"A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." Joseph Smith

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Compliant and Free

As you probably know, Taiwan does not have a COVID-19 problem.

Taiwan has gone over 200 consecutive days without open COVID on the streets.

Courtesy of Flickr.com - Othree

But you know what?  You just can’t compare apples to…. well…. to noodles!  There is no comparison. None at all. You can't compare the situation in the US to Taiwan. For one thing, Taiwan is basically 1/3rd the size of the state of Colorado. It is also surrounded by water. You have to fly or swim to get there.                            



Hualien coastline
Virtually the only way to enter the country is through the airports. You must have permission. You probably need a visa. To get a visa requires the country allowing you to come for a good reason. If you are from America and a few other countries, to get a visa also requires a “within-three-days-of-travel negative COVID test.”

Getting disinfected at airport
Once you arrive at the airport, even if you come with a negative COVID test, you are sprayed down with disinfectant, and whisked away to mandatory isolated quarantine for 14 days.

You do not leave your quarantine apartment. At all. Food is brought to you. The government checks on you daily. In many cases, you are required to undergo several additional COVID tests – just in case.  All this at your own expense. Anyone testing positive in these additional tests is immediately taken to a hospital for isolated observation and care.

If you continue to be COVID-free, only then are you allowed to enter the streets of Taiwan. Once on the streets, most people choose to wear masks full time but it is not required. Only on public transportation are you required to wear a mask. 

And at Church on Sundays -

 full two hours with everyone allowed at the same time.

The streets are safe.

Like I said, Taiwan is virtually COVID-free. No COVID on the streets. Completely safe. 

So, you know what Taiwan is going to do?

They are tightening the restrictions.

Yes, that’s right. Tightening the restrictions!

Starting December 1st, masks will be required at the following places: medical facilities, mass transit, places of consumption, schools, exhibitions and athletic centers, entertainment venues, houses of worship, and business venues. That’s pretty much everywhere there are people.

Taiwan public announcement announcing new restrictions

Starting December 1st, all travelers to Taiwan will be required to provide a “within-three-days-travel-to-Taiwan” negative COVID test.


A small child with a mask 
pulled down 

No one will complain. No one will riot. No one will protest. The fines for disobedience are steep (up to $526). In some cases, the punishment is prison. The people are just happily compliant, grateful for their near-normal life style.

I asked our local senior sister missionary if anyone has ever disobeyed the mask mandate on public transportation.  

She said, “Of course!”

Surprised, I asked, “How many people?”

She replied, “Just one. He’s in jail now.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Extra-Ordinary Persons of Taiwan

Your mind is a map. It records everything you do and everywhere you go. You just have to learn how to read the map.

This is Ruby's story.

Arriving at English Conversation Group
I was six months old when I had my first heart surgery. I couldn’t breathe. My parents took me to the hospital where the doctors diagnosed me with a type of valvular heart disease. One of my valves didn’t close completely at birth.

I had another heart surgery when I was 14, and then another just this year. I’ll need more in the future. For now I'm doing well.

My parents divorced when I was seven. After that I didn’t see them much or live with them – I lived at school in the dorm. It was a regular school, not one for the blind or the disabled. In our high school you have to choose a major and a minor. I chose music. My mom had been my piano teacher, so music was already familiar to me. I majored in viola and minored in piano. I practiced 8 hours a day.

When I graduated from high school I entered Tamkang University or TKU. It’s a private university here in Taipei. This time my major was Japanese and my minor was German. Government scholarships kept me in school. When I graduated, I became a teacher for a junior high school.

I am also blind.

It can take over 100,000 times to learn a new skill when you are blind.

Simple things for everyone else can be very difficult. It’s a challenge when I can’t find the water dispenser. Getting the water into my water bottle is difficult. Every day tasks are complicated. 

I worked for 7-½ years as a teacher. Then my dad got liver cancer. In Taiwan, when someone gets sick, it is the responsibility of a family member, usually the oldest child, to take care of them. I am an only child. So I quit my job and went to live with my father in the hospital.

Someone stole my dad’s ID, and used the ID to fraudulently buy a car. I sued him. It took 8 years of my life. I had to go back and forth from the lawsuit activities to the hospital. After four years in the hospital, my dad passed away. That was three years ago.

This year I lost the lawsuit. 

