Birthday box

View from the top of the mission home.

"Are you expecting a big package for Christmas?" Elder Huntsman asked me at Mission Leadership Council on Friday.

I replied that, as of yet, I had not been informed of any such holiday parcel.

"Well, Santa came early!" he exclaimed. "You just got a giant Christmas present."

I realized that he was talking about my birthday package. "That’s my birthday package," I told him. He had hidden the box away with the rest of the missionary packages delivered for Christmas. We rode the elevator down to the underground parking garage where the parcels were concealed. I was elated to find a large, roughly cubical cardboard box, nearly half a meter on a side, with my name written on it.

After the leadership council meeting ended, my companion and I immediately went on exchanges with a companionship in our zone. I bid farewell to Elder Roe, and headed off on the MRT to 新莊 [Xinzhuang] with a new missionary who had just arrived in Taiwan a few weeks prior, lugging my clothing, hygiene supplies, and unwieldy cardboard box.

When we arrived at the station, my temporary companion had no idea which exit the bikes were stationed at. We rode the escalator up to the first exit, and he examined the surroundings. "It’s not this one," he pronounced. We retreated and tried the next exit. "Not this one," he again asserted. We repeated this process several times. I finally called his companion, who directed us to the proper exit.

Upon locating our bikes, the next challenge presented itself: neither of us were familiar with the area at all, and we needed to ride to a distant appointment for dinner. The poor trainee’s companion had no idea what the address was, but gave me a landmark-based approximation. I realized that my bulky package would not fit inside of either one of our bicycle baskets, so I balanced it on the back of my bicycle with one hand and steered with the other, wobbling down the unfamiliar street.

After pedaling to and fro in the dark for almost 45 minutes, we finally arrived half an hour late at the member’s house and ate a hurried meal. We found on the streets for an hour, then prepared to ride home.

We had ridden for about fifteen minutes, me once again balancing the package with one hand, when my companion admitted he was lost. It was already 9:15 PM, and we were by an unfamiliar freeway near 三重 [Sanchong]. With our phone battery almost dead, I made a frantic call to the district leader, who gave me directions to return to the apartment. We turned around and headed down the side of the highway. The birthday box jounced and slid precariously on the back of my bike, constantly threatening to fall into the fast-moving traffic despite my clumsy attempts to stabilize it with my left hand. We rode and rode for miles through a forlorn industrial wasteland. At last, my companion recognized some of the surroundings. We staggered into the apartment, me clutching my battered birthday package.

The next day, I had to carry the brute back through the MRT during rush hour. The train car was so packed I was getting crushed and could barely breathe. There was not enough room for me and the box pressed up against my ribcage, so I hefted it up on top of my head with a grunt of exertion. The Taiwanese people standing around me gasped in surprise. To my dismay, there wasn’t enough headroom for me to stand up straight with the box on my head. All the heads in the car turned to view the curious spectacle of a tall white guy half-squatting in the middle of the car with a giant box sandwiched between the top of his head and the low ceiling. My thighs started burning, and sweat ran down my forehead, but I could neither sit down nor remove the box from my head for the density of passengers around me. I rode two stations in this curious manner before finally squeezing my way off the packed car.

On that afternoon of my birthday, I finally dragged the battered package into my own apartment and cut it open. It contained a new helmet, new shoes, a lot of junk food, and–best of all–a miniature family photo album. Despite the abuse the box had taken, its contents were all intact, even down to the individual pieces of Cap’n Crunch. I sat down during dinner, read through all of my family’s letters, and looked through the pictures. I couldn’t have been happier. It was a great birthday, despite all the confusion and exhaustion.

The notorious box, seen prior to autopsy.

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