Sunday, November 27, 2005

"A distant nation my community..."

This week was amazing, and it turned out to be the most beautiful Thanksgiving I have ever had.

It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only last Monday night, that on my way out of work I sent an e-plea to just about every American I know asking them to please help me find Thanksgiving, lost over here as I am among Koreans, Canadians, and the occasional Brit who couldn't care less.

I had hit my "wall," that unproven and yet incontrovertible point that you reach after a certain amount of time spent in a foreign land or similarly strange endeavor. I personally have a theory, developed 40 days into my last stay in a foreign country a few years ago, that the Bible is right on for having all of these hardships like fasts in the desert, life on an ark, and so forth come to an end after 40 days and 40 nights. I think that is the limit of human endurance, and apparently God knows it!

And so I reached my 40th day and 40th night in Korea last week, and I was sick of the frustrations, especially the food or lack thereof. Not to mention that seeing the movie Elizabethtown had sent me careening into a tailspin of nostalgia for the U.S. So naturally it was splendid timing that I was heading into Thanksgiving week, when every American gathers with a bunch of people to have a mouth-watering feast, while I sat over here lonely and embittered, surrounded by people oblivious to my holiday.

But then a strange thing happened, straight off a different page of the Bible, if you will: ask, and ye shall receive! The e-mails poured in all week, and every day I got to read more Thanksgiving plans, anecdotes, tales of holidays spent abroad, recipes, and even epiphanies. How I delighted in them! Some were hilarious, some of the food descriptions made me salivate, and some of the tidings brought a tear to my eye.

Also, on my way home from work Monday after sending that gang e-mail, I met a new American friend on the subway, as if I had conjured him up! He ended up inviting me to the turkey-with-all-the-trimmings dinner he and his wife hosted Sunday afternoon, so I got to have a little American Thanksgiving after all!

I really did a lot of thinking this week. The main thing I thought about, in the face of all this Thanksgiving goodness, was how extremely lucky I am, really, when it comes to food. I mean, sure, I've got some issues here in Korea, but what is a seaweed allergy or meat in my tofu compared to how many people the world over are starving? Just - starving, with no recourse. I have never had to go to bed hungry a day in my life. If in last week's blog entry I was fixated on the portion of the Designing Women episode where they indulge in visions of desirable food, my next few days were spent in heavy contemplation along the lines of Suzanne Sugarbaker's realization in the very same episode.

(Those of you who haven't seen it really need to flip over to Lifetime; according to their website that episode is coming up December 12! Or order up the "Best of Designing Women" DVD:

So, Thursday came. I woke up and flipped on CNN International as I do many a morning and what should greet me but a UNICEF spot showing starving children all over the world. I stood there transfixed by the imagery of what I had been thinking about all week in a state of sheer helpless gratitude, and I thought about how I might try to be a bit less helpless and a bit more grateful while I'm here on Earth.

I walked to work past Camp Henry as always and noted that the gate was closed, the place shut down in observance of the holiday. At Dunkin Donuts, as one of my two friends who work there made my iced coffee and the other rang me up, one said in Korean "something something get the Chuseok something," Chuseok being the word for Korean Thanksgiving. Well, they gave me some chocolates as a little "Happy Thanksgiving Day" present! They're so fun.

At work, I did a Thanksgiving-themed pre-school and got my kids excited about "Linda teacher's" American holiday. We practiced writing "turkey, pumpkin, corn, squash" on paper lined with turkeys I photocopied, we colored cornucopias, and we even sang "Over the River and Through the Woods." They weren't bad! My ten-year-old class later in the afternoon did a little better with the lyrics, I must admit. In my level 5 classes, which are learning about any/some and much/many, "Is there any bread? Yes there is some bread. Are there any potatoes? Yes there are some potatoes. Is there much rice? Yes there is a lot of rice..." etc., I drew a giant table on the board and had them draw each item as we practiced the grammar, throwing in a few Thanksgiving words such as "Is there much stuffing? Are there many yams? Is there any pie?" Then when we had drawn our feast we did Thanksgiving word searches with our new vocabulary. Great fun.

