I wanted it to be just another Saturday — as it was to my Chinese coworkers. I rode the number 44 bus to the office, as always. I took the elevator up to floor 12. And when I came to my desk, there was my ex-Chinese boyfriend, Frank, still sitting next to me, as usual.
In a strange way, even Frank’s presence was more comfortable than the truth — that I was lonely, because two days had passed since Thanksgiving, with no sign of a holiday.
This wasn’t the first time I hadn’t celebrated Thanksgiving in China. Last year, in 2001, when I still worked for the NGO, I didn’t celebrate, either. Of course not — I was so entangled in the painful imbroglios that eventually drove me to quit by mid-December, that I had to put aside the pleasures of ordinary life. Including holidays.
But, things had changed. I had good, steady employment as a writer/foreign expert at a Chinese Internet company. I had a new circle of friends who wanted to support, not sting, me in their presence. I had a devoted Chinese boyfriend, John. And when you start to have more, your sensibility for life is once again like a fine shortwave radio that picks up on the subtlest signals out there. For me, that signal said — what happened to Thanksgiving?
I wanted to bury that feeling into my work on Saturday, the way that Frank, my ex-Chinese boyfriend, had once buried his emotions in the name of manhood. I wrote, scanned photos, photoshopped things, and picked through my e-mail, all in the name of one thing: being busy.
Yet, not even busywork could drive away the reality, that I was alone. I had been alone before. But now I had a Chinese boyfriend, who had made me forget the idea of being alone — and he couldn’t be here now, by my side, because of schoolwork.
“What are you doing here?”
It was late afternoon on Saturday, with the office nearly vacant, and I didn’t expect to hear a familiar voice, in English, from my desk in the Technical room — Mr. CEO’s. I turned around to find this Chinese man, all too sprightly for someone of thirty years, his hand half-covering his mouth like a shy adolescent. This was the leader of our company.
What should I tell him? I wavered a split second between a noncommital “nothing” and the truth. But, the thing is, Mr. CEO’s words had already hit me at a vulnerable frequency, and I was helpless. “I, uh…I didn’t want to spend the day at home. It was Thanksgiving this week.”
“Thanksgiving!” Mr. CEO slapped his hands together, like a parent explaining the holiday to kids for the first time. “Yes, I know that holiday. You eat turkey, right?”
“Yeah,” I responded softly. “It’s, well, it’s kind of like the Mid-Autumn Festival. You know, families coming together to spend the holiday.” With every word, I felt the solitude pouring in, eroding away the powerful persona I normally share with the world.
Then again, maybe I wasn’t the only one tuned in. “You’re here, so far away from your family — why, it’s the company’s duty to take care of you, and make you feel welcome here. Let me take you to dinner.”
Mr. CEO probably had an interest in having dinner with me. After all, didn’t he originally hire me to improve his own English, and the English of the sales team? Still, a dinner out is a dinner out.
“That would be great.”
And just like that, just another Saturday became a belated Thanksgiving dinner in China — with a man who would probably never be my family, but gave me the sense of family I needed, on one lonely afternoon.
Did you ever feel lonely during the holidays in China? How did you get through it?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.