It’s beta

I baptized 邱姐妹 [Sister Qiu] on Sunday!

We held 邱姐妹 [Sister Qiu]’s baptismal service on Sunday morning before church. It went really well. She had never cried at any of the lessons before, but she was crying the whole day! She bore a great testimony of repentance at church. She’s considering going on a mission in a year! We’re going to try to get her on a short-term mission in Taiwan as soon as the need arises, so she can have some missionary experience.

The Chinese character for mold (only one of its written variants) is

霉 [méi]

which is composed of the character for rain, 雨, on top of the character 每, which means "every," and by extension "daily." Thus, the character for mold is allegedly derived from a primeval observation that daily rain led to the growth of mildew.

These past two weeks, it’s rained almost every day without cease. Sure enough, everyone’s apartment was grew a ton of 霉. Every day, missionaries call to report on their moldy apartments. The hapless landlords try to clean up the mold or paint over it (ack!), but in most severe cases, these solutions will never work. The filamentous fungus has already infiltrated the damp medium, and it cannot be eradicated short of the complete destruction and removal of its habitat.

I’m still not sure of the best way to handle this situation. Landlords aren’t usually willing to tear down and rebuild mildew-infested walls, and immediately switching apartments is unlikely, since it takes weeks to find and rent a new apartment, and prematurely cancelling the old apartment contract incurs a hefty fine.

Speaking of hefty, this week we printed out two proofreading copies of the three-column Chinese Old Testament. We printed on normal paper, so the resulting three-volume tome was more massive than the golden plates.

Hefting the book in my hands.

The Old Testament: Beta v1.002

This view communicates better the book’s thickness, more than 4 inches (10 cm).

Because the book was so thick, the printing company split each one into three sub-books for convenience, each about the size of a regular King James. I was shocked when I realized how enormous the book was. I ran the calculations with paper thickness and found that, when printed on the thin scripture paper, the entire book will be only about 1.75 inches (4.5 cm) thick: almost 1/3 of its current size.

Now, it’s just a matter of proofreading and correcting all of the errors in the pinyin. I devised a scheme to enlist the help of other missionaries in our mission. I will print about 50 pages for each missionary with advanced Chinese, and include detailed instructions for what kind of errors to correct. Elder Smith and I will examine finished proofreading sections. If an audited section passes, the missionary who did the correction will be awarded a free copy of the book when the final edition is printed.

Last P-day, Elder Smith and I went to 西門町 [Ximending] and examined the wares. We bought some shirts with the Chinese characters:
Front: "White people can’t read this."
Back: "Neither can black people."

That’s about it for this week.

Elder Elliott


Fey mood

Elder Smith and I spent our P-day listening to music as we cleaned our apartment to a fare-thee-well. I trundled the fridge out from its dusty corner and scrubbed all five exposed faces; ages of accumulated grime ran to the floor in black rivulets. We vacuumed all the floors, and we picked up all the assistants’ scattered laundry and threw it on their beds.

President and Sister Jergensen went to Hong Kong this week for a mission presidents’ area seminar, so the mission plunged into an anarchy of looting and arson. Just kidding; everything was fine, just as usual.

Great news: our investigator 邱姐妹 [Sister Qiu] passed her baptismal interview on Sunday! Her baptismal service is tomorrow morning. It’s awesome to see how fast a person’s progression is when he or she is truly prepared to receive our message.

廖弟兄 [Brother Liao], my elderly yet computer-adept convert from Tucheng, walked into the office last night with the Tucheng elders! He had just gone to the temple across the street for the first time. We talked about batch programming on the Apple II.

Speaking of batch programming, President Jergensen showed a bunch of pictures of our key indicator reporting system at the seminar. He told me that the other mission presidents were amazed, and several even wanted it for their own mission! So, I may be working on making ARPS [the Automatic RePorting System I programmed] ready for other missions as well.

I set a goal to finish the Old Testament three-column text (Chinese, Pinyin, and English) by the end of this week. I completed most of the editing of the text files, and then started to work on formatting the text. Here I ran into the hard part: moving from the effortless simplicity of Notepad++ to the laggy and erratic Microsoft Word 2013. Word is a great piece of software, and works fine with small files, but when it comes to paginating nearly 2,000 pages of holy writ in three languages, it doesn’t stand a chance.

