3 American WWAMs in Asia Share Thanksgiving Stories

While all across America, families are bustling to ready themselves for Thanksgiving, over here in Asia, it’s just another week and just another workday. So what happens when you’re an American living in Asia? How does Thanksgiving change when you’re halfway across the globe, in a country where most people have probably never even tasted a turkey or cranberry sauce? Three American Western women married to or dating Asian men dish up a few remembrances from their “turkey day” experiences at home and abroad.

Becky Ances of Badminton Becky

When I first moved to China I lived in a small city without many western amenities. Buying a stick of butter meant an over two-hour bus ride and while supermarkets had plenty of chickens feet and pigs intestines on sale,  finding a simple chicken breast was difficult, much less a turkey. So I gave up on big meals for the holidays and let them slide without much notice.

But after four years of going without a real thanksgiving, I finally got into the holiday with a guy I was dating. As it was just another workday in China I didn’t have much prep time. Instead after class I ran to supermarket and got some pre-cooked rotisserie-style chickens. I then whipped up some mashed potatoes, a small green bean dish (no crispy fried onions though) and made some fried apples with honey and cinnamon.

A traditional Thanksgiving meal it was not. And with only one pan and hot plate to cook everything in, some of it was cold. But my guy had never experienced Thanksgiving and he was blown away by the small effort I had made. Even eating chicken with mashed potatoes was a novelty for him and he relished my poor offering which made the whole simple affair transform into a special meal.

Heather from An American Tomboy in Mongolia

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It was about family, food, football, and tryptophan-induced naps in front of the TV. The turkey (in our house always wild turkey) was better the second time around as a cold turkey and mayo sandwich!

That said, this will be my third Thanksgiving spent outside of the U.S. While I work at an international school with “American” in it’s title, we do NOT get the day off. It’s business as usual. As foreign teachers we’ve put together weekend events to try and celebrate this holiday while we are far from our families, but it’s been a poor substitute. Co-workers aren’t always that much like family.

But this year, I have high hopes. I’m a member of a small group of American Wives (of Mongolian Men) and this year we’ve decided to DO IT RIGHT. On Thanksgiving Thursday we shall gather at one brave member’s home–a total of just under 30 of us (wives, husbands, and kids galore)–and we will share a thanksgiving meal. Most of us will be scrambling from a full day of work. Each of us will bring components of the traditional meal and I’m sure hoping there will be a “kids table.” We are determined to gather together to be grateful for all we have and to break bread as our own self-made extended family on the other side of the planet from our homeland.

Jocelyn Eikenburg of Speaking of China

As a longtime vegan, Thanksgiving – a holiday that revolves around turkey – never ranked as one of my favorite holidays. So when I moved to China, where the fourth Thursday of November is just another average workday, I didn’t feel the need to resurrect the holiday and celebrate it in spite of being half a world away from my American family.

But all that changed after I moved back to America for a period of time with my husband Jun, who is Chinese. While he often jokes he’s an “80 percent vegan,” the reality is my guy loves to have a little meat and fish on occasion. We’ve managed to make our dietary differences work in our marriage with mutual respect and understanding.

Well, one of things I discovered in America is this – Jun loves turkey. A lot.

When we lived in the Cleveland, Ohio region, close to family, we inevitably attended the annual Thanksgiving feast at my aunt and uncle’s home, which introduced Jun to the culinary delight that is roast turkey. He was a dark-meat fan all the way, and especially coveted the turkey legs and wings, as he believed the meat was most tender and delicious at the bone.

Watching him wonderstruck over fine poultry was a lot like observing a young child at the first Christmas morning they remember, filled with an unabashed excitement.

There was no way I could just forget Thanksgiving, especially the turkey, after that.

So Thanksgiving has become one of the most important holidays in our household. So important, in fact, that I actually learned how to cook turkey with a more Chinese flavor as part of our celebrations while we lived in America.

Now that we live in China, it’s tough replicate those celebrations over here. But one thing has changed since I first lived over here – that Thanksgiving is a must-do holiday for us, even in the Middle Kingdom. Sometimes we prepare the entire meal from scratch with the best substitutes we can find. Other years, we’ll find a nice restaurant to mark the day over a good meal, regardless of whether there’s turkey on the menu.

As I look forward to another Thanksgiving this year, I can’t help but smile. Leave it to my Chinese husband to rekindle my interest in the American Thanksgiving holiday.

Have you ever experienced Thanksgiving while living in Asia? Do you celebrate the holiday?

Jocelyn Eikenburg
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  1. I love the way you and Jun have made your dietary differences work.

    When we lived in the Philippines with no turkeys available we roasted a couple of chickens. Now that we’re back in the US, we often change the menu. This year we’re having pork stuffed with spinach. For me, the best part about Thanksgiving is the custom of getting together with family and the reminder this holiday provides for counting our blessings.

    1. Thanks Nicki! I’m sure the chickens in the Philippines turned out great — I have a friend here who is planning to roast chicken herself for the holiday. And it’s a wonderful tradition to change things up a bit. Indeed, the most important thing about Thanksgiving is getting together with the people you love and expressing gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving!

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