A mission

​It was over two years ago when the packet came in the mail. I came home from school, and it was sitting on the living room table. My family gathered in a fervor of excitement. My heart was pounding as I sat down and picked up the letter. I tore it open. I silently read: "You are assigned to labor in the Taiwan Taipei mission."

I was elated. I didn’t know too much about Taiwan, except that it was an Asian country somewhere, and that one of the tallest buildings in the world was in Taipei. In fact, I didn’t even know that people in Taiwan spoke Mandarin (until I read to that part in the call letter, of course). Despite my geographic ignorance of Taiwan, I knew this was exactly where I should be going on my mission. Everything about it seemed fitting.

I remember getting more and more excited in the weeks preceding my departure date. I researched everything I could about Taiwan. I read the blogs of missionaries in the Taipei mission. My mom even started packing my bags for me.

Two years ago today, my parents drove me down to Provo on my reporting day. I ate at In-N-Out with Mom, Dad, and Daniel. We walked around the temple next to the MTC. They sang "God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again" in Chinese (my dad had painstakingly transcribed the Chinese pinyin into easily-pronounced Romanizations). I cried. Then, we drove to the training center’s entrance. I stepped out of the car, hugged my family, said goodbye, and walked off with my luggage.

Most missionaries say the time goes quickly. For me, I don’t think it went any faster than time normally goes. It seems brief in the moment. Looking backwards, it seems like an eternity.

Following visa issues, I awaited permission to come to Taiwan while proselyting in Tacoma, WA for three weeks. When my visa arrived, I was ecstatic. I boarded several planes, was reunited with my friends from the MTC, and touched down in Taiwan.

I was assigned to my first area in the bustling metropolis of 中和 [Zhonghe], where I was paired with the best-suited trainer I could imagine, Elder Gibson. Missionary work was much different than I’d expected, and much harder, but I kept on going. Elders Clark, Montierth, and I geeked out about science, Tolkien, and everything in between while juggling two areas in a tripanionship. Then, I spent another transfer with Elder Montierth in Zhonghe, learning dedication and discipline that would shape the rest of my mission.

President Day sent me down to 台東 [Taidong] with a mission: to prepare for the establishment of a stake on the East Coast. I had a blast working with Elder Illu, biking all over the jungle in this remote semi-tropical corner of the mission. I trained my son, Elder Stevens, and then witnessed the establishment of the 花蓮 [Hualian] stake in my last few days in the area.

When President Day left, I moved up to 土城 [Tucheng] to be zone leader with Elder Huntsman. It was the most ideal area and companion I could have imagined to help me take on this responsibility. Following Elder Huntsman’s becoming an assistant to President Jergensen, Elder Roe became my next companion. He helped me keep my faith and energy high, despite my stress and exhaustion, and we saw several great miracles, including the baptism of two of my favorite converts.

The last five transfers of my mission have been in the mission office, working as the mission Operations Assistant. I’ve had four companions, and I’ve seen four generations of assistants here. I programmed the reporting system and the referral system for our mission and compiled the three-column language study version of the Old Testament. I worked with my companion to create a new language study program for the mission, revamp and automate the way transfers are carried out, and rent over twenty new apartments. It’s been an amazingly productive time, and I’ve been privileged to work so closely with President Jergensen and to be paired with so many great companions.

Now, this is the last email I’ll send from Taiwan. I go home on Friday. So much has happened, it’s hard to imagine how it could fit in two years.

Elder Richards poses with that one really tall building.

How do I feel? (Everyone asks me this question now). The answer is, I feel pretty much the same I did before I started my mission: stoked. Am I sad to leave? Of course, just like I was sad to leave home two years ago. After living in Taiwan for so long, I feel so attached to this country and the people here that leaving will be painful no matter what. However, I’m excited for the next period of life. I’m excited to see my family and my friends again. I look forward to using everything I’ve learned on my mission to keep on improving and helping other people.

