Thanksgiving comes but once a year

The dates of my stay in China were such that I was missing Thanksgiving back in the States. This was very sad to me even before China became the rotten hell that it was, because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I assumed we’d get a bucket of KFC chicken and call it a day — like they do in Japan for Christmas — but all the English teachers wanted to have Thanksgiving in style. I guess if I were staying there for a year, I’d want to do that too.

The dinner was to take place at our apartment, which was the largest and could therefore host the most people. Because of that, it was decided that Jane would handle all the main courses, while everyone else provided the sides.

I wanted to help with the cooking. I was good at cooking. And as I’ve said better elsewhere, I felt like an unwelcome vagrant so I wanted to take something off their hands if I could.

Jane told me what she’d need to provide for about 10 people:

  • Turkey (or a turkey substitute)
  • Gravy
  • Stuffing

She assigned me the stuffing.

I went into the kitchen to assess what we had. As I’ve said better elsewhere, I hadn’t had much proof that they even used the kitchen or knew what was in it. There was no oven. There was a toaster oven that could hold two medium casserole dishes. There was a stovetop. There was probably a microwave but fuck that shit.

Jane lamented the fact that only one of the two stove burners worked, making our task of feeding 10 people even more difficult.

Well… as I’ve said better elsewhere, I knew that when she said something didn’t work not to take it seriously and to confirm for myself. So I went and turned on the first stove: tick, tick, tick, poof! Blue flame. I turned on the second stove: tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…

I knew then that I should probably make the turkey and gravy too.

This is my kitchen now.

I did show her how to do it. After all someone once showed me. I held the stove on — tick, tick, tick, tick — and held a lighter to where the blue flames should be and, poof, blue flame.

I don’t remember her reaction because at that point her reaction was uninteresting to me; nothing could save this; my long term memory was unengaged. It was better lost to history.

I know I’m overstating her error. I should explain the true frustration, to me, was this fantasy that she could successfully cook turkey and gravy for 10 people. One of the interesting quirks of me is that I’m annoyed when people are willing to wing it when a lot of other people’s hopes are riding on their success. But I’m aware that living in the blush of your fellow man’s grace is… erm, valid. I guess. No, the world would not come crashing down if the 3 top items on this description of a Thanksgiving meal I found on Wikipedia — gravy by proxy of the mashed potatoes — were horrible-tasting. But, it would be sad. Given that a lot of other people were pitching in, it would be more sad.

Totally related, here’s what I did to get a SIM card

Looking at the dates, it was right after the Red Leaves Valley trip that I insisted on getting a SIM card. You’ll recall that right after that trip I had an argument with Jesse about how I didn’t have as many friends as he did and asking him how long his friends were hanging around was a hostile advance.

I had to leave.

But it was clear that this method of directing a taxi via a picture on my cell phone (discussed here) was inhibiting my desire to want to leave, to put it mildly. It didn’t feel safe. What if something weird happened? No one spoke English, and if they did, it was never very well. I don’t think Jane or Jesse had a Chinese phone number (they communicated via WeChat), and while the apartment had a Chinese phone number, there was no answering machine and no guarantee they’d be home. Maybe they thought I could find free internet somewhere (“This place is great! There’s internet everywhere! Fast too!”) and what was the big emergency? But that was a fucking joke when the UI was always in Chinese. And how would I tell them where to find me if I didn’t know where I was?

And then, how long? How long would I be stared at while I waited?

So I sat them both down.

I made it very clear that, although I had less than 2 weeks left, I needed a SIM card to survive. And they needed to make that happen for me.

Well, they explained to me how hard it was to get a SIM card. Except, they both had SIM cards? Jane faded into the background, and so I was left dealing with Jesse again, pushing back the excuses.

It was 3 days until I got one. And, it was hard. They had to get Rita, their Chinese teacher friend, to sign a 2-year contract saying she would continue to pay for 2GB of data a month after the first 3 months were paid for, by me, that day. There was no other data plan offered by any company. And, everyone said this was a sham and this company wasn’t going to actually make her pay; they probably wouldn’t even send her bills or reminders. This, from the workers at the Apple-like store across the street from the Chinese AT&T-type store.

