Junior Yelin Mao and his mother and father on vacation back home in China.

In this four-part series, international students will recount memories of their first Thanksgiving. The first installment is on junior Yelin Mao, who is from Hunan, China, and has been in the U.S. for three years. Mao lived with Akilan Murugesan, ‘16, and Murugesan’s mother during his freshman year. He is now living with head of middle school Sandy Lyon. Check back tomorrow for the story of junior Chloé Collinwood, who was born and raised in England. 

 

Q: What did you think about Thanksgiving before coming to America?

Nothing too special. It (was) just a festival, but we (didn’t) really celebrate it. We knew about it, though.

 

Q: Anything that surprised you when you had your first one?

A: I got surprised that we had a holiday for it, more than just one day. Now we have a whole week off!

 

(Photo used by permission of Mao)
The Thanksgiving food prepared by the mother of Akilan Murugesan, ’16, who hosted junior Yelin Mao in 2015.

Q: How did you spend your first Thanksgiving?

A: (Akilan and I) stayed at home all day, and on Thanksgiving Day we had a big lunch with two turkeys and all kinds of desserts (and side dishes).

Because Akilan’s mom made them all, some of them were of an Indian taste. They had cooked potatoes with curry in it (samosas) and some other curry-flavored dishes.

(But) the turkeys weren’t Indian at all (in flavor).

 

Q: What did your first turkey taste like?

A: It (tasted) like chicken.

Since I’m used to eating really spicy food, though, I think the American preparation is a bit tasteless because no one adds chili peppers or spicy sauce.

 

Q: Was there anything that surprised you during your first Thanksgiving season?

A: I am surprised people actually donate food. People here give food to the homeless (and the) poor.

We didn’t do that in China. We didn’t have anything like the Turkey Drive, not at all.

Some people (would) do that individually, of course, but not the entire school or community (would) do that; it was something that you would do yourself.

 

(Photo used by permission of Mao)
The table at head of middle school Sandy Lyon’s sister’s house during junior Yelin Mao’s second Thanksgiving.

Q: What was your second Thanksgiving like?

A: We went to Los Angeles to have Thanksgiving with (Sandy Lyon’s) sister’s family, so (it was) my first real Thanksgiving.

It was a more traditional type. We ate turkey, mashed potatoes and all kinds of vegetables.

I think it was interesting. I experienced the real American celebration with many American people.

 

Q: Did it remind you of any Chinese holidays?

A: Kind of like Chinese New Year, where families come together. But that’s more like Christmas.

(Thanksgiving) actually reminded me more of the Mid-Autumn Festival. They (both) have certain special foods (associated with) the festival. Thanksgiving has turkey; Mid-Autumn Festival has mooncakes.

 

Q: What are your plans for your third Thanksgiving?

A: I am going to go camping at Big Bear Mountain for the second time with Ms. Lyon. Last Christmas (Lyon, her children Grant and Wendy, her sister and I) rented a cabin and lived in the mountains; this time we will be living on the trail.

We’ll probably buy something, like turkey, from a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner.

 

—By Chardonnay Needler

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