Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cold Turkey
Yesterday was my fifth Thanksgiving in Asia, and aside from one in Hong Kong that featured Chinese waiters and waitresses dressed like elementary school pageant Pilgrims and Indians, perhaps the most memorable.

I had an invitation from a British woman, a longtime China expat who often hosts a Thursday night spaghetti bolognese spread at her apartment, but I told her it would be my treat this time courtesy of take-out from a pretty damn fine eatery in Beijing called Steak and Eggs, an American style diner run by a Canadian from Florida. Or something like that... Others invited included two French guys, a Canadian woman, two Spanish women and an Austrian couple. All "pilgrims" to China, though I regretted the fact there was no one from India to be the token Indian or, for that matter, any Chinese.

I ordered the basics: a roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and a pumpkin pie with my hostess supplying wine, potatoes, veggies and a couple bottles of honest-to-gawd "Karl Marx Champagne." We marveled at the concept, a one of a kind find she said when asked where to get more. The bubbly was pretty much what you'd expect, though it did help us cast off our social chains after a few glasses, and the label alone with a fine drawing of Mr Das Kapital was worth it.

Struggling with an 18-pound bird and fixings and 16 oz can of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce in my leather jacket pocket into her 5th floor place, I greeted the guests: "On behalf of the United States of America, I bring you our national holiday feast! I give thanks to Pamela for hosting us and you for joining us."

Questions followed as the Canadian woman carved the bird. The origin, what we do in the US now, etc. "Then after hosting the Indians and giving thanks, the Pilgrims gave them smallpox infected blankets in gratitude ... Oh, it's usually a low key day to gather with family, eat, give thanks for the 15-year-old daughter not getting pregnant, get drunk, watch football on TV - no, not soccer! - and fight with relatives."

"It sounds very much like our Christmas," sighed a French guy. "The food, the drink, the fighting ..." He sounded almost homesick.

6 comments:

Matthew said...

I'm jealous that you had real turkey. All I could get here was two roast ducks and some mashed potatoes.

If I come across that champagne, I will have to buy a bottle (and dump it contents). I love hypocritical souvenirs.

Ben said...

Well, just to dispel your myths about the holiday, we had 23 here yesterday, family as well as friends, and not a single fight.

We worked over a barbecued 30-pound bird (never seen one that big)and the potluck brought us asparagus, smashed 'taters, a gallon of gravy, and a selection of home-made pies, even a gooseberry pie. Can't say we enjoyed any champagne as colorful as yours, however.

Happy Thanksgiving from Stateside Justin. We're still keeping up with the blog, even if we don't contribute as often as we read.

john said...

Justin - you forgot the part about massive traffic jams, delayed flights, packed trains, all of the things that make holidays so much fun in the States.

Happy Thanksgiving Man.

Chuck said...

Justin, I misplaced your email but wanted to let you know that our friend Tom Fogerty passed away Tuesday in Virginia. Hope you are well. I enjoyed the Thanksgiving blog, even moreso after rereading it today. All the best.

China Guy said...

I myself was not going to have another thanksgiving with duck, chicken or pork...not that I am huge on Holidays....but I do miss Turkey.

So off to my local butcher a couple weeks before Turkey day....after looking up the pinyin for turkey "Huo ji" so as I muster up my best language skills to ask him if he can special order it for me I walk up there....one thing to note here is that the word for lighter is "da huo ji"....

So I ask him can you do it...he looks at me puzzled as can be... he says “of course I can get that for you...I have one here”. My eyes open wide as I am thinking he has a turkey here Holy Shit the world has ended..then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his cigarette lighter and hands it to me and tells me that will be 1 rmb. I sit there for a minute and think to myself...this sums up my life in China in 30 seconds...uuuugggghh. I retreat to my home defeated with no turkey but a story to tell for years to come.

So a few days later I am sitting around with my buddy Hippy...Our day started with...I know they have them in HK somewhere....so Hippy and I set off to HK...first stop the one place we think they will have them...a foreign grocery store as we walk in it was as if we went home through a portal...real cheese, corn chips, real sausages, real dried meats...I felt like I had died and gone to heaven...

Then as we turn the corner there it was the holy grail of birds a Turkey....I jump into the freezer unit scrambling around looking for the largest one thy had...There was no other time that I felt more successful in China than that moment...so we spent the next hour walking around the store looking at brands and products and commenting to each other...remember when we used to eat that....OMG they have this....holy shit look at that cranberry sauce...needless to say we walked out there with as much as our hands could carry...

Then we are off to a local bar that we know of around the corner that has a few dozen California micro brews....I will take the Boont Amber Ale and Hippy takes the Red Tail....so now it is becoming all too real. We are in China, drinking Cali Beers, and have all the makings for a thanksgiving dinner...

Off to the subway we go....one thing to note is that we started this day knowing that this one moment would come...entering China from HK...normally this is simple and easy as they do not hassle foreigners...however, since the Olympics this year things have changed a bit and depending on the guard is depending on the policy of the moment...

So as we are on the Subway back to Shenzhen we are rearranging all of our bags putting the questionable items in the bottoms of the bags or in backpacks...

Through the HK side whew....one down one to go....through the paperwork side of China....now remains the area where the rubber meets the road...the bag scanning machine...normally you can just walk through without putting your bag down...but sometimes not. We both knew that if we had to put our bags down it would be over they would take the turkey and a few other things.


So....Hippy with his phone pressed to his ear and turkey in the back pack walks through as "Mr. Busy don't bother me I have places t go and people to see" pulls it off miraculously....now is left me with ten shopping bags in hand.... so off I go as well...Mr. Busy #2 and I walk straight through with no issues as the Chinese besides me are getting shook down for the pocket lint (as I think god I am glad to be a foreigner)....

So turkey day comes….We have 3 forefingers and our Chinese wives/girlfriends here..one thing to note is that the largest bird Chinese have seen is a chicken or a pressed duck (I am not sure what the hell they do to them…but they are as flat as a pressed pair of jeans…None of the Chinese women cannot believe that we would consider cooking something so big without chopping it into a million pieces…with all the knives put away I commence on cooking the almighty holy grail on the Webber knock off on my deck…

It may have not turned out to be the best tasting bird I have ever had…but by far there has never been a bird I will remember so vividly….

Anonymous said...

In my opinion you commit an error.