Thursday, October 25, 2012

Week 17: in which I cure insults with smiles and chocolate ice cream

Hello family and friends! It's p-day! And today was especially awesome. Want to know why? Because... we saw... the Terracotta Soldiers! Wow, what an incredible opportunity. I couldn't stop smiling the entire time! And wow, was that exhibit cool. They had this room with floor-to-ceiling projection screens where they explained the history of the tomb, how it was made, and various ways that it got partially destroyed. It had the most epic music--practically Lord of the Rings status--and it felt like you were actually there! There were about 20 of the actual figures, including warriors, musicians, acrobats, civil servants, and horses! I think it's amazing how no two figures were alike. The emperor (I think his name was Qin) seemed a little crazy. He was pretty obsessed with living forever--and by pretty obsessed, I mean he was practically on Voldemort's level. But he did some neat things, so it's all good.

We also went to a marketplace where I tried to buy some cardigans, but they wanted $55 for them! Which is like $7 US, but still! They were way overpriced. Just trying to rip off us little white girls, but we weren't letting them win! So we went somewhere else and did some Christmas shopping. So fun!

Speaking of shopping in Hong Kong, I bought a couple dresses a few weeks ago, and I thought they were pretty cute! I wore one to church on Sunday (I'm wearing it in the picture with Kai Jimuih--we match!). In the mornings, we missionaries stand in the doorway saying hello to everyone, and one of the the brothers comes in and I greet him as usual. Let me describe this brother really quick. He's great, I just love him. He reminds me a little of a Sunday School teacher I once had (Sarah, you'll know what I mean). So I say, "Jousahn!" And he looks at me, points at my stomach, and says, "Pregnant!" (Sarah, now do you know who I'm talking about?) And we four missionaries (the elders were there too) DIED. It was so funny. I mean, I suppose it was probably rude too, and in America that would be insulting, but Chinese culture is different. People comment on your appearance all the time, but this man does it especially often. He asked me a few weeks ago (after looking at my family picture) if I was adopted, and then proceeded to tell Sister Taylor that she "looks like James Bond's girlfriend" and me that I have "baby face... but don't worry, it's cute." So I just smile and laugh and agree, because it's just plain funny!

But don't worry, I got this brother back in Sunday School. He's the teacher (what a coincidence!) and he always asks people, even Chinese people, if they understand what he's saying. So yesterday he kept making eye contact with me and saying, "Mihngmhmihnbaahk?" (Understand?) To which I would always, very honestly and unashamedly say, "MHMIHNG." (Don't understand!) It was so funny, and it turned into a little game where he would try to embarrass me but it wouldn't work haha. And then one time I actually did understand! And I told him so! And then (for some reason that I didn't understand) he was drawing a cockroach on the board, and then when we missionaries asked what it was, he told us, "It's a crocodile!" And then we teased him so much for that! We tried to explain the difference between a cockroach and a crocodile... and then I asked him, "Mihngmhmihngbaahk?" And the whole class burst out laughing! It was so funny.

One of the talks from the Relief Society broadcast has been on my mind a lot lately, especially with some of the people we've been teaching. (In case you're curious, we definitely are teaching people haha, I just want to keep their lives private, so I don't really share much about them in these emails). Linda Reeves talked about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and how Christ showed his love for them. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha were heartbroken. Christ came several days later, and Mary and Martha ran to him, weeping. Now Jesus knew that he was going to heal Lazarus, that it would all be okay. He saw ahead, saw the timeline, and saw the purpose to their suffering. But how did he react? I'll tell you what he didn't do. He didn't say, "Hey, cheer up! It'll be okay!" He wept. He felt their sorrow, felt their pain, and hurt with them. Then he lifted their burden. He loved them so much that he let himself feel that exquisite sorrow even though it wasn't necessary. And he's like that with each of us. He knows our trials, their purposes, and their timelines. He knows they'll soon be over, but he still weeps with us. He weeps with the parents of the wandering child, he weeps with the child whose parents don't understand. He weeps with those who lose loved ones, those who feel alone or inadequate or forgotten. He knows how to help us and wants to help us and asks us every day to give our burdens to him. I know this because he's done it for me, and he continues to do it every day. I see him changing my life and the lives of those we're teaching, helping them come unto him.


Sister Cutler and Sister Taylor

                                                                        Zone Meeting  

                                             Member family who brings us food on Sundays!

