A Chinese Thanksgiving

Posted by on November 28, 2011

The Little Cook

Thanksgiving was further experience in the surreal given the differences in timezone and holiday practices.  In China, as you’d expect, Thanksgiving is just any other working day. So Thanksgiving can’t be celebrated on its usual Thursday, this shifts everything your used to experiencing.  The concept of syncrhony : simultaneous occurrence is a modern notion that first developed in the information age of the telegraph; prior to then all time was “local time” : when the sun was highest that was noon.  You were so far away otherwise there was no idea that it was the same time everywhere or different times in different places.  Facebook connects different sides of the world together that exaggerate the differences; so when everyone is expressing thanks and putting in turkey’s to cook in China we are just working.

Making Crust

Thanksgiving was planned for Saturday evening.  With Church we divided up all the members hosts and attendees.  Hosts indicated the number of people they could accommodate and then attendees were assigned.   We were limited to accepting four guests because we had other guests we planned on inviting.  Julie Lefgren, a old friend that I’ve known since I was in Jr. High, came up from Nanjing and brought a friend Emily who was visiting China from Utah.  We invited over the Sheppards with their two boys, Austin works at Amazon and they just relocated to Beijing and just moved into our building.  Finally we invited George our friend from Uganda, his wife Tiisa couldn’t attend because she was convalescing back home with her mother.  We were joined by Whitney and Alex Putnam who arrived a few months ago, she is teaching English and her husband just got a job in accounting with HP and Sean and Samantha Floyd who have lived here for four years, she teaches school at YCIS and Sean works for a Sante Fe a relocation company.

Trimming the Crust

We ordered a 9 KG cooked turkey with stuffing and gravy from April Gourmet catering, they provided delivery and the total cost was 1300 rmb (around $200 USD).   We shopped around to a bunch of places, but we choose April because it was close, (we shop there often), they cooked it for you and they delivered.  We made assignments to others, they signed up for mashed potatoes, jello dish, green beans, rolls, asparagus, peas and we signed up for the yams and pumpkin pies.  Emilie brought stove-top stuffing with her from the USA so we’d have stuffing in and out of the turkey.    I went shopping on Friday with Mrs Li to the local morning market to buy yams, celery and onions and then Sofi and I went shopping later in the day to Jenny Lou’s to buy brown sugar, marshmallows and spices and fixings for the pies.  Sadly in Beijing you can’t buy frozen pie crusts so that was one more detail we’d have to tackle before dinner.


Saturday I went out to ISB to play in an early morning Turkey Bowl, though I didn’t play at all I just took photos of everyone else, but I find I am much less likely to get hurt that way. Back home we cut and boiled yams and Julie, Emily and Sofi set out to make homemade pie crusts using a recipe from Julies Mom. And the usual the chaos of the cooking moment ensued and I got caught up getting all the details ready.  In fact looking back I don’t have many photos and that’s mostly because I am so busy otherwise occupied.  Chopping celery, and onions (sniff); sauting and mixing up the stuffing. Slicing the yams and adding layers of butter and brown sugar. Stac made the pies and we got about setting up the table. Guests arrived, a few late. The Putnams took 2 hours to arrive due to traffic in a taxi (they realized later it would have been faster on the subway). George got lost trying to find our place and I hoped on the Flying Pigeon (bicycle) to go look for him.

Eventually it got to be 5:00 pm and the turkey that was supposed to arrive at 4:30 was still not here. We called to inquire and were told it would be soon. Around 5:30 the last guests arrived and the turkey was delivered at the same time. The turkey was fully cooked but ice cold. Somehow it had been finished at 3pm and had been left to get cold.  I pretty much lost it at this point.  The entire point of me ordering a turkey was so we didn’t have to worry about it. (That and the fact our oven was way too small to cook a turkey and everything else).  I told the delivery girl I wasn’t willing to pay; and I called the manager and asked him what he was going to knock off the price to make it right. I was pretty angry.  (The next day, Sunday, at church I happened to be in the bathroom in a stall at the same time that Miles and Kent Morris were washing their hands.  Kent said to Miles : “I heard your turkey showed up cold” to which Miles replied : “Yeah my Dad threw a fit”).  We agreed to settle up later

Chin Twitcher

I started reheating the coagulated gravy, and slicing off bits of ice cold turkey to put on a plates and throw it in the oven.  Everyone gathered into the kitchen and we said a blessing.  I was still wrapped all up in the adrenalin of a cold turkey and just piled up potatoes, yams, stuffing and gravy and left the turkey for my second plate.  Finally after heating up four plates of turkey we got everyone fed and settled into the familiar post-gorging rhythm of sitting around and talking.  We listened to stories of George and Uganda’s who drink 20 liters of milk a day and a Wild Animal Kingdom park in Beijing where they put you in a small wire enclosed car with meat hanging from the car where bears and lions come up and pull the meat off.   All in all Thanksgiving was wonderful.  Each bit of food was a tiny bit of heaven : the yams, the stuffing, the pumpkin pie and the turkey.  Eating with friends from long ago and newly made in a far away land made it all the more special.

One Response to A Chinese Thanksgiving

  1. Austin Sheppard

    Mark, what a great Thanksgiving. Thanks so much for having us!


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