28 February 2011

My Grandmother's Chinese Kitchen

My Grandmother's Chinese Kitchen: 100 Family Recipes and Life LessonsI thought this book was pretty good.  It a very short autobiography focusing on the author's learning to cook, especially from her grandmother.  There are lots and lots of good recipes too.  It look me a lot longer to read than it should have, because it wasn't really very engaging, but it was short.
I discovered why there are no Kyrgyz otins or other women religious leaders.  It’s rather obvious, really, because Kyrgyz don’t enforce strict segregation between men and women in religious matters.  Unlike Uzbeks and many other Central Asian Muslims, Kyrgyz women and men are more often in the same room for religious ceremonies, such as when the Qur’an is being read during and after a funeral.  Uzbeks are separate at those times, so Uzbek women are needed to read the Qur’an.

It also brings up an interesting question of whether that segregation then provides more opportunities for women, although only among women. And if I were on a Mormon blog right now, it would bring up a lot more interesting questions too regarding the roles of men and women in the LDS Church.

Hopefully I’ll have more photos soon; it’s been a little chilly for picture taking the last few days, at least during my usual picture-taking walk.

27 February 2011

Odds and Ends

We’ve subscribed to the local Tokmok newspaper, although we’re waiting for it to come for the first time, since it’s a weekly paper. It costs less than 10 cents an issue.

I stumbled on soybean paste in Bishkek. What a happy surprise. And it was a surprise. I’m also going to work on a tip that Chinese red sugar is a good substitute for brown sugar, and to try again to find whole wheat flour in the bazaar. We also found a cake pan which means there will be a more normal-looking birthday cake this week than I was thinking.

There really is so much more available in Bishkek than there was five years ago. Yesterday we found a mall with interesting stores, good food, warm air, and bumper cars. The boys had a great time. I was happy to eat doner kebab.

It’s been cold, but not as cold as it was when we were in Bishkek five years ago. There was a stretch then when the high temperature was -13, but that’s been our low temperature. It’s supposed to be around 0 for the high most of this week. Cozy.

It turns out the family likes yogurt even more when I make it with fresh, whole milk. We’ve always eaten about 3 liters a week, but I have to make at least 5 liters a week now. So good.

Now that I’ve hashed and rehashed food prices here, I’m going to have to start on inflation. There are several things that have gone up noticeably in price since we’ve been here. The next American who complains about how hard things are in the US right now ought to get a virtual bop.

Heating Costs

So I’ve been wondering about heating costs. It takes about 1/2 ton of coal every month to heat a home here, relatively speaking. Most Americans would use a ton of coal. Anyway. Coal is about 5 som a kilogram, so it costs about $53 a month to heat a house. Remember than a typical salary is less than $100/month. And that coal is nasty to burn.

We’re lucky that we have a gas furnace, because it’s a lot cleaner, but it’s a lot more expensive to heat with gas. One friend who lives just outside Bishkek said it cost 6000-8000 som a month to heat her house with gas, which is about $125-$175. Our bill for this month was 4400 som, or $95 (that keeps the house around 60 degrees and the heat is off at night, which is pretty much standard here). It’s unfortunate that the cleaner and much easier gas is so much more expensive than coal. Coal is also at least a little more dependable because you don’t have to worry that the gas goes out. That hasn’t been a problem for us this winter, but it certainly has been a huge problem other winters in Central Asia.

26 February 2011

I don’t know if you can see the numbers written on this door very well, but that’s why I took this photo.  I’ve wondered for years how people in Kyrgyzstan get their electric and gas meters read when they aren’t home all day. Your meters are typically inside your house or apartment.  But I’ve noticed here that people write the numbers from their meters on their doors.  Usually it seems to be in chalk on a metal door, but some people use cardboard instead.

The sign on the door is for Ata Meken, one of the political parties that ran in the recent parliamentary election.  I don’t see many signs still up, but if I do, they’re for Ata Meken.

25 February 2011

The Island

The IslandI enjoyed this book a lot.  Nothing amazing, just a good story.
It’s been nippy here.  The crows (at least I think they’re crows- they have huge beaks though- and I can’t afford to access a website of Asian birds and I couldn’t find a book before I left) are often in the trees above our house in the morning, making a very crow-like racket and flapping about whenever someone leaves the house.  But the last few mornings they’ve been huddled in the treetops, hardly making a noise, and certainly not wasting any energy flying away at loud sounds.  The dogs have been a lot quieter too.  I think everyone around here is conserving energy.