What plans do I have? I’m going to be studying electrical engineering at Caltech (in Pasadena, CA) beginning in late September. In the meantime, I’ll spend time with my family, hang out with friends, and catch up academically by re-learning everything I’ve forgotten on my mission.

Elder Smith and I above Taipei.

This email is long enough as is, so I’ll just close by saying how glad I am I came on a mission. It’s been tough. Looking back, though, I’m already starting to forget the pain and only remember the good stuff. I’ve seen a lot of miracles, and I’ve learned to be happy at all times: even when it’s pouring rain, I’m exhausted from hours of being rejected, and I’m stuck with an unbearable companion 24/7 (just kidding; all my companions have been awesome). I know God had me come on a mission for a reason, and I’m thankful for everything I’ve done and experienced here. I’ll always remember that packet sitting on the living room table. It changed my entire life.

Love,

Elder Elliott
利睿恆長老

Taiwan Taipei Mission
2014-2016

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Everything

This was an amazing week.

Early last Friday morning, Elder Smith and I flew in an airplane with President and Sister Jergensen down to 花蓮 [Hualian]. The clear air afforded us amazing views of 台北市 [Taipei city] and the mountain backbone of Taiwan as we flew over the Pacific off the east coast. Our propeller plane turned around over 玉里 [Yuli] and swung over a low range of jungle-carpeted mountains, then descended into the rift valley and coasted onto the runway in 花蓮 [Hualian]. The entire flight lasted 45 minutes.

Getting on the plane.

In flight.

View of Taipei from the air.

We helped President translate for the zone conference. He left to fly back to 台北 [Taipei] in the afternoon. We went out to proselyte and stayed in the apartment with the Hualian zone leaders that night. President said we could stay in Hualian for our P-day on Saturday and take a full day to explore the area. I wanted to explore Taroko Gorge. So, I talked with several local members, one of whom told us we could rent bikes at the top of the gorge, ride all the way down, and drop the bikes off at the train station.

We woke up really early the next morning and rode our bikes to the train station. We couldn’t find any buses going up that early, but a cruising taxi driver spotted us and honked his horn. We boarded his car, and he drove us up to the top of the gorge–at breakneck speed. I think he didn’t go below two times the speed limit the whole time. We whipped through tunnels and along the cliff edges so fast I could barely see the outside. We reached the top, and I located the hotel renting bicycles. We bade the driver farewell, and started riding our bikes down the empty roads.

Bridges in 天祥 [Tianxiang].

Going across the bridge.

It was the best P-day of my mission. We stopped and hiked all the hikes that were open along the way. I can’t describe how cool it was, so I’ll just show you these pictures:

This trail went through a pitch-black tunnel.

The light at the end of it.

It then loops around on a cliff above the road.

The cliff section.

Elder Smith and I wore our "White people can’t read this" shirts. Tons of people thought it was hilarious.

On a rope bridge

Bridge and narrow part of the gorge

This section of the road is super cool

Elder Smith surveys the scene

Riding through the gorge

There are many tunnels along the way. Some of them are super-long, too.

Biking along the winding road.

We explored this pedestrian bridge and tunnel.

Super-steep cliffs

We pulled over to look at the water below

This temple is really iconic.

Elder Smith near the base of the gorge

The temple

Trail goes through a tunnel

This hike went down by the super-clear water

Wading in the water

When we finished hiking Taroko gorge, it was only 1:00 PM, so we still had five hours until our train left. I decided to go to the beach. I asked someone on the road where the best beach was, and he told us it was a 20-minute bike ride up the road towards Taipei. So, we started biking, and we biked for nearly an hour, sweat dripping in the heat, until we reached the place he’d described. Unfortunately, it was only an overlook, so we rode back until we found a run-down shack by a broken wall that served as an access point to the shore.

View from the overlook.

