I LOVE TAIWAN!!! It is so incredible here. I have no idea how I can possibly describe it all, so I guess I'll just have to start at the beginning.
On the day we left, we all got into a bus and took off to the airport, and in our group there were about 45-50 Mandarin speakers going. Everyone was excited and slightly nervous; especially when we left the walls of the MTC (we hadn't been outside the campus for 3 months). The flight to LAX was good, no problems. I sat down next to a couple on their way to Hawaii, but it was clear they were very uninterested in talking with me; perhaps it was the obvious Mormon missionary appearance. So I only said a little hello and how they were doing, and pretty much remained quiet for the duration of the trip.
We had a three hour layover at LAX, so we went phone hunting to see if we could call home for a little while. It was great to hear familiar voices of those I love so much. But I had to go pretty soon after because the gate was calling for us, and for some reason they had to take my carry-on because it was too heavy, so I had to sign for the luggage and board the plane.
And then commenced the longest plane ride ever . . . it was 14 hours, and I had no movies or games to distract me from the limited leg room. All the people in my row were missionaries, so I couldn't do any proselyting. I was sitting next to Sister McKay (also going to Taichung), so I talked with her for a lot of the trip. Turns out she's related to the prophet David O. McKay. I felt kind of dumb for not making that connection. Sister Newman sat in front of me, but she slept the whole way there. As for me, I couldn't sleep at all. And when we landed, it was the worst landing I've ever experienced. Since the plane is so big, the pilots use cameras mounted on the bottom of the plane to see the runway, and for the passengers' enjoyment they put the video feed on the TV screens. So I watch as the camera, knocked askew in mid-flight, captures the plane hitting the runway at the wrong angle, and the plane starts swerving back and forth to stay on the runway. That was pretty fun, to say the least.
All of us going to Taichung got on a bus and went to the mission home located in the heart of the city. At night in Taiwan, most trucks and buildings are decorated with flashing green, red, and blue LED lights. It felt like I entered some form of "arcade land". Half the people on our bus were native Taiwanese missionaries, and we got to talk with them a little bit. We all introduced ourselves, and learned a little bit from our mission president (who is super awesome, by the way) about what Taiwan is like. That night five others and I stayed at our mission financial secretary's home.
For the next day, we had orientation and tried out the native food. Imagine the humidity of western Washington, multiply it by two and crank up the temperature to 95 Fahrenheit. And the streets are crazy. The majority of traffic is scooters and motorcycles, and then some cars. You really have to keep on your toes, there's a lot of frantic driving. One thing I love about the streetlights here is that a lot of them have countdowns next to red lights. This is especially helpful when you are contacting people on scooters, so you know how much time you have left to talk with them before the light turns green. Also, if you are a pedestrian waiting to cross the street, they have this little animated picture of a man walking when it's time to cross: when there are only a few seconds left, the man starts walking faster and faster until it's in a full-on sprint. Very funny, and gets the message across.
That night we got up on a soap box in the night market and preached, just to get the heebie-jeebies out of us, and then we went contacting. I believe the mission office published a video, it may be online . . . a very fun and yet insane experience.
I met my new companion a few days ago, his name is Elder Cox. He'll be training me for the next twelve weeks. He reminds me a lot of my dad in his mannerisms. He likes to use a lot of witty humor. He's very experienced, and speaks really good Chinese and Taiwanese. We are stationed in downtown Gaoxiong, a large city towards the south of the island. Our area is strictly city, no rural areas. I've had to get used to biking in the road amongst all the scooters. It hasn't been that hard, but apparently I haven't experienced a real rush hour yet... we'll see how that goes.
We have a nice apartment, and our neighbors are pretty quiet too. We've had a few cockroaches but they haven't been very big, and not very many. And the air-conditioner is heavenly.
We had stake conference on Sunday, which was held in a High School auditorium outside our area, so we had to take the subway. The meeting was two hours long, and I didn't understand a single word. My brain pretty much imploded: I had to fight off sleep by stabbing my hand with my pen. After the meeting I got to meet the bishop and a lot of members and recent converts, which was a lot of fun. They were all really nice, and it was fun to see them struggle with pronouncing my name. But they were laughing as well when I struggled to hold a conversation. The other day I contacted a guy on a bike at a stoplight, and at one point he said something I didn't understand, so I said, "Sorry, I don't understand, my Chinese isn't too good," to which he laughed and responded, "I know!" and drove off.
Right now we have a few investigators working towards baptism, and one of them is scheduled for it in four weeks. We taught him about prayer and how it's a commandment, and he responded well. He seems to really get this, and I can see the Spirit working in him. Today we are giving our first lesson to a guy named Zeng, and I'm leading the lesson. Wish me luck!
I've already made another friend as well. He goes by Tyler, and he's this crazy, funny early 20's Taiwanese guy who works in the Navy. He wants to serve a mission in a year, and he loves hanging out with the other missionaries. In fact, he's determined to have me as his "little brother", and really wants to be a part of our family. So watch out mom, you might be getting some Facebook messages soon.
I love these people, It's truly a wonderful place. I hope someday I can come back with my parents after my mission.
And I love all of you too! Hope you are all doing well, and I wish you a fantastic week!