hai xi guan ma?

Sorry for being so late. This is for three weeks ago. Lisette

That seems to be the question everyone is asking me this week…. hai xi guan ma? Are you used to it yet? I just look back at them, confused…. I ting de dong, but I don’t understand what’s so hard to get used to here. Hot. Humid. Rainy. Asian. Greasy. Sweaty. Stinky (mostly the doufu). And absolutely wonderful! So, yeah. I just laugh at them and remind them that I’m actually Chinese. They laugh with me and we get back to discussing weightier matters: what’s for dinner? 😉

This week has felt like an eternity, simply because the Taipei Temple is open again and when the missionaries have a Temple day the cosmos get reordered and preparation day happens on Wednesday. Problem? Not at all. Just more miracles to report. Last Tuesday, Tan Jiemei and I took our turn at the Temple, acutally, doing Temple Tours. This is a bit of a misnomer, because we can’t actually give tours of the Temple… but in 2008, they remodeled parts of the Jin Hua Jie chapel to include hallways with specific paintings, outlining the Life of Christ, the Pioneer Heritage, and the importance of Temples in Latter-day worship. It’s quite interesting, actually. It was a slow day, which allowed me to get acquainted with the paintings and make some plans for possible tours. In the course, of that, however, we ran into two very cool guys, one from India and one from Bangkok. They were both in town for some CES/Institute Training. We ran into them several times in the Chapel and on the street (lunch break!). At one point, we all realized that it was useless to not have a conversation… so we did. Mid-street. Only one taxi driver and three scooters got mad at me… record! More importantly, though, we discussed challenges facing Latter-day Saints in different parts of Asia. It was an incredibly intimate look at cultural differences around the world but also how the Gospel of Jesus Christ overcomes such boundaries and chasms. Their testimonies of the difference a Temple makes to an area were moving and I wish we could have them recorded. The man from India said when he walked into the Institute room at Jin Hua Jie, he saw the wedding announcements on the board and broke down in tears. Dating is so taboo still in India, and the custom of arranged marriages makes Temple marriage incredibly difficult. The man from Bangkok outlined a similar situation, but was pleased to report that there are four countries citizens can go to without visas… all of which have Temples. So, the situation is not as dire, but still. They pray for a Temple to be built in their home countries soon. I was reminded of them this morning, as I and 40 other missionaries entered the doors of the Taipei temple.

As far as the Work is concerned: chengong! Success! Everywhere we look, prepared people are popping out of the wood work. Sisters are spread a little thin (ladies, put those papers in!), so Tan Jieme and I cover two wards, which is actually four different cities. We realized last week that each of those towns has a completely different attitude and personality, so we spent some time just exploring them and discussing finding strategies. As much as it’s crucial to “Teach People, Not Lessons” you need to get a feel for the microchosms of your area… the different parts of town, divided by invisible but ever-so present socio-economic boundaries. This often do not align with mission boundaries, which is something missionaries forget. However, as Tan Jiemei and I have given more love and attention to the outer areas, God has blessed us.

Shezi is still my favorite, but this week was all about Tian Mu. Tian Mu is (almost) a stereotypical ExPat community. Too many foreigners for my taste, and we definitely live around the corner from an Aston Martin Dealership. However! The area we live in (across the street from the dealership) doesn’t feel like Tian Mu’s public face. In fact… it feels like original Tian Mu, pre-Westernization. We’ve taken a liking to walking the streets, letting the shop keepers get to know our faces and by doing so building the foundation on which trust is built. Missionaries are incredibly transient by nature, but we’re trying to change that. With that change will come the ability to reach and teach prepared people… no?

Tian Mu has allowed us to develop a bad habit, though…. singing American Rock and Roll at the top of our lungs while biking home down the crowded main drag. One night we were flying down this hill (in the rain, of course!), and I started signing “I believe I can fly!” Tan Jiemei picked up with the next line and it was glorious. About two lights later, a foreigner on the side walk chimed in with the first line of the second verse. Music to our ears!! We all had a good laugh, as we stopped for a light and he carried on. We changed the song to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ and when we caught up to him again, he belted out the chorus with us. This is our new finding technique when it comes to foreigners. Needless to say, the English Ward loves us. 😀

That’s all for now…. love ya! Work hard. Say your prayers. And don’t look back.

