Hey there, beautiful.
This past week was our big Thanksgiving fete at TASOK, dear over fed reader, and it was quite the good time. More than twenty people, six turkeys (and one of those fake ones thrown in to appease those dirty hippies), tons of extra food, wonderful company, lots of drinks and, of course, deserts. Dear God, the deserts. It was marvelous, in that artery clogging, meat sweat inducing, chest pain causing sort of way that makes it an unmistakably American holiday. I know that Canada has one too, but I assume it involves sliding down staircases on flattened cardboard boxes whilst throwing money made from pine needles and wood chips in the air as Strange Brew plays on a black and white television in the garage.
I don't have a picture for that, but it would be sweet if I did. Help me out, Ontario! Or, um, uh, Manitoba?
It got me thinking about being a world traveling man of mystery. Normally it's a great time, wherein I have lots of wacky adventures, grow absurd facial hair, almost die once a year, meet swell people, go to gorgeous new places, and hopefully one day get to bore everyone in the nursing home with stories that have by then become hopelessly confused with pop culture.
And then Sharktopus and I sang "Summer Nights" at the orphanage and . . .
One thing that is sometimes a tough adjustment for expat folk, though, is how holidays can be so different when away from your home cultures. In many places I have been to no one really celebrates Christmas, which means no awkward Secret Santa talk or decidedly lame mistletoe based pick up lines.
One would think it goes without saying, but one would be so very, very wrong.
The most interesting holiday for me during my overseas travels has most assuredly been Thanksgiving. This is because, outside of America, no one cares. I mean, why would they? They don't even have a Walmart to go to afterwards.
I lived in Taiwan for two years. The first Thanksgiving I spent in Bangkok with awesome teacher buddies trolling Patapong, and the other one getting my eyes ripped open.
So, not much traditional holiday fare there.
The best part about overseas holidays, though, is when, in an effort to accommodate their guests, other cultures try to bring us a taste of Americana, as they understand it. This is accomplished usually at the expense of their own cultural norms and, sometimes, the bounds of all common sense.
What follows is one of those stories.
Cast your mind back through the mists of time, dear reader. So far back, Bush was still president, Cheney hadn't yet been plugged into a wall socket when he slept, Six Feet Under was still on the air, and a young Lippart had begun to make his halting, sexy way into this dreary world. I had been living in Myanmar about four months when one day my friend Ben came up to us with a small flyer in his hand. It was from the Mi Casa kitchen (the bar/restaurant connected to the service hotel we were all living in at the time). To my slightly homesick eyes it presented a great opportunity: they were promoting a Thanksgiving dinner event, complete with turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, some weird meat things, gooey unidentifiable masses, bread, and free flow of beer and wine! With a large enough group, this meal could be had for merely $15 each!
We were all aflutter and immediately signed up 10 stalwart friends. Most were American, but two were Canadian and one was from Denmark. Because, you know, Thanksgiving is all about cultural inclusion.
By the way, the words "Free Flow" as a translation for "All You Can Drink" remains to this day one of my favorite things about Asia. It is both cute and white trash at the same time, like Honey Boo Boo from about 350 feet away.
Arrangements made, we waited out the following days breathless with anticipation. To get ready for the meal I practiced loosening my belt and unbuttoning my pants at random times, making vapid comments on current affairs, and staring off into space while gravy congealed around the edges of my mouth.
After a week, I felt ready.
After another week I felt like a southern Republican.
The day arrived! We all headed into the dining area (dressed up for the occasion, naturally) at around 5pm, and were told the dinner would be served at 6, and to please "enjoy the free flow wine and beer".
By the time the waitress said "Enjoy the" we were already knocking back beers and pondering the epic turkey leg fights that would soon arise.
We were all hungry but the great companionship, free flow, and sense of adventure nourished our souls and livers as we waited.
6 came and went with no food.
6:30 showed up, looked around, and slunk back into the kitchen.
At 7, another waitress came over and said the food would be ready soon, would we like any bread? We nodded while two of us contemplated how much of their own legs could be eaten without permanent damage.
Thank god for free flow.
At 7:30, bread was served. At this point my memory is a little hazy. I may or may not have covered one of the Burmese in butter and tried to eat the back of his head Ugolino style.
At 7:45 another waitress came over (this place had like twenty people working there) and said the food would be ready soon. My friend Luc, who had the patience of Job (at least for the next ten minutes), said, very politely,"Is there a problem?"
Her eyes dropped to the floor. She gathered her thoughts and looked at us, her hands spread wide. "Oh, no sir. The turkey is ready. We are having a problem with the stuffing."
Quick glances around the table.
"Um, what's the problem?"
"We have the walnuts for the stuffing, but we haven't finished the whipped cream."
At this point a pause, as pregnant as a reality show star, fell into the room.
"Wait, whipped cream?"
"Yes, sir." Her soft voice was the stuff of madness to my hungry brain. I would have eaten her words if they had been more visual. "For the turkey. Whipped cream to . . . to . . . how to say? To place inside. The turkey . . . the turkey cavity."
She gestured with her hands in a way that would have made Lovecraft throw up on his mother.
We looked around each other, terror, fear, and the aftereffects of three hours of free flow swirling on our faces. Valerie, always a quick thinker, jumped in and likely saved us all.
"You know, it is okay. We don't need the stuffing. Thank you very much, just bringing out the turkey would be fine."
The waitress nodded happily, scampered away, and came back a few minutes later with a cart filled with vegetables, bread, strange meat things, a rather unimpressive turkey and, thank the gods, no whipped cream.
The first few minutes were silent as we each gazed, naked and alone, into the culinary abyss. Thankfully the free flow, walnut free turkey, and friendships won the day, and it turned into one of the best Thanksgivings ever.
I won't get into details, but it involved body slams, naked swimming, and a broken coffee table.
Since that day, dear reader, I have eaten many strange things. Duck tongues, scorpions, grilled jellyfish, bats, rat meat, (probably) dog, (hopefully) cat, snakes, placenta (and lemme tell you, that was messed up afternoon) and some sort of eyeball. Rest assured that, to this day, I do not regret the fact that we managed to get them to leave off the stuffing. I might have missed the image of a turkey filled to bursting with whipped cream and walnuts, but I have preserved my will to live.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. To my friends in the USA, I miss your thunder. To my overseas pals, thank you for sharing your thunder with me these last five years.