We took off our shoes and plodded through the sand to where the waves broke on the beach. I stood on the wet sand, and the water splashed around my ankles as it slid over the shore in sheets.

We stayed there for over an hour looking over the ocean. I inspected the various rocks scattered on the dark sand: they were mostly greenish marble and streaked quartzite. I pocketed several interesting specimens.

The time came to head back. We replaced our shoes and socks and began the arduous bike ride back to Hualian City. We rode for over two hours along the side of the road. The gathering clouds suddenly burst, and rain poured down in unbelievable torrents. The road was running with water, and water sprayed up in sheets as we tore through deep puddles on our bicycles. We pedaled as fast as we could, anxious to change our clothes and make the departing train. At long last, we arrived at the Hualian elders’ apartment, took light-speed showers, changed into our shirts and ties, and rode to the train station just in time for the Taipei train. Upon sitting down inside the train car, I fell asleep almost immediately.

Other significant events this week:

The Old Testament. I prayed for weeks that the printing company wouldn’t bungle our order. 500 misprinted copies would be an absolute disaster. Tuesday morning, the doorbell rang, and the company said they were bringing in a shipment on the first floor. I ran out to the balcony, where I spotted a truck pulled up to the door and dozens of white packages being carried inside the entryway on pallets. Unable to wait, Elder Smith and I ran down to the first floor and tore one of the white paper packages open.

It was full of three-column Old Testaments. They were printed perfectly. We grabbed two of the hefty volumes, and we jumped for joy.

At long last, the three-column standard works are complete.

Packages of the Old Testament.

The ABC language study program. We printed Book A and Book B, and we unveiled the program at yesterday’s mission leadership council meeting. Elder Smith and I rehearsed many times in advance. It was a momentous occasion. The new materials were greeted with cheers and a fervor of excitement. Elder Smith and I conducted a Q&A session for an hour afterwards.

A new companion. Elder Richards will take Elder Smith’s place when I leave and Elder Smith replaces me. (It’s like electron flow in a conductor). Elder Richards has great Chinese and learns quickly, and I have great confidence in his ability to take over the office responsibilities with Elder Smith when I leave. For now, we’re in a tripanionship together.

That’s about all for this week. It was probably the most eventful week of my five transfers in the office.

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Secret tunnel

In an hour, Elder Smith and I will fly on an airplane down to 花蓮 [Hualian] to help President Jergensen set up and translate for the 花蓮 [Hualian] and 台東 [Taidong] zone conference. I never thought I’d go back to the East coast on my mission. Neither did I think I’d ever fly on a plane for these two years. It’s happening now, though!

Elder Smith and I will stay overnight in 花蓮 [Hualian] and spend all of our P-day tomorrow there. We’re going to go hike in 太魯閣 [Taroko gorge] and probably hang out at the beach too. I’m super-excited to go to Taroko, a place I’ve always wanted to see in Taiwan but never got the chance.

This past week went really fast. I made some breakthroughs on the language program, and the first books were printed this week. Here’s a preview (but this is still on the hush in the mission, since we haven’t announced it yet):

This is the overview chart thingy I thought up with Elder Smith and illustrated on the computer. This is how missionaries track their language progress.

The cover of Book A, which contains the basic Chinese for teaching people.

A preview: the first page of Book A.


So, that’s basically what I’ve been working on every spare minute this week.

For P-day, we went to a big bookstore and looked around. I bought a bunch of Chinese books for me to bring home and read after the mission. I’ve been trying to improve my Chinese character reading speed recently by reading the Liahona and the Gospel Principles book in Chinese. I bookmarked my current reading speed at about 360 characters per minute (6 cps), which is pretty OK (an average Chinese native reads at 386 characters per minute), but my goal is 450 characters per minute.

