Hezekiah’s balloons

The mission Christmas conference was a gargantuan task. We had to coordinate transporting all 200+ missionaries from all over Taiwan to and from the locale; distributing close to half a ton of blankets, pillows, and heaters; collecting and verifying everyone’s apartment keys; and ensuring that the projector and AV equipment remained functional throughout the meeting.

The conference was held in the American Club, a high-class country-club venue where wealthy Taiwanese people come to swim, lounge around, have meetings, and pretend to be American.

The whole mission gathered in a high-class venue for our Christmas conference.

For the talent show, the assistants and I planned a special performance. I gave the starting note, and they matched my pitch. We all breathed deeply. The audience was silent.

“I’m hungry,” Elder Johnson said.

“Oh no! What do you want to eat?” Elder Huntsman asked. There was a pause.

In unison, we looked at each other and shouted, “小蘋果” [xiao pingguo, “little apple.”  Elder Xiao’s nickname, as well as the name of a popular Taiwanese song]. The 小蘋果 music suddenly blasted from the speakers. Elder Xiao, previously wrapped up head to toe in wrapping paper, burst forth, and we broke into a choreographed dance sequence. The crowd went wild!

For lunch, we were provided a sumptuous American-style Christmas buffet meal (see figure below). It was all very authentic: ham, turkey, ribs, stuffing, cheesecake, and a wide variety of other delicious and lipid-laden food products.

Christmas festivities aside, most of our week consisted of negotiating with landlords and ordering stuff online. Elder Xiao and I cruised in the monstrous van to 桃園 [Taoyuan] to cancel an old apartment contract. I was amazed by the 14-lane, three-tier freeway, an engineering marvel I’d never seen before. It is equipped with vertical screens of blue light that electronically suck toll money from your pockets when you drive through them.

Elder Xiao and I celebrate Christmas at home.

We parked the van horribly in front of the apartment, effectively blocking the whole street, until a gaggle of Taiwanese grandmas came and began shouting at us in Taiwanese. Elder Xiao made apologies, and we coaxed the lumbering beast to a more appropriate parking spot.

Since we actually made adequate preparation for ending the contract, we were able to smoothly calculate and deduct the utility costs from the deposit refund. Most renters don’t even bother to make these deductions, which give the landlord more of the renter’s money, but we always try to be as fair as possible, even when it costs us. The landlords also treat us a lot better as a result. This landlord even gave us free soy milk!

Looking at a potential new apartment with Elder Xiao. As you can tell, it’s probably too nice and expensive for missionaries.

The nighttime view from another potential apartment we inspected in 新店 [Xindian].

That’s about it for this week. The best part was being able to Skype with my family yesterday, a privilege we only get twice a year. My brother’s as tall as my mom, which freaked me out!

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Assisting operations

Me and my new companion.

Exploring the farthest reaches of my new area.

I did indeed move on Thursday. I left Tucheng and moved up to the mission office in Taibei, where I’m now serving as the Operations Assistant. As far as I understand it so far, I’m responsible for: handling the renting and upkeep of the mission’s apartments, finding and opening new apartments, booking and scheduling plane and train tickets for the mission, booking hotels, ordering food for meetings, and maintaining the mission’s stocks of proselyting materials. That’s a lot of operations to assist.

Also, I have a little window people can come up to and bark orders through.

I’m still new, and basically don’t know what I’m doing, especially when it comes to reading and analyzing stacks of Taiwanese legal documents written entirely in Chinese. Thankfully, I have 蕭長老 (Elder Xiao) to help! He is the previous Operations Assistant. He’ll be my companion for a transfer while he trains me, prior to his departure from the office.

My other companion is Elder Ure, the mission recorder. So, right now, there’s three of us together until next transfer.

Elder Xiao, Elder Ure, and I.

Everyone told me this job is the hardest in the mission. Usually, only native Taiwanese missionaries are assigned here because of the language requirements. There’s a lot of information to keep track of and organize. These past two days have been pretty OK, though, with a few exceptions.

After the transfer meeting, Elder Xiao and I needed to get the train tickets to the Taidong and Hualian missionaries so they could get back to their areas in a timely manner. Unfortunately, both groups of missionaries were delayed and missed their trains (it was pretty much our fault). Also, because of transfer madness, none of the Hualian missionaries had their phones.

Thankfully, the missionaries were able to find tickets on their own, and they successfully boarded trains for the 4-5 hour ride to their areas. The only loss was the expensive train tickets we wasted.

A last picture with the 土城 district.

Picture with 何姐妹 (Sister He), one of our investigators, on the left, and the 廖家庭 (Liao Family) on the right.

Picture with 廖弟兄 (Brother Liao), another awesome investigator I left in Tucheng.

This work is very much different than any other I’ve done on my mission. We do have a small area, but most of our time is spent in the office. Absent an emergency, we proselyte from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM in our area.

Some of the things I’ve done so far are: ordering gas tanks for missionary apartments, buying and cancelling various train tickets, driving bicycles from the store to the mission office, and even going to examine a potential new apartment with Elder Xiao. We use computers, which feels really weird after a 16-month technology fast, but is kind of cool. Also, we drive a car, which I was less thrilled about. Elder Ure drove us around a few times in the van, which offered me a new perspective of Taipei traffic. I have to go through a long procedure to be able to drive in Taiwan, especially since I lost my Utah license in my first area (argh!).

View from inside the van.

