Here is a link to a video created by my colleague, Chris Tuazon, which offers some snippets of the Thanksgiving day we spent with our fifty Chinese students and friends on the Chinese staff:
This video can also be found easily with a a search on YouTube for "Happy Thanksgiving 2012 from Shenzhen!"
If you are wondering how Chris got this video on YouTube it is with the use of a VPN. YouTube, GoogleDocs, Facebook, Twitter, and most blogs and message boards are all beyond "The Great Firewall". At selected times Google search, the New York Times and other non-Chinese publications are blocked, or specific articles are blocked. Searching for one of the "three T's" - Tibet, Taiwan, or Tiananmen will also turn up a whole lot of nothing. Of course, the use of VPNs or hacking is also widespread. An easy trip into Hong Kong where none of these sites are blocked, where you can read books by the Dalai Lama, and where moped drivers actually stop at red lights, also brings access to download VPN software that goes unchecked for at customs.
The class featured on the video is the sophomore class, but there is also a junior class. There are only grades 10-12 at the high school level in China. "Mr. T" will mention he teaches these students. I teach the students featured as well in a weekly course called "College to Careers" that is about understanding their own selves - personality, passions, values, future job or career interests, and life dreams, and then guiding them in setting goals and making a plan from those starting ponts to be admitted into a university in the US that should be a good fit for them.
The video captures a good sense of the family feel and fun we were able to achieve for the day at school. Students were enthusiastically receptive to the idea of being thankful, and even more so - the food! We were able to procure most traditional Thanksgiving dishes, including turkeys cooked by Sam's Club (yes there are also multiple Walmart's and an IKEA in Shenzhen), and side dishes from some local restaurants, but couldn't find plastic forks. We ate the meal with chopsticks, pumpkin pie with spoons. The feast was followed by some open sharing of thank yous in the dining hall (the small auditorium we converted into a dining hall), an attempted game of football on the school soccer field, and a start to the showing of the American film "Stepmom". Classic.
Wherever you are reading this I hope you enjoyed Thanksgiving or can be thankful for friends or family in your life. I appreciate having at least some version of both wherever I have been in the world through holidays. It is evidence to me that people want to connect, share and love each other no matter their cultural differences. Cross-culturally, holidays are an opportunity to share or learn about one's core values or important aspects of one's cultural identity. The sharing process can remind us that all humans value the same essentials such as family, good food, or gratitude.
Universal values are the starting point for social harmony or conflict resolution. If we can remember how much we have to empathize with another person or group of people just because they are also human, and if we can do this more than our bad habit of focusing on differences, we are more likely to share, cooperate, or compromise instead of hoarding, competing, and being stubborn. When the other stops being "the other" and instead can be felt as part of "us" social problem-solving can go from a zero-sum to the better question of "How can we both win?" There is almost always a way. Republican and Democrats could use this lesson, for the sake of the American people, and the world's people for that matter!
Happy Holidays, Chris