Thursday, November 28, 2013

An American Thanksgiving in Penang

This is our third year celebrating Thanksgiving in Malaysia. It has been a crazy, unpredictable week where I discovered I have so much to be thankful for. (For instance, I am thankful that my middle school language arts teacher isn't grading this and marking off for ending the previous sentence with a preposition.)

A week ago, I was trying to figure out what to do since we weren't planning on traveling anywhere for the school holiday or invited over to anyone's house for a communal feast. I contemplated cooking everything myself, but the prospect of literally sweating in the kitchen for days for a meal that would be over in less than an hour didn't appeal to me. I thought about heading to the American Thanksgiving Buffet at the G Hotel, but I knew that I'd see other friends there and wish that we were all sitting at one huge, huge table. Eight days before Thanksgiving, I figured out something.

I am thankful that I realized that Thanksgiving for me is not about the food; it's about the people.

The more that I thought about it, the problem with the above scenarios is that my meal would not be shared with a large circle of people. The traditional Thanksgiving foods would be there, but the sense of community would not.

I am thankful that when I texted my husband that I had invited 100 people over for dinner, he merely replied with "Not feasible" as opposed to "You are out of your mind you crazy woman!!"

I reserved the party room in our condo complex because I may be a little crazy, but I'm not so crazy as to invite that many people over to my apartment. A couple other friends offered to help me to host the shindig for which I am very grateful. After a leisurely coffee morning, we had our guest list.

I am thankful that it turns out that there were only 65 people on the final guest list.

I sent out an Evite to everyone and set up a potluck sign up.

I am thankful that six days before Thanksgiving, I got the last two turkeys at the market since they weren't expecting another shipment until Thanksgiving day.

I panicked a bit at first because the man said there weren't any turkeys at all. After some conversation, he mentioned he had turkey breasts, and I immediately claimed them for myself. They were frozen ones from Australia. When I opened up the packaging, I was surprised to discover that the turkey breast was actually the back 75% of the turkey, complete with miniscule-for-a-turkey, chicken-sized legs and thighs. All that was missing were the wings and the front part of the bird.

I worried that we wouldn't have enough turkey for everyone and mentioned it to hubby.

"I think people will be disappointed," he replied.

That's when I realized that for others, Thanksgiving may indeed be all about the food. Perhaps I had lured someone away from the delectable hotel buffet for a dinner that might end up being mostly chicken satay.

Peppermint Patty stared in amazed disappointment. "What kind of Thanksgiving is this?!" she asked. "Don't you know anything about cooking a real Thanksgiving dinner, Chuck? Where's the turkey? Where are the mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. What blockhead made all this?"

I am thankful that my friends found other turkeys.

With the fowl situation sorted out, it seemed that everything would be smooth sailing until the day of the party when I would inevitably freak out about playing hostess.

I was wrong.

Early Tuesday, in the middle of the night, my teen woke up with excruciating stomach pain.

I am thankful that my hubby is strong enough to lift my boy down the stairs and into the car. I am thankful he took him to the hospital and stayed the night with him.

My original plan for Tuesday was to go grocery shopping and start baking and prepping for the big feast on Thursday. Instead, I spent the entire day at the hospital with my son. When it became clear that the problem was something minor, thank God, my mind strayed towards thoughts of the two turkey chilling in the freezer instead of thawing out and brining as I had intended.

I am thankful for friends I can call to help out with my other kids while I'm tending to the one who really needs his mommy right at that moment.

One of my worries about moving overseas was losing the support of my parents and in-laws in caring for my children. My friends here have not only become the people that I share Thanksgiving with in lieu of family, they are the ones who don't mind being part of the village it takes to raise a child.

I considered the possibility that we'd still be in the hospital by the time Thanksgiving rolled around. The doctors here are more likely to keep patients hospitalized than in America. With multiple hostesses, the celebration could easily carry on in our absence.

I am thankful for friends who will pitch in with party planning.

He was eventually discharged from the hospital late Wednesday afternoon, 38 hours after he first checked in.

I am thankful that my darling boy is okay after all and that the hospital stay costs all of US$800 before filing for insurance.

It was exactly 26 hours until the Thanksgiving celebration was slated to start. I sent the kids up in the elevator to our home, and immediately jumped back in the minivan to hit the grocery store. I spent the rest of Wednesday night and all day Thursday cooking.

In the end, everything turned out fine. Some people had to cancel due to illnesses or visitors who wanted more exotic cuisine  than a traditional American Thanksgiving. There were 45 people who actually turned out. The food was bountiful and delicious. Surprisingly, we were able to have all the traditional foods including cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Peppermint Patty would have been satisfied.  The chips and salsa, and the guacamole and hummus were rather awesome, too.

All the kids at the feast were thankful for these. treats my friend made.  They gobbled them up.

The unofficial theme for the night was Abundance.

I am thankful that as I tucked my teen into his own bed in his own bedroom tonight, he looked at me and said, "It was a really good Thanksgiving."

Happy Thanksgiving from Your Friend in Malaysia!

And last but not least, I am thankful there is no Black Friday craziness here as I have to hit the mall on Friday to take the kids clothes shopping.


  1. I'm glad everything turned out okay!! Your Oreo turkeys are adorable! Happy Thanksgiving!!

  2. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! Glad that everyone is on the mend and you were able to celebrate together! (And I wish that I was away from the Black Friday craziness)

  3. I'm so glad that your son is ok...and that your Thanksgiving was a success! And Black Friday? Bah Humbug!

  4. What a wonderful list of things to be thankful for.

  5. Happy Belated Thanksgiving to you! Loved your list, your attitude and your celebration. . .and really glad there was no serious cause for those stomach pains!

  6. Your Thanksgiving may have been a bit untraditional, but it sounds pretty awesome!

  7. Happy Thanksgiving Michele! You do seem to have a lot to be thankful for this year :)

  8. All is well that ends well, but wow, what a scare you got :(

  9. Wow you must be a great cook Michelle! Hope you guys enjoyed the party and Happy belated Thanksgiving!

  10. Belated Happy Thanksgiving, Michele. I'm so glad your son is okay. It's great to see all your gratitude list. Those treats look great and one I need to copy for next year :) So happy you found such a caring and supporting group of friends as an expat.

  11. "...Thanksgiving for me is not about the food; it's about the people." - I Like that!

    Happy belated thanksgiving.

  12. I'm so glad your Thanksgiving turned out with good health and memories made with family and friends. You have a wonderful thankful list.


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