24 February 2011

White Trash, Again

I knew this would happen, but I still hate that stupid, flimsy, little plastic bags are taking over my life.  It is almost impossible not to get people to double bag whatever it is you buy and there is absolutely nothing you can do with those bags to reuse them.  Nothing.  I dare you to come up with something practical.  They are not strong enough to line a garbage can, you can’t put anything else in them because they probably tore on the way home (or someone knotted the top and you had to tear it open to get to your eggs), and you can't crochet anything with them, even if you think that is useful.

Sometimes I can buy a package of cheese without having it bagged, if I am insistent enough.  But that’s about it.  Even though I tell people I don’t need a bag, I still get a bag or two.  I bring my own bags and I still get plastic bags.  And since you buy everything from different people, you end up buying five different items and getting 7 or 8 plastic bags.  And half of those will probably end up attached to a tree no matter how carefully I dispose of them.

23 February 2011

The woman sitting here reading is often standing at her gate.  Usually she's watching people (it feels like she glares at you, but I don't think she really is) as they go by.  But the other day she was reading a book.  Totally intent on her book.  I wish I'd dared to ask what it was.  But you never interrupt an intent reader.  Some people need to learn that rule.

22 February 2011

Cakewalk

Cakewalk: A MemoirI really liked this memoir, even though I didn’t think it would be amazing.  It sounded like a typical memoir of a childhood with two crazy, rotten parents, but it turned out to be very good.  Too often when you read a memoir like this you feel that the author is trying to top everyone else’s horror stories by telling you how awful her parents were.  But I didn’t feel like that at all, even though the author’s parents were pretty awful.  There’s a lot of sadness in this book, but a lot of forgiveness, and people trying to change, and really changing. I did think the story about the grandfather burning the Romanov jewels a bit much to swallow, and I was desperate for a savory recipe by the end of the book, but those are minor things.

21 February 2011



This guy is always zipping around the neighborhood delivering stuff. All sorts of stuff. Usually it fits neatly in the back, like in the photo, but the other day when I didn't have the camera out he drove up to the neighbor's (with the cow) with the back loaded with hay.  Hay hanging off everywhere. 

And since you couldn't tell from the first photo that we were actually in a neighborhood, well, we were.  I love this street.  Probably because I love streets than don't have lots of cars driving down them.

20 February 2011

Is There a Nutmeg in the House?

Is There a Nutmeg in the House?: Essays on Practical Cooking with More Than 150 RecipesThis was a nice collection of essays by Elizabeth David.  Most of the recipes weren't really my style, especially while I'm living in Kyrgyzstan, but it still was a pleasant read.  And, as often seems to happen when you learn something new, the oven temperatures of the recipes were listed in gas marks too.  And I thought I'd never hear about them.
We all liked watching the electric guy climb up the pole across the street to fix the street light. No moving boxes for him. But now the working streetlight shines right into the house and makes it harder to see Orion. I hope the bulb doesn't last long.

How to Outdo the Principal

I know I keep going on and on about the cost of food here, but since my life is dominated by food right now, that's really all I'm thinking about.  Food prices really are a lot higher, but salaries haven't increased much.

For example, the director of a school in Tokmok makes about 4000 som a month, or $85 at the current exchange rate.  Obviously no one can support a family here on that amount, so nearly everyone has more than one job and extended families live together to help support each other and all the children.  But to give you an idea of how low that salary is, a person can also make 4000 som a month by:

Selling four or five bags of laghman a day
Selling 2 or 3 gallons of milk a day
Selling 30 loaves of naan a day (any decent tandoor turns out FAR more naan than that)
Giving four or five people a ride in you car as a taxi

Obviously it's not quite so simple, but if you have just one cow that produces well, you're going to make more than the local principal.  It's not impossible to get customers for your taxi if you have a car; the taxis line up at the bazaar for their turn to drive someone somewhere.  If you get in line, you're going to make your money.  Making laghman requires very little intial cost, although I'm not sure there's enough demand for bazaar-bought laghman in Tokmok to support everyone who's trying it.

(About that laghman- I'm clearly starting to be known in the bazaar as someone who buys laghman fairly often.  I think I've bought it from a different person every time and I am always getting asked if I want laghman.)

18 February 2011

Did I ever post this picture of the tushuks in our house?  I always loved them before and now I have two stacks of them.  We even sleep on them on the floor, since they’re ever so much more comfortable than the mattresses.  Maybe it would be worth buying our own stack here and shipping them back to the US since we sold most of our own mattresses.  And we never had any couches at all.

17 February 2011

Baseball in Tokmok

I talk with the students, and the rest of the family plays baseball.

16 February 2011

Laughing without an Accent

Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of an Iranian American, at Home and AbroadI read this author's earlier book, Funny in Farsi, and liked it a few years ago, and I liked this book too.  It's a bit preachy in parts which was annoying, but it never lasted too long.  And there are lots more amusing parts.


Loved the colors on this house.  Too bad I couldn't see more of it.

15 February 2011

Memorial to Soldiers Who Died in Afghanistan

This is in front of the much larger memorial to WWII.  But the memorial to soldiers who died in Afghanistan had many more flowers, not surprisingly. 

14 February 2011

Kyrgyzstan Food Stuff

Things are looking up in the food department.  I finally found turmeric today.  One of the many spice sellers I'd asked said she'd have some later, and when I went back today (it's still a little bit lucky when I find someone in the bazaar), she had some for me.  So happy. 


Food I've found (although it might be really expensive):
Sugar
Salt
White flour
Split peas
Rice
Rolled oats
Spaghetti
Macaroni
Cornmeal
Red lentils
Cracked wheat
Honey
Baking soda
Black pepper
Red pepper
Cumin
Bay leaves
Garlic
Onion
Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar
Jam
Vegetable oil
Olive oil
Butter
Cheese
Salami
Soy sauce
Milk
Bulgur
Garbanzo beans
Sesame seeds
Peanuts
Cinnamon
Turmeric
Cloves
Coriander
Fennel
Nigella
Yellow mustard seed
Tomato paste



Potatoes
Carrots
Cabbage
Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Peppers
Bean sprouts
Oranges
Apples
Spinach
Lemons
Garlic chives
Jusay
Lots of pickled vegetables
Salads
Laghman

Food I think/know I can find when I've had more time to look in Tokmok and Bishkek:
More beansGochujang
Brown sugar
Baking powder
Thyme
Oregano
CardamomBlack mustard seed
Sumac Ginger
Black vinegar
Rice noodles
Sesame oil
Green beans
Tamarind
Whole wheat flour
Reliable fish


Stuff we're eating for dinner:
Laghman with vegetables
Spaghetti
Rice with vegetables
Samsas and vegetables
Various types of plov
Split peas and rice
Roasted vegetables (if the oven cooperates)
Kichree
Rice with garbanzos
Dal with lime (or lemon)
Potato curry
Vegetable curry
Hot pot
Rice noodles with vegetables

Snickerdoodles

So this is silly, but I am unreasonably proud of myself for making cookies tonight.  Getting all the ingredients in the kitchen at the same time isn't easy, but working with the oven is the real trick.  Just lighting the thing is an adventure, because you turn on the gas and toss matches in till something lights.  Then you let it heat up for a while, but you don't know how long.  There is a thermometer, but it goes from 1-8.  You guess what that means.  I've decided that 5 is about 350.  Unfortunately, there really isn't a way to maintain that temperature, whatever it is, so you spend the entire time fiddling with the gas and checking whatever you're cooking.

I'm seriously missing eating German pancakes, but I'll make crepes tomorrow so I can do them on the stove instead of in the oven.  The family is waiting for baked potatoes.  The idea gives me a headache.  I don't think I could manage an hour of babysitting the stove.

13 February 2011

A Glorious Revolution

It’s been interesting to compare reactions to events in Egypt.  My US friends, at least those who care about things international, have been cheering the Egyptian protesters, hoping that Mubarak would resign.  When we watch the news from Uzbekistan, there’s no mention at all of Egypt.  And people aren’t talking much about Egypt in Kyrgyzstan.  I’m planning on asking the students on Tuesday about their reaction to it, but from the little I’ve gathered so far, there certainly isn’t cheering going on here.  It’s hard to cheer for that kind of government change when it’s happened in your country, and basically resulted in job losses, increased cost of living, and, especially, horrific ethnic violence. 

Sometimes I wish someone would write a well-researched and well-written book on the results of the American Revolution on everyday life in America, especially during and right after the Revolution.  It seems that we tend to glorify revolution and gloss over the hard parts.  And we had plenty of hard parts, even if we conveniently forget them.

Spice Hunt

Still on a hunt for turmeric.  I’ve found most of the other spices I need (or at least thought I could reasonably find), but no turmeric.  I should have brought some with me.  We did find bulgur yesterday, and garbanzo beans, in Bishkek.  It would be fun to go grocery shopping in Bishkek every day.  Of course, it’s fun here.  I never know what I’ll find.  And there are so many good Dungan salads here.  And I could eat laghman every night with something different on it.

11 February 2011

The Age of Innocence

The Age of InnocenceReread for a book group.  I love Edith Wharton. 

08 February 2011

The Disappearing Spoon

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the ElementsThis was such an excellent book.  I kept thinking of people I'd recommend it to.  If you have any interest at all in science, but aren't already a chemist, I imagine you'd like this too.

English Club

Today was a quiet day and we mostly talked about holidays, food (always food), chuko bones, and our families.  It's nice right now having a smaller group than I did last time because everyone gets a chance to speak.

Photos, or Not

Every single time I go out without the camera I see something that makes me wish I had it.  Like the yak riding in the back of a truck.  Or the boy riding the donkey that was pulling a sled with another boy and a bunch of stuff on it.  Or the tombstone store (I'm weird about that, I know).  Or the garbage truck (that's probably weird too, but I'm always interested to see how things work here).  Or when the place where we buy our naan was building a new tandoor.  

But even if I had the camera I probably wouldn't stop to take many pictures anyway.  I wish there was a way to take photos less conspicuously. The tandoor people wouldn't have minded though.

06 February 2011

The best way to get stuff home around here is to have someone help you carry your heavy bag.  I especially liked this group and the little boy in the middle who was helping his grandmother and holding his little sister's hand.

05 February 2011

It Was Worth Every Page

We've been schooling off ereaders now since September, so it didn't seem weird to do it when we finally got to Kyrgyzstan a few weeks ago, but I keep thinking how much harder this move would have been if we hadn't had all these ebooks.  And how fun is it to check ebooks out of the library and buy ebooks from Amazon, even in Kyrgyzstan?  I keep remembering how hard it was last time just to find enough books for me to read; I don't know what I'd have done if the boys had been reading then as much as they do now. 

I always tell people that we homeschool because we move so often (there's a lot more to it than that, but it's a simple and safe answer), and it always amazes me every time we move how easy it is to start school again- it's like we never went anywhere and school is a constant.  Pretty much the only constant.  And now we literally can do it anywhere on this planet.  Good thing, because I have a few interesting places I want to live.

04 February 2011

Food Prices, Translated

I’m starting  a list of food prices here in dollars and US measurements (except when it’s lots of kilos).  I’ll add things as I remember, or as prices change.  Good thing I've been dividing lots of decimals with middle son recently for math.

$2.75- Gallon of pasteurized, bagged milk (I know I can get it cheaper not bagged, but I need to find out how to do that)
$1.95- pound of garlic
$1.50- dozen eggs
$21.00- 25 kilos of rice
$0.35- pound of cabbage
$4.00- pound of cheese
$0.65- pound of cracked wheat
$0.21- pound of cracked barley
$0.32- big loaf of  naan
$0.21- regular loaf of naan
$0.47- chicken samsa
$1.05- five pounds of potatoes
$0.85- bag of laghman (I don’t know the weight- maybe a kilo?  maybe a little less?)

03 February 2011

I talked with the university students again today.  We're still just getting to know each other, but it was interesting.  We talked first about food, especially Dungan food since half the people there today were Dungan.  I also asked about libraries in Tokmok, and one of the students from Tokmok said there are 4 libraries in town and that you can check books out for free.  They all like to read, but that was no surprise.

Next time I'm planning on taking my chuko bones, because I love talking to people about them. 

I know I've said this before, but I love the diversity in Tokmok and at this university.  So different from Bishkek, and in particular from the AUCA.

Tokmok Life

I'm starting to get the hang of getting around Tokmok a little better.  It should have happened sooner, but I don't have a great sense of direction without a map, and there are no maps of Tokmok (I spent a long time staring at Google maps trying to figure out where I live) and I was stuck at home for the first ten 10 days with burned-foot boy.  But this week I've gotten out to explore.  Or at least to find food. 

The egg store in the bazaar is getting to know us.  Today they asked where my youngest son was, since I was there with my middle son.  And she gave me a good deal on the eggs.  Fine with me, especially since we're happy with their eggs. I'm also starting to get a feel for the people I like to buy produce from.  And I love buying laghman in the bazaar.   

