Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mongolia--October 15-28, 2012

 Picture from the top of Zasian Hill which is the place where Elder Neal A. Maxwell dedicated the Land of Mongolia for missionary work in 1993. There are steps up to the top, one step for each of the 300 workers who helped build the monument. You can see part of the city of Ulaabaatar in the background which has a 1,000,000 people.
 The soldier at the hill is holding a concrete flag that is 44 meters tall.
 While we were at Gandin Monastery a wedding couple came to the Buddhist temple. Notice the typical dress that is worn by Mongolians.
 Picture of God's feet at the monastery. Sister Hunt and Sister Farmer are in the picture. They are two of the Mongolian missionaries. If you are a good person then God will step over you but if you are not a good person then He will step on you and crush you.
 There were pigeons all over the grounds of the monastery. We could buy bird seed and they would eat right out our hand.
 Each of these booths held a prayer wheel that a patron uses to offer prayers on behalf of an ancestor. There were seven booths, one for each day of the week. The patron had to turn the prayer wheel three times on the correct day that his or her ancestor died. If they were saying prayers for several ancestors then they had to visit several booths.
 We visited the Black Market in Ulaabaatar. We loved the 100% wool rugs that were made in Erdenet, a city about four hours by taxi from Ulaabaatar. One of these room size rugs costs about $144 US.
 At the Black Market they had many material booths. Sadly the fabric was not a cotton material for making quilts. However the material could have been used to make a beautiful picture type quilt.  The fabric was used to make the typical Mongolian apparel in the earlier picture.
This is the train we rode from Erdenet to Ulaabaatar. We got on the train at 7:40 pm and arrived at 7:40 am. We had a sleeper car that we shared with the Farmers (the Family History couple in Mongolia). The guys had the upper bunks and the girls the lower bunks. The whole train was sleeper cars and was very long.
When we arrived back in Ulaabaatar we discovered it had snowed while we were gone. Notice the snow.
All of the trains and railroad tracks were a gift to the Mongolian people from Russia.
 Garnalee doing training with the Family History consultants in Ulaabaatar. We also did training in Darkhan and Erdenet. We spoke in both Erdenet branches in Sacrament meeting. The training and speaking in Sacrament meeting was made possible with the help of interpreters.
 Tom doing the training of Priesthood leaders in Ulaabaatar. We were blessed that there was a meeting scheduled with the Mission President which he graciously moved back an hour so that we could have all the Priesthood leaders in our meeting.  

 This is an example of the headstones in the cemetery we visited in Ulaabaatar. Part of the cemetery which runs for several miles will be destroyed to make way for buildings. To preserve the information on the headstones the Farmers are working to organize a youth project to photograph and record each of the headstones.

We attended a program of traditional Mongolian dance and music.  This performance was very colorful and we enjoyed it very much.  

 This young lady, a contortionist, did things the human body is unable to do. The picture shows her suspended by a spoon in her month.
The musical instruments of Mongolia only have two strings except for the harp. The music was beautiful and entertaining. The young man on the left is a "throat singer." Throat singing has a deep guttural sound but is very pleasant to listen to.

The flight from Hong Kong to Ulaabaatar was a direct flight of 4 1/2 hours. When we got off the plane we said, "Oh, Idaho weather!!" We were scheduled for 5 days there but we got to stay an extra 2 days because our original return flight was canceled. Dinner the first night cost us $59,600 Tuks. We got half a million dollars out of the ATM machine at The Chinggis Kahn hotel, however that was Mongolian money which was about $360 US. In all we spent $1, 100, 000. We are millionaires.

To my dear sister in Washington, I now understand why you complain about the dry weather in Idaho. Going from Hong Kong to Mongolia was very hard on my skin. My lips were dry constantly and the skin on my legs and feet looked like snake skin.

Anyone that has a car is also a taxi driver if they want to be. You flag them down and negotiate a price for the trip. The roads and sidewalks can be very treacherous with potholes and broken pavement. The cars will dodge into the opposing lane of traffic to avoid a pothole. Tom had the "ride of his life" in the front seat during our four hour ride from Ulaabaatar to Darkhan. For a former driver's ed instructor it was terrifying to have the car dodge into the opposite lane of traffic with a car coming at us at 100 km per hour and no brake on your side.

