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Beijing and Sydney Mines families get together for Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving was an international affair at one Cape Breton home on Monday when Sydney Mines residents Aron and Meghan Ashton played host to Chinese student Liyao (Sandra) Song and her family from Beijing. The gathering was facilitated through Engage Nova Scotia’s ‘Share Thanksgiving’ program. Seated is Karen MacMillan and standing, from left, are John MacMillan, Macy, Meghan, Aron and Rudy Ashton, Sandra, her husband Yi, Cuilan Liu, baby Marie, and Hongwen Zhang.
Thanksgiving was an international affair at one Cape Breton home on Monday when Sydney Mines residents Aron and Meghan Ashton played host to Chinese student Liyao (Sandra) Song and her family from Beijing. The gathering was facilitated through Engage Nova Scotia’s ‘Share Thanksgiving’ program. Seated is Karen MacMillan and standing, from left, are John MacMillan, Macy, Meghan, Aron and Rudy Ashton, Sandra, her husband Yi, Cuilan Liu, baby Marie, and Hongwen Zhang.

SYDNEY MINES, N.S. — It’s not uncommon for people to gather on a Cape Breton deck – especially on an unseasonably warm Thanksgiving Day.

But at one particular Sydney Mines home, Monday’s backyard gathering included a foreign family that experienced the traditional Canadian holiday for the first time – the guests even met the in-laws.

The visitors are from China. The hosts are from Sydney Mines. The two families got together through an Engage Nova Scotia campaign called “Share Thanksgiving” that places newcomers to Canada with local families.

The initiative is in its fourth year, but for hosts Aron Ashton and wife Meghan, it was their first time participating in the program. Along with young daughters Macy, 4, and two-year-old Rudy, Meghan’s parents, John and Karen MacMillan, also joined the gathering that included a traditional Thanksgiving feast, complete with turkey, stuffing and a wide variety of vegetables. The guests even brought along some Chinese dumplings.

For Liyao (Sandra) Song, a student at the International Centre for English Academic Preparation, the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with a Cape Breton family was just too good to pass up.

“We are very happy to be here, it is very exciting,” said Sandra, who was accompanied to the Ashtons’ spacious Sydney Mines home by husband, Yi, three-month-old daughter, Marie, and her parents-in-law.

Ironically, it was only just before dinner that Sandra, who spent 10 years as a nurse in her home city of Beijing, disclosed her plans to attend Cape Breton University to study public health, the same field that host Aron works in as an educator.

“What a coincidence – we’ll have plenty to talk about over dinner,” he said, as the two families visited on the back deck of the shaded Sydney Mines residence.

But not everybody was talking.
“My parents do not speak English, but they are very honoured to be here, it is very new for them,” said Sandra’s husband, Yi, who learned his English in China and goes by the nickname of ‘E’.

“This is our first time to have a turkey dinner – we do not eat turkeys, they are not very common in China.”

With three young children and four grandparents, there was no shortage of attention spent on the kids.

When asked about future plans, Yi said he and his wife hope to someday immigrate to Canada.

“Then we can have more than one baby,” he said, with a laugh, in reference to China’s former one-child per family policy that was started in the late 1970s and only recently amended to allow some couples a second child.

Yi spoke for his entire family when he said how grateful they were to be invited into the home of a local family.

“We love Cape Breton, the people are very nice, it is not crowded, not like Beijing,” he said of the Chinese capital that boasts a population of more than 21 million people.

Afterwards, Ashton called the dinner a complete success.

“It was something we wanted to do last year, but we missed the deadline so this year we were ready and did it – it was lots of fun to meet a new family,” he said.

He’s encouraging other Cape Breton families to follow suit in opening up their doors to newcomers.

To learn more about the Share Thanksgiving program, visit the website of Engage Nova Scotia, an initiative co-funded by the private sector, the province and a number of Nova Scotia municipalities.

 

david.jala@cbpost

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