Adventures of Life in Beijing

What does home mean to you?  A place to rest your head, nourish your body and relax with your family? In Chinese, the character for home or family comes from the pictograph that symbolizes a roof over a pig.

 

 

I’m not sure why it’s depicted this way, perhaps because if you had a pig in your house and a roof over your head, you had food and shelter and life was good.

My concept of home has changed over time, from the security of my childhood home surrounded by family and furry friends on our farm, to the excitement of my first home-away-from-home, my college dorm where I met people who helped shape me into who I am today.

Now that I have my own family, home is  where we gather to pray before dinner, track my sons’ height on the garage wall (I stopped once theirs surpassed mine), light the candles on our Christmas tree and celebrate birthdays with homemade lemon bundt cake.

It’s the weird stains on the carpet from experiments gone wrong, shoes by the front door, crumbs on the placemats and half-full water glasses littering the counter (why do all of the other dishes make it into the dishwasher?)

A home lives and breathes the connections and love of the people who live in it. It’s more than food and shelter. It’s more than a roof over a pig. I think about these things as I get ready to head to Beijing next week to look for our new home.

Should we go for a house in the suburbs?

 

Or a high-rise apartment in the city center?

Sure, I’ll ask about square footage, count the outlets in the kitchen and check the air purification system, but  what I am really looking for is a place our family can thrive. We need an oven to fill our apartment with the smell of fresh baked cookies.

Cookies smell like home

We need space to  decompress with a good book, play music or just be alone for a bit. We need a table where we can gather, thanking God for this grand adventure and share a meal together. I would love a space large enough to host visitors from home (now taking reservations), welcome new friends and reconnect with team members who have gone before us.

I want  our home to be safe, comfortable and conveniently located, but that’s just the house. It’s the laughter, tears, frustrations, joys and memories that we will experience together behind those walls that will turn into a home. I can’t wait to find it. But please, no pig.

What makes your house a home? How did you know when you found the right one?

Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to subscribe so you won’t miss the next post: House Hunting in Beijing

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (4):

  1. Maggie

    April 26, 2019 at 12:16 pm

    Praying you find a great home. Sure a high-rise apartment would be fun to have, specially if you never lived in one. But I don’t know if I am able to go back to live in the city. I think I am getting to old for that. And for me, I need to be close to my every day trips, like work, school, church. Oh, but I am sure God already picked the best place for you. Be blessed my friend!

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      April 27, 2019 at 2:38 pm

      Thank you Maggie. I have no doubt that God goes ahead of us. And yes it would be super convenient if our daily trips weren’t too far – especially in Beijing traffic!

      Reply
  2. Natalie

    April 26, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    So excited to follow you throughout this journey, in this thing we call life! I will say that in the past 23 years I have lived in 2 countries, 8 states and 15 different residences. I never chose my home, my home chose my family. I would go into a home and have my mind set on the stainless steel appliances I HAD to have, the wood floors and berber carpet that were all a MUST, until my children would run into a room (of course, with the house that had NONE of those things) and say… “Mom, this is my room!” Without second guessing, I was sold! That is when I realized the white walls and awful tile were just the bones, but the love and personal touches that we brought into the home made it ours! The feeling of safety, that my children could walk in a bare room and imagine themselves on the window seat with their new friends, made it all the better. And that old white stove never bothered me again, when the baked cookie smell was still the same. Good Luck!!

    Reply
    • Kirsten Harrington

      April 27, 2019 at 2:36 pm

      Thanks Natalie! You are so right. It’s about the feeling we get when we walk into a place not the place itself. I can’t wait to see which home will “speak to us” next week!

      Reply

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Snake Skin

I’m really sorry I let you down. I made promises I just couldn’t deliver.

If you recall in my last post Chinese Medicine I planned to drink a pot of Chinese herbal tea everyday to try and improve my reptilian skin, itchy scalp and overall parched demeanor caused by Beijing’s cold dry winter. I know you were hoping I could share the results of a miracle cure.

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine moisturizing tea

 

The concoction, brewed from a collection of beige roots and twigs, smelled a bit like a musty wool blanket that had been stored too long in a closet. It didn’t taste bad but as the holidays approached there was too much competition.

My first-ever  homemade eggnog with a splash of Captain Morgan’s did nothing for my skin, but it uplifted my spirits tremendously in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

 

You can’t buy eggnog in Beijing, but homemade was so easy !

 

Then there was the buttery yellow Chrysanthemum tea given to me by a friend. The color just made me happy, and I’d choose the floral aroma any day over the musky medicinal potion.

 

Chrysanthemum tea

 

And then there was the treasured Cadbury’s hot chocolate mix, which felt like such an indulgence topped with homemade whipped cream.
(Instant hot chocolate is a foreign luxury good, not readily available.)

Peet’s Coffee made its debut in Beijing this winter, and Santa brought me a shiny red mug for Christmas. It just didn’t seem right to fill it with Moisturizing Yam Tea.