There were also some cool miracles this week. First, we found and rented a new apartment for the 三峽 [Sanxia] elders, even though the first one cancelled at the last second because the landlord didn’t want to report taxes. Second, we received a referral from my old stake president in the West stake who has a lot of potential to be baptized. Third, a missionary’s parents were traveling around in Taibei and they referred their driver to us. He’s really cool, and super-prepared to receive our teachings. So, those were some good highlights.

Anyway, this email’s going to be short because I have to get on a plane in an hour and a half. It’s been a great week, and I’m looking forward to the next! I’ll hopefully have a lot of Hualian pics to send.

Love,

Elder Elliott

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Charging ahead

Two of the elders in our mission filmed and produced a commercial for our free English class:

http://youtu.be/8VeAbsR9p5c

This was a painstaking and time-consuming endeavor involving a lot of staging, filming, and editing. It turned out really well, if I say so myself. We helped by driving them around and around the 中正紀念堂 [Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall] so they could get the last shot of them riding their bikes on the street.

One of the highlights of this week was traveling with President Jergensen to the various zone conferences so Elder Smith and I could translate. Yesterday morning, we woke up extra-early to drive down to 竹北 [Zhubei], near the west coast of Taiwan. The assistants were loading the car up and preparing to drive, and Elder Smith and I were printing out handouts in the office. My phone buzzed, and I picked up the assistants’ call. They were at the gas station next door.

"Do you know what number of gas to put in the van?" Elder Liston asked. "Is it 92, 95, or 98?"

I remembered us adding diesel to the van many times, but I couldn’t remember seeing any number. "Uh, I think it’s 95," I guessed. "OK," Elder Liston said, and he hung up.

A few minutes later, President and Sister Jergensen dashed down from their house, and we took off. "Good thing we woke up early," Elder Roe said as President drove along. "The tank was almost empty, but we filled it all the way up!"

"Wow, thanks!" Sister Jergensen said. "It’s always a pain to fill up the van, because you have to drive all the way to Bade Road."

We looked confused. "We just went next door," the APs said.

"Wait, did you add diesel, or gas?" President interjected.

"Gas," Elder Roe replied, and we suddenly realized the problem. The van can’t run on gasoline at all, but the assistants had filled the tank all the way up! I was aghast! "You told us it was 95!" the assistants cried. I protested that I had assumed they were adding diesel, and I didn’t know that diesel had no octane rating.

President quickly turned the van around and started driving back to the garage. "We’ll just park it here and have a mechanic siphon the gas later," he said. "We can split up and drive two cars to the meeting for now." We pulled into the parking garage and transferred all the supplies to President’s car, and he sped off to make the meeting. We drove the Ford with the remaining supplies. We made the hour-long drive to 竹北 [Zhubei] with minutes to spare. The van’s still sitting in the garage full of gasoline. This series of events was comical in retrospect.

For P-day, we walked to the 龍舟賽 [Dragon-boat races] that were being held in a stagnant canal for 端午節 [Dragon-boat festival]. It was cool, I guess, although the velocity of the boats was not exactly breakneck. There was even an English-speaking announcer, whose English was very fluent save for an overuse of the word "charging." She repeated it several times each match, regardless of whether the boats were indeed charging or not. Rowing the boats obviously required much coordination and endurance; many of the teams had trained for many months to compete in the races.

The members took a plethora of photographs with their phones.

My lack of coordination manifests itself in a game of ring toss for prizes! Elder Smith won two bottles of Martinelli’s and several other carbonated beverages. I won a little plastic robot worth $0.01.

All together with the members.

When we’d watched enough of the races, we went charging back to the office, where I talked to a member from 土城 [Tucheng] about audio editing software for the remaining hour of P-day. Elder Smith lay down beneath his desk, exhausted.

Recently, the zone leaders in our ward have been helping the members provide their own referrals by using a tract we printed which outlines progressive, gradual steps to share the gospel with friends and eventually invite them to meet with missionaries. Our ward members are awesome, but the ward has an unfortunate reputation for being uninvolved towards missionary work and especially convert retention, which we’re trying to reverse.

