Friday, April 30, 2010

Radio Tonight

Date: Friday, April 30, 2010 4:14:10 AM
Subject: listen to that radio tonight tonight tonight

In Hong Kong, as soon as school is out (about 4:00) all the young men go to the "Da Gei Po" (or "hit games place" in Cantonese) and compete with each other on how loudly they can play their music and video games. This is also where many missionaries go once a week to send an email to their family. What I don't understand is why each time there is at least one person (usually five or six) who seem to have recently discovered their soul-song, and wants to share it and only it with the world. I think the band who sings this song maybe only knows a few sentences in English, so I get a hour of "Listen to that radio tonight tonight tonight." Why don't they just get a good mix that everyone can enjoy or make people wear headphones?

Sorry this is late. We had visitors from Mainland yesterday, and then other missionary things until five today. We're finally getting around to our P-day things. Which is good, because all I have to eat is oatmeal and whole wheat flour.

We went to help a less active member learn English on Monday. Chinese kids are so naughty, man. I think worse than Americans. I don't know. I guess some Americans are pretty bad. And some Chinese kids are ok. Anyway, they also made us dinner (the best home cooked food I've had), and during dinner the grandma asked if both of my parents were foreigners. She thought I looked like I had some Chinese in me. The mom said, "Of course not, he's a white person." Then the son said, "Actually he's a red person." Everyone tells me that. Everyone comments on the whiteness of my skin and the pinkness of my cheeks. It's weird. Then the daughter asked the mom why all white missionaries have such perfect faces. "His eyelashes are so long!" Are my eyelashes long? People here just say what they think. It's pretty funny. After a lesson with Jenny, she asked if we would eat. Elder Ngai told her that we were trying to lose weight. She said (to Ngai), "But you're so skinny!" (to me) "And you're... well... not as fat as Elder Gunderson."

Did I ever tell you that some of the elders looked at our family picture and said it looked fake? Like we are a family that Disney built for a tv show. Investigators always comment on how happy we are. So there you go.

Mandarin work is funny. Our investigators take just as long as other people's, but we almost always reach or surpass our baptismal goals because of visitors. It really is a marvelous work to be involved in. I found myself begrudging them for having chosen our P-day to come. What a pain right? Then I realized that I have just gotten so used to this amazing thing. That happens to us a lot I think, as members of the church. We are surrounded with so many good things and opportunities that we get used to them and stop caring. It's good sometimes to think about everything good in our lives, all the stuff we have. Like, baptizing people from Mainland. How do you just get used to that? I don't even know.

On Sunday I was at church early, and was shocked to see Jessica Li walk in. She came to visit family, and decided to go to the Mandarin Ward. It was pretty cool to talk to her. Unfortunately Elder Wall is still in Macau, so he didn't get to see her. It was pretty weird to see someone from High School. Nice though. I remember when she would try to talk to me in Mandarin before, and I couldn't even kind of talk back. Now I am better. Still not as good as I'd like, but I really have improved a ton. Actually I have reached the prestigious level of Language Giant! Wow huh? Now I can start to study characters. It's actually pretty exciting. I will get my cookies next zone conference. They are so good. I've tried them before.

Love you all. Be good. I will too.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sweet Cupcakes

Date: Thursday, April 22, 2010 4:43:59 AM
Subject: I love sweet cupcakes. It is not possible without the cake.

Of course, that was a t shirt in a store I saw on the way here. The graphic above it was two hello kitty heads peeking out of a teacup. I'm weirded out.

This morning the bishop of the Cantonese ward chang-ed us out to (or bought food for us) yum cha (or drink tea, in other words eat yummy dumplings and buns and, unfortunately, chicken feet). It was almost all very delicious. He is a great guy. I felt bad I could not talk to him because he does not speak Mandarin.

We went to an island today. We climbed through a cave without any light whatsoever and rode bikes in the rain and looked around a cool "Bai Shen" temple. Bai Shen means worship God or gods, and it is what most older people are. It is the worship-your-ancestors religion, but they also have gods and scary demons. It was very tranquil to stand in a temple antechamber, looking at the colorful dragon on the wall, with the rain pouring down making pleasant tinkling noises in the turtle pond. If you can hit the turtle on the head with a coin it's good luck. When people look into the pond the turtles hide.

