Holiday Prep in the Tropics

Well, I think I was a little flippant last time about my Dengue.  After having quite mild symptoms the weekend I was diagnosed, it really hit me the next week and I was pretty miserable.  I even missed a whole day of work, which is very rare for me! Luckily I was able to use the Thanksgiving holiday to recover a bit, even though we were driving all over birding.  I think I am pretty much over it at this stage.

Now we are on the countdown to winter vacation!  2 more weeks of school and then Gav and I are off to Indonesia to go scuba diving.  It’s very strange because it just doesn’t feel at all like we are in the run up to Christmas.  It’s hot, it’s sunny, and no one really celebrates here so basically it’s not very festive.  There are a few token Christmas things around-The Goethe Institute is putting on a German Christmas market next weekend (complete with Gluwein!) and the mall has some Christmas trees up as decorations but that’s it.  I wonder how many of our students celebrate or mark the day.  It’s funny because the library at school has a ton of books that are marked with little stickers for different holidays.  Halloween books were very popular and all the kids knew what that holiday was, but I read them different books about Thanksgiving the week before that holiday and most of the kids had no clue what it was all about.  It’s understandable as we only have about a 15% American population, but these kids have been getting a Thanksgiving holiday for years.  Has no one ever said “hey, this is how we celebrate this holiday?”  I just told them we all get together with family and friends and eat a turkey.  They thought it was lame we don’t give presents.

Speaking of turkey, we had a little pre-Thanksgiving dinner the weekend before the big day with a few friends here.  I found a turkey at the local supermarket.  It was the only one there when I went looking, so I panicked and bought it.  It was a Halal turkey from Utah, very international!  There was some drama cooking it because I am not sure how well our oven works.  It never seems to get very hot and I couldn’t find an oven thermometer to check what temperature it was reaching.  When I defrosted the bird, I noticed it had one of those red pop-up things that tells you when it is done, so that was comforting.  I also borrowed a meat thermometer from a friend to be on the safe side.  On the day of the dinner, I had to go to school for an hour to do a shift at the fun fair.  I put the turkey in and when I came home the oven still wasn’t very hot.  So I turned it up all the way, and then the power in our neighbourhood went out.   No problem, I started up the generator and went inside.  The oven still wasn’t on!  I called Gav in a panic and he reminded me that the generator only powers certain things and the oven is not one of them.  Super.  I made him run around the fun fair to find our neighbour and ask for her keys to use her oven.  By the time he got them, the power was back on and crisis mostly over, though I still had no idea how long the oven would take to cook the turkey.  All was fine in the end.  The little pop up thing popped up and the meat thermometer confirmed the bird was done and it was pretty juicy and tasty for having flown all the way from Utah.  Everyone brought dishes to pass and it was a lovely evening.

After Thanksgiving, I always feel like I get a free pass to go Christmas Crazy.  I love Christmas-I love the lights and the cosiness and all the traditions and decorations.  I love playing Christmas music and I love going to pick out a live tree.  Every year I get a little jealous of all the bucolic scenes I see on Facebook of people going to tree farms in the snow, finding the perfect tree and cutting it down to take home.  Our reality in London was that we would walk (usually in the rain) down the high road to the alley in between the pawn shop and the betting shop where we would buy a tree from a guy in a grey sweatsuit that did not quite cover his belly all the way.  Then we would carry it on our shoulders back home, trying not to smack anyone in the head along the way.   Back home it was always a bit of surprise to take all the netting off the tree to actually see what it looked like, because all you can see in the “lot” is how tall the tree is and what the shape of the top is.  Gav would wait until I went out for a run the next day to put the lights on so that I didn’t micro-manage his approach and/or tell him to put more lights on.  We did love all of our trees though, and they all got names and they were all weird.

Last year after Christmas I started looking online for fake trees so that we could put one in our shipment.  I knew there was no way we would find a live (or even a fake) one here and I wanted to be able to decorate.  I looked at so many trees.  Those suckers are expensive, even on sale, and in the end I got a little fed up and just bought a £15 one from Argos (a catalogue shop) that said it was “pre lit.”  Gav was very excited about this as now I couldn’t blame him for light placement and also wouldn’t ask every year if we could buy more lights.  We never took it out of the box when it arrived because it needed to be boxed up for the shipment, so yesterday was the grand unveiling.  My only experience with artificial trees was the one we had growing up that was a hand-me-down from my Grandparents.  It was a real pain to put up, each branch had to be put in the center pole one at a time and it was coated in some weird fire retardant that my dad was allergic to, so he had to wear rubber kitchen gloves to do the job.  Festive!  Luckily tree technology has moved on since 1980, so our cheap tree was pretty easy to put together.  Once it was up, I noticed that the “pre-lit” aspect of it was just that someone (who may have been drunk) already strung 3 strands of lights on the tree and you plug them in together.  The light-stringer should be glad that I was not supervising, because I would have some feedback.  But, in the end, after I spent some time fluffing up the branches, it looks fine.  Definitely worth £15.

This afternoon we will decorate it, probably while sweating and wearing t shirts rather than merrily by an open fire.  But I guess we need to make some new traditions here. Our traditional cranberry G&Ts will have to be replaced with just plain ones, or maybe a Myanmar beer.  There is no fireplace to hang our stockings one, but maybe they can hang on the staircase.  Christmas day for sure will not be white, but maybe we will see a Manta Ray!  It’s all an adventure.

Update!  We did decorate.  We found cranberry sauce in a can and managed to make our traditional Cranberry G&Ts.  Snack tray (with mince pies!) pictured above.  Here we are post-decoration, Nell thrilled to pose as usual.

image1 (3)

And finally, perhaps you have been waiting for an update to our story about our little mouse tenant, Ei Mou Mou.  All had been quiet for a while, with no scurrying or nibbled fruit to be seen.  We thought maybe he found his way outside and everyone was happy.  Then last week something nibbled my Nigella’s Christmas Cookbook.  And this morning Gav caught a glimpse of a whiskery nose.  So we shut the door between the kitchen and dining room, opened the door to the outside and got a broom to shoo him out.  He ran straight to the door to the living room, squeezed in between the two sliding doors and made a bid for freedom straight into the house.  Fabulous. Time to get some live traps from the maintenance guys at school.  If Ei Mou Mou stays any longer I’m going to need to get him a Christmas stocking!

2 thoughts on “Holiday Prep in the Tropics

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  1. OK, it’s pretty amazing that you can get a Halal turkey from Utah in Myanmar. Talk about globalization! Your new tree looks really good. We never buy a tree — we just put a strand of lights on the avocado that we grew from a pit!


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