Fall is our family's favorite season. For 17 years it was heralded by the leaves changing on the rolling hills of Burton Valley, the slight nip in the air, the scent of wood burning in fireplaces. The anticipation grew for the holidays and the conviviality surrounding them: running into our friends on Merriewood Drive during trick-or-treating, or at Diablo Foods while shopping for Thanksgiving dinner. And then there was the tingle of excitement at seeing the first Christmas lights go up on a house.
Yeah, well, that was then. This is what it looks like here in Singapore:
The leaves in the jungle stay the same year round. The only hint at a changing season is the arrangement of flowers in our lobby. At the moment they are orange.
The only nip in the air is at the Lido Cinema down the street; it's always over air-conditioned. The only wood burning smell comes from Indonesia when they thin the forests.
The Christmas lights are already going up on Orchard Boulevard, as well as huge fake trees in front of the malls, the ugliest of which is a burnt umber color. Last year it looked like a giant stuffed himself with tinsel and lights and puked all over the town. But in a good way.
I guess it's OK the lights are up before Thanksgiving because there is no Thanksgiving here in Singapore. When Sir Stamford Raffles colonized the place, the natives -- Malay and a few Chinese -- were probably serving Nasi Lemak, a rice dish served with anchovies, peanuts and chili paste.
But with 22,000 Americans now living in Singapore, there's no way the holiday goes unnoticed. This is our first Thanksgiving in town. Last year Mike and I were at Peter's basketball tournament in Hong Kong; dinner was at a noodle joint. This year Peter is heading from Boston University to New York City, where he will be joined by other family-less Singapore American School graduates who attend college on the East Coast. Lauren will again be with friends in Los Angeles.
We are combatting our homesickness with what started to be a small, civilized gathering in our home. My friend Anna (from Piedmont, originally -- we were virtually introduced by Moraga's Brigid Wonder), her husband Russell, and two teenage sons are coming over. I bought new place mats and plan to use my good china. We decided to order a cooked turkey from one of several places that offer them. We can't trust my oven to do the job … it consistently overcooks or undercooks the food. (And don't even get me started with the stove -- it's either boiling, or almost boiling.)
A 15-lb. cooked turkey with chestnut stuffing and gravy costs anywhere from $79 to $210. We opted for somewhere in the middle because they'll deliver it. A Hoe is making it.
Mr. Hoe is a legend in Singapore. He works out of the cafeteria at the Singapore American School and makes the best fried rice on the island. Peter ate it for lunch almost every day. Moms love Mr. Hoe because he'd sell food to go, in case they were too busy playing Mah Jong or tennis that day to cook.
Apparently a Hoe turkey is one of the best. We'll see. But now, in typical fashion for our family gatherings, we've expanded. Much to our joy, one of our best friends is flying here to spend Thanksgiving with us; he will also put up our Christmas tree, as he did for the 17 years we lived in Lafayette. And, Russell's boss is coming to dinner too -- with his girlfriend, his 4 year-old son, and two maids. This is fine. They are bringing lumpia and wine.
And yes, the booze adds a whole other dimension to entertaining, mostly in that it is stinking expensive. We have to plot out our liquor supply very carefully, not wanting to run out of, say, Bombay Sapphire Gin. A liter costs $72 in Singapore grocery stores. At the duty free at Changi Airport, it's $27. Our friend has already been given instructions to pick up a bottle on his way in. Unfortunately, only one liter is allowed at the time, per person. Thank goodness there will be four of us over the age of 18 coming back into the country after Christmas! We'll be set for months!
Dinner may be on paper plates, and we'll sit wherever we find an empty spot on the floor. But the point is, we'll be giving thanks. It's been a crazy 16 months here in Singapore and we are grateful to have friends here who make it bearable.
We'll give thanks that Peter left us his X-Box 360 so we can watch the DVD of "Home for the Holidays," our traditional Thanksgiving movie.
We are also grateful for our friends from home who pop in every so often, mostly for business. In September, we took Lafayette's Andrew Huddart to the Greek restaurant around the corner, where the Singaporean waiters do Zorba's dance and throw plates. You don't know whether to join in or hope for a rally in the ninth inning.
In June, I took Lafayette's Suzanne Margerum to a SAS graduation party at a huge mansion, where there was a live band and a Mini-Cooper-sized "CLASS OF 2011" ice sculpture. Moraga's Edward Thomas treated us to dinner this month at a restaurant that is our favorite because the decor and music reminds us of being in Paris or New York City, except for the frangipani trees outside. Lafayette's Scott Gaylord and his girlfriend stayed with us after traveling for five weeks in Vietnam and Thailand. And finally, Moraga's David Cogswell pops in and out on a regular basis but that is coming to an end as his teaching gig here is over. We will miss him.
Most of all, we'll be giving thanks that in a few weeks we will be seeing our friends back in Lamorinda for Christmas. The annual Mike Zampa Christmas Caroling Extravaganza is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20 in Lafayette's downtown park in front of the Squirrel coffee shop. We hope to see you there!