Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day, China Style

The day started with another one of those great tiny moments that almost make this kind of travail livable. Having found the appropriate dual-male-3.5mm-stereo-plug cable I was able to plug my iPod into the car radio for the ride to work. For the inaugural ride I chose Exile on Main Street by the Stones and was once again comported back in time and space by “Tumbling Dice”, one of my all time favorites. James listened for a bit and told me he was having a hard time understanding just what Mick was singing about. I told him the words really didn’t matter – it was the whole sound package that counted. He countered that at least with Hip Hop he could listen to the lyrics because they typically sing so slowly. I thought about that for a bit, wondering if that was really such a good thing.

I spent most of the morning explaining the idea of Thanksgiving to my Chinese colleagues and trying to clear up the question of why I was at work and not home celebrating. In reality it was more or less just another work day for me although I have to say there was the slightest hint of the holiday in the air. Maybe it was the light; maybe it was the howling north wind and freezing temperatures. I’m not sure, but no matter how strongly I protested, it was still there. It looked like Thanksgiving, even without the Christmas decorations in the store.

My plan was pretty simple – work until about 1:45, meet my relocation specialist at my apartment building and then join the other project orphans at the Gregg’s for dinner. I skipped lunch knowing that the important dining would be later and worked until 1 when I decided it would be polite to bring some flowers and a couple bottles of wine.

James picked me up and took me to Mykal, the department store where I knew I could find something drinkable in the gourmet food shop. As I was browsing, one of the shop girls came over and started making suggestions. Now I am not against some help in the wine aisle, but I didn’t get a sense that she had any idea what I wanted. She basically pointed at bottles and said things I could not understand to which I just replied “bu yao.” I settled on a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and a French Cabernet. The Blanc presented an interesting challenge – the bottle was exactly as tall as the space they had placed it in. Almost as though they had stood the bottle up and then built the shelf above it. She struggled and struggled until I intervened and slowly worked it to a gap between display cases and got it out.

From there, it was on to the flower shop. Now I have to say, these kinds of little adventures are nicely rounding out my acclimation. We went in and James did the talking. The girl wanted to sell me roses, and I told James that was not acceptable – guests do not bring red roses to someone else’s wife as a hostess gift. Fine said the girl, how about white? I explained it a second time and now we were at an impasse. The stock in the store was fantastic – carnations, bright yellow mums, and the biggest lilies I’ve ever seen. So I pointed at the yellow mums and was told “No, those are for dead people.” I pointed at some shockingly scarlet red Gerbera Daisies and James broke the logjam – give her 70 kuai and she’ll design something for you.

We left to go to my apartment appointment, planning to return and pick them up on the way back. There was some difficulty in finding the place as it had changed dramatically since my last visit. After much texting and a phone call we located Maria in the lobby of the building which I remembered as the correct one from my last visit when it was still surrounded by dirt and a construction fence.

The service lift took us up to the models on the 8th or 9th floor. Pretty much as I remember them, I opted to take a different one that I had originally requested. Looking at the building floor plan, I had figured out that the service lift was on the other side of the wall which happened to be at the head of the bed in the master bedroom. And the place had far less windows than the other 2 bedroom offering. Having accomplished what I wanted, we headed back down and out to the car. The good news is they are saying January for my move in.

Maria was wearing a scarf which I had seen on many young women over the past few weeks a spitting image of the Keffiyeh worn by Palestinians. Well, it was actually a black and white hounds tooth, but it was close enough. I had to have one. So I made Maria take us to An Sheng Mall where she had purchased it. Having now discovered it, it seemed like everyone young woman had one on (Chinese men don’t wear scarves, but if they did, this would be the one.) It came from a table in the center of the mall, among dozens of other tables selling oddball articles of clothing and other things. We fished through the knots of scarves – they were all tangled up in multiple giant clusters. I found the correct pattern, but it was more of a headscarf. Not for me. We finally located one at the bottom of the pile, not the big pattern, but close enough. I grabbed it and attempted to pay, but like so many other places in China, you have to get a ticket and walk elsewhere. I threw the scarf over my shoulder and took off; getting about 20 steps before the vendor grabbed it back from me and returned to her table. I stood in line while some guy in a pleather Members Only jacket fumbled for change. A young guy came up and cut right in front of me and when the guy at the head of the line finally finished paying, I cut right back. Score one for all people decent enough to stand in a queue properly.

Receipt in hand I went back and collected my scarf, wrapped it around my neck and went looking for James who was idling somewhere outside. I bid farewell to Maria and got in the car for the trip back to the flower shop.

Arriving there, we hopped out and went to collect the bouquet. What a masterpiece – a giant combination of reds, yellows and whites beautifully wrapped up in green paper. It was gorgeous, a $10 arrangement that would have been ten times that back home. Flowers and wine accomplished, it was off to dinner.

The Greggs live out at Campus Village, a townhome community built in conjunction with an American school and a western clinic. The original intention was for tons of us to live out there, sort of in an East Anytown USA kind of arrangement. It’s full, but for some reason it always looks deserted and it’s changed a lot since I was last there. It’s now gated, with security and they have removed the chains from the infamous Chained Bay Lampposts mentioned here so very long ago.

The party was a blast – Jon and his wife Felicia, their four kids and eight or so expats and locals. The turkey arrived via one of the drivers from Real Eddie’s, where else? Jon was doing a truly pathetic job of carving, complaining that he didn’t have his electric knife. Being by far the senior male in the congregation, I took pity on him and took over the duties. I guess I’ve moved into that stage of life where I am the portable Dad. We had stuffing vegetables, rolls, cranberry sauce and of course mashed potatoes. People sat in two rooms in order to maintain the tradition of the adults in one place and the kids at the card table. At my table we talked about the Pilgrims and the meaning of the holiday for Jenny as this was her very first Thanksgiving. It was just grand and probably far better than a giant family gathering because we had no baggage! All of this complemented by Led Zeppelin on Aaron’s iPod.

After dinner the kids got all spun up in keeping with the tradition and eventually, all burned out shuffled off to bed. The adults then took over the earnest consumption of desert – Tiramisu, butterscotch brownies, mint chocolate cookies, pumpkin pie and a Chinese cheesecake that was frosted and had the slightest hint of sharp cheddar. A new one on me.

Jon graciously invited all the drivers in for some food as they were all sitting out there in the cars waiting for us to wrap it up. It was very interesting to watch them poke the blob of cranberry sauce, wondering what the heck it was.

Things started to wind down around 8, all of us having had a conversation about how in this place, we all feel like the evening ends at 7 PM. It is weird, it seems a long time between dinner and bed on a daily basis.

James was waiting and I settled in for the long haul back to town, thankful for so many things, not the least of which is the fact that I don’t live out there in the middle of nowhere.





























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1 comment:

Brian, Pamela & Angelina said...

Terry I second this statement, something I do not miss one bit.

"James was waiting and I settled in for the long haul back to town, thankful for so many things, not the least of which is the fact that I don’t live out there in the middle of nowhere."