our hike to water!!

Yesterday morning we hired a small van & driver - and made our way about 100km NE to Tianchi Lake (Heavenly Lake)- a little east of the Tianshan Mountains. The Lake is 1900+meters above sea level, surrounded by snow-peaked mountains, glaciers and alpine trees. The tallest peak in this area is called Mt. Bogda (1980m), which you can barely see in this picture. The lake is very blue & cold - all glacial melt! Someday, it might be fun to backpack further, or take a trek over the pass. We will wait until the girls are older, and can carry their own essentials. :) For now, we carry them!!

It was such a refreshing day, as we are so used to our massive concrete city and dry climate. We brought our own picnic lunch of tuna sandwiches, fruit & carrot sticks. There were lots of Chinese tourists - but as we strayed off the beaten path, we found great spots to explore without feeling like one of the "tourist attractions." You can take a leisurely boat ride, see Kazahk yurts, or join a Kazahk-led horseback tour of the hillsides. We enjoyed the cable-car ride up the mountain, throwing rocks into the lake, and bonding with friends.


Rama-reflections - week 2

This week, we happened to be out trying to flag down a taxi around 7:45pm, and the streets were crowded with people trying to get home too. We waited for a good 45 minutes, with all three littles. The best part of waiting, was that we got to see an older Uyghur couple arguing about where to wait for a taxi, and almost running to beat other people waiting too. The greatest part about it - was the man had a beheaded lamb over his shoulder. It was a sight!! They finally stomped off after losing 2-3 taxis to quicker runners. I wish I had my camera. :)

This week's highlights:
Here are a few traditional practices that happen during the month of Ramadan

  • Eating meals twice a day, one before the sunrise and one after the sun sets (with a 12 hour fast in between). The morning meal is called suhoor, followed by pre-dawn prayers called fair - around 4am. More dedicated Muslims will stay up in worship, others might go back to bed. The fast is broken after sunset followed by the evening maghrib prayer. There is also a later evening prayer called the isha.
  • Men are urged to visit the local Mosque as many times as they can
  • Read the entire Qur'an during the month of Ramadan: at many mosques during this month, one thirtieth (1/30) of the Qur'an is recited in Arabic each night in prayers called the tarawih. In this way, by the end of the month - the complete scripture will have been recited
  • Cook delicious food during the month of Ramadan (recipes to come!)
  • Breaking the daily fast with a drink of water & sweet dates
  • Social visits are encouraged
  • Generosity & charity & good deeds have special significance this month. Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques
  • The final 10 days of Ramadan is a special celebration called Lailat al-Qadr, also called the "Night of Power." To spend these nights in worship is equivalent to a thousand months of worship. Allah's reward will be very great. We hope to learn more about this event this upcoming week.


moon cake madness

Today in China is the annual MOON FESTIVAL (中秋节 = Zhōng qiū jié), also called "Mid-Autumn Festival." It always falls on the 8th month (in the Chinese lunar calendar) on the 15th day! Its kinda like Thanksgiving meets Valentines Day! During this time, the moon's orbit is at its lowest angle to the horizon, which makes it seem brighter & larger than any other time of year.

There are MANY stories behind this festival, but most believe it is to celebrate the bountiful HARVEST for the year. China is a very agricultural nation, so it is fitting that there be a festival to honor & celebrate the farmers' hard labor, and the end of their season. Farmers work quite hard to till their fields, plant, harvest & sell their crops. The Moon Festival is a time to give thanks and rest from your labor.

During this time the MOON is full & round, which is a lucky shape in Chinese culture. The round shape means family reunion. Therefore the Moon Festival is a holiday for families to celebrate together in harmony. It is customary to eat MOON CAKES (月饼 = yuè bǐng): which is a large cookie/crust with various fillings (sugar, sesame, walnuts, ham, beans, etc.) and flavored with lotus flowers or rose petals. Here is a recipe to try if you are adventurous, and here are detailed directions too. It is also common to offer round gifts when visiting relatives: melons, pomegranates, apples, grapes, and the like. Kids love the festival, as they get to stay up late eating moon-cakes and hearing legendary tales.

The Moon Festival is also a ROMANTIC time: a chance to gaze at the full moon with the one you love. Typically the weather is dry & warm, with clear skies and a mild breeze. Lovers spend the evening tasting moon-cakes and sipping hot tea or wine. Even for couples who cannot be together, they still seek to spend the night gazing at the moon (at the same time) so it seems like they are together. There is a lot of poetry about the moon & love in Chinese culture.

So tonight we began our own tradition: we made (round) pizza together, and thanked our God for all that He created: the sun, moon, stars and everything in between!
*I will try to post again about a legendary story behind this holiday soon.


A Picture Says A Thousand Words

Yes, that is a life-vest swimsuit, a deflated inner tube around her neck, and pink leg warmers on Asia's arms & legs. The only thing funnier than this picture was the sight of her "swimming" around on the carpet in the "pool." I guess when you live in the world's most landlocked city, you find your own "water" to swim in.

