eating Qing-zhen - 清真

Sometimes life out here becomes so normal, that its easy to forget to share about the small choices we have made to be a part of this land & culture. Since we moved here, we have chosen to eat "Qingzhen" which is Chinese for "Halal" or "Kosher" - foregoing all pork products. QING 清 means clean, and ZHEN 真 means real. Because we have lots of Muslim friends, we adhere to this lifestyle. We feel having our home open to all peoples in this land is more important that eating some bacon for breakfast. To adhere to this type of diet isn't that challenging out here, because we are surrounded by others who do the same. Overall, its a very healthy sacrifice!
  • We purchase all of our meat (mostly chicken, some beef) from butchers that are "Qingzhen" certified. This means the animal has been slaughtered in a humane way, properly drained (ick), blessed, and prepared. There is a certain label you need to look for to insure that you are purchasing clean Qingzhen meat.
  • We try to only eat at Qingzhen restaurants, which limits our ability to eat at many Chinese spots. We are able to eat at Hui restaurants, which are very tasty!! If we do happen to visit a non-Qingzhen spot, we will only eat certain dishes - or not at all.
  • We have to ask a lot of questions. Many baked goods contain shortening, lard, pork by-products, animal fat, or gelatin. Vegetable shortening is fine! Most marshmallows and even Jell-O is derived from pig skins....so we just try (with the best of our knowledge) to avoid pork by-products.
  • We keep our home Qingzhen, so that friends feel free to come and share a meal with us, without worry or concern.


take a peep....

Thanks to Nathan, Elle & Sophia Doan - our kids have now tasted "Peeps" for the first time. They were in heavenly bliss, and they were only allowed 2. Thanks Doan fam!! The package was full of goodness! We love & miss you guys more than words! ....so these pictures will have to suffice!

Eden's "Peep" is peeping out.


beard attempt - take two

Beards are considered respectable in our area of the globe, no matter how they look. I give heaps of respect to my husband for attempting this cultural endeavor (twice!) and not looking half-bad! Because it didn't turn out full and swarthy like he had hoped, it has been shaven. Maybe next year he will give it another shot.

Ever since I have known Justin, he has had a great goatee. He has only shaved it twice in the 10+ years since we became best friends, dated and been married. I actually like facial hair, so when he shaved the goatee - I hardly recognized him.

This shaven face is easier to kiss, I had to mention!

Here are some picts from our dating days... we look so young!!


Fu hou jie - Easter!!

FU - 复 - recover, restore
HUO - 活 - life, save
JIE - 节 - holiday, festival

It was an amazing 70 degrees outside today, perfect weather for an egg hunt. We hope you had a wonderful day too!!


U-Yo milk tea

This milk tea is a refreshing treat. Sometimes you never know what these foreign drinks will taste like - so when you find one you like - its a happy day! It literally says, "milk flavor tea drink" - black tea with milk. It reminds me of the sweet Nepali chai I drank in the mountains (2000) of Nepal, but cold. Just one of the many reasons to come and visit. We love it chilled while watching a good movie.


stinky tofu - an understatement

There is a section of street near the front of the computer market in our city that reeks with the smell of Stinky Tofu (chòu dòufu 臭豆腐 = stinky beancurd) yet people still eat it. I am appalled by the stench that wafts from those vendors' carts - and we hurry past if we happen to be in that area of town. You just can't linger. Some have likened the smell to raw sewage, old socks, rotting corpses, or a smelly, wet dog - even by Chinese people!!

What it is:
Stinky Tofu is a block of firm Bean curd (tofu) soaked in brine. The brine consists of pure soy milk (soybeans+water) in a large bucket, left (uncovered) outside for several weeks until it becomes putrid, moldy & gray, allowing the micro-organisms take control. Yes - this is true. Many will add rotted vegetables, rotting melon rinds, and shrimp heads - but the rancid soy milk is most common, with salt added. The tofu marinates in the brine for 4-6 hours until it soaks up the pungent odor, and becomes more "spongy." Then it is rinsed and aged overnight in a fridge, and cooked in a variety of ways. Thus you have a love/hate relationship with this infamous treat.

