Lisa McClure's China Diary


Wang Hong gives a toast
My boss, Wang Hong, gives us all a toast. Guests were served their choice of beer or green grape juice (with grapes floating in it!).

Lisa, enjoying her first Thanksgiving dinner in China
Dana's on my right, Han jie and Anna are on my left, at my first Thanksgiving dinner in China.

Our fish
Every fine Chinese banquet must have a fish. This photo doesn't do our fish justice. It was delicious!

Lisa cuts the pumpkin pie, with Lara's help
We did have one traditional dish at our Thanksgiving meal. Thanks to a can of pumpkin my mother brought me last month when she visited us, I was able to bake a very traditional pumpkin pie in the small toaster oven we have here at the guesthouse. It came out perfectly, and all 19 of us were able to taste a small sliver of real American pumpkin pie!

Jackie, our videographer
Jackie took the video for me, and everybody had a hand in taking the photos on this web page.

Lara and Allen
Lara and Allen singing that old favorite that every Chinese child knows, 'Mama Hao'. (Mama good!)

Amanda
Amanda, one of my students, sings beautifully.

Dana and her husband, Hot
Dana and her husband are also great singers! Dana is an English teacher who took my English class last summer. Her husband, Hot, writes for the Jinzhou newspaper, and he wrote a front page story about us last August.

Lara and Lisa singing Pengyou together
Lara and me, singing the only Chinese song that I know, Pengyou (Friend). Lara knows lots of Chinese songs!

Meng Meng and Lara singing together
Meng Meng and Lara sing a song together

Lara and Gege singing together
Lara and Gege singing together. Gege is a head taller, but only two weeks older than Lara.

Michael and Steven
Michael and Steven. Michael is the 14 month old son of my co-worker, Leanne. Steven is one of my students.

Jackie, Wang Hong, Alexandra, and Allen
My students, Jackie, Alexandra, and Allen, with Wang Hong

Meng Meng and her mother
Meng Meng and her mother

Michael and his Dad, all bundled up
Michael and his Dad, getting bundled up to go home.

Thanksgiving, November 25, 1999

Our first Thanksgiving in China has been a wonderful celebration, one that Lara and I will always remember, I'm sure!

I started thinking about the holiday season a long while ago, and wondered how we should celebrate such a traditional holiday as Thanksgiving, in a country where roast turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce are completely unknown.

But I realized that Thanksgiving is really about being together with your family and close friends, and sharing good food and fun together. I do miss my family and friends back home, but I definitely wanted to share this special day with some of my friends here in Jinzhou.

Early on, I considered, and discarded the idea of trying to cobble together a traditional Thanksgiving meal. I have actually seen a couple of live turkeys in Jinzhou, standing in cages outside of local restaurants, but I know that they will never be served in one large, roasted piece. Also, the idea of trying to cook and serve (and clean up after) a lot of people in our very small, shared kitchen and dining room definitely didn't appeal to me at all.

Besides, I'm not that fond of traditional Thanksgiving food. I really do prefer Chinese food. So, it was a very easy decision for me to choose to invite some of our friends to help us celebrate our first Thanksgiving with a traditional Chinese banquet in a private room at a local banquet restaurant.

We got about 5 inches of cold, icy snow yesterday morning, and the temperature dropped to pretty close to 0 degrees. (-18C). So the roads were all covered with sheet ice, and we all made sure that we were well bundled up before we went outdoors.

My students were in high spirits. As far as I can tell, they all adore snowy weather, and they kept asking me whether we get cold weather and snow back home in America. In the grand spirit of one upsmanship, I took gloomy pleasure in assuring them that Colorado winters are equally cold and usually even snowier. In fact, it snowed very heavily this week in Colorado, and I heard there was an 83 car pileup (with two fatalities) on I-70 at the Genesee Park exit where I used to work! So, I guess things could be a lot worse than trudging around in my wool long johns, on foot, on these icy Jinzhou streets!

But we didn't have to walk to the restaurant. We met at the guesthouse at 6 pm and walked to the west gate of our school. Taxis were waiting outside to drive us in comfort. And despite the icy roads, I didn't see any cars sliding around or out of control. I guess that's because the overwhelming majority of drivers are professionals, used to spending most of their time behind the wheel. Very few individuals own cars in Jinzhou, and when the roads are icy, I think that they tend to stay home. Anyway, we arrived at the restaurant very safely, and went upstairs to our private banquet room.