Sister Oler

photo by Vanessa

Chinese New Year: The 2011 Rabbit

The first week of February found me down at the Chinese Community Center in Houston, TX. Decided to be a complete 外国人 and use my official-looking DSLR (that’s really just a Nikon D60) to give myself access to all kinds of places.

Dragging my sister, L, out of her shell was more of a challenge. She’s currently the photo editor for her high school yearbook, but wasn’t blessed with the pushy gene that I landed in spades. Needless to say, the first hour was a drag. But once she realized that Asians are more flattered than annoyed when you snap a few photos in their direction, she relaxed.

Smells of a Chinese street market coaxed us outside between “lion dance” performances. Tents lined both sides of a narrow parking lot, facing the crowd between with the difficult choice of which line to brave first. L and I found the crawlspace behind the vendors and set about maxing out our memory cards.

The whole event left me craving my favorite street fare — chuanr— for weeks. So, here it is. Straight from the streets of Xi’an to your suburban backyard grill:

Ingredients:

  • meat*, cut into thin strips against the grain
  • cumin, fresher the better
  • red pepper, flakes or crushed
  • table salt
  • sesame oil (optional, if meat is really lean)
  • flat bread, like naan or Navajo bread; flour tortillas will work in a pinch

Utensils:

  • clean bicycle spokes (trust me on this one), sharpened on one end
  • open flame, preferably from hard wood or charcoal but a typical American grill will work

Directions:

  • light charcoal / heat up grill
  • thread strips of meat on bicycle spoke, leaving about four inches on one end and one inch on the other
  • be sure to add at least one chunk of fat to the middle or ends of each spoke
  • place a few raw chuanr over open flame, keeping your spices nearby
  • season to taste while rotating to ensure even cooking
  • be careful — spokes are made of metal and conduct heat!
  • grab a piece of flat bread; treat it like a plate to transport finished chuanr
  • … and repeat!

How & Why:

  • *meat — this dish originated in the West with the Uygurs and (for obvious reasons) usually uses lamb. Beef is what my parents used when I was a kid, usually a tenderloin or a top sirloin cut. Try to get something with a prominent ring of fat still in tact. For this reason, I’ve never used chicken or leaner meats. If you’re watching your girlish figure, you are welcome to use sesame or olive oil…. but you’ve been warned: the flavor will be completely different. If you have a butcher you trust, tell him what you’re up to and he can recommend a good piece of beef.
  • bicycle spokes — in a city where the population density doesn’t lend itself to everyone owning a full-sized sedan, bicycles run rampant. Which translates to a stockpile of replacements for parts that bend easily… spokes. Cheap, reusable, easily sharpened.
  • flat bread — to collect all those juices, of course! When I’m in a hurry or didn’t have access to a grill (… college dorm, anyone?) I found the quick and dirty way to get my fix of that distinct chuanr taste: flank steak and a sauce pan. At the very end, I cleaned the pan with a couple tortillas, mopping up all the sauce. Turned out to be my favorite part of the entire experience.
  • social —  every so often, you’ll run across a true craftsman behind a chuanr stove. He’ll only be cooking 8-10 spokes at a time over a box stove no more than 14 inches across. That’s how these should be done at home — buy enough meat for 100+ spokes and invite the neighbors over. Chill your favorite drink and grab a patio chair or blanket. Get everyone involved in threading the spokes, take custom orders for the spices. If you’re lucky, the evening will feel suspended in a slice of perfect space and time.
  • outside — remember, this is currently popular street fare in all major Chinese cities. Its the kind of dish a man from the West could come into the city with, buy ingredients for cheap, and sell to starving students just outside the University gate.

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