Thanksgiving, drunk uncles, and gratitude
Chris Hawke
A family gathering dinner on Thanksgiving Day. /VCG Photo

A family gathering dinner on Thanksgiving Day. /VCG Photo

Editor's note: Chris Hawke is a graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and a journalist who has reported for over two decades from Beijing, New York, the United Nations, Tokyo, Bangkok, Islamabad, and Kabul for AP, UPI, and CBS. The article reflects the author's views and not necessarily those of CGTN.

This Thanksgiving, I'll be gathering together with people from China, England, France, and Syria to eat a slow-cooked Turkey at an American-style diner.

Christmas, Halloween and Valentine's Day have been embraced in China, but Thanksgiving is still somewhat of a curiosity.

I like to explain it as similar to the weeklong Spring Festival, but shorter. It needs to be shorter. Because most extended American families these days can barely get through a single meal together without an argument or bad feelings, let alone a whole week.

Do you think I'm exaggerating? These headlines are plucked from the Washington Post and New York Times: "How to defuse tension at the dinner table during Thanksgiving." "Five things to talk about at Thanksgiving that aren't politics.""Here's how to survive Thanksgiving.”

The obnoxious drunk uncle looms large in the American imagination, and I can confirm this stereotype is real. One can only listen to pejorative references to gays, immigrants and so on for so long before remarking. Things go downhill from there.

That being said, the U.S. does not have a monopoly on belligerent drunken dinner table behavior. A dreaded moment at my in-laws' is when one of my Chinese uncles wants to bend my ear about international affairs after a few bottles of liquor into a meal.

Thanksgiving is not only about family gathering, but also about gratitude, which is a trendy emotion at the moment. So it seems appropriate that on this Thanksgiving Day, I'd like to talk about some things I'm grateful about.

The first thing I'm grateful for is that I'm in China, a place that has given me untold opportunities. The economy is growing at an incredible rate. But the thing I appreciate most is not higher salaries (the pay is still better at home), but that in almost any field you name, the market is not mature, thereby providing a huge space for people with ideas and vision.

I'll limit myself to people I know well, both Chinese and foreign. Some have started schools; some have started "unschooled," using radical teaching methods. Some have made their own craft beer, bought bottling companies, and sold it all over China; some have started outdoor adventure companies for school children; some have become full-time, professional rock climbers, developing routes on some of the most scenic mountains in the world; some have become professional musicians, playing in almost every province of China; some have opened restaurants and bars, selling things like Quebec's specialty poutine, cheese curds and gravy on french fries. 

The Ronald McDonald balloon is kept under a net during the inflation process, New York City, U.S., Nov 27, 2019. /VCG Photo

The Ronald McDonald balloon is kept under a net during the inflation process, New York City, U.S., Nov 27, 2019. /VCG Photo

I'm also grateful that China is such a safe place. I had a friend move here from New Mexico, a place that I always considered to be idyllic. He told me that one reason he came was that his friends mostly moved out, and those that didn't were in jail or on drugs. 

When I lived in New York City, street crime was something I always had to be aware of. I would never have let a female friend go home after dark without accompanying her to her door or a taxi. This is totally unnecessary in China.

I have become aware of a few house break-ins over the decade I've lived here, as well as a few bar fights, and someone stole my three-wheeled electric scooter in downtown Beijing, but that's it.

My friend from New Mexico said that not having to worry about crime changed the complexion of each day immeasurably. I've heard similar things from friends from countries like Brazil and even France that also have serious crime problems.

The final thing I will mention is gratitude for my wonderful Chinese wife and extended family. Even the drunken uncle I mentioned earlier is a wonderful guy who would do anything for my wife and I. Family ties in China are generally much, much tighter than in the West, a phenomenon partly demonstrated by the different lengths of Thanksgiving and the Spring Festival.

A British friend once remarked to me, "If turkey actually tasted good, people would eat it more than once a year." The British may not be well known for their gratitude.

Halloween may have sexy costumes, and Christmas has presents, but I think the most relatable American holiday is Thanksgiving. It's about family, gratitude, and gratitude for family. In any culture, what could be more important?

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