Rabbinical Dictum

View of Taipei from an apartment balcony.

This was a relatively uneventful week, so my email’s going to be succinct.

On Monday, we didn’t do too much on P-day because of how tired we were. We went as a district (minus Elders Clark and Cheung, who stayed behind playing board games) to a local hamburger restaurant. Hamburgers in Taiwan are not cheap, and hamburger restaurants are generally some of the nicest establishments around. At this particular joint, I ate one of my favorites: a bacon cheeseburger with peanut butter. Do cheeseburgers in America often have peanut butter on them? I don’t recall, but I think they usually don’t.

Tuesday: we set up a lesson with a guy we met on the street who was probably jingshenbing (mentally ill) and seemed like he was likely to fang us gezis. (To "fang one’s gezis" literally means to "release/place one’s pigeons" and means to not show up to a previously-scheduled appointment). Sure enough, at the appointed time he was nowhere to be found. Thankfully, Elder Gibson had the foresight to set up his lesson for lunchtime at a buffet, so we just ate lunch instead.

We’ve found a few excellent new investigators: Brother Xie, Brother Lai, and Brother Lai’s girlfriend. Also, we taught Brother Tang the first half of Lesson 4. He’s an amazing investigator; he’s actually willing to make and keep commitments, and he has a strong desire to know whether our message is true.

This week, we were qinged chi (invited by a member to eat) thrice. The members here love the missionaries. One sister always takes us to eat at hot pot restaurants, which I’ve come to love, particularly because they almost always have complementary all-you-can-eat ice cream. In front of the patron is situated a burner, upon which is placed a pot containing a miscellany of random fungi, meat, vegetables, duck blood bars, and seafood. One must retrieve items from the pot and place them in a bowl of rice, then eat them together with the rice. In addition to the standard curry pot, spicy pot, seafood pot, and various other meat pots, these restaurants usually have what my companion translated as a "stinky intestine pot." I haven’t had the guts to try it.

On the whole, though, I’ve adjusted really well to Taiwanese food; I think I’d even like stinky tofu now if I tried it again. At first, I disliked barley tea, but now I love it. It tastes like dilute liquid Honey Crisp.

I still haven’t learned to use chopsticks very well, though. I’m always dropping food on the table and the floor between my feet. At a member’s house, I dropped my chopsticks on the floor three times, and each time they gave me a new pair. It was quite embarrassing.

We’re trying to use service and English classes to garner more new investigators. My companion and I went to the Buddhist recycling plant again. This time, we used heavy hammers to smash apart coat hangers and separate the plastic and metal components. It was good old-fashioned, destructive fun.

After studies on Thursday, we helped Wu Mama, a member and one of our neighbors, by chiseling away a thick layer of grout that was left on her floor after she pried up the floor tiles. We were worried what the downstairs neighbors would think, but she reassured us that she’d notified them in advance. Freed of all reservations, we pounded away for an hour, chipping off huge slabs until the floor was clear of all grout.

The language is going quite smoothly; I’m already through 1500 of the 2000 flashcards of Phase 2, and hope to pass my Phase 2 test with the assistants to the president during Elder Gibson’s exit interview. The only problem: my English seems to be retrograding directly proportional to the progression of my Chinese. In an effort to counteract this trend, I’m reading a chapter of Jesus the Christ every day and reviewing all of the vocab I don’t know. The only detriment of this otherwise effective method is a marked shift of my diction towards the ornate and latinate.

Check out these exclusive Taiwanese designer T-shirts, courtesy of Elder Clark:

"Treasure map. There is a local legend of the sea / There are countless treasures ,Zhang will lead you to the treasure map"

"Hammer style / And lion"

"Canadian Snow / Ince 15 / There is always welfarism"

Same picture as the header, but featuring my poorly-lit visage.

That’s about it for this week. Bye!


