My first Thanksgiving after I left America was sad and lonely. I hadn’t yet made friends of my own in Seoul and was too shy to interpose myself into the naturally unfolding plans of my new acquaintances. The school where I taught had only a few foreign teachers at that point, and most of them were Canadian and had finished Thanksgiving weeks earlier. But I wasn’t going to let any of that stop me from having a delicious meal. So, on November 22, 2007, having researched good restaurants in convenient neighborhoods, I decided to try an Italian place in Daehak-ro where, apparently, Bill Clinton had once dined.
Unfortunately, my navigation skills were not up to the job–this was before smartphones and map apps–so I ended up at a random but nice-looking Italian restaurant, where the menu was in Korean and Italian. Not able to speak either at the time, I asked the waiter for a recommendation and waited for my meal with anticipation. Unfortunately, when my pasta arrived, the tomato sauce and noodles were topped with crab meat and roe–not appetizing to me in that combination at any time, but an especial let-down on a holiday whose food traditions are based on the familiar.
Thursday was my first Thanksgiving in America since 2006, and although I didn’t spend it with my family (aside from Mr. Kim), I was so happy to celebrate it in America. I love cooking and big projects and traditions, so Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday for me. Add in that it’s the start of the Christmas season (more cooking, big projects, and traditions!) and that my birthday is always within a few days of Thanksgiving, and really there is nothing else I could ask for.
Since that first year away, my Thanksgivings–especially in Korea–have been full of fellowship with friends and coworkers, and usually more wine than was good for me. There were people from all over at these events–always at least Korea, Canada and the US, but sometimes from Ireland, England and other countries as well. I’m usually pretty actively accepting of others’ traditions–I’ve eaten kimchi stew and rice for breakfast in Korea, drank giant mugs of milky tea every morning in London, and even bowed to a statue of Hanuman in Gujarat, India–and I love the opportunity to share my own valued traditions with others.
This year, I got to have two Thanksgivings. The ESL program where I volunteer had one on Tuesday, and I got to try some new foods we don’t have in the South, like corn pudding, which was way more delicious than it sounds. With me were adults young and old, from all over the world, and I learned that Shanghai men make the best husbands and that Benjamin Franklin called male turkeys Tom because Thomas Jefferson supported the eagle over the turkey for the national bird.
At home, we decided at the last minute to cook a turkey and invited over people who didn’t have other plans. In the end, although smaller, the celebration didn’t look too different from the ones in Korea: Me, Mr. Kim, a recently-arrived Korean PhD student, another PhD student who’s Korean-Canadian and her Californian-Virginian boyfriend. Sharing is one of the main points of Thanksgiving, so I’m thankful I’ve had so many opportunities this year and in previous ones.