That’s about all for this week. Hope you have a great day!

Love,
Elder Elliott

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H to K (Hie to Kolob)

Elder Smith and I decided to walk over to 中正紀念堂 [Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall] for P-day. We explored the building and watched the changing of the guard. The memorial itself bears a striking resemblance to the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC.

The soldiers marching around during the changing of the guard.

The sun was really bright outside.

The view of the plaza from the entrance to the memorial.

We explored the park, which was dotted with unusually garish reindeer-themed modern art.

We observed some gruff old men playing Chinese chess. Most of them had retired years ago and played for hours every day since. They were loud and coarse, grumbling obscenities when they lost and bursting into raucous laughter upon victory. After watching several games, Elder Smith challenged them to a match! One of their most seasoned players accepted the challenge. All the other men took Elder Smith’s side, though, giving him constant tips and even moving the pieces for him! They wanted to see their friend get beat by a foreigner so bad. Elder Smith’s elderly opponent was not pleased. "Stop helping him," he complained. "This the Sino-American war!"

Elder Smith lost the first game and tied the second. We shook hands with the men and headed back to the office.

This week, we drove back to my and Elder Smith’s first area, 中和 [Zhonghe], twice. First we delivered some mattresses to the elders, then we brought a bike for the sisters. Walking up to the elders’ apartment at night and letting myself in brought back tons of memories. The outside of the building was completely unchanged, and I heard the same bustling and clanging of pans from the lighted windows by the entrance gate. At the inside door, I used the same bent coat hanger to reach inside and unlock the door, just like I did every day during training. It’s crazy that almost two years have gone by now.

We stopped by our favorite boxed-meal restaurant, which I used to go to almost every day with Elder Montierth. Sure enough, the staff were all the same, and the food was still as good as we remembered.

​It was a pretty cool experience to go back to my first area.

The other day, one of the elders in my generation told me, "See you in five weeks!" Only then did it really hit me how short the time is that I have left. I’m both excited and a little stressed because there’s so much I have to finish before then. I’ve been praying every day that I can get done everything I need to before my time’s up.

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Transfer Week: Lost Passport Edition

Having thoroughly exhausted the entertainment potential of central Taipei, we decided to visit some geothermal points of interest in 北投 [Beitou] for our P-day.

We rode the elevated MRT out into the boonies, and disembarked at the 新北投 [New Beitou] station. We walked through a grassy park, our path paralleling the thermal stream running down the valley. It was blazing hot, but there were still many old people soaking in the steaming hot springs.

We passed the Beitou library, an aesthetic structure reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic style of architecture. Elder Smith and I walked around and explored the interior, which was quiet and air-conditioned.

I had intended to go up to the thermal valley at the top of the park, but a zealous guard forbade us entrance, telling us the scenic point was closed. We walked back through the park, and scrambled over some rocks down to the side of the river. I stuck my hand in the flowing water. It was hot and smelled vaguely sulfurous.

Another building in the park was structured in a classic European style.

We tried out some Taiwanese exercise equipment in the park.

This leg-swinging apparatus is a favorite of the elderly.

We took the MRT back to Taipei to start working on transfers in the afternoon.

Transfers went well for the most part. Elder Smith finished filling the spreadsheet in on Tuesday night, so we generated and uploaded the instructions files according to schedule on Wednesday morning. Several departing missionaries’ parents came to pick them up, but the arrangements quickly complicated when a torrential downpour caused the airport terminal to flood with thousands of gallons of muddy water!

One elder’s parents had planned to arrive at the office at 8:30 that night, but we couldn’t get in contact with them and the member who was going to pick them up at the airport couldn’t find them anywhere. Their phone was turned off, and the member had arrived half an hour late to the airport. After nearly an hour of searching the flooded and chaotic airport, the member finally located the elder’s parents, who we contacted over Skype. They finally reached the office at about 10:20 PM, and were reunited with their son.

