NOV 24 — It was only last year that I celebrated my first Thanksgiving dinner. I was teaching dance culture at the University of California, Riverside and Thanksgiving saw most of the students and staff leaving the campus as well as town.
A new friend, Noitome Sunflowerfish, a PhD candidate and music composer for my “Hanuman” dance theatre piece, kindly invited me to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner at her place, not far from downtown Riverside. A few other friends, mainly from the Music Department, were invited and we bought the turkey for Noitome to cook.
For many years, I was confused about Thanksgiving, thinking it was related to Christmas and Christianity. Only last year did I discover the real meaning of Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, though another friend told me that they celebrate Thanksgiving in October in Canada. Perhaps that’s when the confusion started.
As a Muslim, I have never been invited to Thanksgiving in Malaysia, and I thought that it was only celebrated among Christians, like a few celebrations in Islam such as Nuzul Quran and Maulidul Rasul.
Apparently, Thanksgiving is kind of like a harvest festival, just like the Gawai Festival in Sarawak and Pesta Keamatan in Sabah. In fact in the past, we used to celebrate Musim Menuai (Harvest Festival) by having a kite competition, rebana competitions and wayang kulit shows at night.
And during the performances, a few special dishes like “ketupat sotong” (stuffed squid) and “sotong giling” (grilled and pressed dried squid). My late mother was an expert at “ketupat sotong” and my father was in charge of “sotong giling.” We would be selling those special dishes during the wayang performance. I am not sure why “sotong” of all food, but perhaps that’s the major sotong harvest season.
That night at Noitome’s house we had a good Thanksgiving dinner with salad, corn and potatoes to go with the turkey that took a few solid hours to be cooked. We know that Noitome cooked all day, but how much turkey could we eat among the four of us?
The bird was so big, at least a combination of three chickens. In the end, we had to split the leftovers between Noitome and me. I went home with a few little bags of turkey, but they went straight into my fridge as I was flying to San Jose the next day.
The next few days in Santa Cruz I hardly ate any meat as my host is pure vegetarian. In Berkeley, after watching an American puppet show we were lucky to find an Indian vegetarian restaurant.
Back in Riverside, in the next one week I ended up having turkey curry, turkey salad and turkey omelettes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to make serunding out of that leftover turkey.
This turkey business reminded me of Hari Raya Korban where we go home with bags of meat, bones and other inner parts of the cow. After days and weeks of various curries in the kitchen, my mother would invent yet another dish for the leftovers.
Now that we no longer celebrate the harvest festival, as we are also buying our jasmine rice from Thailand, and wayang kulit and other forms of performing are banned in Kelantan, I wonder what’s left for us to celebrate and for future generations to remember. With the bad flood in Thailand and a bad economy, what kind of rice is in store for us?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.