As I clean the house before 24 relatives descend upon our small kitchen tomorrow, I can’t help but think back to celebrating Thanksgiving abroad.
Twenty years ago I spent my first overseas Thanksgiving. I was studying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (photo on left) and signed up for the Office of International Studies’ Thanksgiving banquet.
The study abroad office ordered a dozen turkeys (it wasn’t easy to buy turkey in Hong Kong back then; there are many more options these days), along with trays of fried rice and other Chinese dishes for those who weren’t into eating massive amounts of dry poultry.
That year Thanksgiving became more of an international night than a traditional American festival. The study abroad program had about 70 students, mostly from the US, but also from Japan, Canada, South Korea, Israel, and Germany. Most of these students came to the banquet, as did quite a few local Hong Kong students.
I still remember the fragrant roses in the centerpieces. The program administrator woke up at the break of dawn that morning before setting out to the flower market on Prince Edward Road in Kowloon. She chose dozens and dozens of yellow, red, and pink roses. I volunteered to help set up for the dinner, so my job was to cut the roses and arrange them in small vases. It was such a nice touch that for years afterward, Thanksgiving didn’t seem quite right without fresh, voluminous roses.
I spent four more Thanksgivings in Hong Kong, but only celebrated the holiday one other time. Some American friends invited my then-husband and me to their apartment for turkey and all the fixings. They were the only people I knew in Hong Kong who owned an oven. I can’t remember what else we ate, but I can still feel the warmth from that oven.