Well, it finally happened to me (again): culture shock!
I have been living and working outside of the United States since 2005 (except for a year when I worked in archaeology in 2006). I've been in Macau since the end of August, 2011 and had worked and lived in Shenzhen for almost four years and also a year in Japan as well.
This week was a very wonderful week for me. Sunday night was great as I went out on the town. Monday was very very good, with some great classes. Tuesday was even better, as I went out to the Macau Food Festival with two of my colleagues and had a lovely time. Wednesday was also very good.
Then came Thursday. Usually, Thanksgiving comes and goes for me without much notice when I am outside the USA. In Asia, it is difficult to nearly impossible to get a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, or even the ingredients with which to cook it, especially the turkey. I'm usually with my girlfriend on this day, and so am never really alone.
I got to work, and my colleagues all greeted me with the "Happy Thanksgiving". Most of my colleagues are Chinese, and all of my students are Chinese. They know I am American, and throughout the day, I was asked about this holiday, what do people do on this holiday, why is it celebrated and what is it all about. So, as I explained to them that this was essentially a combination of a harvest festival and a family holiday, I began to feel this sinking feeling in my heart. I missed my family.
Then, Deborah, an American colleague in my department, brought pumpkin muffins that she had baked, and shared with all of our colleagues. I gratefully accepted, and the first bite brought the memories flooding back. That did it for me. From that point onward, I was doomed to a day of culture shock.
Despite having two good classes that day, things got worse. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I would not be able to have the same students that I have now for next semester. The students have bonded very well to me. They even gave me two yellow 'thank you' roses the day before, and one gave me a sweet Guangdong dessert for Thanksgiving.
In addition, another colleague invited me to Zhuhai to go to a Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant in a hotel, a buffet. I had to decline as going across the border for me takes 2 hours, and for him, five minutes as he has the "e-card", and I am still waiting for mine.
Then, there was an English corner. The theme was Thanksgiving. My colleagues asked me to come, but I again declined. My mood was already low. My heart was sinking.
I told them "No, I'll just go home and cry in my sushi." There is a nice Japanese restaurant near my apartment building, and I go there a couple of times a month.
To go and "cry in my sushi" summed it up: I would have no turkey, no cranberry sauce, no pumpkin pie, and no family with whom to share Thanksgiving. This was the first Thanksgiving I was to spend alone in my whole life!!!
I had a loose plan, to go shopping and perhaps find a supermarket that had some semblance of turkey meat, even deli turkey breast, and maybe make mashed potatoes and gravy. But, as I left school I ended up wanting to walk down and see the Galaxy casino, about a mile away.
I was hungry, and it was 7:30. Across from the Galaxy, there is an Italian restaurant where I dine with an older American colleague on occasion. I was going to go there but thought, "Italian food on Thanksgiving?". Also, I had been there several times, and wanted to see if there was something else that I could try.
There is a Spanish restaurant next to it, and then a Portuguese steak house advertising Angus beef. I chose the latter. It was a mistake.
I ordered a steak, and a bottle of the house wine. The wine came first. It was a robust, hearty red. The plucky little red would cheer me up, I thought. I thought wrong. The more I sipped, the worse I felt, as I thought more about being alone. In the restaurant, there were couples, families coming in and out, little kids running around, and the Portuguese owner, a portly and kindly white haired gentleman, greeting the guests (regulars, obviously), hugging the adorable little girls, and the whole atmosphere was warm and family-like.
I was doomed.
My food came, and it was good. Everything reminded me about home. American-style food all, from the steak fries to the beef and the salad. But it wasn't Thanksgiving food at all!
After I ate, I pulled out my iPod. "Music will cheer me up", I thought. What a stupid thought! On shuffle, each and every song or piece of music that came up reminded me about family. This brother, that sister, my father, my mother, another brother: I couldn't escape it!
"Dessert will make me feel better!", I thought. I ordered a vanilla and chocolate ice cream sundae. It wasn't pumpkin pie. Sweet and delicious, I had a coffee with it. It didn't work!
Now, it was time to go home. I was pretty tipsy from the wine, and just wanted to go home. I went over to the Galaxy to have a look around before I took the free bus down town, and then could walk back to my apartment from there.
The bus brought me to a hotel and I didn't know how to cross the very busy road there. I began to cry. A lovely young Filipina courtesan talked with me. I wasn't interested in what she was selling, but needed some company. She saw that I was crying, and I told her of my ordeal and that I just wanted to cross the road. I gave her 50 Patacas if she would take me across the street. She did, and then gave me a big hug good bye.
I missed my girlfriend, I missed my mother, I missed my family. Who ended up comforting me? A total stranger in a strange land.
I then walked back to my apartment. I was going to call my mother. She didn't answer the phone. She's at my sister's house in Iowa. I don't have my sister's phone number! I had no choice but to go to bed.
Thanksgiving was over.