I’m a bit late to the party, as it’s been a week and a half since Thanksgiving. That’s because here in China I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving once, but three times! This was particularly special for me because I haven’t celebrated a “traditional” Thanksgiving in the U.S. since 2014. While in 2015 I had one of my favorite Thanksgivings—20 Indian friends in my apartment in an extremely eclectic hodgepodge of Indian dishes and lots of whiskey—the last two years I have done nothing.
So, what do three Chinese Thanksgivings look like?
Thanksgiving #1 (Wednesday, November 21st): Work Thanksgiving
One of the saddest things about working in this company is that our “busy season” (aka- everything is on fire, 15-hour work days) falls during the Holiday season. October through January 1st is so hectic my manager suggested I not take off the day after Christmas because the office “needs me.” I worked until midnight on Halloween (my spookiest Halloween yet), and I’ve basically been barred from going back to the U.S. for any Christmas ever as long as I am employed here.
As nearly half my colleagues are American, this is a bit sad. Apparently that corporate guilt translates into a huge Thanksgiving bonanza. We worked a half day. In the morning I received an award for teamwork. I got a plaque and a trophy and about $150 in cash. Not bad for my first month! One of many things to be thankful for.
That afternoon, we went to a restaurant, the top floor reserved for us. We started off with drinks—whiskey on the rocks and red wine—and when everyone arrived we were served turkey, cranberry sauces, potatoes, veggies, pumpkin pie, etc….everything you need for a traditional Thanksgiving. This was my first official “office party” and it went pretty much as I expected—I drank far too much for a work event. Luckily, we ended up going to KTV where I stopped drinking (but unfortunately, not before divulging in far too much singing and dancing for colleagues). If anyone doesn’t know what KTV is, it is a type of karaoke. Groups can rent out a single, sound-proof room and there’s a playlist of music videos with lyrics and microphones and people dance around and sing along. It’s actually great fun but I still don’t love the idea of dancing and singing around people I need to be professional around. However, considering the vice president and CEO were rapping, and everyone was quite drunk, I don’t think anyone was paying much mind to me.
Thankfulness #1: I’m thankful for the friends I’ve met through work. I’ve never worked with so many kind and intelligent people and genuinely enjoy spending time with them both in and out of the office. I’m also thankful everyone else drank more than me (the key to office parties, it seems).
Thanksgiving #2 (Thursday, November 22nd): Chinese Thanksgiving
My actual Thanksgiving turned out to be quite spontaneous. After work, I was supposed to meet my non-work friend from France. The plan was just to grab dinner but he had met up with someone he (sort of) knew who invited us to a private dinner party. We ended up in the back room with the restaurant owner and an assortment of people, some who spoke English, some who didn’t, and a feast of food and far too much wine given my previous night. We ate frog, meat sandwiches, cow tongue, spring rolls, vegetables, and a whole assortment of dishes I can’t even remember now. The food just kept coming for hours. Finally, I excused myself since I was exhausted from the day before.
Unforunately, the night took a sad turn. I Skyped my parents that evening and they told me they weren’t coming to China for Christmas. This came as a huge shock to me, as they had been talking about visiting me “wherever I am in the world” for Christmas since, well, last Christmas. They said I sounded too busy at work and worried I would change my mind about staying in China. Honestly, I completely broke down at this. I was devastated. While overall I like my job, I’m still adjusting to a lack of freedom and it felt like I was being punished for having to work hard and not being able to take time off around Christmas. Plus, while this year has been a good one, it has also been a very hard one. I’ve felt really let down by a lot of people and sort of feel like I partially gave up on my dreams to take a more “normal” job. Through all this, the one thing I had really highlighted was my family coming to see me for Christmas. Their trips to see me are always some of my favorites memories from whichever country I am in.
This one has a happy ending. My parents booked their tickets to Beijing and have sent away for their visas so we’ll be able to have a small Christmas here in China after all.
Thankfulness #2: I’m thankful my family can be with me for the holidays.
Thanksgiving #3 (Sunday, November 25th): Friendsgiving
Someone from my office had a Friendsgiving party at his apartment. He actually didn’t invite me; I don’t know him well. But another colleague invited me. It largely consisted of his “drinking and running” friends but also some other random people who showed up. It was a nice opportunity to talk to people outside of work and eat more delicious traditional Thanksgiving food.
After, one of my friends and I went to a cool speakeasy in the Hutongs. Hutongs are the traditional small houses which weave like mazes through parts of Beijing. Honestly, the entrance was so dark, I walked right by it at first. We also didn’t know the code to get in but someone was leaving so we snuck in. The place was cool, with a tree in the courtyard and cocktails and traditional furniture. It was one of those very unique experiences that makes me feel happy about having moved to China and eager to see what other unexpected treasures are hidden in this city.
Thankfulness #3: The opportunity to travel and explore
Happy (late) Thanksgiving!