Schroedinger’s Prodigal Son

On Monday, I at last found the long-sought Holy Grail of my quest. Stowed away on a crowded shelf in a grungy auto repair shop, it caught my eye as my companion and I biked past: a dented can of pink spraypaint. After seeking so long in vain, I didn’t believe my eyes at first; I thought it was purple or maybe magenta. However, a quick purchase followed by a trial spray proved that it was indeed the vivid color I was looking for. My companion and I sped home. Thirty minutes later, my masterpiece was at last complete:

Now featuring #FF00FF: my CGA-palette bicycle.

The other side.

A more artistic angle.

On Tuesday, I retrieved my Phase 2 language study cards from the mission office! Here’s a thick deck of flash cards:

I hope to have memorized these 2,000 everyday-use words before Elder Gibson returns home on the 6th of December. So far, it’s going pretty well; I’ve memorized 600 to date.

Unfortunately, Elder Gibson was afflicted with the malaise this week: a complete loss of energy, coupled with diarrhea and generalized body pain and sensitivity. Sister Day hypothesized that he had a parasite. Since we have very few progressing investigators, we’ve had to spend the majority of our time street finding, which can be a fairly taxing proselyting activity. On Wednesday, to avoid the pain of an entire day of nothing but street contacting, we decided instead to visit Elders Clark’s and Cheung’s favorite recycling plant to do service.

I was expecting a grimy industrial park, but this is what it actually looked like:

A very aesthetic recycling plant/Buddhist temple.

We walked around to the rear of the enormous building, where overflowing trucks pulled in and out of a sorting warehouse.

All of the volunteers were speaking Taiwanese, so my companion and I had no idea what they were saying. They first pointed us to a truck that had backed into the loading area. We started lugging bags of trash to the truck and hefting them up to a volunteer who stood perched atop the overflowing mound. When the truck was heaped with bags until it could accommodate no more, it finally drove off. We moved to the plastic bottle area.

Our first task was to unscrew the caps of plastic bottles, empty whatever dregs were still present into a bucket, and then sort the capless bottles into various bins. For an hour, we unscrewed, dumped, and tossed. It was enjoyably monotonous work. We surrounded ourselves with bins of uncapped bottles. At last, we unscrewed the lid of the very last sports drink, dumped its contents into the sloshing bucket, and placed it into the appropriate bin. We felt very accomplished.

After we took a brief interlude of tossing masses of mildewing clothing into the back of a truck, the supervisor barked again in Taiyu. He handed us two small, curved blades, and gestured toward the heaping bins of bottles. With a sinking feeling, I realized that we had to cut off the little plastic seal ring dongxi from every single bottle. We set about this gargantuan task. It was actually pretty fun. We didn’t get even close to finishing, though.

Service at the recycling plant: cutting off those bottle-cap ring seal things.

After finishing our service and an hour of handing out English tracts, we ate some deliciously greasy jipai (a giant piece of deep-fried chicken, pounded flat and sprinkled with salt and seasoning), fries, and watermelon milk. It was a pretty good day.

Thursday: after several days of patiently enduring his ailment, Elder Gibson finally decided to go to the doctor. We biked to the local hospital, where I was provided with an enlightening glimpse into the inner workings of socialized healthcare. When his number displayed on a screen, Elder Gibson and I walked on queue into one of many doctor’s offices situated around the central waiting room. The doctor listened to his symptoms for ten seconds and told him he had gastroenteritis. We walked back out of the office and to a pharmacy counter where a clerk handed him four bags of various pills, some unlabeled. We left.

Elder Gibson took some of the pills, but they made his stomach noticeably more painful rather than less. Upon reading their Chinese directions and labels, he was convinced that the doctor had randomly prescribed him various anti-diarrheals. I gave him some of my pepto-bismol instead, and he felt better within half an hour. Since then, he seems to have mostly recovered.