I ate a weird pizza. It was in a kind of ice cream cone made of dough. It was quite good, but had no tomato sauce, only a small bit of ketchup on the very top. A little weird.

I made some individual chocolate molten lava cakes for apartment dinner. They were great. I miss affordable ice cream.

Did I tell you I have a new Companion? Elder Ngai. He will go home in August. He is cool and we get along well. He is a lot better at getting people to meet with us than Elder Gunderson or myself. That is nice. Our investigator Jenny is progressing well. She has a baptismal date! Her biggest problem is work on Sunday. We are working on that problem right now. Overcoming concerns is hard. She also doesn't always take the commandments as seriously as she should... "It's ok, I only drink a tiny bit of alcohol every once in a while, and I never get drunk. It's no problem." Actually, it is. Sorry Jenny. But she wants to follow them, so I think she will be able to. It just is a lot to learn all at once. When I asked her who she thinks will go to the Celestial Kingdom, she said "Perfect People." "Have you ever met a perfect person?" I asked. "Yes," she said, "God." "Ok, what about a perfect earth-person?" She thought a moment. "Yes, you two." That was very nice. But she was very wrong, I'm afraid.

Well I am happy and try to always be cheerful. There is a rather expensive thin crusted pizza place in the mall by the temple I've been eyeing, and I'm still trying to find a really good Thai place. I love you all and am so excited to speak to you next month!


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What the Heck Are You Doing?

Date: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 10:42:09 PM
Subject: What the heck are you doing?

We have a new golden investigator this week. She has only been investigating for about a week and is already stumbling through Second Nephi with questions that I can't even begin to answer in English, let alone Chinese. We can't call her because she has a mainland cell phone, but she calls us most days. She, of course, isn't perfect. She works every Sunday and says she can't get it off. But she already has a baptismal date. My first successfully extended. It's pretty cool. The other day as Elder Gunderson started the opening prayer, I rested on my Book of Mormon which was on the table only inches away from my bowed head. She said, "Ganma?" which loosely translated means, "What the heck are you doing?" I thought it was pretty funny. Maybe it's not.

Well I get to stay in "The Castle" another transfer. But Elder Gunderson is gone. My new companion is Elder Ngai. He is a CBC, or Canadian Born Chinese. His parents are from Hong Kong. He likes hockey and playing piano. He wanted to come be my junior companion so he could "die"(go home from his mission) without any stress. Instead he is my senior and a district leader. Poor tired Elder Ngai.

Elder Fulmizi goes home tomorrow. You can tell it's a strange thing for "dying" Elders. There is quite a mixture of happy and sad. The dominant emotion depends on the missionary I think. Two months after Sam Fulmizi gets home, his girlfriend will go off to serve a mission at Temple Square. Kinda rough.

General conference was wonderful. It really is great to watch it as an Elder. I've already seen two of the four sessions I will watch as a missionary. That's crazy. Time is going fast. It's already been four months since Christmas. Four more and I'll be a year old missionary. That's pretty scary man. The last thing Elder Fulmizi said to me on the phone was, "See you soon". I think it was a slip, but it's actually probably true in a way.

This email place has started to smell like smoke. How sad.

Well, still just teaching people, looking for new people, trying to be obedient and hard working, eating good food, making good friends, having a great time. All those kinds of things. Elder Ngai is pretty unhappy about the music rules we have. But it's not that bad. We just have to make our own music with two guitars and a piano. It's pretty good actually.

Love you all! Miss you all!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mr. Zhang's Plan

Date: Thursday, April 08, 2010 7:26:06 AM
Subject: You have Mr Zhang's Plan, I have a ladder over the wall.

I still am not sure what that saying means. They used it in Priesthood on Sunday. I think it means something like 'you have a good idea, but I have the means." Or maybe it's more like "you've got the brains and I've got the... brahns?" Brons? Bronze? Anyway, I thought the translation was funny.

So you have all seen conference already. We have to wait until this weekend. The sessions are at eleven, two, and five. We have to go to the Chapel and watch it a week late with only an hour break. I am pretty excited.