After work, I sought out an Indian restaurant -- that's right, Indian, only my second favorite cuisine in the world -- that I had found in a newly discovered guide to Daegu restaurants. It took some doing to find it, but when I reached it I rejoiced and praised and sat in my cushioned window seat gazing down at strollers and shoppers and nightlifers, blissful and content in my personal ironic twist on Thanksgiving dinner.

I am certain that I will never experience Thanksgiving the same way after this year. I have caught the spirit of this holiday like never before. Now, I have for some time fancied myself an earthy-crunchy bleeding heart, but I never had the understanding of what it's all about that I glimpsed this time around. I felt so close to everyone who sent me Thanksgiving tidings from so far away. It was all so good and familiar. And y'all were making some scrumptious sounding meals and desserts! I had more than one friend give props to Martha Stewart (yea, Martha!) There were plans to gather everyone for the first time in years, new nephews, first-time turkey cookers, plans to try new tastes in brining the turkey or even to roast an entire pig. There were tales of Thanksgivings in, among other places, France, Germany, Poland, Ireland, and Kuwait. In short, it was phenomenal.

Today, Sunday, I attended the American Thanksgiving gathering of 20+ people at my new friend's place. There were the hosts, a thirtysomething couple and their far-too-charming two-year-old daughter. (The wife is a veterinarian in the Army -- how fascinating is that? -- who takes care of all the pets of the personnel as well as military working dogs and whatnot. Who knew?) There were several barely-a-day-past-twenty young military folk, including some couples and another two-year-old, a Korean couple and their two children, that woman's Korean sister, an Irish English teacher and his Korean wife, another Korean woman who runs an English school and her son, and a Canadian English teacher. There was baked turkey, smoked turkey, ham, potatoes, gravy, broccoli casserole, vegetables and dip, stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce, a plethora of desserts like fudge, cake, rice krispie treats and two kinds of pie...oh, I know I'm forgetting things, but I'm not forgetting the wonderful time I had there.

And I will now turn over this blog to the words of my friends, because they did so much for me this week. Instead of over-indulging in food this year, I ate a decent amount of delicious food but feel full of pure joy. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

This is just a sampling of what I received:

"We're going to be up early Thursday to start chopping things, and will have the parade on T.V. I'm trusting that you were being honest about this stuff not making you feel worse when I say that, if you were here, you could come over at about 11:00am and curl up on the couch with the new kitty and watch the parade while Chris and I cook and bring you shrimps and cheese and wine." (that's Liza Hostetler, my merch-it-up partner in crime) ..."Thanksgiving is more than just a bunch of Americans eating over a dinner table, it's appreciating the greatest gift of all - friendship. I guess I realized that while living in Ireland though there were subtle highlights growing up --- aside from you meeting up with the family during this time. You would also take this time to meet up with friends from your neighborhood, high school or even college now"..."My grandma always cooks this huge dinner, with this huge roast that she always makes a little too well done. This year she called my mom (her daughter) and said that she didn't think she could afford the roast this year. My father offered to buy the roast. It reminds me of some kind of tiny Tim story or something"..."In addition to the gourmet spread, we play lots and I mean LOTS of games. This year, we're set to introduce the Thanksgiving Trivia Bowl featuring categories that all begin with, "Thankful for..." followed by the 80's, TV, Baby Boomers, etc. With a bevy of prizes, this will certainly be a lively game. Note to self, must find buzzers tonight"..."My best piece of advice is grab yourself a plastic bag, stop by one of those street vendors, get the frying pan ready and hold your nose as you take your first delectable bite of the Thanksgiving Eel. You never know, you may start a new tradition!!!"...And high-school friend Shelly Hendricks Longenecker wrote, "At the grocery store I was standing in the green bean section -- green bean casserole of course -- along with 5 other fellow Americans looking at a 1/2 filled section of green beans. And it hit me: tomorrow our country - our great, diverse country will be unified by tradition. We will be eating the same things, watching the same things, having the same silly arguments with friends, hopefully we will all be sharing what we are thankful for and all be celebrating what this great country is founded on -- freedom. And I looked at the guy on my left and the lady on my right and I remembered that we are all the same."

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