. Or just as bad, some people always have those things so they never get to really appreciate it. I guess the back and forth, give and take, hello and goodbye form of life is good for that. When you are laughing with friends or eating candy corns or flying to a new country, or when you are hugging friends goodbye or wishing for turkey or wishing you didn’t have to travel all the time, a part of you always remembers how lucky you are.

1 comment:

Ginger said...

I miss that. :-) And I don't, at the same time. Miss the fellowship, the conversations w/ students, looking forward to Thailand. Don't miss the insanity & stress at this time of year. Glad to hear things are going well. We're thinking of you guys.