Going swimming

A week of abundant moisture. The rain here is much different from Utah rain. It doesn’t stop. It pours down on you, your bicycle, and your bag, until all are deeply saturated and unable to absorb any more. Even if you wear rain gear, the water, in true Dijkstra fashion, will find an efficient path to the interior. The water saturates the road bedding and turns the road into one giant puddle. With every peddle, water splashes on your glasses and sprays onto your socks and pant legs. Two moderate-sized reservoirs accumulate within your shoes.

The simplest and most practical solution is to simply not care about getting wet.

Returning home after a typical rainy day.

With our apartment’s dryer nonfunctional and with our washing machine’s spin cycle broken, drying clothing became a particular challenge. We devised an efficient system of electric fan-aided air drying to catalyze the drying of clothing and footwear.

On the bright side, the work moves faster in the rain. The Spirit aside, nothing can touch a Taiwanese heart more than two sopping wet missionaries on the doorstep. While knocking doors and street contacting, we found several promising new investigators.

Another of this week’s highlights was our English class party. Elder Stephens and I were entrusted with the most difficult responsibility of the Mother’s Day-themed event: baking mass quantities of chocolate-chip cookies for participants.

Through valiant searching, we located adequate quantities of flour, sugar, eggs, and seasonings at a local supermarket. The blow to our funds was large, but my frugal budget absorbed the hit. With carbohydrates present and accounted for, one piece of the puzzle remained: the fat.

Taiwanese butter is exorbitant, so I knew that buying 10 cups of butter wouldn’t work. Since Taiwanese are loath to use saturated fats in their cooking, I knew that finding an acceptable substitute would prove difficult.

After navigating to a shady retail cooking-supply store, we found success in a dimly-lit back aisle: a gigantic tub of solid margarine at a bargain price! The key was found, and all of the parts were in place for the production of some light refreshments.

At the English party, we arranged and divided work such as to produce a continuous flow of well-baked cookie batches. We worked with our students in parallel, with them emulating our actions to mix their own batter and place it on the sheets. Healthful home-cooking masters, we used an ice cream scoop to dig the appropriate 3/4-cup of vivid yellow lipid from its tub and plop it into the participants’ bowl. Our English-class students had a good, long stare at the mounds of polymerized CH2 sitting atop a hefty foundation of sugar.

When withdrawn from the heated oven and allowed to cool, the finished product was delightful. However, I noticed in the crowd an inexplicable reluctance to partake.

In order to most-efficiently dispose of a surplus of batter, we poured this sheet full of batter. The results were excellent: a fine brookie specimen.

Those who had not witnessed the genesis of our refreshments, however, soon provided the solution to our oversupply. They lined up for the delectable desserts, coming back for seconds and thirds. We received many complements, and several students commented on the delicious texture of the cookies.

On Thursday, we rode up to distant Fuyuan in search of investigators. Although we didn’t find any, we did locate several potential investigators and a pair of gigantic banana spiders. Larger than my hands, they hung above our heads in eight-foot-wide webs, probably awaiting unsuspecting avian prey.

Taidong mountains, shrouded in fog.

My companion also noticed himself sprouting a large rash on his forearms. After a brief discussion, we decided to go to the doctor, although Elder Stephens and I both predicted the same outcome. "They’ll probably just prescribe Benadryl and topical cortisone, and I already have those" Elder Stephens said. "We’ll just go to be safe."

After riding to the hospital, paying the nominal fee, filling out a medical history form in Chinese (which I somehow actually understood), and measuring Elder Stephens’ height, body weight, and blood pressure, we lined up for the doctor. He opened the door, admitted us, and asked for Elder Stephens’ symptoms.

After no more than fifteen seconds, he said: "It’s from being bit by bugs. I’m going to prescribe Benadryl and topical cortisone."

So, despite all ailments and the unceasing rain, this has been a good week. We found some great new investigators, and several of our current investigators are progressing towards baptism. The souls are as abundant as the moisture, and the field is white and ready to harvest.

That’s about all for this week. 88!

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Babylonian Barbiturates

Members kindly arranged to transport us to 三仙台 (Sanxiantai) on P-day. The Taidong sky was cloudy, but as soon as we left the city, the weather began to clear. I had heard that there was a typhoon in the Philippines, and was curious whether it would influence the surf in Taiwan. Sure enough, as soon as the ocean came into view, I saw that the waves were much, much larger than usual. Great, far-spaced breakers rolled in onto the beach, crashing into rocks and sea stacks with great plumes of spray.

Waves on the beach.