What would you say the word glorified means? as in, "God has a glorified, perfected body"? The Chinese people do not understand the translation. Elders usually explain it as (roughly) He exudes light. I'm not sure it's that simple myself, but I'm afraid it's hard to explain glorified if you don't understand the word glory.

Time passes so quickly here. A 'moves' (transfer period? I don't know. We just use bad English) goes by so very quickly. It's hard to get anything done that feels like it's big enough. I feel like I just got here, but people in the ward already assume I'm a "Big Companion" (senior). It's scary, because I really could be. I could go senior in one week. I feel severely unready for that, but thus it is.

Despite past annoyances, I have become quite fond of Elder Fulmizi (the Australian Elder). He makes me laugh quite often, and I will miss him. He goes home this week. He asked me, "Is it a weakness to not think you have any weaknesses?" He's so great.

Elder Taylor (Griffin) wrote in an Email that it is always better to change the behavior rather than the situation. I don't know where that quote came from, but I have tried to use it in my life lately. When someone does something that upsets me, of course it is nice to change whatever they did, but it's better to change myself so that next time I won't get upset. When my investigator won't get baptised because she is afraid of water, the easy (and important) thing is to help her overcome the problem she has with water, but the real problem is a lack of trust in God and commitment to follow his commandments, no matter how hard they are. The baptism problem seems silly to me, but if our church had a mandatory surgery to become a member, I'm afraid I wouldn't join. If we had to eat a strange animal, my sister would not be a member. The important thing for us is to be willing to follow the Lord, no matter how hard it is. Of course, that takes longer. First we overcome the water problem, then we keep Amy active so that over time she can become perfected with the rest of the saints. But it's important to have the long term goals in mind and we help each other.

I love you all. The gospel is the only thing containing the fullness of truth. I don't understand it at all, but I know it's true.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Alex Goes Through a Dream

Date: Thursday, April 01, 2010 1:58:18 AM
Subject: Alex Goes Through a Dream

Dear Family,
I have misplaced my watch. Could you please send a new one? APRIL FOOLS!!!
Oh my.
I was never very good at those.

The sisters filled the space between our door and the safety door thing with shredded newspaper today. It was a pain. All the retaliations the other Elders were coming up with seemed incredibly harsh to me. Sometimes April 1st can be a hurtful day. I like the idea of giving them regular cookies and hinting that it's an April Fool's prank.

I was coming home from an activity on Tuesday night when some guys from the mainland started talking to us. I don't know why they did, it was pretty cool actually. So we gave them information and a pamphlet and such. Couldn't do too much for them personally because they are going back soon. So I was talking to one of them and I asked him where he was going. He told me he was going to see a movie. Of course, I asked which movie he would see. He told me the Chinese name and said, "I don't know how to say it in English, I think it's something like... Alex goes through a dream." "Hmm," I said, "Ok. Maybe... Oh, Alice in Wonderland?"
That was it.

Well, we are getting another new Mandarin Elder, so my Trainer, Elder So, has been called to be a Cantonese Zone Leader. I will miss him, but we got to go on 24's this week, so that was nice. He could still be my zone leader, but he might go back to Macao. I think the Mission President really likes him. He is smart and experienced and not afraid to say what he really thinks about things, but he will still support the decisions the President makes, even when he doesn't like them. He's a good missionary.

When we were together we went to visit a member nearby. On the way home we started speaking to each other in Mandarin. Just normal conversation, nothing special. After about ten minutes or so, a lady and her daughter stopped and told us our Mandarin was so good. We talked to them for a while and eventually got their number. The little girl was of course cute-kill-me (bad translation, that). They seem excited to meet with us. So there you go. SYL.

I am very happy now. I can really see the change. When I first got here I was very shell shocked and not used to being a missionary. I was, I am sorry to say, not very happy. I guess a little intense preparation right before leaving wouldn't have been a bag thing. Just some advice for anyone that can use it.

