Shanghai has changed quite a bit since I last blogged about Thanksgiving dinner in Shanghai in 2005. And the Thanksgiving dinner buffet business is booming. Even the Mexican restaurants are doing Thanksgiving dinner spreads. Here are some of the listings:
In 2005 I called “reasonable prices” around 150 RMB per person. Now it’s difficult to find T-Day dinner deals for less than 300 RMB per person, and many are around 5-600 RMB. Kinda makes you want to stay home and be thankful you don’t have to participate in the consumption orgy.
But what if you want to have an American-style Thanksgiving at home in Shanghai? It’s possible, but also not cheap. The biggest problem is that if you want to buy turkey, you have to buy a whole bird. I don’t quite understand this. Why can’t the birds be carved up and sold in pieces? Most Chinese people aren’t crazy about turkey, but would probably buy some to try out if it could be purchased in moderation. As for me, I’d like some turkey on Thanksgiving Day, but I’ll be staying in this year, and I’m certainly not capable of taking down a whole turkey.
Today was Thanksgiving. In years past I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get a bunch of friends together at a restaurant serving an American Thanksgiving meal. It’s always overpriced, but it’s always good, and I like the Thanksgiving dinner enough that having it only once a year is woefully inadequate.
This year, though, I didn’t bother. Work is busy, and I just didn’t feel like calling all the nice hotels in Shanghai and being told of 300 or 400 rmb meals.
So instead, I got together with some friends and we did Japanese all you can eat. Despite rumors of “turkey sashimi” there was not a scrap of real Thanksgiving food to be found. I didn’t even stuff myself as much as I could have.
It’s always good to get together with a large group of friends (we don’t do it enough), but it’s getting harder and harder to “fake” Thanksgiving. I think I might just start holding off on the Thanksgiving festivities until my visits home to the States.
It has always been my policy in China that if I can’t be with my family for Thanksgiving, I should at least try to get in some good Thanksgiving eating. Last year I had my Thanksgiving dinner with Brad at a Sofitel Hotel in Pudong. At around 200 rmb, it was pretty expensive, and not fantastic. This year I made some more phone calls to find out which American hotel chains in Shanghai were having Thanksgiving dinners. Most of the calls went something like this (in English):
> Staff: Hello, [hotel name].
> Me: Hi, is your hotel having a Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday?
> Staff: Let me transfer you to the restaurant.
> Me: OK.
> Staff: The Chinese restaurant or the Western restaurant?
> Me: Hi, is your restuarant having a Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday?
> Restaurant Staff: Yes, we have a buffet dinner.
> Me: A Thanksgiving buffet dinner?
> Restaurant Staff: Thanksgiving?
> Me: Yes, Thanksgiving. 感恩节.
> Restaurant Staff: 感恩节? Oh, no. It’s Italian food.
> Me: OK, thank you.
I don’t think that the Chinese should all recognize and celebrate Thanksgiving or anything ridiculous like that. I just expected most of the nicer international hotels in Shanghai to offer some kind of Thanksgiving meal. I guess that’s just not always done.
After about 5 or 6 unsuccessful hotel calls, I did what I should have done in the first place. I Googled Shanghai Thanksgiving dinner. I found the following pages helpful:
I chose the Moon River Diner dinner (the menu looks awesome!), but the Gubei restaurant’s Thursday night was already full, so I had to make a reservation at the Pudong location. I actually talked to the chef on the phone! He’s a guy named Micahel from New Mexico, and he assured me it would be authentic. As he pointed out, the few hotels putting on the super expensive Thanksgiving banquets hire European gourmet chefs, so they present distorted fancy-pants interpretations of Thanksgiving dinner. Totally not like mom used to.
So I’m looking forward to this dinner. If you’re in Shanghai and you want to seize your once-a-year chance for a Thanksgiving dinner, you better hurry up and make a reservation.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and ZUCC teachers and friends had a great meal at the Holiday Inn. 148 rmb per person is pretty steep, but it was all you can eat (and all you can drink), and the food was top notch. I had at least 5 plates. I was hurting. It was all worthwhile.
