…台東! Romanized as “Taidong” or sometimes “Taitung” (Giles-Wade, ugh), this mostly-rural area is located near the southern tip of the island of Taiwan, along the Pacific coast. It’s one of the prettiest places on the island, which is one of the reasons I’m so happy to be here.
Me and my new companion, Elder Illu.
Last Monday, my last P-day in Shuanghe, Elder Montierth and I rode the Maokong gondolas! The gondolas are usually closed on Mondays, but because Taiwan was still in the midst of Guonian, they opened for the special occasion. These boxy cars are much faster than they appear. We sat in a car with a woman suffering from a fear of heights. She reminded me of my mom, with her constant outcries upon her children’s jostling of the car. Here are some pictures:
View from the car.
At the top station.
We rode the MRT to the zoo station, where we boarded the swinging gondola and sped out over the jungle-carpeted mountains. The cables hung draped between tall steel towers mounted atop the crests of steep saddles. We swooped high above deep, thickly-forested ravines, and passed above mountainside terrace farms and tiny ramshackle huts. Straw-hatted farmers far below inched along between rows of vegetables.
The zone leaders called us on Wednesday and informed us that I would be leaving. I packed my bags on Thursday night. They were crazy overstuffed, because I somehow managed to accumulate a significant mass of possessions while in Shuanghe, but figured I would be moving to a nearby area and it wouldn’t be too much trouble. I weighed one, just for fun, and it was almost 100 pounds.
In the time preceding the transfer meeting, I talked with some other elders about where they wanted to move to. Everyone said either Taidong or Hualian. I agreed that those were great places to go, but I told them I didn’t think I would go anywhere along the east coast, because few missionaries are sent there each transfer.
When the new area assignment began, I waited tensely for the appearance of my likeness upon the PowerPoint slides. Minutes passed, and missionary after missionary was assigned. At last, I saw my image fade onto the screen–in Taidong! It was really exciting. My new companion is Elder Illu, who was actually my babysitter on my first full day in Taiwan! He’s an outstanding missionary. His father is from Guatemala, and he grew up in West Valley, UT.
After the meeting, President Day called the Taidong and Hualian missionaries into a classroom. He told us that President Gong wants to create a stake in Hualian, which would include Taidong. (Currently, there are only districts and branches). To do so, the paperwork would be submitted on April 1, preceding General Conference. This is a leap of faith, because the statistics in Taidong and Hualian aren’t quite up to the Church’s stake standards yet. They are very, very close. Our job as missionaries is to go into crunch time to get the wards up to the numerical standards by the end of March. It’s a big responsibility.
After the meeting concluded, we all rushed to the MRT station. It was all very last-minute. We had to take the MRT to make the Lu Guang, one of the slow trains that goes down to Taidong. After dashing to the underground Lu Guang station, we were just in time for the thundering arrival of the huge old train. The cars were so full of people that we couldn’t put the luggage in the same car as all of the missionaries, so we scattered to other cars to find space to put the luggage. They were all full of people packed like sardines! Just then, the “doors closing” alarm began to sound. We crammed ourselves–and my insanely heavy luggage–into the nearest car.
It was a real adventure. There was barely room for us two, let alone the baggage. The trains are pretty antiquated, unsafe, and packed way, way, way above capacity. There were many exposed valves and buttons on the walls, surrounded by warnings not to turn or push them. Someone must have, because an alarm began sounding in the stuffy, jam-packed car. It continued for about 30 minutes. At every station, more people squeezed aboard! We were trapped. Some people vomited. At last, we reached the station at which most of the passengers would disembark. They flooded out of the door in a mad rush, and in the process knocked over one of my suitcases, which blocked the exit. Other people were dragging suitcases as well, which they were too weak to lift. The departure alarm started to sound. I just grabbed their suitcases and swung them over. At last, the chaos was all over. The last stragglers dashed out between the closing doors. The cars were empty.
On the 7-hour ride down to Taidong, we conducted our weekly planning session. I looked out of the window from time to time. The city turned to industrial wasteland, which soon became jungle. We emerged from a tunnel, and I saw waves crashing on the rocky Pacific shore! People stood on the rocks with long fishing poles in the surf. The scenery was amazing: steep, jungle-covered mountains and ravines on the right; the wide ocean and beaches on the left. Clouds of mist drifted about overhead.
After the ride, we arrived home barely in time for the 10:30 bedtime, so I pulled some of my clothes out of my suitcase and went right to sleep.
The next day, we attended a sports party hosted by the district. Elder Illu and I ran in the 3,000-meter.
The district track meet.
Despite wearing sunblock, I was smitten with a moderate sunburn (Taidong is within the tropics, and much warmer and sunnier than Taipei). It’s great to be out in the wide open fields and rice paddies of Taidong after the city confines of Taipei. After the insane Yonghe crowds, the empty distances here are a relief. We spend a lot of time biking between houses, and I can finally think in silence. The people here are much less rushed and stressed than those of Taipei.
After the track meet, we ate at this maritime/train-themed box lunch store. Weird. It’s apparently quite famous, though.
Elder Illu, our two roommates, President Cai, his wife, and two members.
The morning market where we bought fruit.
Taidong is very different from Taipei. The population is very small. Our area is gigantic, probably the largest geographical area in the mission, and contains a town we can only visit once a week because of the length of the travel there. There are many farmers here, and a lot of the locals and members are actually Taiwanese aborigines. It’s awesome to be able to serve here, especially with the challenging task President Day has entrusted to us. Elder Illu and I have very comprehensive plans for what we’re going to do in the next weeks to meet the stake requirements, including many strategies for reactivating ward members and finding new investigators. This is an area full of energy and potential for growth.
Until next week,