立場新聞 Stand News

Lonely, lonely Thanksgiving...or not

2015/12/1 — 21:04

Randy Robertson / flickr

Randy Robertson / flickr

Inspired by Prof. Wong's recent article on Stand News, I decided to chime in with my two cents, and reflect on what Thanksgiving has meant for me. We Hongkongers have ample contact with "American culture" through Hollywood movies and TV dramas, but spending Thanksgiving with an American family was still an eye-opener. Imagine inviting a "gweilo" to spend Chinese New Year with your family --- except that you are now the "gweilo", but with yellow skin (most of you anyway).

It was November 2011 when I first got to taste the turkey, so to speak. A week or two before Thanksgiving, an email came announcing that some staff members were interested in inviting international students over for dinner. That seemed such a rare opportunity to experience local culture, and I ended up spending the next three Thanksgivings with auntie Mary and her lovely family.

Just like how Chinese migrant workers flock home during chun jie, Americans would try their best to spend time with their family on Thanksgiving day. Apart from Mary and her husband, I was able to meet their sons, Jim and Jack, who just graduated from university. And then there was grandpa, a 90 years old WWII veteran who spent VE day as an American soldier in Budapest. The second time I visited with some classmates, he showed us an old souvenir from the war --- a pistol made by Czechoslovakian armories during the German occupation. The magazine was rusted shut, and so we never found out if the gun was loaded. It caused some alarm when my classmates pointed it around the room.
 

 

CZ38 is the model, if I remember correctly. / WIkimedia

CZ38 is the model, if I remember correctly. / WIkimedia

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These were the people with whom I shared three Thanksgiving dinners. It always began with a prayer of gratefulness --- even though the family probably wasn't religious --- and then the food was served. As Prof. Wong noted, it is customary to pass dishes around, and everyone waits for their turn to get a portion. The turkey notwithstanding, what I found most memorable were the traditional desserts: apple and pumpkin pies, which are served hot and eaten with vanilla ice-cream.

What did I bring in return for such pleasant dinners? Something truly from Hong Kong, of course. 

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XO 醬  / 網站截圖

Mary's family is unusual in that they are curious about foreign cultures and their own roots. They have in fact traced grandpa's ancestors to the time when they had left England 400 years ago. On my part, I did my best to explain Hong Kong's place within the PRC, and described (superficially, I'm afraid) Lu Xun's literature and its importance.

In these days when globalization is the trend, so-called intercultural skills were much valued. Even scientists, who have a stereotypical reputation of being anti-social, would need to collaborate with colleagues from across the world. Complete harmony between people from very different backgrounds is improbable, and confusion often arises in the smallest things in daily life. For instance, Americans always greet people by saying "how are you?", but sometimes they don't really expect an answer. It took me two years to come to terms with that, as I come from a culture where people don't casually ask about that.

But at least it's easy to begin: know your culture(s), and be honest about it; be patient when listening to others describing theirs. Last but not least, be grateful that you get to be acquainted with people from outside of your comfort zone. At least that was how I felt, when I dined with Mary's family in their house, sharing with them the warm food and shelter. It certainly beats spending the whole day alone playing computer games.

XO 醬 / 網站截圖

 

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