I can't really think of anything else and time is just about up. I love you all. The church is true.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

No Chubby Pictures

It's really expensive to eat healthy food. I mean, ideally you don't eat too much so the stuff you buy lasts a long time, but it's much easier and cheaper to just eat whatever you want. But I WILL NOT come home with chubby mission pictures! I hope. I've already gained a little. oy vey.
But on a happier note, I got lots of yummy healthy food like granola and cottage cheese and whole wheat flour and organic peanut butter (the kind where the paragraph of ingredients is just a long list of adjectives describing the one ingredient; Peanuts). I even decided to buy some more expensive honey in the hope that it really tastes like honey. But all of these things are expensive. But I'm happy.
We talked to an old guy the other day who told us that the only praying he had ever done was to thank Mao for the food. That was a shock. Their government really is their God.
I was talking to a former missionary named Stuki who asked if my dad came on a mission here. I guess Uncle Paul was his zone leader. Also, Elder Holley wrote about an Olympic Gold Medalist in his Stake Presidency named Brother (President?) Vidmar. His son is here. He's pretty cool. I don't know him too well, but he is the office Elder so I see him a lot.
There is a really awesome store here called Muji. It is so cool. It sells clothes, shoes, food, and household items. The Chinese name sounds like WuYinLiangPin and means "no label good product". If only they had them in America, I would have an answer to the question "What is your style?" I would say, "I'm kind of a Muji guy," and that would explain it perfectly. The opera music is not quite what I would choose to listen to normally, but other than that it's perfect.
We have an investigator who contacted Elder Mills on the MTR because she said she had a feeling she should talk to him. They exchanged numbers and then she called us about a month later to see what time church started. She is pretty golden. One day we were about to extend a baptismal commitment, but she asked about tithing first. She said she had heard about it in church and just wasn't sure what it was, but she was willing to pay it, but she absolutely wouldn't get baptized. We didn't have much time so we just told her about tithing and then she got to see a visitor get baptized. Well this week we found out that she has some kind of phobia of reclining and of being submerged in water. She had a friend that was attacked while in the bathtub or something. So being submerged in water backwards is, she says, out of the question. We're trying to figure out if this is just the tip of the iceberg (hee hee). Anyway. I thought that was an interesting problem. A phobia of baptism.
Well, I love you all. I know the church is true. Keep working toward perfection. I will too.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Some Great Bread

Dear family,
Since zone conference we have tried to be more 'urgent' about the message we share. It is sometimes hard, but it is always rewarding. Even when I get rejected every time on the subway, I still feel so much better about my life when I get home at night knowing that I did it, I opened my mouth. I do wish that I could get more of a desire to be urgent. Desire and urgency are words often used by my mission president. Right now I think I act more because of the guilt that comes when I don't act. That is fine if it makes me act, but according to Elder Bednar the point of works is to become something. No, we aren't saved by works, we are saved by grace. We are saved through grace in a certain kingdom of glory according to our works, and who we are. That's one thing I think people (myself included) struggle with. The lower kingdoms of glory are not punishment, they are reward for our works. We become eligible for glory through Christ's atonement, and then go and live in a kingdom that we choose for ourselves. It's good. And working because of guilt can hopefully one day become working because of a desire to please our Father and our Savior.
Well, that was not expected. It just came out. I hope there's no false doctrine in there anywhere.
Sister Hancock is in my zone and lives very nearby. I guess she is friends with the Taylors and met Dad or something. So that's pretty cool. She's nice. I guess she learned Mandarin before her mission, but now it is very heavily influenced by Cantonese. It's pretty funny.
I can't really think of things that happened this week. Elder Fulmizi told us that the new program they are starting will be "Clear as Concrete." I had to write it down. Thanks to Grandma for her advice on dealing with him. He really is a good guy and it's really not hard to get along with him if you try.
We were going to give one of our investigators a baptismal date yesterday, but before we even started the lesson she said something along the lines of, "What is tithing? I heard something about it, and i just don't understand it. I mean I kind of do. I understand it a little. Not that I'm not willing to pay it, I will, I just don't understand. But I definitely won't get baptized." That was a bit of a shock. Started out feeling a little nervous, then excited, then crushed. Turns out she just didn't know what baptism was though. Later that same day she got to see one of the visitors from Mainland baptized. It was great. She's great. I think she'll get baptized pretty soon. It's exciting!
We made corned beef and cabbage and potatoes for Saint Patrick's day. It was very delicious and actually quite cheap. I think we will do it more often. I haven't eaten anything super good or crazy lately. Although I have baked some great bread. I made a raisin cinnamon swirl bread. It was way good, but it fell apart a lot.
Love you all!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A note from Noah's mom
We finally got pictures from Noah, so I can use them on this blog. Here, you see evidence of Noah and other Elders getting plenty to eat, despite anybody's 15 steps.