Few people in China have homes large enough to entertain large groups in, so it is very popular to entertain in restaurants. Nearly all restaurants have at least one private room for these sorts of private parties, and each private room is almost always guaranteed to have a karaoke system, because singing is so popular here.


The Karaoke system can be seen behind Anna and her husband.

I've had two parties at this restaurant before, so I knew that the food would be good and the room very nice and large. I reserved their largest room, for 18 people. It had a very large, round table at one end, and a large karaoke system at the other, with chairs and a sofa with small tables on both sides. For this Thanksgiving meal, I wanted to limit the number of guests to one table's worth, so that we could all eat together. It was very difficult to keep the guest list down, because Lara and I have made so many friends here!

My first task upon arrival, as hostess, was to select the menu for our meal. One of my students, Allen, helped me with this. I selected many items that I have eaten before and like very much. I also selected a dish called Basi Digua, which is sweet potatoes in a candy coating, because it seemed appropriate for Thanksgiving. Allen also helped me select some other dishes that we thought we would go well with the meal. In all, we selected 13 dishes, including the grand fish that is de rigeur for any Chinese banquet.


Leanne watches, as Meng Meng, Lara, and Ge Ge sing karaoke.

While I was ordering, the kids were having a great time singing karaoke. The three older ones are all almost exactly the same age, 4 1/2 now, and they were belting the songs out with lots of enthusiasm, if a bit off key. In fact, they took over the karaoke system during the early part of the evening, and we were all treated to multiple renditions of a very popular children's song, Mama Hao, along with other favorite tunes.

Then the food started to come, and we all sat down and enjoyed the meal. At Chinese banquets, it's traditional to enjoy many toasts throughout the meal. I keep trying, but I still haven't gotten the hang of this. I often get so involved eating and chatting with my neighbors that I forget to toast, and even when I remember, I usually can't think of anything very inspiring to say. But we were a comfortable group, because we mostly all knew each other well, and I think everybody had a good time.

My only regret at all about our dinner was that I really should have ordered more dishes. I tried to convince Allen about this when we were ordering, but he was concerned about the cost, and kept insisting that we had plenty. And in truth, certainly nobody went hungry. But it is traditional at Chinese banquets and Thanksgiving dinners to have at least twice as much food as anybody can actually eat. And at this dinner, we ate nearly everything up. So, I was a bit disappointed about this, and have resolved to have more food next year.

A few of the dishes served

Anna, with her son and husband, Wang Hong, and Michael with his Dad,
enjoy a few of the dishes served at our Thanksgiving dinner.

After the main meal, I served everybody a tiny sliver of my homemade pumpkin pie, the only American food we had at our Thanksgiving dinner. Then we all relaxed and sang karaoke and visited. Several of my friends are very good singers, and they had a great time singing karaoke. I still only know one Chinese song, so of course, I had to sing it. But after that I was glad to just sit and talk while others took charge of the microphone.

Lara had a great time, too, practicing her gymnastics on the carpeting. She keeps improving at an amazing rate, and last night was beginning to turn some very creditable cartwheels. I know that she enjoyed having friends her own age to play with.

Sometime during the singing, I slipped out, and with Steven's help paid for our party. I really didn't have much idea of what it would cost to feed 18 people (plus one baby) Thanksgiving dinner, though I did know that Allen had been very frugal with the ordering. But it was a pleasant surprise to learn that the total bill, including lots of beer and juice, came to only 350 yuan. ($43 U.S) Course, I don't earn nearly as much as I did back in the States, but I still feel that I got a great amount of fun and food for my money.

By 9 pm, I was feeling pretty tired. Lara and I have gotten into the habit of going to bed early, and getting up early. Usually, we're in bed by 8 pm. So, though I was sad to think of the evening coming to an end, I was also kind of relieved when several of my guests got up and began to get ready to go home.

I think several of the students would have been happy to stay all night, singing one song after another, but with only a little encouragement, they put down their microphones and began to get ready to go out in the cold, too.

Then we took taxis back home again. I hope that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too!

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