The training and presentations we gave were well received and hopefully will motivate and inspire the leaders and members of Mongolia to move forward in doing Family History. The Mongolian people are very interested in their ancestors.

In a few weeks we plan to go Jakarta, Indonesia.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Off to Mongolia--October 8-14, 2012

We contacted the Family History missionary couple in Mongolia last week about us coming to do training with them. Tom had been dragging his feet until one of the other senior couples reminded us that the we are here for support of the missionaries in other countries and that they need to see us face to face. In many cases they are isolated from socializing with other missionary couples. Monday morning, Oct. 8, we visited the travel coordinator about travel plans to Mongolia. At that point things progressed very quickly and arrangements have been made for us to go on Thursday, Oct. 18. We will  visit Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan, and Erdenet. We were asked to speak in the two branch Sacrament meetings in Erdenet. We will have a translator with us.When we checked the weather we discovered it will be cold around freezing and it is around 85 here.

We had a very good Family Home Evening under the direction of the Browns in which we discussed how adversity can be a positive thing in our lives and the Lord's tender mercies.

We were checking the 1940 census and found Tom's biological father and grandfather. In the 1940 census we discovered that Tom's biological father had several siblings.

We worked on updating some Power Point presentations for us to use in Mongolia for the training of the Priesthood Leaders and the Family History consultants.

Tom got his first haircut in Hong Kong on Wednesday. He was amazed that he got his hair washed three times before the haircut and again after the haircut. Getting a haircut in Hong Kong can be scary because the hair stylist speaks limited English.

Tom is striving to learn Joseph Smith's First Vision in Cantonese. He feels he has to understand each word regardless of structure in order for it to stick. Cantonese structure is much different from English.

Tom has been working on more of Grandpa's Pearls of Wisdom. However he does have a hard time, in my opinion, putting into understandable language for young children. I guess that comes from working with high schoolers all his life.

For our trip to Mongolia, one of the other missionaries brought us $90,500 Tugriks (pronounced tooks) which is worth about $510 HK or $65.80 US.

Friday evening we went to dinner with some other senior couples at BLT Burger. It turned out to be an expensive hamburger with an Oreo Cookie milk shake, $403 HK. Then we went to the opera La Traviata which was performed in the Grand Hall of the Hong Kong Cultural Center.The musical score was performed by Hong Kong Symphony. This was our first true opera. It was sung in Italian. Thank goodness there were English sub-titles so we could understand the story. It was way too much culture for two Idaho bumpkins. Earlier in the fall we did attend a performance of an outstanding pianist and the Hong Kong Orchestra in the same venue.We enjoyed that very much.

Saturday and Sunday was spent watching General Conference. We were inspired and touched by the talks that were given. We expect there will be a flood of missionaries with the announcement of the reduction in the age of service for young missionaries. It is exciting!! We are also excited to receive the First Presidency letter concerning the renewed call and higher vision for family history and temple work.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

October 2-7, 2012

Fireworks on Chinese National Day viewed from outside our apartment complex

More fireworks
New stake center in Tuen Mun, New Territories Stake
Filippina sisters at our National Day celebration at our Branch