It was a funny sight anyway and I thought I would share it with you!! I think they got their mother's creativity.


Fall is here!!

Asia loves learning about the seasons - so today, when we told her that Fall (秋天 = qiū`tiān) was finally here, she asked, "where are the leaves, mom??"....since Fall is typically associated with colorful leaves all over the ground. Well, we don't have lots of colorful leaves, but the temps have dropped significantly, and we got our first rain (下雨 = xià yǔ)!! The chilly weather called for some hot soup & lounging around in jammies for the majority of our Sunday. This morning (Monday in China) the thermometer read 8C which = 47F!! That's getting cold for us! Its not even October yet!! We may have to bust out the winter clothes earlier than normal....but that is fine with us!

I am so glad we went on an adventure on Saturday....it might be some of the last warmth we see for awhile. Here are the kids playing at a big park with their "English friends." They loved playing in the sprinklers, running on the paths, eating our picnic lunch and riding this rickety bumper car ride. I am so glad they didn't fall out! :) But for now, its back to the books - continuing to learn new vocab, grammar, characters, tones and how to use it!! Justin's classes are much more rigorous this semester - his 3rd so far, and he has more homework and assignments at night. His language skills are incredible - but there is always more to learn! I am still hoping osmosis will work if I hang around him enough. :)


Rama-reflections - week 1

During Ramadan in the Muslim world, most restaurants are closed during the daylight hours. Here in Urumqi, that is not always true. There is such a vast diversity of peoples, so many restaurants are open for business, with slightly less patrons. Many families get up early for suhoor, a meal eaten before sunrise. Throughout the day, people will frequent the local mosque, offer regular times of prayer, and dress up if they go out. I have noticed more Uyghur men wearing their hats, and older women are dressed a bit nicer than normal. Also, during the afternoon - it seems quieter than usual! After the sun sets, the fast is broken with a meal known as iftar. We hear that Iftar usually begins with dates & sweet drinks that provide a quick energy boost. Most nights - the sunset is around 6:20pm, local time - so its not that hard to wait for a bountiful dinner.

But we have noticed some interesting things:
  • Many of our Muslim friends do not adhere to the strict fast. Many of them eat during the day for various reasons (their tummy hurts, they are working too hard, job forbids them, etc).
  • When we ask our friends why they celebrate Ramadan, we get an array of answers (to pay for our bad deeds, to know what its like to be poor, to follow the tradition of our ancestors, the Koran says to, even to lose weight!). So far only one friend has been able to communicate the correct reason Ramadan is celebrated this month. Times are a-changing.
  • Fasting this month is expected for every Muslim - so its funny when everyone disappears during lunchtime. Where do they go? One day Justin saw one girl eating during lunch, and she was very embarrassed. Maybe being on a campus is harder for students, but we have been surprised by how many do not adhere to the fast.


apple pie a-la-mode

Justin eating apple pie & ice cream at a well-loved restaurant downtown. Eden can't wait to blow out the candle. We had fun celebrating Justin's 27th birthday! It was a "fun, relaxing, satisfying day" in Justin's own words. We also made tacos for dinner, which is always his fave!!


the first day of Ramadan

This is the first year we have ever really experienced Ramadan first-hand and we are excited to understand in a deeper way the roots behind many of the customs & practices in this foreign culture and region of the world. Hope you enjoy learning along with us.

From our reading, and talking with friends - Ramadan "a month of blessing" begins at sundown - the 9th month of the lunar calendar of the new moon. This month is considered Islam's most holy month - where Muslims commemorate the revelation of their holy Qur'an (570-632AD), set aside to devote themselves to Allah thru prayer, fasting and acts of charity. This year - Ramadan begins on September 12th at sundown, and ends on October 13th with a celebratory festival called Eid al-Fitr - a "festival to break the fast." Because Islamic holidays are based on a lunar calendar - they will change each year (by about 11 days).

According to Sharia law, all physically fit Muslims must practice this fast (Sawm) from food, water & other sensual pleasures during daylight hours. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. Those exempt from the fast are: soldiers, the physically or mentally challenged, pregnant/nursing mothers, women who are menstruating, children under 12, and those traveling more than 50 miles. As well, everyone is encouraged to morally abstain from lying, malicious gossip, quarreling & trivial nonsense.

We are going to interview some friends to see what types of customs they adhere to, and what they might believe to be true about this holy month. We think it will be very interesting!! More info to come.....stay tuned!


my numerous job offers

One of the funny things about living in China as a foreigner is the contrasting pros & cons of sticking out in a crowd. While you might tire easily of the endless onlooking masses or pay a bit more for some things (skin tax), standing out also has its advantages. Being a white guy in a city of 3+ million Chinese people has provided for some interesting job opps. In the last two weeks, I have gotten three job offers, all of which I had to turn down for various reasons, perhaps the biggest being I am not allowed to WORK on a student visa. :)

Last week, a friend introduced me to a movie director looking for for foreigners who might be interested in
acting in a movie. The main plot had a great message and they wanted me to sign up right there, but I didn't feel comfortable without seeing and understanding the script fully, which they don't have available for me yet. They said they would get back to me. :) We will see.