There was great turkey, with gravy. There was cranberry relish. There was pumpkin pie. There almost wasn’t mashed potatoes, but Heather, having read my account of Thanksgiving at Holiday Inn last year, fixed that problem. She called ahead and requested mashed potatoes at the buffet. As a result, there were mashed potatoes, and they were good. There were tons of other non-Thanksgivingesque selections as well, such as sushi, steak, “roast beef salad,” and pasta. But we were all happy to see the Thanksgiving traditional dishes represented.
So I guess now it’s back to Chinese food every meal, every day.
Regarding the melancholy, there are a whole lot of factors contributing, and it’s a strange mix of emotions. I have already committed to a move in early January, and I’m not looking forward to leaving Hangzhou and all my good friends here behind (look at Greg’s sweet Thanksgiving post). Yet it’s time for a change. So there’s a lot of excitement and uncertainty too. I think I’ve found a great job, but it’s not quite finalized yet, so I don’t want to announce it publicly.
Also, next month I take the HSK. That’s the big Chinese “TOEFL.” I have been skipping too many classes lately and not studying nearly enough. It’s time to really buckle down. If I don’t get an 8, I’m going to be sorely disappointed and pissed at myself for not working harder. I know I can get an 8.
Also, I haven’t been blogging much lately. It’s partly because I don’t have much time for it, but also because lately I’m feeling a little unhappy about the whole deal. I’m not sure why, exactly, and it’s hard to pin down the exact emotions, but I have some vague ideas.
One of the biggest changes to the “China Blog Community” of late has been the addition of Living in China. It’s a community blog in every sense of the word, and the founders did an amazing job. The site looks awesome, and there are new posts frequently, on a wide range of topics. The site is just so professional. It deserves every hit it gets.
Still, there’s something about it that feels strange. I agree with Richard’s assessment. I suppose I really like the process of browsing blogs, and I’ve never been a fan of RSS feeds. Now it kind of feels like if you don’t have an RSS feed then you’re out in the cold. I guess the need for RSS is an inevitable development given the tremendous surge in the number of China blogs. But I still feel a little bit like the Wal-Mart of China blogs has arrived, if that makes any sense.
I’m not trying to criticize Living in China, though. What they’re doing is great, and my reaction is strictly a personal one.
Along those lines, though, it’s been disturbing to me seeing the personal, nasty side of the China blogs. Attacks on Glutter, Hailey…. Why is “who’s right” always the most important issue? Why do blogs tend to encourage raging, ruthless egos?
I guess I just miss the good old days when everything seemed so intimate and friendly. But things change, and that’s fine. For the time being, though, I’m very content with being pretty quiet. But I’ll stick around.
So last Thursday I celebrated Thanksgiving with 5 other foreigners at the Hangzhou Holiday Inn (yes, that’s the same Holiday Inn you’re familiar with). Four of them were American. By Chinese standards, the Western all-you-can-eat buffet was not cheap — 148 rmb (about US$18.50) — but no one regretted shelling out the cash. It was good. I taught my class last week that there are 6 “main Thanksgiving foods” that most American families eat on Thanksgiving: (1) turkey, (2) stuffing, (3) cranberries in some form, (4) pumpkin pie, (5) mashed potatoes, and (6) sweet potatoes. I also explained that every family has different traditions; the list is not definitive (so no one leave huffy comments because I wronged your Thanksgiving traditions to all of China).
My complaints about the “Thanksgiving meal” were: (1) the stuffing came out of a cookie dough-type tube! Yuck! (2) No mashed potatoes! Come on! But hey, it was still pretty good. As I told my students, food is very important on Thanksgiving, but what’s more important is being with family. So even good food couldn’t quite do the trick. Here are a few pics: