Dull Days in the ‘Hood

The hallway outside our residence room, a scene representative of the generally bland indoor MTC scenery.

Today, I present a brief overview of life in the MTC as well as a summary of the week’s events. This first part is probably going to be really boring, so feel free to skip it. I just want to convey what an average day in the MTC is like.

At 6:10 AM, an unidentified elder runs through the halls screaming. Those awakened by his ruckus shout at him to be quiet. Twenty minutes later, Elder Heaps’ alarm clock–an authentic analog with genuine hemispherical metal ringers–goes off, and the four of us in the room pray and roll out of bed and into our exercise clothes. We pick up sack breakfasts containing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, milk, and bananas. In the greyish morning light, we eat at some brown picnic tables outside. We walk to the field, the gym, or the fitness center. For exercise, we can run, ride stationary bikes, or play basketball, soccer, volleyball, or foursquare. I’m no good at sports, so I prefer to run or ride the bikes.

After gym time, we shower and dress in Sunday clothes. Then, we study in the classroom. Our first three hours are self-guided. We read the scriptures and study the standard works, discuss and plan with our companions, and practice the language. We always try to speak Chinese as much as possible throughout the day.

Following our first study block, we eat lunch in the cafeteria. We Mandarin-speaking missionaries sit together at one of the long tables and talk as we eat quickly. After lunch, we return to the classroom for another three-hour study block, this one led by a teacher. Our district is usually taught by either Brother Walter or Sister Tanner, although we occasionally learn from other teachers as well. All of the teachers are amazing. They almost never speak English, and they know how to teach the material in an order that makes sense and keeps the class engaged. No minute of class time goes unused.

We finally eat dinner at 4:30 PM, by which time we’re pretty exhausted. I’ve never eaten dinner this early before, but I’m used to it by this time. At last, we have our final three hours of teacher-led study time in the classroom. The MTC’s approach to teaching is to lock missionaries in a small, bare room for nine hours per day, leaving them with no choice but to learn the language. It’s very effective.

As soon as class time concludes, we have 45 minutes of additional study time to review or learn whatever we need. Sometimes, when we need a break, our district watches Mormon Messages during this time. The day concludes with planning, when my companion and I map out our schedule for the next day. Finally, we return to our dorms, shower or otherwise prepare for sleep, and collapse in bed.

Sundays and P-days are more relaxed. We have extra time to clean up and eat meals, and every Sunday, our district walks up and around the Provo Temple. It’s some of the only time we have each week to relax. Here we are, the inhabitants of Room 101, in front of the temple:

Here is a picture of our room, Room 101 itself. It is the most dreaded room in the Ministry of Missionary Training, or Minimish. It is here that everyone is faced with his or her greatest fear–for Elder Winston Smith, rats; for me, spiders. It is here that one learns to win the victory over one’s self and love the MTC.

​Here is a picture of the classroom in which I spend ten hours per day:

​Elder Jensen “borrowed” the Taiwanese flag from another classroom. (Don’t worry; nobody was using it.) The dream catcher protects us from bad dreams when we fall asleep in class. My desk is on the far right.

Our classroom with us in it:

The other side of the classroom (I know it’s not thrilling, but I have to email about something):

Now, for a summary of what’s happening to me. This week was uneventful, and flew past faster than any other week in my life. The routine MTC lifestyle seems tedious, but it relieves stress and makes the time go by quicker.

I’m not feeling too homesick, but there are times when everyone starts bawling about his or her family and friends and starts a whole chain reaction of missionaries crying. Yesterday, we sent a departing district off by singing “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” in Chinese. (We sing all of our hymns and say all of our prayers in Chinese.) Everyone got really teary, especially me, because I remembered the day when my family dropped me off at the MTC.

The food is not treating the elders well. In an attempt to maintain a healthier diet, Elders Jensen and Wheeler have been eating nothing but wraps for lunch and dinner. I actually think the regular meals are safer, because the stuff that goes into the wraps is of suspect quality; last night, Elder Wheeler got food poisoning for the second time and spent an hour worshipping at the porcelain altar.

In order to motivate ourselves to speak Chinese more, our district has started playing a game we dubbed “Zhongwen Bachelorette.” (The name has nothing to do with the game.) Every night, in true “The Lottery” fashion, we draw folded scraps of paper from my scripture case. I mark one slip in advance, using a graphite pencil to draw a black dot in its center. We do not reveal our results. Whoever draws the black dot must speak nothing but Chinese for the following day. At the end of the day, we each guess who the chosen one is. A player receives a point for every other player who guesses them and a point for a correct guess as to the chosen one’s identity. So far, I’ve been chosen once, and I actually managed to speak Chinese for almost the whole day! Everyone’s Chinese has improved vastly.

On Saturday, my companion and I taught a real investigator in Chinese! Normally, we just teach teachers role-playing as investigators, but this time it was a real one. We went to the Teaching Resource Center, where volunteers can choose to help the missionaries by receiving a brief lesson and talking in the missionaries’ mission language. Our teacher assigned us to the one room that had a real investigator! We couldn’t understand much of his Chinese, but we did our best to teach the lesson. His member friend was with him, and he helped us out a ton. He clarified a lot of what we said and bore his testimony at the end. We weren’t feeling too great afterwards, but our teacher said we did very well.

We managed to duplicate the exploding OJ results twice. I’ve found that only the guava-orange-passionfruit juice works, since it’s pretty much nothing but high-fructose corn syrup and water. The amount of juice removed has to be optimized: too much, and it will take too long to build up sufficient pressure; too little, and the volume of gas released will not be enough for a satisfying “boom!” We’ve suspended the experiment to avoid making a mess, though.

I’ve been really clumsy as of late. On Tuesday, I tried to turn what I thought was an empty glass upside down on my dinner tray, as instructed by the dishwashers. It was actually full. I threw water all over the suited elder sitting next to me. The next day, the bottle of Italian dressing at the salad bar was clogged, so I squeezed it really hard. All of the sudden, the dressing shot forth with such great speed that it splattered all over the elder in front of me in line. In light of these incidents, I have resolved to be more careful with handling food in the cafeteria.

Having run out of interesting details to relate, I here conclude my letter. I will be in the MTC for six more weeks, so it may be a while before anything of note happens. In the meantime, I’ll continue to communicate my weekly progress and any interesting stories. Zaijian!

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2 thoughts on “Dull Days in the ‘Hood

  1. Ilene Andersen says:

    David, I’ve been enjoying your weekly updates. It is interesting for me to hear about what you do every day. Your family gave wonderful talks in sacrament meeting yesterday about music in our lives especially church music. Each one talked about a different aspect of music but I enjoyed each talk so much. Keep working hard. Sounds like your Chinese keeps getting better all the time. Ilene Andersen

  2. Nora B says:

    Hi David!
    Your writing is awesome–and funny, which is a difficult feat to accomplish esp. when writing about *cough* missionary work. You look so happy in all your pictures. I am glad the Chinese is coming along well. I love you–keep up the great updates.

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