Sometimes I still miss my dad. I don’t see my mom much.

Now I am a masseuse. I went to school for 2 years to learn the trade, and have been doing it for over 7 years. 

Sister Coffey's first professional massage.



I live in my dad’s apartment. I memorize the way to get from my home to work. I also take the subway and then walk to the Church where I attend the weekly English conversation group. I am learning about the teaching of Jesus Christ from the missionaries. 

President Peterson and I in a recent visit.

When I finish at the Church I walk to the subway to get back home. The street signals don't have beeps to alert me when it is my turn to cross the street. I have to listen to the cars to know when it is safe to do so.

Taiwan does not have a lot of mobility services for the blind. I do the best I can. But I do have a cell phone that reads my messages to me.  That’s an easy way for me to communicate with others. It also tells me what it sees in photos that I take.

The camera tells me what the image is in the screen.

A photo of Elder Coffey

I want to help change the laws or policies in Taiwan to provide more resources for the disabled. My philosophy in life is nengliang ( 能量– or energy. A blind person can do almost anything. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me or think I can’t do things. I’m just an ordinary person, almost like everyone else. Blind people have many capabilities. You just need to give them a chance.




Ruby continues to advocate for the disabled. Her life is exemplary in showing that disabilities need not stop a person from pursuing their goals and dreams. In spite of all the challenges she has faced, she retains her self-reliant lifestyle with a cheerful attitude, optimism and grace. 







Thursday, October 8, 2020

Moon Rabbits and Frog Eyes - Who Knew?


Right on cue, the moon was exceptionally round and large. Families and friends gathered in the parks and in homes, laughing and visiting together. The enduring and evolving Moon Festival was upon us, and it was time to celebrate.

中秋節 (Zhōngqiū jié), or the Mid-Autumn Festival, is a public holiday in Taiwan. It's a Lunar event, so this year it was on October 1st - 3rd. Stores and government offices were closed. School was out. After a quiet morning with nearly no one riding the subway, (see Elder Coffey in a rare near-empty subway platform), people began to be on the move – traveling to get to their family homes or to visit with friends. The Mid-Autumn Festival, or the Moon Festival as it is also called, is the 2nd most popular holiday in Taiwan. 

We were invited by one of our English group students to share the evening with her at a local neighborhood park to celebrate. We brought mooncakes and she brought a pomelo - the traditional treats of the holiday. A pomelo is similar to a grapefruit, but less bitter and less juicy. The full moon just started peeking out over the buildings when we first arrived at the park.

The Moon Festival began around 3,000 years ago in China, with the moon being worshipped for bringing bountiful harvests. Traditionally, moon cakes are eaten as families gather together, enjoy watching the harvest moon, and celebrating together. Mooncakes have a long tradition with various accounts of how they began, but largely today they symbolize family reunions.

 

Mooncakes are small square or round pastries filled with a variety of sweet pastes – often made with lotus bean, red bean, jujube or other sweet pastes, sometimes centered with a cooked egg yolk, symbolizing the moon. Their taste is not overly relished by Western palates, but we have become accustomed to the red bean or lotus bean varieties, minus any egg yolk, please!

Modern flavors have begun to emerge as the holiday continues its evolution. Cranberry, pineapple and even chocolate fillings are finding their way on shelves. Frozen ice cream mooncakes are appearing in freezer shelves. They are often given away as gifts.  Here is part of our mooncake and pastry collection from students and church members:

 




                                                                                           Cranberry filling in this one!

While in Western tradition there is a “Man in the Moon”, in Taiwan it is the beautiful but banished Goddess of Immortality, Chang’e, along with her friend – a rabbit – to keep her company. So if you look closely, you can sometimes see the resemblance of the rabbit on the moon, bringing delight to children as they are told the story of how Chang’e and her friend got to the moon in the first place.

Courtesy of flickr.com Mitch Huang


Aside from holiday treats like mooncakes, one of the seemingly most popular items here in Taiwan are drinks. Drinks are everywhere, and often become the sole or main part of a busy person's lunch. Soda is not much of a thing here - it is rarely available outside of grocery stores or full restaurants and I rarely see people drinking it. But fruit drinks, coffees and teas of all kinds are definitely at the top of the popularity chart. Drink stands are on nearly every street, with people lining up to grab a refreshing "pick me up" throughout the day. 

