After lunch, I had the luxury of working quietly alone in my classroom. I finish classes before lunch on Thursdays, so the afternoon can be devoted to planning, grading or the occasional required workshop. My co-teacher was attending a meeting, and I was absorbed in the details of planning when I heard the strains of a familiar song that nearly brought tears to my eyes. It seems the Harmonica Club was practicing several classrooms down the hall from me, and though they are only a small group of elementary students in grades 3 through 6, the blend of their instruments (more kinds of harmonicas than I knew existed, a couple of base drums and a 'hand piano' or two) unmistakenly was playing The Battle Hymn of the Republic. I've always loved that song. I got up from the table where I was working and ventured down the hall to find the source of the music. When I stopped outside the door of the room, the music teacher Win Lin invited me in to listen to the remainder of their practice. The students played twice through two verses of the hymn, and it was a thrill for me to stand there and listen, to think of home and the country I love. I know well that I'm more nostalgic than usual because I'm so far away from the traditions and people that mean so much to me on this holiday.
There will be special food on this special day, however. I've invited five Chinese teacher colleagues who've been kind and supportive of me in my foreign living/working situation to join me for dinner at a vegetarian restaurant in the nearby town of Jhudong. All of them have treated me to dinner more than once since I've been here, so I thought this would be a good day to let them know that I'm grateful for their support. While I'm still dependent on them for a ride to and from the restaurant, as well as for ordering the food, I will pick up the tab, and I will try to explain a little about the Thanksgiving tradition. Right now, I'm grateful for the opportunity to live and work in this wonderful country. The people I've met so far and the many experiences I've had have enriched my life beyond my ability to describe. Being away has also made me realize even more than I already did just how much my loved ones back at home mean to me. E-mail and Skype are beyond wonderful for keeping connected to those I care about, but to quote a well known line, "Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby". I miss my friends and family.
When my daughter Marie and her husband Keith join me at my apartment on Saturday, we will cook a somewhat modified Thanksgiving dinner considering I have a single hotplate and small convection oven. My Chinese friend Britt will take me to the day market in neighboring Jhudong at 6:30 Saturday morning so that I can buy a fresh bird and necessary vegetables and fruit. We're opting for chicken instead of turkey because, one, I haven't seen a single turkey since I've been here, and two, the oven is not very big. However, we'll still plan to make dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole and green bean casserole; dishes will have to take turns baking in the oven, but we will be making smaller amounts than I would at home, so I think it's all going to work out just fine. No pumpkin roll this year, but I think apple crisp will be baking in the oven while we're enjoying our dinner.
There is much to be thankful for this year despite some of the shortcomings of our situation. The three of us are in good health, we have employment, descent places to live, we've met some wonderful people who have enhanced the perspective of our lives…..and we have each other. Thinking of you back home. Happy Thanksgiving.
Published: November 29, 2011