                                                                     HONG KONG

                                      Some of our Young Women during General Conference


Week 16: In which I feel the happiest I've felt yet and in which I take a shower with the light on for the first time in 4 weeks

Yes! It's true! Our bathroom finally has a functioning light! We've been showering in the dark since I've been here, so it was nice to finally be able to tell the color of the shower tile: light green. Very pleasant. Let me tell you, shaving in the dark is hard. So basically, I also shaved for the first time in four weeks. Too much information? My bad. We missionaries are very open about things. Or maybe that's the Chinese culture? I don't know, but either way, just let me know if it makes you uncomfortable, and maybe I'll stop.

This tidbit of news will only excite about three, maybe four people who read this email, but I find it important enough to include it in this email, and as the second paragraph! Sister Clements (one of the other sisters in our apartment) has seen Dinotopia! And we spent a good hour discussing the implications of having a utopia where talking herbivores and vegetarian humans peacefully cohabitate. And then we pondered how they made their shoes, and we came to the conclusion that they either used some sort of hemp, or perhaps leather from carnivores. Also, why couldn't the carnivores talk? I can't even remember, but I'd really appreciate an answer if anyone knows. I'm completely serious.

So the other day during personal study, we were listening to Oh Holy Night (Yes, in October, don't judge. We have a very limited supply of music, and many hours of studying.) and at the same time I was reading Acts 3. And right when the choir sang, "Fall on your knees" I read the Acts 3:6, where the apostles heal the crippled man and command him to "Rise up and walk." And okay, you can think this is cheesy or whatever you want, but I got the biggest chill and just sat there for about five minutes, staring at the wall, pondering that juxtaposition, those seemingly contradicting messages. How often we are in that transition between kneeling and standing up. We kneel in prayer, and then get up and act. We're humbled as we realize how imperfect and incapable we are, and then we're lifted up as we realize that we aren't alone, and that with Christ we can do all things. We experience a trial, a valley, and then we're blessed, and we've finally reached the top of that mountain. It's always in the transition between kneeling and standing, or standing and kneeling, that we learn and grow. It's like lifting weights. If you just hold the dumbbells, you might get a little stronger? Maybe? I don't know. But it's as you do reps that you get stronger. And the more reps you do, the more you'll be able to do. It's as we go through difficult and uncomfortable changes in our lives that our spiritual muscles grow. Adjusting to mission life is definitely a challenge, but I feel like I'm growing so much more.

In other news, our Preparation Day is finally being changed to Monday! Which means I'll have another p-day in three days haha. This is the greatest week ever! But no, it really is. We finally got to watch General Conference this Sunday, and WOW was that a turning point for me. I learned so much. I loved Elder Uchtdorf, and how he reminded us not to be like "the boy who dipped his toe in the water and claimed he went swimming." This is really how I want to live my entire life. "Whate'er thou art, do well thy part." No matter where we are, we need to just embrace it. C.S. Lewis says to "rub our nose in the quiddity of it all." I don't want to just be in Hong Kong. I want to learn all there is to learn, do all there is to do, see all there is to see. I want to make the best of every day, because as it says in the good ol' Book of Mormon, "Men are that they might have joy!" Life is hard, but so, so good.

And that's a lesson I really want to help those that we teach understand. Because life in Hong Kong is really, really hard. They work all the time. They attend school all the time. It's so expensive to live here, and there are so many cultural expectations. Their definition of success conflicts with their ability to find happiness. They are constantly busy, too busy to listen, too busy to see what else is out there. I feel like I'm holding out this beautiful, delicious chocolate 7-layered cake with walnuts in the icing, and people are walking past saying, "Mouh sihgaan!" (No time!) Seriously. Just take a bite. Just try it. Your life will never be the same. Your life will have purpose. Your schedule can be filled day in and day out, but if you don't have a purpose, then you might as well just sit at home and do nothing. And I want to help. More importantly, Christ wants to help.

Something that I love about Hong Kong is the marketplace. It's crazy, hectic, loud! People yell at you and try to interest you in all sorts of strange meats, weird body parts, and all of it is raw, dangling strangely in the air, blowing gently in the breeze caused by the buses that speed recklessly by. Honestly, it's a miracle that the street isn't covered in corpses, because the drivers here are crazy! But I have yet to see even a fender-bender. I think we need more Chinese drivers in Virginia, because they'd probably really cut back on the number of car accidents, and I-64 would always be clear!

Today we went to a Korean barbeque and I ate ox tongue and fish eggs! And it wasn't that bad! I actually really liked the ox tongue, but I'd take a peanut butter sandwich over fish eggs any day.