Date: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 10:18:31 PM
Subject: a letter

Hello everyone.

Elder Gunderson and I are setting goal to be more diligent. It's so easy to just not do anything productive while you wait for things to happen, and just not talk to anyone on the bus, and just not go finding when you have free time. I think it's also pretty easy to go to the terrestrial kingdom. I remember thinking in the MTC that maybe the difference between going to one of the two extreme kingdoms or the middle one is work vs. not work. Are we doing good things? Are we doing bad things? Are we doing nothing? I don't know. Just a thought I had. Ok, more than just a thought. There was also several sketches and graphs and pictograms. A well thought out 'just a thought'. But just a thought, none the less.

And so, of course, we are already seeing the fruits of our redoubled efforts. It seems too quick, but that's how God works. For some reason I've fallen into a trap of often thinking that no matter how hard I work, God will just wait and bless me later. I know that if I'm good I will inherit glory after this life. What constantly surprises me is the blessings I receive now from it.

I clled an investigator the other day who gave the phone to her friend (Giving us 1 refferal received and 1 referal contacted in one swell foop). Her friend wants to learn English and become a Christian. We met her at English class and told her about how we teach people four lessons and then, if they think it's true and can keep the commandments, they can be baptized. She asked if two months is enough time, because then she is moving. According to our mission president, three weeks is enough time, so we said yes. It was awesome.

I met a man from South Africa the other day. He was Christian and very proud of me as a missionary, until I mentioned 'Mormon' and what we actually believe. After talking to him for a while we said we had to go, but we could meet with him again. So we met with him again. He didn't come to listen. I went there with a determination to not get angry, but he was like a Pharisee, setting up traps for us. We are not as good at preaching as Christ was. He kept saying that works have nothing to do with salvation, he can "sleep with as many women as I want" and still be saved, that people just feel guilty if they don't do works, and that God doesn't love us any more for what we are doing. Oh boy. It was rough. In the end he wouldn't accept anything from us. Not the Book of Mormon (which he said could very probably be true), no pamphlets, not even our number. But it was still a good experience for me for two reasons. First, it helped me to understand that some people really don't care how much more clear and sensible our doctrine is, they won't listen to it. It also (still part of the first reason) helped me really think about our doctrine and what it really means and how sensible it is. The second reason is that in between meetings with him I was reading "Our Search for Happiness" by M. Russell Ballard and I felt I should offer it to him. At first I told myself that that was silly, we just need to give him a Book of Mormon, that is the most important thing. But after praying about it I decided to bring a copy along just in case (we have extra from old missionaries in our apartment). When he wouldn't accept anything from us I pulled it out and explained that it was written by a member (I didn't mention that he was a leader) and it was just to help people understand Mormons as a people better (as it says in the beginning of it). For some reason he accepted that and promised to read it. I don't know if he will, or if it will help him, but it was still a really cool experience for me. Maybe it will help him, maybe it will help someone he knows. I don't know. But I believe God wanted him to have it and it felt really good to follow that prompting.

I am trying to follow the '15 steps to eating healthy' written by Sister Bird in our district. It is based on the Church's 15 steps to quit smoking. She says it will help me to lose weight and be healthy. Some of it is stuff I don't want to do, like don't eat sweet things (soda, candy, cake) EVER. I think I can give up soda, but NEVER eating cake or ice cream or chocolate again is not something I want to do. It's not worth it. Just eat a tiny bit maybe, but complete abstinence is just silly to me. She says not even 70% chocolate. Hah.

Well, I love you all. I know the church is true. My mission is already more than 1/4 of the way over and that freaks me out.