I’m in the same office and apartment as Elder Huntsman now, since he’s serving as an assistant to the president. It’s awesome to be together again. We can reminisce on our Tucheng time together!

Also, my P-day is on Saturdays now, so my sending and reading email time will be moved to Saturday as well.

That’s about all for now!

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Obtaining bag

The president’s assistants planned to eat dinner with us and all the district leaders in our zone. By the time we finally arrived at the predetermined train station, it was already almost 7:00, and we had to be finished by 7:30. To make matters worse, nobody had planned on a restaurant, and we didn’t know what establishments were in the vicinity. We ended up making a dash for a distant mall, running across a vast Christmas-decorated plaza and up nine flights of escalators to scarf down some overpriced pizza. The necessary information was conveyed, though, so our brief meal accomplished its intended purpose.

Standing on the street in Tucheng.

I packed some basic living necessities into a large plastic grocery bag and left with Elder Johnson for a companion exchange in Taibei. The next morning, we rode the MRT to Songshan to get Elder Johnson his driver’s license. After riding the train for half an hour, searching for the remote office on foot, taking a taxi, and waiting in several lines, we realized that Elder Johnson didn’t have the correct paperwork. We left in a hurry, and were halfway across Taibei before I realized I had left my bag with all my personal belongings back in the DMV office.

There was no going back because of time constraints. I returned home to Tucheng empty-handed, having lost my electric razor, hygiene supplies, towel, exercise clothes, retainer, medication, and (worst of all) the brand-new exercise shoes my family sent me for my birthday.

The next day, I tried to be positive, but I was so upset it was hard for me to focus on the work. We didn’t have the DMV’s number, and I wouldn’t have been allowed to call them anyway, so I just left a message for the mission financial secretary, relating the sorry plight of my plastic bag.

On Wednesday, the secretary finally called me back. "Do you want the good news or bad?" she asked.

"Bad," I said.

"There isn’t any bad news. The good news is that the DMV is holding your bag at the first floor. Get over there quick!"

Elder Roe and I rode the MRT all the way back to Songshan and strode along the busy streets to the DMV. I walked in, asked for the package, and described its contents. A woman pulled the familiar crinkled, smelly Carrefour bag from under the counter.

"We thought it was explosive," she told me.

I’ve never been so happy to see a grocery bag before.

Elder Roe and I with Sister Lai, a member we call our "Taiwanese mom."

All inconveniences aside, it was a great week. Brother Liao and Sister He are progressing marvelously; they both attended church and a baptismal service afterwards. Brother Liao even brought his grandson to English class.

Because of concern over the aforementioned oral blood blisters, I went to the hospital to have my blood tested. Thankfully, all of the results were normal. No blood blisters have appeared in the past two weeks, and the past ones have already healed.

This might be my last email from Tucheng, for real this time! Transfers are this Thursday.

Love,
Elder Elliott

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That rustled my ephod

My companion took many photographs this week, but left his camera in the apartment. The only pictures I had were of the weird blood blisters that swelled up in the back of my mouth on Friday. So, to minimize the disgust factor, I’ll omit the subepithelial hemorrhagic bullae in favor of a description of this week’s missionary work.

On Tuesday, Elder Roe and I conducted our December Zone Training Meeting. Then, I rode the bus to 三峽 [Sanxia] for exchanges. That night, we walked along the road in 頂埔 [Dingpu] to an elderly investigator’s house. Although his Mandarin was proficient, he preferred Taiwanese, so the lesson was mostly a discussion between him and the member we’d brought along. Surprisingly, I grasped a good deal of the exchange, although I couldn’t reply in Taiwanese.

After returning to 土城 [Tucheng] on Wednesday, I taught English class on Wednesday. It was then, under the probing spotlight of my curious English students, that I found myself unable to draw a clear distinction between "yams" and "sweet potatoes." Are yams truly endemic to Africa, or are the orange tubers sold at American supermarkets genuine representatives of the same species? What about the 地瓜 [digua] and 山藥 [shanyao] sold in Taiwan? In the past, I considered 地瓜 to be sweet potatoes and 山藥 to be yams, but my electronic dictionary flagged the two words as synonyms, much to my befuddlement. My perplexity was only exacerbated by my never having seen a 山藥 in person before. In the end, I saw fit to dismiss the conundrum and simply coach my class on the pronunciation of the word "yam" instead.

I performed thrice with the missionary Christmas choir this week: once in 三重 [Sanchong], once in 士林 [Shilin], and once at the Church headquarters in Taipei city’s 大安 [Da'an]. All three times went pretty well, especially since my trio part is pretty simple. I only have to repeatedly sing the bass line of one phrase: "榮耀歸與至高真神" ["Gloria in Excelsis Deo"]. After the first performance, I figured I could just leave my music on my seat when I went up to sing.

One of our investigators was able to come attend at 大安, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. It was great to see how significant of an effect our performance had to her. She told us, "I’ve listened to a lot of choirs before, but none of them sounded this good!" I wanted to believe.

Other than that, we also found a really cool guy we can teach. His name is 廖先生 [Mr. Liao]. Elder Roe and I intercepted him as he ambled along our street in his snowflake-pattern sweater. He’s seventy years old, and recently retired from his career as a computer instructor. It is rare to find people older than 40 who have a desire to meet with us and learn more about the Church. However, 廖先生 came to church the day after we met with him, and he said he’d like to continue coming. Also, he’s one of the few people I’ve met who can talk about the glory days of the Apple II.

That’s about all for this week. It was great!

Love,
Elder Elliott

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