After an hour-long car ride, complemented by a baozi-replete intermission, we reached 三仙台 itself. 三仙台 is probably one of the most spectacular places on the Taiwan coastline. It consists of a small, rocky island connected to the mainland by an undulating bridge of eight arches. The island itself is topped by two steep stone bluffs or protuberances, each rising abruptly from the surrounding slopes. Huge cliffs of black rock are surrounded by a plethora of flourishing jungle vegetation. The rock appears to be a soft limestone conglomerate of igneous bodies, and is easily eroded into a wide variety of unique forms.

The surf was enormous. Huge, 20-foot waves hurled themselves at the rocks, sending spectacular jets of spray high into the air.

Big waves on 三仙台.

The waves rolling in, seen from above.

Upon reaching the park itself, Elders Stephens, Chand, Taulepa and I set off quickly across the pebble shore and over the long inchworm-shaped bridge.

Going up the bridge.

On top.

Walking along the bridge to 三仙台.

There were many people on the bridge, but very few on the island.

Coming down on the other side of the bridge.

Walking by the cliffs on the island.

View from the saddle in the middle of 三仙台.

Hiking along the seashore.

Elder Stephens next to a large conglomerate boulder.

After hiking along a winding boardwalk and scrambling over rugged seashore, we reached the gaping maw of a dark cavern. With no light, we held onto the handrail and descended into the depths. I just kept scuffling along until the opening on the other side appeared.

Going down into the cavern.

The light at the end of the tunnel.

We emerged onto a rugged spit cut by narrow chasms, through which wave water rushed, passing through erosional tunnels and occasionally leaping upward in huge jets.

Wave-eroded channel.

Climbing back up into the cave from the other side.

Going to 三仙台 was excellent, because it’s the first place I’ve been to in Taiwan that could, to some small extent, be considered wilderness. It was a real adventure, and I’m sure I won’t forget this mission experience.

Although P-day was especially fun this week, the work this week was also especially hard. No one particularly difficult thing happened; rather, a confluence of small factors created an exhausting week.

It can be hard to always see the same patterns in missionary work, over and over: we find new investigators, they agree to meet with us, and we never see them again. Every time I knock on a door or begin talking to someone on the street, I do my best to have faith. Then, I see the telltale signs: the gradual edging away, uncomfortable lack of eye contact, and convulsive high-frequency nodding and repetition of the word "yes" or "good." I ask if we can talk to him or her at a more convenient time. He or she agrees and leaves a phone number, which consists of several predictable strings of repeated digits. Later, upon calling the number, I hear the same discouraging phrase: "The number you have called is not in use [空號]…" Every day, I try to push my expectations and my faith, but I feel as if the results often fall flat.

This week, when we went to 鹿野, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the progress of many of the less-active members there. It was also the first day I’ve ever gone to 鹿野 without encountering rain.

Luye vista.

Eating at the Lin family’s home.

When we ate dinner with the Lin family, they had, as usual, prepared some very unique dishes for everyone’s sampling. Clockwise from the top: hand-collected river algae (pretty gross, in my opinion; really stringy, gooey, and salty); snails (the taste is good, although the texture a bit rubbery); fish (normal); pickled bamboo (good); pork with vegetables and fish flakes (good); soup with fish balls (good). It was great to be able to sit and talk with them after a long time of them being too busy to meet with us. Even better, one of our investigators came by, and they invited him to sit and eat with us! Even though we hadn’t seen him in a while, he still seemed to be doing fine.

So, this has been a very memorable week, albeit a difficult one. This seems to be the bottom line of many missionary weeks. At times like these, there’s nothing to do but brace one’s self and thrust in the sickle with might. 加油!

Sincerely,
Elder Elliott

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Hiking

Several members united to transport most of us Taidong missionaries to a hiking location on Monday. We drove along a very narrow and steep road to the base of 四格山 (Sihge mountain), where we disembarked and began walking up the road/trail to the peak.

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Water lilies.

Looking up towards the mountains.

Walking uphill.

View from close to the top.

Our party, viewed from the front.

Elder Boyd strumming on a guitar as he walks past a power tower.

Along the way, we confronted a gigantic banana spider (the first really big one I’ve seen) and a rotten coconut, which Elder Stephens promptly hurled at the ground. It shattered and spewed vile liquid everywhere. I was thankfully spared from most of the deluge.

Stairs near the top.

Upon finally reaching the peak of the mountain, we were treated to a pristine vista, both subtle and sublime.

Looking out towards the ocean.

Elder Stephens and I relish the view.

After we walked down from the top of the mountain, we began the drive back, but our driver took an unexpected turn. We rattled off up a tiny dirt road. As we bumped along, a small shack emerged from the mist ahead of us. Approaching the deserted structure, we found…a bizarrely remote, fully-functional ice cream store. The owners told us they made the ice cream using ice made from the hand-collected water of the clear mountain streams, which doesn’t make sense because the ice doesn’t end up in the ice cream anyway. I enjoyed a waffle cone of their signature flavor, burnt bamboo. The black substance had the appearance of charcoal, but was quite pleasant to the taste.