The electricity has been completely reliable since we've been here, and the gas has been nearly so.  It's just cut out a few times, and only just long enough that I have to relight the stove.  That become obvious quickly.  The water's a little spottier and has been off for as long as 4 hours in the afternoon, but since we have a bucket in the kitchen instead of a sink, it's never been a problem.  Sometimes it's off at night too, but I've never stayed up to pay attention it its nighttime track record.

We had high hopes of getting wifi at home, but found out today that there aren't any available ports in the city.  So we're stuck paying per megabyte, and that's as expensive for us as the wifi would be.  Maybe something will come up soon, because my youngest is ready to Skype with his grandma.

02 February 2011

Eat Pray Love

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and IndonesiaSo I finally read it.  I didn’t expect to think it was the best book ever (and it must be, the way everyone’s talked about it for years), and I didn’t.  It was just too long.  In each country I got heartily sick of the author about halfway through.  I’d have preferred a 200-page book rather than one over 300 pages. 

I imagine I’d have liked it better if I’d related more to the author, but I am nothing like her.  She turned me off a lot at the beginning when she was blathering on and on and on about why she wasn’t having children.  And then more blathering about relationships.  India and Indonesia were better than Italy, because at least she quit blathering (and got happier- no coincidence).

There were parts I liked, especially when she talked about the people she met, but it was such a self-focused book that I’m honestly surprised at how popular it is.  Maybe I shouldn’t be. It’s almost self-help disguised as a travel book. 

01 February 2011

Am I in Kyrgyzstan or the Bible Belt?

I’m starting up a new English-speaking practice session thing again, like I did in Bishkek a few years ago.  We live near a university that requires its students to learn English, so there are lots of people interested practicing.  I sit in a classroom and talk, and the rest of the family goes outside and plays sports.  Today’s was baseball.

There were only a few people today, since we only got the signs posted a few hours earlier.  Tokmok is a very diverse town and the group today reflected that.  Two were Kyrgyz, one was Russian, one was Uzbek/Uyghur, and the last was Dungan.  It brought back all sorts of great memories of talking to the students five years ago.

The students at this university are usually not from Bishkek, although all the people in the group were from the north.  Two of the women who came were my age or older and worked for the university.  I hope they keep coming because it would be interesting to talk to some older people too.

We talked a little about April’s revolution, and a little about food, and the Dungan woman who also knows my husband invited us to a wedding in March.  That I am looking forward to. We’ve had very little interaction with Dungans.  She also told me the best place in town to get Dungan laghman. 

One student is Kyrgyz and Christian.  My husband had talked to him a few days earlier, and that was one of the first things that came up.  The student wondered if my husband was Christian too, and if so, what kind.  When he found out we’re Mormon, he started asking about polygamy.  He told my husband he’s Baptist.

Anyway, today he was asking me whether I’m Mormon too, and then started telling me Mormons aren’t Biblical.  That’s not too uncommon, but I was a little surprised when the reason he gave for our unbiblicalness was that we fight in wars.  I’m not up on all types of Baptists, but it did seem odd that he thought that Mormons in particular didn’t follow the Bible because we aren’t pacifists. 

Then he asked what political party I liked.  I told him I wasn’t a member of either, but started to say that there were things I liked in both parties, mentioning the Democrats first.  He jumped right in to tell me that Democrats are “amoral” (his word). So does he like George W. Bush and Republicans?  And the war in Iraq? I was starting to feel like I was in the American south instead of Kyrgyzstan.

We also had the fun of rehashing the polygamy thing briefly, but I don’t think he believed that my husband doesn’t have several wives tucked away somewhere.  If he does, I’d like one or two of them to take care of my three-year-old while I go shopping in the bazaar. 

Little Things

I love all the little things that are different when you move to a new place, especially overseas. I can see the stars again, and I get to see them a lot since it's always dark when I come out of the kitchen every night. I've hardly seen even major constellations like Orion and the Big Dipper for the last few years, but I can see all sorts of things clearly now, like the Pleiades.

I can hear the call to prayer. It's been many, many years since I heard it every day. Bishkek isn't exactly covered with mosques, but there are lots of mosques in Tokmok and it's easy to hear the call to prayer. It's a little odd to have the dawn prayer be so late, since the sun rises so late. It doesn't start till 7!

And it's always an adventure just to cook dinner every night. Figuring out what you can make and then finding all the ingredients for it isn't as simple as it was in Seattle. Sometimes it would be nice to skip the adventure and just make dinner, but I can't complain. And I can buy laghman in the bazaar. I definitely don't mind not having to make that myself anymore.