 

 

With all of the competing beverages, I just couldn’t face another cup of astralagus root and dried yam tea.

In an effort to soothe my winter-weary skin, I turned to another (this time external) popular Chinese remedy: snake oil.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s what those fly-by-night traveling salesman used to sell at carnivals in the early 1800s, right?

Actually, it turns out that snake oil has a long history of popularity in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Made from the oil of water snakes, this omega-3 fatty acid rich substance has been used to soothe skin, cure dandruff, relieve split ends and reduce arthritis.

A quick visit to Wal-Mart and I strike gold: there’s snake oil cream right next to snail slime extract. Maybe these cold-blooded creatures can help.

 

 

Online shopping offers more choices, from Snake Oil exfoliating gel to Snake Oil hair removers and whitening creams.

 

I’ve ordered a moisturizer and a scrub. I passed on the snail slime. I’ll check in again in a few weeks and let you know things are coming along.

 

 

Pick up Sticks

Who Says You’re too Old to Play with Your food?

From meaty, cumin-scented lamb skewers to sweet, candied hawthorns, Beijing is filled with food on a stick. These fork-free dishes are perfect for strolling, sharing, dipping or indulging. If you’ve ever cooked over a campfire or savored a popsicle, then you remember that hand-held food is fun for all ages.

Local Flavors

Head to Qianmen or Nanluoguxiang to start, and grab some lamb skewers, “whirlwind” potatoes, squid or sausages on a stick.

 

Cumin-rubbed lamb skewers are a must try.

 

Called “whirlwind” or “cyclone” potatoes, think of them like fresh potato chips on a stick, seasoned with salt and pepper.

 

Choose your squid and have it cooked to order.

 

For the truly adventurous, there are scorpions, silkworm larvae and tarantulas, perhaps best left for capturing with your camera and not your taste buds.

 

They’re mostly a gimmick, but you’ll find scorpions and tarantulas too. See the starfish in the back?

 

For an experience that’s a little more off the beaten path, head to Xinmin market (subway stop Guloudajie) and spend the morning exploring the produce, spices and wet market. When hunger strikes, look for the ma la tang stand selling a variety of skewers including mushroom bundles, quail eggs, meatballs, broccoli, lettuce, noodles and much more. Don’t worry – there’s no menu to decipher; just point to a skewer that looks good and give it a try. For just a few kuai a skewer, it’s a fun, affordable outing.

 

Tofu, potatoes and broccoli are my favorites. Choose “spicy” or ”non-spicy.”


Travel the Globe

Don’t limit yourself to Chinese food. Beijing has a whole world of flavors just waiting for you to try. Grab a map and start checking off your destinations. At Athena Greek restaurant the Chicken Souvlaki comes on a suspended skewer.

Nearby Alameen offers a platter of mixed Lebanese kebabs, and a taste of Turkey is just a hop, skip and a jump away at Turkish Feast.

Branch out from curries at your favorite Indian restaurant with a skewer of cheese-like paneer or head to NomNom in Haidian District for Indonesian mutton or beef Satay with a side of Sambal Kecap, sweet soy sauce mixed with chilies and shallots. And of course, don’t forget to stop in Thailand for some peanut-y Chicken Satay.

If you’d rather take cooking into your own hands, Café Zarah offers Cheese Fondue every evening after 6pm. Each bowl of melted cheese-y goodness comes with crunchy cubes of bread, vegetables, cornichons and a bowl of pineapple.

 

A cozy evening at Cafe Zarah.

 

Cheese fondue.


Sweet Endings

Winter is the season for tanghulu, those shiny, sugary fruit sticks decorating the city like ornaments.

Round red hawthorns are the most popular, but you’ll also find grapes, kiwi slices and Chinese yams. There are even some Santa-themed ones with marshmallows and strawberries.

 

Freshly dipped in molten sugar water gives fruit a crackly, sweet finish.

 

Santa-themed fruit skewers.

Keep an eye out for purple sticky rice dipped in sugar or waffles on a stick that spell “I Love Beijing” in Chinese characters.

 

Warm glutinous rice dipped in sugar makes a filling snack.

 

Waffles on a stick make it easy to snack and stroll.

 

Find your zodiac sign fashioned in sugar candy or grab a stick full of sweet-and-sour shan zha (dried Hawthorn).

 

Floral scented gui hua cake drizzled with syrup beckons with its golden yellow hue, derived from Osmanthus flowers.

 

 

For a more interactive experience, head to Qianmen Kitchen restaurant  to make some S’mores. Roast American marshmallows over your own charcoal brazier, add some Lindt Chocolate and sandwich it all between Biscoff cookies and digestive biscuits.

 

Lastly, don’t rule out ice cream just because it’s winter. Beautiful rose-shaped ice cream and vibrant fruity popsicles (at Nanluoguxiang) will make you forget how cold it is outside, even if just for a moment.