Rita spoke great English, which made it a lot easier for me. It was obvious that she couldn’t afford this data plan, that it would really screw her if it stuck. I think the American teachers at the school make 2–3x as much as the Chinese teachers did.

She and I went back and forth to various stores for over and hour about this SIM card (Jesse left us at one point, so it was just me and her). And we both felt confident that she wouldn’t be charged in perpetuity, but I reassured her that if that happened I would pay the bill.

At one point the worker at Chinese AT&T-type store, who was looking over my phone and making sure the SIM card would work, pointed at my VPN app and asked what it was. I got slightly nervous and told her it was so I could access Facebook. She didn’t know what that was either. #justchinathings

Oh, and technically I could use roaming data but Verizon was charging me $40 for 100MB. #justamericathings

$30 later, I had my SIM card! It worked! I could use GPS! I was free! I made a reminder in my phone to WeChat Rita at the end of February, when they would supposedly start charging her, if they did, and showed it to her. I told her I would ask her then. I told her to tell Jesse if they started charging her before or after then. I told her I would ask Jesse too. And I thanked her.

She was, obviously, incredibly generous and nice.

(And I did check on her, and no, Chinese AT&T didn’t go after her.)

Back to Thanksgiving

We knew 1 or 2 weeks out we’d be making the food. I found recipes for stuffing and a Thanksgiving chicken that could be made on the stove. I can’t remember how we made the gravy… but that’s not interesting anyway. Gravy is easy. We made it.

Here was my concern, though.

We needed the spices. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. An inventory of the owner’s spice drawer showed we had parsley. Check.

I had a list going.

A week before we went to a Chinese flea market and I looked for spices there. You know, just in case the stores didn’t have it.

My camera was accidentally in manual focus during this so you’re on your own
Oh, they had spices.
Just not the ones we wanted. This is tea.

When that yielded nothing, closer to the date I asked Jesse to look for me. Jesse and Jane were out and about every day leading up to this. Several stores were near them. Here’s one such attempt…

I’m not sure why I screenshotted this conversation, except to send it to Jane. To tell Jane to ask Rita to call? Rita called, but she didn’t really know what she was asking for, and the people who worked at Ole were Chinese and didn’t really know what she was asking for either, and so pardon my skepticism if I didn’t take the answer, “No, they’ve never heard of these spices,” as indicative of whether they carried those spices in the store.

You’ll recall Ole was my miracle store, my favorite place in Jinan, and had the Draino I needed way back when, despite no Chinese person knowing what Draino was (allegedly).

Jesse even asked his friend, a Chinese doctor, who supposedly knew a lot of things like an American lawyer would, but he too had never heard of sage, rosemary or thyme.

I walked down to the Walgreens-type corner store near us. I combed that place and found nothing.

Had I been talking about the spices a lot at this point? Yes. Yes I had. But so far, no one had actually checked Ole. I was all for checking Ole at the fucking start of this, but everyone kept volunteering stores closer to where they worked, or flea markets we had incidentally come across while sight-seeing, and saying, “Hey, we tried, let’s give it up!”

For instance, the Walmart Jesse was referring to was in the same building as his school. I mean, thank you for checking! But…

They kept telling me to just use other spices. I wanted to say, “Name 5 spices right now.” That isn’t how spices work. You can’t just use other spices, especially not for such an iconic meal. The spices make the food make the holiday.

This all came to a head on Sunday, the day before Thanksgiving. I texted Jane and asked her, very firmly, to please swing by Ole on her way home from work. At the time I thought it was close for her; later I found out it was 15 minutes away, which is still not horrible. She proceeded to tell me…. Ugh, I really wish I’d taken a screenshot of it. It too is lost to history.

She said something akin to, “Okay, I don’t know if I will have time but I will check Ole if I do have time, but we’ve checked several stores now and they don’t have it and if Ole doesn’t have it at that point I think we just need to drop it.”