I also got offered a modeling job, which when I heard - I burst out laughing! While flattered, I know I am not up to most modeling standards, but then again, there are different standards out here. I had to turn it down though as it was an Ad for Bai Jiu (alcohol) which is what most people here use to get drunk. The funny part is - they wanted me to pose in a red cowboy hat. Ha!

The third job offer is the most common here and not as flashy-
teaching English. I get asked to teach English almost weekly here - from training centers...to mothers who want private tutoring for their kids - there is an endless desire to learn English. But what was interesting with this latest part-time offer was the pay they were willing to fork out: 120 yuan per hour of teaching (about $16 US/hr) which is the highest pay I have heard of and plenty to live on out here. When I told them that I wanted to focus on finishing my language studies first, they asked me to tell all my friends in America about the job and if anybody is interested, there are plenty of options for you out here in Xinjiang. Let us know!!
~ Justin


Eden Sofia & Sydney Grace.....

So much has been happening lately, that we have a hard time keeping up. Eden & Sydney are changing and growing in leap and bounds, and in light of their big sister's eventful life - I wanted to post some new picts and share about their sweetness and glimpses into their lives. They are so amazing, huh? :)

Here is a beautiful moment with E - she was climbing thru this green tube at the park, and I caught her in action. She looks so grown up to me, and is losing that baby-look. She is full of adventure: daring and curious, yet shy and smart too. She loves to make people laugh.

Eden is also eager to use her blue potty, and attempting to wear big girl undies throughout the day. She is quite proud of her newfound skills. Its so wonderful that she wants to do this on her own! I love this smile...

Sydney is just now showing an interest in food! She is getting most of it in her mouth, and trying new flavors all the time. Her eyes continue to amaze us, with a darker hazel-green tint (like daddy). Each of the girls are so unique & gifted.

Sydney is a fast crawler! She is all over the house, pulling up on furniture, taking small aided-steps with the help of anything she can grab. She loves to play under chairs, in small nooks, or grab the toys A&E might be using too. She is quite vocal, and typically has this sweet smile most hours of the day. She is also getting numerous teeth right now, so her nights are a bit fussy and challenging for all. She is changing so much right now, so she is content to be near momma most of the time.

Since this is *our* blog - we love to revel in the beauty, giftedness, growth and brilliant qualities in our beauties. We cherish them!!


preschool princess

Today was Asia's first day of preschool! She was very excited to go, as we had gone to visit and meet her teachers a few days before. She felt SO grown-up and excited for this big day, especially with her nifty school jacket. If it were up to me (mom), I would keep her home for a few more years. But she really wanted to try it, and we are all FOR her venturing out and making friends. We really hope she can make some neat buddies and learn some language in the process. She also needed a Chinese name (as a formality) so we chose Mei-xing (美星 = beautiful star) in hopes that she can be a bright star in her school. The school is brand new, and only offers classes for children ages 3-6. I was especially thrilled to find a school this small with less older kids around. It makes me feel s bit more at ease, knowing she won't be exposed to too much maturity before she is ready...and its about a 5 minute walk from our apartment.

Here she is - with one of her teachers (Nu Laoshi) on her first day. It took a short time to warm-up, but now they are buddies. Today - Asia was the ONLY student in her 4-year-old class!! She got SO much attention, especially since there are three teachers per class!! I got to stay with her for most of the day, observing and helping her get settled. She doesn't know enough Chinese to communicate, but she is catching on with her hands motions, and short phrases. At one point she was in tears because she was frustrated with her inability to speak - but we know she is motivated to learn! I am not sure how often she will attend, but it will only be part time, since we still have our fun homeschool curriculum that we read thru together, and lots of explorative hands-on excursions as a family.

As we said goodbye to her new friends today, Asia didn't want to leave. As hard as it is for me to entrust her into the care of others, I am so thrilled that she has such a sweet spirit and desires to learn and be a part of this culture. We will see how it goes....one day at a time.


thirty something?

Another year, and still I feel young!! (we'll see how long this lasts!) Justin planned an exciting day together exploring a famous park atop the highest mountain in our city, and we got to overlook an entire 360 degree view. It was fun to go on a special date, view the city from a new vantage point AND eat a delicious lunch too! Here are some highlights...

Riding on the scariest ride EVER - this rickety bike contraption mounted on a flimsy rail high above some concrete. what were we thinking? We pedaled fast!

Here is Justin up on the rock, reaching to the sky and proclaiming victory. It was so fun to conquer the mountaintop and be walking around this historic park. We also ventured across a crooked bridge, and saw a bunch of boys fishing in the pond.

Overall, I had a wonderful day - and even got some chocolate cake to top it off! Good chocolate cake is rare out here!!