The next morning, we walked into the mission office and found everyone on a desperate hunt for a returning missionary’s lost passport. After taking the passport from the office safe the night before, she couldn’t find it when she started boarding procedures at the airport! I called the bus driver, who thoroughly searched every inch of the bus that had delivered the missionaries. President Jergensen scoured the temple housing where the missionaries had stayed and, failing to find the lost passport, dug through all the returning missionaries’ bedding in the laundry room. Meanwhile, Elder Smith and I turned the office upside down, frantically sifting through filing cabinets in our search for the priceless document. The plane was departing in an hour, and the chances of the sister making it on board seemed impossibly slim. The police at the airport started screening everyone entering and leaving for a stolen American passport.

At last, President received a call from the Vatchers at the airport. Elder Vatcher had said a prayer and had a prompting to search the sister’s handbag again. He found the passport in the handbag, where it had been all along.

Like all transfers, it was stressful, but everything worked out OK in the end. It was great to meet the new missionaries coming to Taiwan and to see the old missionaries returning home after their service. It’s hard to imagine that my generation of missionaries is now the oldest in the mission.

Love,
Elder Elliott

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The boxen

A woman from the Marriott hotel in Taipei emailed the office and asked if we would be willing to bring copies of the Book of Mormon to place in the hotel rooms. She asked if we could get 500 copies together in time to bring them over next week.

"Next week?" Elder Smith replied. "We can bring them over tonight."

It just so happened that we needed to drive some mattresses over to 永和 [Yonghe] in the van as well, so we decided to do both in the same trip. We drove down to the our improvised warehouse in the parking garage, and crammed the beast with four bulky mattresses and eighteen boxes of scriptural cargo.

After cruising on the highway to 南港 [Nangang], we circled around for a few minutes before we found the entrance to the huge hotel’s parking garage. We drove inside, talked our way past the security guard ("We’re here to deliver supplies"), and found our way into the spacious hotel lobby. After talking to a bellboy and the front desk, we located the staff member who had requested the scriptures. She was grateful for the donation, and even offered us reduced-price dining with the hotel staff!

Last night, President Jergensen called me up and told me that we would need lunch for 40 people, including two members of the Seventy and the Taizhong mission president, at 11:00 today! I was a bit nervous, because all the restaurants had already closed and most wouldn’t open until 11:00 at the earliest. Most of the local restaurant personnel have already requested that I give them two working days of advance preparation time for large orders. Nevertheless, I assured him it could be done.

I woke up early and made a last-ditch call to 八方 [Bafang, a cheap Taiwanese dumpling restaurant]. Miracle of miracles, an old woman answered the phone after a minute of ringing. She wasn’t particularly lucid, but I was able to convey my order for 45 boxes of pot-stickers. She called the boss in, and they started work early to prepare the order. Sister Jergensen prepared salad and fruit, and it all worked out OK. So, that was a relief.

This week was otherwise quite uneventful. Elder Smith and I double-checked all the Old Testament samples and submitted the printing request, so hopefully we’ll have 500 copies of our language-study edition before long.

That’s about all for this week!

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Circle Mountain Big Rice Store

There’s a new senior couple, the Vatchers, coming into the mission tonight. I had originally planned to have them stay in the apartment left behind by the Hsiaos, a couple who were planning to leave this month, but the Hsiaos decided to prolong their stay in the mission by two months. With no time to spare, I had to find a new apartment within a week!

After an intense online chase, I hunted down a suitable target and arranged a time to go look at the apartment an hour later. Elder Smith and I both headed over, and found the apartment excellent. Hours later, I went over a second time with President and Sister Jergensen. They loved the apartment, too, so I made the rent arrangements on the same day! The apartment search concluded faster than any other I’ve made. All the furniture was brand-new, and I even haggled new cupboards, a dining table, and a set of four chairs into the deal.

