It was Elder Ure’s last P-day in Taiwan, so we had to do something special. So, we took the train all the way to 平溪 [Pingxi], a mountainous district to the east of Taipei. We went on some crazy hikes in the 孝子山群 [Respectful Son mountain range], climbing to the top of several steep limestone pinnacles. Here are the pictures:
View of the steepest of the pinnacles.
Preparing to ascend the above formation.
I started climbing up.
Elder Smith takes a picture of himself and Elder Ure climbing up.
Going down is harder than climbing up.
View from the top.
Us three at the top.
The pinnacle from a different viewpoint, with people on top.
After hiking around the mountains, we walked back along the road to a tourist village, where we ate lunch and boarded the train going back down towards the coast.
We disembarked at the 十分 [Shifen] station, and walked along a road that paralleled the tracks along the limestone-green river. Many people in this area were in the business of selling large paper balloons, which visitors write messages and characters on, light a bundle of kerosene-soaked paper held by wires beneath the envelope, and release into the sky. The sky was always peppered with numerous drifting balloons, and their sagging remains hung from the branches of trees. (I hoped that the paper was biodegradable). Needless to say, the local fire department was very busy.
Along the way, we purchased, decorated, and launched our own incendiary zeppelin. Behold our artistry:
The lit balloon radiated warmth and was almost too hot to touch.
Finally, we walked to an overlook for the 十分 [Shifen] waterfall. It was an amazing waterfall, but I felt that the crowds detracted somewhat from the natural beauty.
Walking along the suspension bridge to the falls area.
View of the falls from the overlook.
The train that came up the gorge was extremely slow and intermittent, and it was always packed. We had heard from passerby that it was only 1.6 kilos from the waterfall to the Ruifen station on the main rail line, so we decided to walk instead of taking the train. It was about 3:00 PM when we asked for directions and started walking up the road towards the station.
We walked, and walked, and walked. The road ascended ever higher into the mountains, and there was not a single car to be seen. The vegetation changed from jungle to conifer forest, and the air grew noticeably colder. We hiked up for an hour, and I started to worry if we would get back on time.
At last, we saw someone–a young white man, running down the road towards us. I stopped him and asked, "How far is it from here to the train station?"
He responded in a foreign language, maybe Spanish. I tried communicating with him, but it was futile. We said goodbye, and he kept running down the mountain.
About a kilometer later, we saw an old Taiwanese man with a weedwhacker standing in some bamboo groves to the right of the road. "How far is it to the station?" I asked him.
"About ten kilometers farther," he responded. Elder Smith, Elder Ure, and I exchanged nervous glances. It would take us over an hour to ride back from the station, and at this rate we wouldn’t be back any time soon. We agreed that we would try to catch a ride from the next car we saw.
The road continued to wind upward through the mountains. All the surrounding mountain ranges were far below us now, their blue contours winding off into the distance. Here, there were no houses or people, just occasional deserted shrines.
A car and a truck carrying porta-potties went by, but neither had three seats. We waved and jumped to signal a four-seat sedan. It slowed down and pulled over, and we started to walk up to the window. The driver saw who we were, put his foot on the gas, and peeled out before we could even say anything.
At last, we signaled a car with frantic hand movements. It pulled over. A couple was sitting in the front; I asked them where they were going. He replied: Houtong, the village of cats. "Can you take us to the train station there?" I asked. "Sure thing," he responded, so we three boarded the car, and he continued to drive along the mountain road.
"A lot of people here won’t give you rides, because they’re afraid of bad people," he told us. "I’m not afraid, because I’m probably badder than anyone you could run into out here."
We conversed with the couple, who were very kind. They asked many questions about missionaries, and they were very impressed by our Chinese. They had no idea how we were so far from civilization. "Where’s your church?" the man asked. We replied that the headquarters where we worked were in Taipei. Before long, the man quietly told his wife, "Can you type in the directions for Taipei?" They sacrificed their whole trip itinerary to bring us directly back to the church. We arrived at 5:00 PM, with plenty of time to get showered and prepare for the rest of the day. We all thanked them profusely, and gave them an English class tract. It was an exhausting and exciting P-day.
This week was also transfers, the busiest time for us office elders. One of my responsibilities is buying breakfast and lunch for all the new missionaries who come in to the mission on Thursday. I wanted to give the restaurants ample time to prepare, so I called them on Monday to order the meals.
Wednesday morning, the day before the new missionaries’ arrival, I received a call from the breakfast restaurant. "Your food is ready. Where are you?" the employee snapped. I almost dropped the phone out of shock. "Uh, isn’t that tomorrow?"
"No, you ordered for this morning," she said. "Hurry up and get over here!"
I called President Jergensen. "I made a big mistake," I said.
He was completely unperturbed. "Call the central zone over. Tell them we have free breakfast." So, I called the zone leaders, and Elder Smith and I drove the van over to the restaurant, picked up the huge crate of Taiwanese breakfast food, and delivered it to the office. A crowd of missionaries assembled, and we slowly devoured the contents of the massive crate. At last, we finished the food. The missionaries dispersed. Crisis averted, Elder Smith and I went back to our work on the transfers.
At about noon, when we were madly sending out notification texts to the missionaries, the intercom next to my desk buzzed.
"Hello, your 46 lunch boxes are here. We’re at the gate outside."
A wave of shock flooded over my body. I couldn’t even form a coherent reply. "Uh, isn’t that tomorrow?"
The delivery guy suddenly sounded really nervous. "Let me check." He called his boss. The intercom buzzed again. "Nope, it’s today."
Just then, President Jergensen walked into the office. I was so ashamed I could barely look up. "This is bad," I told him.
Once again, he was not ruffled in the slightest. "It’s fine, mistakes happen. Call up the north zone!"
Sister Bao drove around and helped us deliver the lunches to the north zone members. I called up all the east coast missionaries who were coming up that night and told them we’d have dinner for them. At last, the night of transfers, we finished the surplus lunch boxes off with not one to spare.
The rest of transfers went considerably smoother, especially since we could automatically generate the notification sheets. It was still a ton of work. Elder Smith typed up page after page of instructions. At last, everyone’s in their proper areas now, and the new missionaries have all been paired with their trainers.
We were able to meet with 邱姐妹 [Sister Qiu] and review the baptismal interview questions yesterday. She’ll be doing her baptismal interview on Sunday. Elder Smith and I are super excited.
Also, Elder Ure’s going home today, so now it’s just Elder Smith and I. It’s weird going around with just two people. All the convenience store cashiers, restaurant staff, and all our other friends ask where the "tall one" went. I’ll miss Elder Ure for sure.