my parents came home around 1:30. while my father cooked in the kitchen, my mother and i did some last minute cleaning. when my sister finally came home around 2:00, it freed up my mother to help with the cooking. there was a bit of tension in the air over my sister's lack of cleaning urgency (with the guests due to arrive in a matter of hours) but i tried to keep the peace.
this felt like a rehearsal for actual thanksgiving next month, where we're expecting 15 guests today. there will be even more food at that point, since my godmother usually brings several dishes. also today there wasn't any beef tendon or steamed mussels, 2 of my favorites. i'm still trying to think what new dish can be introduced besides the usual fare.
bin bin and her extended family arrived around 5:30. my sister brought out hailey to meet them, so she'd be familiar with them before coming into the calm so she won't be as territorial. that seemed to work but it was a tenuous truce at best, broken when hailey began being aggressive with bin bin's father.
bin bin's mother wanted to help my mother with the fried spring rolls. she seemed to know her way around the kitchen so my mother let her take over while she herself went to entertain the other guests. when bin bin's mother handed my mother a plated of freshly fried spring rolls, i heard my mother scream and then dropped the plate onto the floor, shards of ceramic mixed with shattered spring rolls. my mother was laughing so i was kind of confused as to what was happening. i thought maybe the plate slipped out of her hands, but she was saying something about, "i burned my hand! it's so hot!" and then running to the sink. she ended up suffering some 2nd degree burn on a few fingers, which blistered up almost immediately. that pretty much fulfilled the drama quota for the day. everyone was giving her different advice, from rubbing some salt on the wound to putting on some cream; i told her just to rinse her fingers under the faucet. afterwards she ate with her hand in a bowl of ice water.
i think the seating arrangement is the most important part of a successful dinner party. within the past week we've had dinner with bin bin's extended family on 3 separate occasions, and each time i've noticed the seating arrangement hasn't been ideal. people ended up sitting next to others that they weren't entirely compatible with, resulting in awkward dining. so i had it carefully planned where bin bin's fiancé would sit next to his parents while bin bin sat with him, and then her parents sat across from her. when she then decided she wanted to sit next to her parents (which made sense) it threw the seating arrangement out of whack a little bit. my sister ended up changing seats leaving 2 empty seats for lili and matthew when they arrived later at 6:30.
i sat at one end of the table while my parents sat at the other. although it may seem like separate heads of the table, it's actually the worst place to sit because we're farthest away from the food. i actually ate standing up for the first 15 minutes because i couldn't reach anything. i only sat down when my father finally carved the turkey. speaking of which, we could only get our hands on a 16 lbs. bird; i was hoping for something bigger but since it isn't officially thanksgiving yet, it's hard to find a turkey any bigger.
bin bin's father kept pressuring matthew to drink. not the light stuff like beer but the hard stuff like 54% alcohol chinese distilled liquor. matthew went along much to the detriment of his liver. my sister helped out, showing everyone her potential for alcoholism. it almost seemed like bullying and reminded me why i normally abstain from alcohol. when is forcing someone to get drunk considered a fun sport? when my parents wanted to open the 16-year-old moutai, bin bin's father forbid them, saying it was too precious. apparently an unopened bottle of moutai of that vintage can selling in china for US$2500. who knew?
i took about 250 photos, mostly with the flash. since it was in a familiar environment, i wasn't shy about taking as many photos as i could, moving around the dining table, trying to get the best viewing angle. due to the length of the dining space, my normal flash shooting setting of manual f/8 1/125 seconds (ISO400) only exposed the foreground, leaving the background in the dark. i had to resort to shooting in aperture priority mode at f/4-4.5 (ISO400), but that resulted in a slow shutter speed of 1/8 seconds and lower. the risk was blurry heads for anyone who was moving.
my parents were holding this october thanksgiving under the pretense that it was to celebrate their wedding anniversary. because of this, bin bin's family brought a gift (a coffee maker) and my mother received some red envelopes stuffed with money. my mother told everyone how she and my father met, a story that surprisingly i've never heard before. i always thought she was a school teacher and that they met through my father's aunt who was also a school teacher. i also didn't realize that my mother got married when she was only 19-years-old (funny i never did the math).
hailey kept shuffling from the living room to points elsewhere when the conversation got too loud. we kept coaxing her back out, only to have her disappear soon afterwards.
my sister made strawberry shortcake, which upstaged my flan. when i told her about my contribution, she said she didn't know. my flan was more tender than in past years. a few of them seemed almost too tender, and when i plopped it onto a plate, it actually broke apart from the force. i noticed bin bin and her mother only took a single bite.
the guests didn't leave until well past 11:00. all the wives (minus my aunt who had already left) helped out with the cleaning while the men sat around the dining table. i was helping out with the cleaning as well. bin bin's mother-in-law washed all the dishes since my mother couldn't easily do it with her burned hand. i didn't take any leftovers but i could always come back tomorrow.
it was raining by the time i rode back to cambridge. i ended up being 60% soaked. feeling tired from having eaten so much, the ride back seemed like forever. drew was already asleep by the time i tiptoed into the house. i stripped out of my wet clothes and took a shower. another thanksgiving in 7 more weeks.