When we went over to sign the contract, the apartment looked great, except for an odd plywood scaffolding of sorts that was partially obstructing the entry hallway. It hadn’t been there the day before, but it was now screwed into the wall. Little piles of sawdust lay beneath the holes where it had been mounted to the newly-painted drywall.

"What’s this?" I asked the agent, pointing to the hastily glued-together lattice of splintery plywood.

"It’s a decoration," he said. "The landlord came in and installed it the other day."

"Uh, is he going to do anything else with it?" I asked.

"No, he just made it himself as a special decoration."

Elder Smith and I doubled over trying not to burst out laughing. The flimsy structure looked like a third-grade art project, held together with staples and drippy brown glue. We’re probably just going to take it down and hide it behind the couch for two years until the Vatchers leave.

Many other things happened this week. We finished the Old Testament, and submitted the files for printing. I changed the cover from yellow lettering on a violet background (the unpleasant color scheme the mission has used in the past) to pure white lettering on a dignified navy ground, a palette I hope to adopt for the other three-column pinyin standard works we print.

Elder Smith and I rode out to 淡水 [Danshui, or Tamsui if you like Wade-Giles pinyin] for P-day. We sat with our feet in a pool filled with fish that eat the dead skin off your feet. They use their raspy mouths to scrape your feet, producing an unusual tickling sensation. People claim this procedure removes large amounts of epidermal detritus and contributes to improved podiatric health. I carefully observed my feet before and after, and there was no visible difference, leading me to believe that these claims are bunk.

Standing in front of the brackish water at 淡水, which literally means fresh or non-saline water (it’s where a river empties into the ocean).

We ate a local delicacy known as an 阿給 [agei]. It’s a tofu bag stuffed with clear noodles and submerged in what seems to be tomato sauce. The texture is similar to guts in the belly of a leathery critter, but the taste is good.

An agei.

Afterwards, we rode the ferry out over the water (with President’s permission).

I bought a towering ice cream cone, then struggled to eat it faster than it melted.

The ice cream had a very stiff consistency to maintain its structural integrity.

There were some cool street performers. This gold-painted man moves in a convincing clockwork fashion when passerby insert coins into a box.

Yesterday, we helped set up for the 60th-anniversary devotional for missionary work in Taiwan. The first missionaries set foot on this island in 1956. This morning, sixty years later, we sang in a choir with local members to commemorate their efforts, and one of the original four missionaries (Elder Kitchen) spoke about his experiences–in Chinese! President Jergensen, several local stake presidents, and an area seventy also provided remarks.

Elder Smith and I inside the meeting hall, after hauling in the piano with a van and a dolly.

The venue was the Grand Hotel, an imposing structure Elder Smith and I refer to as the "Circle Mountain Big Rice Store" (its Chinese name translated over-literally into English).

Elder Smith and I pose in the front room of the Grand Hotel with the APs.

That’s about it for this week. It’s been a great week!

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Brother to dragons

Elder Smith and I decided to go to 九份 [Jiufen] for P-day. We were planning on taking a bus and walking (about 2 hours), but we met a very persuasive taxi driver at the bus station. Forty minutes later, we both arrived in Jiufen $200 NTD poorer.

It happened to be a holiday of some kind. There was a parade of costumed giants, accompanied by the blaring of 嗩呐 [Suona, which sound like a bagpipe-vuvuzela hybrid] and an overabundance of firecrackers. A drunk guy ran among the exploding pyrotechnics, swaying and weaving as he clutched a flask of alcohol.

Tall guy and firecracker guy.

Looks pretty safe.

The tall-costume guys walking down the street.

We walked around the narrow alleys in Jiufen and had some stones engraved with our names. Elder Smith spent an hour trying to come up with a suitable Chinese name for his brother when he realized that the original name he’d chosen sounded like the Chinese for “blind” (and thus carried negative associations, making it an invalid candidate).

Alley in Jiufen.