Aside from the complications in Elder Gibson’s health, everything’s gone well this week. It’s been raining unceasingly, but the temperature is quite comfortable. I accidentally told a man that Jesus ordained rocks to guide his church (I mixed up the similar-sounding words for "apostle" and "rock"). I’m trying to learn the geography of our area better. It’s quite small but easy to get lost in because it’s so dense with streets and small alleys. There’s a lot of variety for such a small area. One part of our area even has a little Myanmar-town. Our bishop warned us not to eat any of the food there, since it made a previous companionship sick. There are also a lot of street markets, which are always interesting to bike through.

Typical Taiwanese meat stand. Love these places.

That’s all for now. Bye!


Good ‘un

Sister Wang’s baptism!

An excellent week, for two reasons: a great P-day and a baptism.

On Monday, Mixon, a ward member, took us hiking. We biked to the Yuantong Temple Trail and started walking. The trail wound around the thickly-vegetated mountains above Zhonghe, passing by frequent viewpoints where we could look down into the smoggy depths of the city.

Various elaborate temples dotted the mountains around the trail.

At the first overlook, I noticed a very narrow cave-like shaft opening in the ground. It was pitch black inside, but there were stone stairs leading steeply down. I suggested we climb down the stairs and see where they went. Elder Gibson tried to go first, but then became too claustrophobic and backed out. I took the flashlight and went in first.

Elder Gibson gives it a try.

Going down.
After about a hundred feet of steep descent through the narrow shaft, I saw light at the bottom. Climbing down further, we emerged from a cleft in the rock into a jungly clearing at the base of a cliff:

Elder Gibson emerges.

The trail wound around trees to a Buddhist temple. Along the way, many alcoves in the cliff face contained small statues and shrines.

The temple at the end of the cave trail.

We walked further along the trail, finding another temple, a secret basketball court concealed in a jungle clearing, and a gigantic mountainside cemetery.

Giant statue and temple.

Secret basketball court.

City vista.

Gigantic cemetery.

After returning to the trailhead and biking back into the city, I noticed a huge and very foreboding-looking temple. Its imposing grey facade was topped by a creepy anthropomorphic elephant statue, flanked by unusual bulbous spires. Upon closer inspection, the temple proved to be a mammoth bowling alley. The spires were actually bowling pins. Elder Gibson and I ventured inside and found it very nice. We may return on a future P-day.

On Saturday, Sister Wang was baptized!

At 6:15 PM, Elder Gibson and I arrived early to prepare for the 7:00 baptismal service. We walked to the back of the chapel and opened the water heater closets. It was already dark, and all of the labels were in Chinese, so I couldn’t read most of them. As Elder Cheung had instructed us, we opened several valves leading from large propane tanks to the heaters. We then went inside and opened the baptismal font fill valves. We heard the pilot light clicking in the heater and assumed everything was going well.

When the font was about 2/3 full, we realized that the water was still freezing, and it wasn’t getting any warmer. Elder Cheung came over, but couldn’t find anything wrong with the heaters. I looked at the dials and saw that the propane tanks seemed to be empty. The battery meter on the heater also read empty. It was 6:30.

We called the zone leaders, but they didn’t know what was wrong either. It was 6:40, and we were getting desperate. Then, we had an idea.

We went to the kitchen and found all of the pots we could. We filled them with water and put them on the stove. Years of styrofoam calorimeter calibration experience sprung to my mind. I quickly calculated that ten gallons of boiling water could raise the font’s water temperature to a relatively comfortable 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

After several minutes of filling, heating, and dumping, Brother He from the ward arrived and fixed the water heater. Relieved, we at last filled the font with warm water. Members filed in. We started the service on time. Everything was ready.

But then, a certain individual who was in charge of conducting the meeting stood up and talked. He talked and talked and talked. We had planned an introduction, a talk, and a musical number. However, this unfortunate, well-intentioned member inserted his own dramatic speech in between every single item. What was intended to be a 30-minute meeting turned out to be an hour and 45 minutes.