A Street food
There is a good reason why Stinky Tofu is a street food. If you were to cook this at home, you might get evicted!! Some street vendors have been fined for breaking air-pollution laws, and are confined to certain areas to sell this snack. It is commonly sold deep-fried, stewed, steamed and sometimes raw. In these pictures its deep-fried - until they are golden & crisp, with a spicy topping. Vendors rent a space on the street with a small folding table/cart with a wok/deep-fryer. There is no need for large signs! The pungent odor permeates the air and beckons the devoted Stinky Tofu fans, even blocks away! Others might run for cover!!

Some people believe stinky tofu was developed from a preserving method to help tofu last through the winter. Others have said it was an invention of cooks in the Chinese military to help soldiers withstand the cold and boost their masculinity (yang).

I don't think my curiosity (insanity) to taste this special Chinese food will overcome my nose's refusal to inhale, let alone swallow. I will let you know if that changes!


eating kebabs

Mutton kebabs (烤羊肉 kǎo yángròu) can be found on almost any street or bazaar in Xinjiang, and they are the most common treat when out-and-about town. They are barbecued on a long, open metal grill over hot coal on long metal skewers. The meat is cooked over the heat while the vendor fans the charcoal to quicken the process. They are turned constantly, rendering them crispy & yet tender. The kebabs are seasoned with spices (cumin, chili pepper, salt) and served sizzling hot. They cost about 1-2 yuan (14-18 cents) each.

In our family - Asia & Ali are the kebab fans, minus any fat chunks. Its taken Asia 2 years to master her technique, but as you can tell - she knows how to clean a skewer with the best of 'em.


Ice Mountain Creamery - before picts

It is official. We signed the contract for our quaint Ice Cream shop!! It's located down a small side street, off a larger main street and next to a large High School (2,700 students). It's 20 square meters (215 square feet) with a narrow storefront and yellow metal doors. Everything will be changed soon as we need to 装修 zhuāng xiū (renovate) the inside & outside! Currently there is a Uyghur restaurant to the left, and a Uyghur bakery on the right.

Some silly things:
1. This was the 3rd attempt (in 3 days) to sign our rental agreement, since our previous attempts fell thru for random reasons. It was chaotic, as there was a serious lack of communication with the previous tenant/landlord/us. What seems like a simple meeting - never is!
2. The contract almost didn't get signed at the last minute, as our previous tenant "forgot to mention" his contract was non-transferrable, and the landlord was angry/annoyed with previous tenant's fishy dealings to get out of his contract. We sat there listening to their argument, wondering what would become of this. In the end, the landlord softened to us (we spoke some Uyghur with him) and made an exception!! He granted the transfer and signed a NEW contract with our names on it.
3. When the previous renter finally signed his transfer contract, neighbors came out of the woodwork to begin stripping the old shop of anything left, since we didn't want any of it. They seriously were carrying away random items: shelving, mannequins, cleaning supplies, heating unit = junk. Tons of apartment dwellers came outside to see what was going on. Word spread quickly that the foreigners had rented the shop. Great FREE publicity!!

Here's a video link to see a short glimpse!! Enjoy!


Olympic countdown

Near the center of People's Square (Renmin Guang Chang = 人民广场) in our city, there is a large sign/monument that counts down until the Beijing Olympics (奥运会)begin! As you can tell, there are only 147 days, 5 hours, 36 minutes and 29 seconds to go. We are excited too.


homemade coffee ice cream

If you think we will be posting our recipes on the internet, you are mistaken. We have to be careful: recipes are a coveted item in this land where everything is copied and mass-produced for profit. Sorry. :(

But doesn't it look scrumptious? Its chewy & delightful.


location - location - locationS!!