Tom and Garnalee in tailor made suits

The group heading for a day at Macau

Old meets the new--St. Paul's ruins and flower shaped hotel

Ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral 

Tom pulling Garnalee in the rickshaw (posing)
Monday evening we viewed the fireworks for National Day in China. There were some amazing fireworks that we had never seen before like 5-pointed stars, soft sprays that looked like dandelions that had gone to seed, and two sided explosions that reminded Tom of a lotus flower--green on one side and red on the other. We enjoyed socializing and snacking with the other senior couples. Our Promenade was packed with many people. Many groups rent boats for the evening to come to Victoria Harbour to view the fireworks from the boat decks. That evening there was a crash southeast of Hong Kong Island where a ferry boat ran into a pleasure boat. Tragically 38 people were killed which included five children.
Tuesday was temple day with our Branch. We invited the new senior couple, the Watkins, to go with us. After the temple session we went to our Branch building for pizza, salad, ice cream, and brownies. We had planned on watching a DVD from President Monson's 85th birthday celebration but the DVD was scratched and it froze up. We will try again later in the month when we have another holiday.
Tom has been writing some stories called Grandpa's Pearls of Wisdom for the grandchildren. He has been writing these at Holly's request for helps in teaching good values to her children. He finished the first story this week and emailed it to her. He plans to write several more. Holly has volunteered to put all of the stories into a book for each of the grandchildren when they are all finished.
Wednesday we took our first adventure alone and went to Tuen Mun to visit the newly constructed stake center and approve a new family history center there.
We left early Saturday morning to go to Macau. We took a hydrofoil jet boat for the one hour ride to Macau. Macau is a Special Administrative Region like Hong Kong. It was founded by the Portuguese in the 1500s and was turned over to China in 1999. All the signs were in Portuguese and Chinese so Tom didn't have any difficulty reading the signs. We did have to have our passports to enter Macau. We spent the day touring the historic district which had many interesting ruins and features e.g. St. Paul's cathedral ruins, mosaic tiled streets in black and white, cobblestone streets, Buddhists temples. There was an amazing hotel that looked like a big flower that we took a picture of. In the evening we attended a Dancing Water Show in the City of Dreams hotel. The show had a giant pool of water, but a floor could rise from the bottom to make a solid surface. Water appeared and disappeared and there were fountains from a couple of inches tall to 50 feet. Performers jumped and dove from as high as 100 feet. The tickets were $76 US each but the awe inspiring show was worth every penny.
I started teaching a Sunday class today which is the Teaching the Gospel course. As Elder's Quorum president, Tom taught a priesthood lesson on money management. For our Break the Fast meal the Filippina sisters made a traditional dish with noodles, beef, and vegetables. We also had meat filled steamed rice balls that were very good.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fire Dragon Dance--September 24-October 1, 2012

We saw our first couple go home. It was sad to see the Rippys return to Spokane. They took us under their wings and helped us adjust to Hong Kong and the mission life.
Twice a month the Senior Missionary couples get together for Family Home Evening. Last Monday we played a Jeopardy game. We each were asked to answer five questions about your first date, an embarrassing moment, unsual things you have eaten, etc. After a fun evening of laughs and hearing of some of the exploits of the other missionaries we decided that our lives have been pretty boring.
We hosted the new missionary couple for dinner on Wednesday. It was great to be able to provide service and to get to know the new couple at the same time. They are the Watkins from Spokane and will be the mental health missionaries taking the place of the Rippys.
Each Thursday we Skype with the other Family History missionary couples in other Asian countries. They have lots of questions but things are progressing as all of us are understanding our job here.  We ended the Skype call early so we could go to the temple for training. We got home late so dinner was toast with peanut butter.
On Friday while Garnalee was at Sister's Institute Tom tried to help a French citizen find his great-grandfather who was Jewish and escaped from Poland to France before the war. Unfortunately we didn't find much. The best we could do was email him information about a book that lists synagogues in Poland. Hopefully he will be able to find something. Garnalee is planning on calling Salt Lake City to see if there might any records available.
After cleaning our flat we went to the Flower Market where we purchased an artifical orchid that looks real. Tom loves it!!
This weekend is Mid Autumn Festival and a National Holiday for the Chinese. Included in the festivities is a Fire Dragon Dance with a 70 meter (about 215 feet) dragon bristling with lighted incense sticks. The dragon would come down the street twisting and turning to the rhythm of a kettle drum. Periodically they would whack the dragon's head on the ground and a spray of confetti would shoot high into the air. Also as part of the celebration they would have lighted lanterns. The lanterns were lighted by candles. As part of the Mid Autumn feast a mooncake is eaten which is  a pastry enclosing a custard type filling that is around a salted steamed egg yolk. So when you cut the mooncake you get a slice of the moon.
Mid Autumn Festival comes on the full moon following the autumn equinox hence the mooncakes. All families wherever they are go out and look at the full moon and they are connected. So all of you go out and look at the moon and we will all be connected. Since is it a holiday many of the businessess are closed on Monday and Tuesday.
To go along with Tom's new suits Garnalee also bought two  tailored suits. They are gorgeous beyond belief and Tom loves them on her.