By the time everyone went to the baptismal font, the water was frigid again. Nonetheless, the baptism went ahead as planned. It was great. Sister Wang has been a fantastic investigator, and I’m sure she will be a very strong contribution to the ward.

So, all is well in Zion. The investigators are progressing, we aren’t sick, and the matches of Panty Hoe-down continue (not during proselyting or study time, of course.)

That pesky last bottle.

So, goodbye until next time!


The East Wind

Well, hello there!

Seeing as less time has passed than usual, this ‘un will probably be relatively brief.

Wednesday was great. The contacting was of middling quality; we spent most of the time knocking, which here consists of pressing a series of buttons to ring people’s buzzers and then talking to them over an intercom. Believe it or not, this is risky business: once, Elder Gibson depressed a button that was missing the usual plastic cover and promptly received a high-voltage shock.

We do a lot of our contacting in Nanshijiao, the southernmost part of our area. It’s a gigantic amalgamation of street markets and apartment buildings, and probably the busiest region to contact in. To get there, we usually ride our bikes through the Heping street market, which is absolutely insane. There are thousands of people on scooters flooding the street, which is lined by myriads of stores and food stands. The traffic moves at about one meter per second, and everyone bumps into each other and swerves around on their scooters. I was "hit" by a truck there the other day when it backed up into my bike without seeing me. My tire became stuck under the rear bumper, and I was about to abandon ship and jump off of my bike when a car behind me honked and the truck stopped backing up. No harm was done.

Just biking.

On Thursday, our building’s alarm kept sporadically going off during the morning, and an echoing voice shouted something indistinct and vaguely apocalyptic-sounding from the loudspeakers. We predicted zombies and started planning escape routes. In the end, it turned out that workers were just doing maintenance on the alarm system.

We also biked to the boondocks of our area: an unusual sparsely-populated corner of the city surrounded by forest. Instead of apartment buildings, the road was lined by a series of deserted warehouses doubling as Buddhist temples. Nearby, we ran into a bizarre gang of geriatric Korean Nazis. We conversed with one, who promptly turned to his fellow mobsters, saluted them with a raised arm, and started barking in Korean.

Elder Gibson looking at a map.

On Friday, our stake’s sister missionaries told us they had a "golden investigator" they had found living in our area. They gave us directions to his residence, and we set off with the hope of a new willing investigator we could teach and prepare for baptism. Half an hour later, we still hadn’t found his house. We rode back and forth through a typical maze of alleys, trying to follow the vague directions. Finally, we called the sisters again. They came and met us, led us to a tiny noodle store where we could find him, bade us good luck, and departed.

We found a little 12-year-old kid sitting at a table inside. Taken aback, we introduced ourselves and our purpose. He stared at us as if comatose. We asked him if we could teach him a lesson. He remained apathetically silent. Then, he finally answered: "沒空" (no time). He rejected us.

Elder Gibson and I walked out of the store. We went around the back to the alley where we had left our bikes. Then, we laughed. I laughed and laughed at the absurdity of our situation. I laughed so I wouldn’t shout in frustration and tear out my hair.

View from our chapel.

It’s hard to have patience when you talk to 500 people every day and 499 reject you. I’m trying to always think how I’d feel in the other person’s situation: hurrying to work or another important appointment, suddenly interrupted by some crazy foreigners trying to tell me about Buddha, brushing them off without a second thought. Patience in these situations is an exercise in empathy. One thing I know for sure: when I get back, I’ll never again use lack of time as an excuse.

There are people who accept, though. We’re teaching several of them now. Sister Wang passed her baptismal interview on Friday. If all goes well, she’ll be baptized on the 8th. It’s been swell to see her progression and willingness to make and keep commitments.

The Chinese is going very well. I can finally understand most of what people are saying, and I’m almost done with Phase 1 of the in-field language training material. Elder Gibson is a great role model. His Chinese reading and writing is better than that of a lot of natives. He’s even read Jesus the Christ in Chinese.

This completes my weekly email. Bye!