Well, it's time to go, but I love you all! Thank you so much for your support and prayers! I am so happy, so content, so busy, so tired, so alive! I love Hong Kong, love the people, love my family (more than I ever have before), and LOVE my Savior!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Week 15: In which we see some miracles (as usual) and in which yet another person comments on my physical appearance... That's Hong Kong for you!

Hello everyone! Today has been an exciting week, of course. I bet if I read over all the emails I've ever sent, the majority of them have started with that exact same sentence. For my readers' sake, I will try to be more creative... next week.

First things first, t-shirts of the week! The first one is very simple. Big, black print saying these four words: "Whale. Oil. Beef. Hooked." Yeah, I don't know either, but it's weird! The other one was gray with a black kangaroo wearing a business suit and holding a sign that says, "March." If anyone has any idea what these mean, please let me know. I think there might be an existentialist phase going on here, because everyone wears either very deep or very meaningless clothing around here. Right now I still think it's a little weird, but no worries. By the time I come home, I'll be as wacky as the best of them! And please feel free to inform me of the fact. But don't expect me to do anything about it.

So that thing that I mentioned about people commenting on my appearance? I think it must just be a culture thing, a way to show affection or something. Either way, it doesn't bother me. It just cracks me up! Last week, one of the ward members told me that I look baby-faced. And since then, at least four other people have said the same exact thing! One of our new investigators asked me why I decided to serve a mission even though I'm so young! And of course, as every missionary knows, that is just the BEST question to have anyone ask you, because you can just bear testimony of the things that mean the most to you and hammer them with the Spirit. It was an awesome opportunity, and I just pray every time I talk to someone that they'll ask me that question.

So Sister Taylor and I have discovered that, as far as taste in tv shows is concerned, we're pretty much the same person: Dr Who, Agatha Christie mysteries, Doc Martin, Sherlock, to name a few. Weird, huh? It's like the Lord knew we'd get along or something. Oh wait...

We didn't get a chance to watch General Conference this week, so I am EXCITED BEYOND BELIEF for this Saturday and Sunday! Of course we heard about the changes to missionary age requirements, and I am beyond thrilled! It seems that the younger generations are prepared earlier, and the Lord needs more missionaries to spread this gospel! Really, there are so many people in Hong Kong alone that we can't even get to. There are just so many people, and so many need to hear this message and need to feel the love and change. I've already seen some of our friends progress just in these past few weeks, and it's incredible what the gospel has done for them. We've been teaching Wendy for four years now, and she brought a friend to this past lesson and basically spent the entire time testifying of everything we said. This change is incredible. She has suffered so many trials, but last night when we were teaching her and she shared with her friend about Christ, she was literally glowing. It was a miracle. That's the only thing that could have brought about this change, the work of God. I am so grateful to be able to witness these miracles. I don't know what I did to deserve such a blessing, but let me tell you, it's worth every trial. And there certainly are trials here! I've been feeling pretty sick this past week, ice cream prices are soaring, I only get mail once a week, I sometimes feel like I'm completely alone in the world (drama queen alert! permission to roll eyes granted). But I KNOW the Lord needs me here. I keep thinking about the fifth verse in 'How Firm a Foundation:' 
"If through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply. The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design, Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine." 
How beautiful. All the trials, all the times we've missed a bus or a meal or an appointment... all those refine us. They give us an opportunity to choose to be more Christlike, more patient, more holy, more dignified. I love it here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Week 14: in which I witness the Miracle of Love and in which my English degenerates at an alarming rate

Hello from the beautiful Hong Kong Island! The sun is shining, the bus horns are honking, and the radio is playing (to our amusement/chagrin) Soldier Boy... it's going to be a beautiful day! This morning I bought groceries, some glittery, water-proof shoes and 2 adorable dresses for under $300, so I'd say job well done. (Dad, no worries, that's Hong Kong dollars.) Curry for lunch, as well as leftover duck liver and lotus root patties, and a member's house for dinner. Yes, I unashamedly say that I have it MADE. This is the life! I'm already used to the variety of reactions people have when they see us. You get the old people who always comment on how beautiful you are. You get the people who say your Cantonese is great, and then the occasional grumpy one who says it smells bad. You get the people who look anywhere but at you (to whom you ALWAYS say, very cheerfully, "Jousahn!") and then the people who stare you down and don't look away even when you look at them (to whom you ALWAYS say, very cheerfully, "Jousahn!"). You get the people who hit you in the head with their umbrellas (which they always carry, especially when it's sunny). And the great thing about being a missionary in Hong Kong is that you love all of them! And it's not even hard!

