Today, November 27, of course, is Thanksgiving in the United States. Thanksgiving is not celebrated here in China, or any other country that I’m aware of (At least not on the same day). It was just another day.
You can arrange a turkey dinner here in Beijing if you work at it. A few restaurants try to capitalize on the opportunity, but the menu doesn’t typically translate all that well (Imagine stuffing with the consistency of soup.). And while turkey is not part of the Chinese diet, you can get a turkey if you order ahead of time and are willing to pay the price. In my experience, however, the turkeys are small and scrawny, not much more than a chicken or a fat duck.
My American friends and colleagues often send me notes of condolence at this time of year on the assumption that it must be difficult to miss my traditional holidays so far from home. I appreciate the sentiment. But if I’m honest, I really don’t miss them all that much.
The American holiday season was never a happy time for me, as it isn’t, I believe, for millions of others. It’s just a little too scripted; expectations are set just a little too high. It’s too difficult to remember, much less play, all the parts. As one insightful psychologist once wrote, “How can families who get together once a year expect it to be a joyous occasion? If they truly enjoyed each others company they wouldn’t get together only once or twice per year.”
In my own case, both of my parents are deceased and my siblings are scattered and generally not imbued with the holiday spirit either. Even if I were in the U.S. for the holidays I would have nowhere to go.
This year has been particularly difficult for me. My wife and I were divorced this past year and she and our daughters moved back to the U.S. I’ll spare you the details. As is always the case when it comes to the failure of a relationship, they’re largely irrelevant anyway. Who ever knows why these things happen in the end. But I remain grateful that she is the mother of my children and stuck it out like a pro for so long. Believe me, her life here in China as an ex-pat’s wife was not an easy one. (I got to go to the office every day.
So when I sat down on Thanksgiving morning, before going off to work, to come up with my annual list of things I am truly thankful for, it was a challenging task in the beginning. I was about to give up, to be honest. But then I altered my perspective a bit and the task became almost easy.
So here is what I am thankful for in 2014:
- My daughters. As I’ve said many times you cannot look into the eyes of your own children and not believe in something. I would readily sacrifice my own life for theirs.
- My job. I’ve been unemployed. I’ve had the creditors trying to squeeze blood from my stone. I have no sympathy for the big banks. Let ‘em fail. I know from firsthand experience that the people who are unemployed or under-employed aren’t in that position by choice. People naturally want to contribute something in life.
- Women. When I was 8 years old I suffered epileptic seizures for more than a year. I was not allowed to attend school and had to wear a protective helmet whenever I left my railed bed. And ultimately, at Boston Children’s Hospital, one of the finest pediatric facilities in the world, the team of doctors assigned to my case informed my parents that my condition was permanent.
One doctor, however, the only woman on the team, disagreed and wanted permission to proceed with one more test. It was a pneumoencephalogram, which has since been made obsolete by the CAT scan, and thank goodness for that. It involves inserting a large needle in your spine and removing all of the fluid around your brain. But you must remain awake and unsedated so that the brain is functioning normally.
I have never experienced such pain. To this day – 52 years later – I can remember every detail as if it happened yesterday. The pain. The frustration of being held down while I wanted to do nothing but squirm and protest. But the lone female doctor was right. I was cured and have never had a seizure since.
- Technology. I am not always a fan of technology but whoever came up with the CAT scan and many other medical advancements has touched many lives in ways they probably can’t even comprehend.
- China. Life is difficult here. I desperately want cleaner air to breath. And I know that I will always be a foreigner and that comes with both some privilege and some burden. Merchants will always charge me more simply because of the size of my nose and the shape of my eyes. Young children will always stare at me.
But the Chinese have, in their own way, embraced me and allowed me to witness firsthand the incredible things that are happening here. To the credit of Chinese culture, I have never felt the kind of negative discrimination that African-Americans or other ethnic minorities feel to this day in more ‘developed’ countries.
- The ability to think. I don’t want to step into the debate as to how we came by the ability. But I do relish it. Writing is my passion, but I write because I am deeply energized by thought and writing is a tool to organize and test your thoughts. Without clarity of thought there can be no clarity of communication. And without clarity communication is just noise.
- Being old. On the one hand, I hate getting old. I hate the ailments. I hate the way young people sometimes make assumptions about me strictly because of my age. (I did the same thing.) But I’ve lived one full life cycle according the Chinese calendar. I’ve outlived my own father by 14 years. And I can still think. (See note above.)
Actually China is a great place to get old. The Chinese revere the elderly. They are taught respect from the youngest age. And my own employees, most of whom are in their 20’s and 30’s don’t look at me as a relic whose knowledge is outdated and irrelevant. They view me as a fountain of experience from whom they can learn and develop their own careers.
- This being China I must end with the number 8. But this is the thing that I am most grateful for – my own management team. Every ex-pat who has ever managed an organization in China will tell you that they found it next to impossible to build real teamwork and real collaboration between functional departments.
My team is the exception. We truly ‘have each others backs.’ We are all very different. We never socialize outside of work. And we all have very different strengths and weaknesses. But we are one.
And we are one for one very simple reason – trust. When I finally stopped trying to teach collaboration and instead devoted my energy to building trust it all began to come together. But trust is a two-way street and it doesn’t come easily or cheap. It is both counter-intuitive and counter to the core of Chinese culture. But they gave it a try. And once they had a taste of the kind of culture that trust could create, they embraced it and pushed it down through the entire organization. It is my proudest accomplishment both as a
leader and a human being.
So, in the end, I have much to be thankful for. Perhaps more than I have ever had on any prior Thanksgiving.
I am truly grateful for what I have. I dearly hope that you are, too.
One last thing. As you head out to begin your holiday shopping I ask that you look at my novel, available in the Amazon Kindle store on all of Amazon’s websites worldwide. My pen name is Avam Hale. Whatever else it is or isn’t, I promise it is thought-provoking. You can read a couple of chapters for free or borrow it from the Kindle library if you’re a member. And if you don’t have a Kindle there is a free Kindle App available for every smart phone or tablet. You can even gift it to others. (And if you liked it, or even if you didn’t, please write a short review. E-publishing takes clicks and you can’t get clicks without reviews – lots of them.)
Wherever you are in the world, enjoy your day. And be thankful!
Copyright © 2014 Glassmaker in China
Notice: The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity. They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.