….

BITCH.

WE AT WAR.

I said never mind, I would go to Ole, and I did what I should have done from the beginning if I had known this would be such an ordeal; I went to Ole, and I took a cab because I deserved the splurge, and I took the bus back because it’s hellish to tell the cab how to find the apartment.

I took a picture from that cab ride. It seemed important at the time.

And I found the spices.

Searched the store 3 times. Found them between the meat section and the fruit section, because China.

I did not text them of my victory.

I took my good old fucking time coming home.

And then I just sat at my laptop in the living room and waited for them to ask. Jane came home, we talked briefly about this-or-that, she did not ask, she went away. Jesse came home and 15 minutes into it he remembered to ask, so I told him, Yes, yes, I did find the spices, and I bought some wine too. Wanna drink?

The next day Jane apologized for getting short with me via text, and at that point I was so objectively the winner that it was nothing to pretend that none of it mattered now. The thing is, why had I expected them to understand? They wouldn’t understand anything until the food tasted good.

For instance Jesse told me, “You know, it’s good you went to Ole yourself, because if we had come back and said that we couldn’t find them there, you wouldn’t have been satisfied.”

Yeah? Well fuck you, Jesse! The spices were at the fucking store! Why are you making up scenarios like this? Yes, maybe I would have checked if you hadn’t found them, and I would have found them.

Why don’t you just say “I half-ass life” and leave me out of it.

Thanksgiving

So I made the dressing and oversaw the making of the stove-top chicken turkey. Here’s 1 of the 2 dressing dishes. (Same dish, but needed enough to feed 10.)

The chicken was yummy, savory and moist, since it essentially cooked itself in broth (and sage, and thyme, and rosemary). But people loved the dressing. And when people said the chicken was good, Jane was nice enough to say it was mostly me that did it.

Here’s the whole spread. The chicken breasts are in the pot second-down from the right.

A lot of dumplings, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, etc.

The pumpkin pie was amazing. It was some of the best I’ve ever had.

I Am A Bitch, aside #2: The couple that made the pumpkin pie and whipped cream were the only people in their friend-group I’d consider pursuing as friends. Not because of the pie, but because they stayed out of the friend drama and seemed chill and cool. The rest… maybe Emily, but there was the incident with the dog to overcome.

Mafia

After the festivities, we played mafia, which is a game I’ve played so much that I’ve grown to hate it. It’s like Rook in the sense that, once you know the right way to play it, it really comes down to luck of the draw. It’s all decided in the card deal.

This is literally me just telling you about how people were annoying at mafia this one time, and all of 1 of you might know the rules to mafia, so keeping it short…

  1. They would treat the night rounds as “listen for activity or movement” rounds. They would make arguments for/against someone based on them possibly having moved or whispered. Like, if we’re going to play that game, let’s just play that game and forget all the mafia stuff. The point of the night rounds is to suspend activity. In some mafia games, it doesn’t matter if you play this way because 1 out of 2 people is going to fidget and move and destroy your data, but no, Americans in China sit dead still and listen.
  2. Cano openly declared how he had an alliance with Jesse and would not turn on him, even if he knew Jesse was the mafia and he was a townsperson. Even if he knew Jesse was going to kill him. Jesse said the same. Neither of them could understand how this made the game less fun for anyone else because, quote, “You can form alliances too.” At which point, I quit playing.

After the spice thing

Jesse and Jane never said, “I understand the importance of spices in holiday-themed food,” but there were so many open compliments about the dressing, and dressing is the spices, that it was understood that I had pushed for a good thing.

I’m not exaggerating the compliments either. There were only 10–12 of us there, but even if 1/2 of those people said a compliment in ear-shot of the group, that’s enough to make an impression.

The reason this whole thing sticks in my head is the “drop it,” though. In case you hadn’t guessed. It encapsulates a lot of things: my frustration at them, my mobility issues, their inexperience at some stuff, and their voicing a sentiment I had secretly feared they wanted to voice a lot.

What a terrible idea it was… China for a month.