T-shirts of the week: The first one isn't ever going to be as funny to you as it is to me, because you'll never know how funny it looked. This sweet, tiny, hunch-backed woman, with a slightly crazed look in her eye, hobbled past wearing a baby-pink t-shirt with big, bold, glittery lettering: NAUGHTY.

And the second one reminded me of last week's: an older woman at church on Sunday wearing a shirt saying, "God save the girl! Please." I think it's the punctuation that makes it worthy of mention.

And I still don't quite understand what this last one means: It's the Monday stupid. I've come up with two possibilities. But, as any thoughtful author would do, I'll just let the reader come to their own conclusions.

We pray at least 30 times a day, and always in Cantonese. Before and after each study session, every time we leave or return home, before every meal, before we go street contacting, before and after each lesson, and whenever we need or want or think about anything ever. However, one time when it was my turn to pray, I said, "Dear Heavenly Father--I mean... What?!" I started in English and it sounded SO. WEIRD. And of course we both started laughing for about 10 minutes. Seriously, my Cantonese isn't great or anything, but English kind of weirds me out. And whenever I see white people I think to myself, "What are you doing here? You don't belong!" And the other day we ate lunch at a member's house and they pulled out--get this--shepherd's pie. Yes. SO WEIRD. I mean, it was delicious and I loved it and it reminded me of British Christmas at home! But it was still weird. I kept expecting to pull out a fish bone or a piece of mystery meat. But it was so normal, which was weird.

Unfortunately, ice cream is super expensive here: $70 for a tiny box of Dreyers. Good for my body, bad for my soul. But I've found another dessert to fill the gaping hole in my heart where ice cream has always resided: gatjai behng. They're basically thick, delicious waffles covered with peanut butter and some other sauce and powdered sugar, and they're only about $9. Wow. Life-changers.

We discovered the entire collection of Richard Rich's Animated Bible videos in the church library. And they're in English! So can you guess what we've been doing during our lunch hour... that's right! The first one was A King is Born, which is the one we have at home. And I was able to sing almost the entire "Miracle of Love" song by memory! (Which, by the way, is almost the same tune as Far Longer Than Forever, no lie. Look it up! And it's not really a surprise, because Richard Rich also did The Swan Princess.)

We get to go to the temple every 6 weeks, and our zone goes next week! I'm so excited, because the temple here is beautiful.

Sister Taylor continues to be amazing, inspiring, and powerful. When we teach, she is so bold but so loving, and those we teach really feel that love. Love is the biggest motivator, and I'm learning a lot about love and selfless service from her. She is so sneaky too, she always grabs my dishes and washes them when I'm not looking. But I'm catching on, and I'm not letting her get all the service blessings of this companionship!

This week has been a tough week, but also a really good one. I'm learning a lot, especially about humility. I constantly feel humbled. Not because of any particular experience or embarrassing moment. It's just that I have next-to-no idea what I'm doing. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a pitch-black room, fumbling around, trying to find the light switch or the door or something, but I know there are all these valuable vases scattered haphazardly throughout the room. I try to be so careful, because I don't want to knock anything down, but I also really need to find this stinkin' light switch! Fortunately, I know that the Lord knows where each of these valuable vases are, and he's not going to let me run into them. I love the verse in Doctrine and Covenants 6:34: "Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail." The Lord knows my weaknesses, he knows my strengthes, and he knows my potential. He knows how to take those weaknesses and make them strengths. He knows how to take my strengths and use them to further his work and serve his children. I've had moments of doubt, fear, and (the worst) homesickness. But I can completely honestly say with David, "God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will I not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof." No matter what happens, I know my Heavenly Father loves me and is aware of me, just like he is for each of his children, no matter where they live, what language they speak, or how many unkind things they've said or done. My parents really, really want me to come back from Hong Kong one day. Well, the Lord wants us home infinitely more. He wants all of his children to come back to him, and he's shown them the way. And the way is Jesus Christ and his gospel. And what a blessing to be able to help his children home. I love it. I love it, and I miss home and my room and my cereal and my ice cream and English. But I'd never be anywhere else, no, not in a million, gazillion years. I'm doing the Lord's work, and that's all I want to focus on for the next 15ish months. I love you all!