Other notable events of the week:

On Friday, the branch held a family home evening activity in 鹿野, which was great. Everyone was treated to a plethora of native foods, including snails, which I ate for the first time. Many less-active members were present, and even one of our investigators came! We ate, sang a Mother’s Day song, and listened to performances on Taiwanese aboriginal drums These consist of hollow bamboo tubes of various lengths, which are clapped on the ends by handheld foam paddles, causing the air column within to harmoniously resonate. Each tube is tuned to produce a different note. My companion took the paddles himself and enthralled the crowd with his drumming skills.

Brother Yang and his wife playing the drums.

Closer view.

Kids playing around with the drums.

All of the members dancing around, aboriginal-style.

Yesterday, Elder Stephens and I had the opportunity to Skype home for Mother’s Day. We can call twice a year, on Christmas and Mother’s Day. As usual, the process was rife with stress and last-minute technical difficulties, but a stable line of communication was at last established and conversation exchanged. It was a great conclusion to the week.

Sincerely, Elder Elliott

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Bags of data

We rode our bikes to the beach on Monday. It was a long bike ride, but an interesting one; we passed through the spacious and well-kept Taidong Forest Park, which felt like wilderness compared to the rest of Taiwan. We crossed over a tall bridge above floodplain fields where workers harvesting scattered watermelons waved up at us.

The beach was quite interesting, composed of slanted and eroded strata inclined opposite to the slope of the shore. The rocks were a fascinating conglomerate of sandstone and later-deposited igneous rock, the varying hardnesses of which brought about interesting erosional patterns.

Coral pieces, some very large, abundantly littered the slanted slabs. Marine wildlife was not very plentiful, probably due to the warmth of the water, but we found many very active prickly starfish waving their arms about in the tide pools.

Exploring the coastal rocks.

Walking down to the beach.

On the beach.

Fishing, Taiwanese style.

I finished reading the Book of Mormon in Chinese characters on Tuesday! It was exhilarating to reach the very last page and at last read the “全書完” at the end. Next stop: the New Testament. I calculated that, if I want to finish reading all of the standard works by the end of my mission, I’ll have to read what amounts to six pages from the New Testament daily (accounting for the different character/page counts of different works), which is very doable.

Serving with Elder Stephens.

We found plenty of invertebrate life while weeding between the rows of yams.

One of the investigators we’ve been working a lot recently is named Brother Zeng (曾弟兄). We met him out knocking doors a week ago. He has quite a hard life: almost 80, never married, no living family, no income, and no stomach–he got stomach cancer and had his stomach surgically removed a few months ago. He lives in a bare shack, where he lives off of a meager government support check. Most of it goes to buying the medicines he spends three hours buying every day, which keep him hanging on to life. He eats one meal per day: a paltry box lunch. He’s pretty much completely deaf, and can’t afford hearing aids, so we have to shout loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear when we teach him. He came to church on Sunday, after some stressful transportation arrangements with members came through at the last second.

Eating stinky tofu.

This stinky tofu was the best I’ve had. I can’t believe I didn’t like stinky tofu when I first came to Taiwan. It’s some of my favorite food now.

Some of Saturday’s highlights involved meeting with Sister Jiang (姜姊妹), one of our branch members, and suffering twenty-six (26) mosquito bites to the same ankle within a period of about fifteen minutes. We had arranged with Sister Jiang in advance, but we couldn’t find a male adult member who could come accompany us, so we couldn’t enter her house and instead sat outside. It was dusk, so mosquitoes were many. She brought out some old fruit peels and lit them on fire, but the pesky insects, unfazed by the smoldering skins, continued their ruthless attacks against my defenseless epidermis.

On the way back from Luye.

Sister Jiang showed us a lot of her art. She grew up in Mainland China, and a lot of her education was disrupted by the Cultural Revolution, but she was still able to study fine art. When I told her how much I enjoyed art and origami, she very enthusiastically began to show us many of her pieces, including a lot of extremely detailed papercraft and all kinds of paintings and drawings. Now that her sons are in college, she has time to draw more, but she spends most of her time outside for medical reasons. Back in art school, she would spend entire days inside, intently focused on her artwork. She wouldn’t eat or drink anything because of how concentrated on the work she was. This led to the blood in her veins becoming too viscous and clogging many arteries in her brain, causing permanent brain damage. Now, she has to spend a lot of time exercising every day to maintain good circulation.

Before we left, she played “Amazing Grace” on the ocarina. It was only after a few hours that I realized exactly why my ankle was so itchy.

It’s all right, though; these wounds will also heal with time.

Sincerely,
Elder Elliott

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