At last we are getting closer to securing a location for the Ice Cream business!! We have been looking for weeks all over town for the right spot and we've struggled to settle on a location. At least I (Justin) have learned a lot more about the city and my language abilities have expanded as I try to learn all the business lingo necessary to navigate this endeavor. I have also gotten more than my share of exercise walking the streets of Urumqi.

Then - last week (out of nowhere), we found 5 new options!! I met with landlords, old tenants, contractors, consulting companies, officials - and anybody else who just wanted to stand around and find out what the foreigners are doing in their neighborhood.
We also wrestled with different business strategies (ie. wholesale vs. retail) during this time, seeking to figure out what would be best for us. By the end of the week - we felt a huge peace about this one tiny location, where we could open a base of operation & manufacturing. This cuts out the parlor/cafe services and keeps our costs at a minimum - yet still more than we originally anticipated. This little spot will be where we make the ice cream, store it and move it for delivery to other stores, markets, restaurants & hotels in the city. While wholesale will be the bulk of our business, we will also sell out of the window to the passersby as we are right in front of a large High School.

Tomorrow, if all goes well, we will sign the contract with the Landlord and secure the location for our site! We are really excited about these humble beginnings and eager to see the opportunities expand.


Can we plan your next vacation?!!

I'm sure many of you are wondering what do do for your next getaway or family vacation!! Well, we have THEE option for you: A historic journey along the famous Silk Road!!

Even the experts recommend this famous route as the "granddaddy" of all trips, along the old trading routes of Marco Polo and many other historical figures. Follow these footsteps and experience the extreme climates & terrain. You can book a high-speed train, a sleeper-train, bumpy buses, ride a bike or pack your own Bactrian camel!! Traverse the desert roads through the wild west of Xinjiang (China) and onward to Pakistan if you so desire. You can stroll thru Buddhist grotto's or beautiful grape vineyards, take a dip in glacial-melt lakes in the Tianshan mountains, barter at the famous Kashgar Sunday bazaar, eat spicy kebabs, and experience the rich blend of cultures along the way. We would love to introduce you to the land we love - and be your tour guides! Let us know when you are ready to plan your adventure! We will be here for ya, with our camels packed.


Happy International Women's Day!!

I got phone calls today from two local guys, wishing me "Happy Women's Day!" How sweet that they think to give ME a call....this is a cherished holiday here in China. People all over are buying bouquets of flowers for the women in their lives - and honoring those they adore.

Every March 8th, thousands of events are held worldwide to celebrate women & the history of their achievements over the past 9 decades. I was never quite aware of this holiday until we moved here. Most of our local friends wish me "Happy Women's Day" wherever we go, which is nice to feel affirmed & celebrated across the globe. This holiday has a rich history (since 1909) commemorating the struggle for equality, justice, peace & development of women in every society.

Here in China, most women have the day off of work (or half day) to relax or enjoy the outdoors. Sometimes the men will prepare meals & do all the chores. Almost everyone gives flowers to their moms & daughters. Many others here in China choose to encourage & give back to their society.

Since today was Saturday <and beautiful outside> we all bundled up and went for a walk around campus. It was a very refreshing and restful day for all of us! The weather has been warming up, and we see the excitement of Spring peeking thru the leftover ice. It will come soon!


Chinglish #2

Great signs found in the airport. Signs like these are a continual source of joy in our lives.

I think this is where you claim over-sized luggage pieces. We could be wrong...maybe they just want to emphasize the "greatness" of this baggage claim area?

This is not something you'd want to do. It's forbidden.


Quest China

We just heard about an international reality show called Quest China (Da Tiao Zhan = 大挑战) that features 9 strangers that must complete creative tasks in teams, over 12 days. Some challenges are mental, others are physical....and some cultural! Its 2nd season began on February 20th, 2008. The teams' first challenge was to create a short film about Shanghai in one day..... and you can watch clips on YouTube or from their website. It is all produced in Mandarin with English subtitles. We cant vouch for its quality - but its an interesting idea to connect the entertainment industries in the East & West!!