Elder Smith ate one of the black squid ones and said it was pretty good.

When it was time to go back, I realized a small snafu: the taxi drivers on the way back charged by car, not by person, and it was $1,200 NTD per car. I found a group of foreign men and asked them in English if they wanted to go back to Taipei. They did, so we rented the same cab and split the cost equally, $200 NTD per person. The men turned out to be electrical engineers from Mexico.

Since Sunday was Mother’s Day, we were able to Skype with our families on Monday. It was really awesome. My brother’s almost as tall as me now, and his voice is crazy low. We had a great time talking with our family members. For lunch, 陳媽媽 [Sister Chen, who missionaries affectionately refer to as “Mother Chen”] took all the missionaries from the area to hot-pot buffet.

We went on exchanges with our zone leaders, which hasn’t happened in a long time (in the past, it was rare for office elders to go on exchanges with their ZLs). Elder Zhou and I went finding in a downpour, and we met a Chinese-speaking minister from Turkey. His Chinese was pretty decent; he could read some of our tract, but rejected it anyway (“I already believe in Jesus,” he told us). I told him he could at least practice his Chinese by reading the tract.

In a restaurant with the district, prior to our exchanges.

I was editing the three-column Old Testament and encountered the following verse:

I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls. (Job 31:29)

Needless to say, I was disappointed to find that “dragons” was just a bad translation of “wild dogs.” I searched the whole Old Testament, and not a single instance of the English word “dragon” was actually translated as 龍 [dragon]. They were all just bad translations of either “big fish,” “big snake,” or “wild dog.” (“Fiery flying serpent,” on the other hand, is translated as 龍, so there may still be hope).

It was a great week. That’s about it for now!

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Rooftop picnic

Elder Smith and I went up to the mission-office roof and had a picnic of 刈包 [guabao, sometimes referred to as "Taiwanese hamburgers"].

We couldn’t really figure out how to use these.

Preparation day was pretty fun. We picked up our stretchy waterproof pants, ate at our favorite all-you-can-eat barbecue restaurant, then met up with some members (睿聰 [Rui Cong] and Taco) and walked around some shopping streets in our area. One of the major tech shopping centers in Taipei is here, so we had a good time looking at some ultra-high-spec components for building computers. There was a tent selling high-end motorcycles as well, so I asked the dealer if we could try them out:

Trying out the motorcycle

Don’t worry, Mom; we didn’t actually drive the motorcycles.

There was an upside-down house as well.

Elder Smith and I by the upside-down house.

We explored this brand-new mall, and had fun looking at all the expensive stuff we couldn’t afford. We did find some awesome Star Wars posters that were on sale, however.

Elder Wong, from the Seventy (a group of Church leaders), came to our mission this week. His Cantonese talk in the October 2014 General Conference was the first talk delivered in a non-English language. While he was here, he and President held three conferences to cover all the mission: one in Taipei, one in Taoyuan, and one in Taidong. Elder Smith and I went with them to the Taipei and Taoyuan conferences to help translate and take care of the food for the meetings.

A member took this picture of us and the sisters at the chapel.

Elder Wong also came to the Central Stake conference on Sunday. I was translating into English for the Jergensens during the meeting when Sister Jergensen asked me if I could stand up and translate into Chinese when she delivered her speech. Adrenaline rushed to my head like magma into a domal batholith. The whole stake center was full, with the dividers open, all with native Chinese speakers ready to tear apart any misplaced grammar construction. My hands were shaking as I stood up at the mic placed next to the pulpit.

Surprisingly, the translation went way smoother than I expected, with only one or two hitches (Sister Jergensen said something in Chinese, which threw me off, and I confusedly stuttered for a few seconds).

We met with Sister Huang, which went really well. She set a baptismal date and said she’ll accept baptism on the 28th of this month. The important thing now is making sure she doesn’t miss any church meetings.

That’s about all for this week.

Love,
Elder Elliott

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