"Tea" in Taiwan can come from a large variety of plant and plant parts. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we don't drink tea, as in from the tea plant itself. But "mild drinks" that are more like infused water are a popular option here. Most seem to be from fruits or flowers such as Wintermelon tea, Chrysanthemum tea, or fruit drinks made from apples, passion fruit, rose hips, peaches and oranges. The variety is stunning.

Other popular beverages come from seeds and border on the "herbal medicine" edge. A senior missionary sister recently bought for us the following three herbal medicine seeds for making our own "mild drinks". The top seeds are Shan Fen Yuen (sweet basil seeds, also known as Frog Eyes), lower right is what she called Fried Wheat (though it may be barley), and lower left is Jue Ming Zi, otherwise known as Cassia Tea in English. 

These mix up to make healthful drinks that can reportedly do everything from treat rheumatism, remove your "liver heat", and help you lose weight. You'll also have happy kidneys! And they're all caffeine free. What's there not to love? 

A sampling of each was an interesting experiment in culture and palate. Here's my experiment with the "frog eyes"! I put some of the sweet basil seeds in warm  water, and watched them swell up quickly with gelatinous outer coverings that made them look like - well - like frog eyes!  These are tasteless,  caffeine free little balls that simply provide interest to drinks such as light lemon water. They are very popular here. 


So what's not to love? Um - the taste! While the frog eyes were tasteless, the other two seeds, simmered for several minutes in water, produced bitter drinks that were only palatable (for me at least) with loads of sugar - and then you kind of defeat any health benefit from it!  It must require an acquired taste! 


So my preference, if I had to choose, is the frog eyes, mainly because there is no taste and I can add them to any fruit drink I want. The wheat drink and cassia seed drink were just not quite my "cup of tea"! 






 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Amidst COVID – How Do They Find, Where Do They Teach?

A classroom in a church building. A table at the nearby 7-11. A few seconds at a stop light. Riding a bike down the sidewalk. Standing in line at a grocery store.  Video chatting from a phone.  Waiting at a street corner. Meeting up at a friend’s home.

Finding. Teaching. Testifying. Baptizing. Friendshipping.

It’s all happening. Amidst the COVID-19 restrictions worldwide, missionaries in the Taipei Taiwan mission are sharing the message of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ in every way imaginable.

 



Although Taiwan is nearly COVID free, the missionaries are still careful to mostly focus on people they already know or have connections with. Going door to door is not encouraged, out of "an abundance of caution". Face masks are encouraged, and even required in some spaces (Church meetings, public transportation, stores). Still, even with the cautions in place, people are still reaching out to learn more and to be taught about Jesus Christ.



One missionary said a woman began asking her about the Church while they were standing in line at a market. By the time they were through the line, they had exchanged contact information and were making plans to meet again.

Missionaries strike up quick conversations at stop lights, street corners, and elevator rides.

It is common for the missionaries to often do their scripture study at a local 7-11 store. And they meet the most interesting people. Even those wanting to bring them treats – “just because they are missionaries.” 

          

7-11 stores: It’s worth a mention here. There are over 5,000 7-11 stores in Taiwan! These convenience shops are more like little neighborhood cafés. With free WIFI, air conditioning, clean restrooms, and several tables and chairs set up for customers, what is there not to like?  

 At 7-11, you can buy breakfast snacks, sip fruit drinks, get a microwave meal warmed up and delivered to your table, and dine with friends.  You can also pay utility bills or parking fees, make photo copies, print photos, conduct business, do homework and study with classmates. And you can have a missionary lesson from your local missionaries!

And if you're not teaching at a 7-11, you might be teaching at the local restaurant around the corner.

                                          

The majority of the missionaries here are from Taiwan. The balance is made up of foreign missionaries. The mix is a good blend. And once the foreign missionaries who have returned to Taiwan are out of their strict 2 week quarantine, they are more than ready to "hit the road" and begin teaching. 

We are mindful of those missionaries who, in some places around the world, are required to stay in their apartments or have minimal physical interaction with people because of COVID-19. We are grateful for their sacrifice, patience and service. We pray for relief from the COVID restrictions. We recognize that not every country is as open and free to teach as is Taiwan. We love you all.

Thank you, everyone, for your service!