Letters of Life

Some Thoughts on Thanksgiving in the Tropics

I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land. —Jon Stewart, satirist of the multi-Emmy-award-winning The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

My first Thanksgiving was in Bloomington, at the home of Indiana University’s Dean of Students deep in the woods in a college town in Smalltown America. I remember a white-clothed buffet table with turkey and cranberry jelly (why it’s called sauce I don’t know), and pecan pie (nix), and lots of red and orange foods and large cosy living and dining rooms. There were a lot of people far older than us milling around, so I only remember meeting a bunch of German exchange students from the University of Heidelberg (the equivalent of Harvard) and chatting with their cool professor who looked like Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn  in Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace),  and seemed the favoured guest of the Dean’s dusky grey persian cats. 

Another memorable Thanksgiving was in Vancouver about eight years ago in a pastor’s home. We hung out from lunch to late evening, having eaten what seemed like three meals in one sitting. To fight off the lethargy, we donned our coats and scarves and gloves and headed for the playground with his teenaged children in the darkening October afternoon. Afterwards, we clattered back into the house and sat around the dinner table drinking hot spiced apple cider which I’d made and heated up in a big pot on the stove.

I realize that Thanksgiving doesn’t feel right without the cold and the dark.

Without the cold and dark, you’re just eating roast turkey and stuffing. And pumpkin/pecan pie that’s too sweet. A tropical Thanksgiving has no bite. So we don’t gobble. Every year around this time, my mother visits Singapore and she dutifully orders turkey from Cold Storage. But there’s no urge to overeat like when there’s a nip in the air and it’s dark by four and one is wearing a turtleneck, sweater, and black leggings.

I’m all for a hearty meal of course. But the spirit of deep gratitude is the thing.

As my first post observing Thanksgiving in spirit, here’s a list of what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful that: 

4. You’re reading this. It means you regard this as important enough to spend a precious few minutes of a long busy day.

3. I’ve had the opportunity to go deeper into different aspects of music. Whether it was picking up the guitar again, discovering more and more the mysteries of the heart of worship, learning to sing, figuring things out on the keys, working with talented musicians, each opportunity has been a surprise gift from above.

2. I’m healthy as a horse. My grandmother, who passed away a couple of years ago, was not only a good cook in the Straits Nonya tradition but, as a former Matron in a hospital, also knew her food and nutrition. She cooked every lunch and dinner I ever had from the time I was in kindergarten right up to when I left for college.

Hearty soups, fish before exams, homemade nasi lemak, fruit after every meal, all were prepared singlehandedly. When I was recuperating after a car accident at age 11, she forced me to drink soup mixed with ground-up liver daily for at least a week after I left the hospital. Till now, I’ve perhaps taken much of my h(w)ealth for granted. 

In at No. 1 is what I seldom post about: My family. Maybe it’s got to do with that journalist’s perspective: You observe and describe, you state facts, but you never ever get too personal unless it’s a column or an op-ed piece.

Even at this minute, I’m unsure how to voice how thankful I am that my children are who they are, that sometimes I think they deserve a mom who at least *loves* cooking as much as she does writing.

I am thankful that my significant other is secure and confident and thus lets me be who I am and perhaps what’s more, doesn’t get defensive when I rant about the lack of social graces in locally-trained doctors. To fully appreciate this, you have got to be the only one seated at a table at, say, a Chinese wedding dinner, with nine other doctors as dinner companions.

I’m ok now about this, I think.
Happy Thanksgiving! 

What are you thankful for? Do share some of your thoughts! 


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