After finding that Word usually crashed at around 1,000 pages of tables, I made the mistake of trying to use master documents, creating a sub-document for every book. All I can say: there’s a reason nobody uses them. After adding 39 sub-documents and making some changes to the format, the master document was already more corrupt than the Somali government.

Finally, I figured out how to use IncludeText fields to include the text from each sub-file in a more reliable manner. I then used draft mode to view and edit the file, since switching to print view resulted in a grueling pagination marathon that crashed Word about 50% of the time.

At last, the book was completed. We’re going to have a first sample printed off; I’ll send some pics next week.

Some other cool things I did this week:

Elder Smith and I made a Chinese-subtitled version of the Church’s Easter video. The Chinese dubs they use are always wince-worthy, so President Jergensen had us add subtitles to the English version. I used Aegisub and ffmpeg, which together form a super-smooth and high-quality pipeline, to create and burn the subs.

Sister Jergensen also let me redo the aesthetics of our mission’s webpage. Check it out:

Of course, it’s not perfect (I didn’t have time to remove all the wacky frames around pictures, or make them consistent) but it looks a lot better than before, if I say so myself. And, I added a spooky parallax background!


Love greeble

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.

Elder Elliott


This kills the RAM

With transfers fast approaching, I had to come up with a faster way to create the individual instruction files than individually typing each one. For this transfer, there are over eighty sheets that need to be created. So, I learned some Visual Basic and created a macro that generates the instruction sheets from the Excel file containing the transfer information. Pic related:

​Elder Ure and Smith had to drive people to and from the airport, and there wasn’t room in the car, so I became companions with Elder McOmber for a day. I implemented multithreading to separate the execution of the SMS-reading and graphical user interface, all while listening to a multitude of stories from his mission in the 60s. It was a pretty cool day. I also finished calculating and submitting all the apartment rent well in advance.

Elder Smith, Elder Ure, and I on the temple grounds with one of their friends from Miaoli.

We met twice this week with our investigator, 邱姐妹 [Sister Qiu], whose baptismal date is set for the 26th of this month. It’s been amazing to see how much she’s progressed since we started meeting with her. She reads the Book of Mormon and prays every day, and loves coming to church every week.

Last week marked Elder Smith’s year mark in Taiwan, so we all ate a manly meal of 烤肉 [barbecue] to celebrate. There aren’t many restaurants in America where you can cook huge amounts of raw meat on your own. Good thing food safety regulations are laxer here in Taiwan!

Dining on the flame-scorched flesh of beasts.

All of the zone leaders have been coming over to our apartment for exchanges with the assistants, so I’ve had some awesome opportunities to see friends from my generation. I like to run to Taipei 101 and back in the morning for exercise. Elder Robinson joined me, and we spent the whole time talking about our favorite obscure Chinese characters. It’s super fun trying to remember how to write characters like 飆 ["whirlwind," or "violent wind," used to describe reckless driving], 齋 ["to fast," or "a study room"], or 鬮 ["to cast lots"]. At the beginning of my mission, I thought that if I could even read the most basic Chinese characters, it would be the coolest thing ever. Now, we can read and write even characters the majority of native speakers never learn.

The tracts for our English class were pretty ugly. I designed a stylish new one:



It looks pretty good now (with the exception of the front photo, which I’m still trying to change), but rest assured it will be hideous in a few years when cyan, teal, and maroon aren’t fashionable any more. Oh well, I suppose graphic designers would be jobless if the trends weren’t always changing.

Elder Smith and I had a fun time looking through all these different paper samples for the tract, feeling each one and testing its smear resistance and writeability. Some of the papers were smooth and tear-resistant, some rough and fibrous, and some shimmery or printed with a pattern of shiny and non-shiny regions. We were going to try ivory card, but it may be a little too heavy.

Another big task has been correcting the tones of pinyin in the language-study edition of the Old Testament. I spent hours finding every instance of the word 神 ["God/gods"] in the books of the Old Testament and deciding whether the pinyin should be capitalized (God) or lowercase (god/gods, referring to idols or pagan objects of worship). This experience left me devoutly thankful for RegEx and notepad++‘s scroll-synchronize capabilities.

Elder Roe and his companion, Elder Bellingham, came up for exchanges two days ago. Tucheng is doing really well. The formerly less-active 張家庭 [Zhang family] who I taught when I was there are now completely active, as is our patriotic friend Bobby. Feels good, man.

Elder Elliott