Monday, December 20, 2010


Hello again. It's been a busy week, let's see if I can cover everything.

Ok, I need to pick up from a week ago today because that day was nuts. We had a good p-day, got our stuff done (the office elders do shopping for the entire apartment so we don't go grocery shopping), went to Luminarie as a district and then to family home evening where we planned on meeting two investigators. Neither showed up, so we were on our way our when one of the sister missionaries said we really needed to go upstairs to the kitchen because something was happening up there. I was worried. We went up there to find Shota-kun, a convert of six months and probably the most active member of the ward here. He's from Shikoku but is in Kobe going to college. Whenever I'm at the church, whether it be for an activity or for church, he's always there. He was in the kitchen sobbing uncontrollably. Probably the hardest I've ever seen a grown man cry. We just sat there and watched him for a solid five minutes, trying to comfort him but mostly just awkwardly watching him. I didn't know him well but knew he was a recent convert so I thought maybe he'd relapsed on an addiction or something. Finally, he said "Aruma yon-ju sho. Shinjitte imasuka?" (do you believe Alma 40?). We immediately turned to it and saw that it was about the resurrection and said of course we believed in it. Both of us were thinking "crap, someone died." He cried for a little while longer and then said we needed to go to his apartment. Then it got really scary. My companion said when we walked in, he was looking for a body. His apartment was one of the tiny-sort. The three of us barely fit in it.

When we got to the end of the hallway, there was a yellow dead bird lying on the floor. We read Alma 40 together in both Japanese in English (he wanted to make sure that I understood, he's a nice guy) and prayed together and then went back to the church where all of the other six missionaries and President McIntyre were waiting to comfort him. He really was torn up over it. I think he's just really pure. He has the heart of a child. This experience is probably hilarious to read, but I think it was really important that we were at FHE. If we hadn't had investigators, we wouldn't have planned on coming. He honestly looked like he could've been suicidal that night, but he's all happy now. The next morning, we had a funeral I'm not kidding. It was short ten minute deal. We buried the bird, sang a hymn and said a prayer. Definitely a wild experience. Everyone kept saying that I'm definitely having the most bizarre first transfer of anyone else in the mission.

The next day was Eikaiwa. I finally felt sufficient for once. The language has been really frustrating up to this point. I'm not sure if I'm improving either. One thing I've realized is that I don't have Gaijin power. Japanese people are more willing to listen when a blond-haired, blue-eyed caucasian tries to talk to them than me. So, I need to make up for it with tact and cleverness. The problem is, I know how to say hardly anything, so people are baffled when they see me struggling to speak Japanese. To be honest it's humiliating. Even after I explain that my mother is Japanese, they ask me why I don't know how to speak and I have no answer. I'm doing everything I can to improve right now....and letting my companion do a lot of the talking.

We have met sooo many internationals. We met Minu from Nepal this week in McDonalds. She was sitting there all alone and looked rather lonely. We said hello to her (she speaks English) and she said she was here studying Japanese in order to enter college (just like our other investigator O-san from China). She said it's a specific program for people from Nepal so she planned on doing it with her friends but all of her friends got sent to Tokyo and she got sent here to Kobe. She told us that she's just really lonely, has spent all of this money on the program so she can't go home, but she has no friends and is always sad. I can't even explain how sad the look in her eyes was. We're going to have dinner with her and all of the other Kobe missionaries on Christmas Eve. We've invited a few other investigators too.

I wish I could tell you about all of the interesting people I've met, but there's just no time. 90% of the people we talk to just say Kekko-desu or just pretend they can't hear us, but the few that do listen are always very fascinating individuals.

I also went on a split with one of the zone leaders this week in Amagasaki. We taught a lesson there. The kid (18 years old) really wasn't interested and will probably drop contact, but it was good practice. Cool going outside of my area. I realized that I really am in one of the most Tokai areas of the mission. This is a huge city. So bizarre that I'm spending my first transfer at the mission headquarters.

We had a ward party on Saturday. Our investigators bailed so Elder Bowman only let us stay for the last 20 minutes. It's hard getting to know the members when we're running around on Sunday with investigators and can never go to activities. We finally met with the bishop yesterday so hopefully that will improve.

Yesterday at church, O-san came again. He also came to all other church activities this week. He looks promising, but we pushed his baptism back. He says he needs to do more studying and it's getting hard to teach him because of the language barrier. I have no doubt that he will be baptized though. He accepted the word of wisdom yesterday with no problems and said he is reading and praying every night and loves coming to church. He is ridiculously prepared.

The AP's serve in the Kansai branch (English speaking, covers all of the Kansai region) and had an investigator there who speaks English but is from China. I went on a split with one of them, because my companion and the other AP had to go to the Eki to pick up investigators. We taught this guy (Harrison, the investigator from China) lesson one with Ricky, President McIntyre's son who's home for Christmas. This guy was very science oriented, but also very nice and loves the missionaries. It was a fight to get him to pray, but eventually he agreed to do it by repeating the AP's words. He didn't want to pray to something he didn't believe. I also made a funny observation during that lesson. I've taught lesson one three times in Japan, watched the restoration video twice: both times in Chinese. Chinese people are everywhere and are very open to listening to us.

And like I said, we met with the bishop last night. Great guy. He speaks fluent English too so have of it was in English. This ward does have a long way to go in terms of missionary work though. They now have four pairs of missionaries working in it, so we really need their help.

Then after that, we threw a surprise birthday party for Karekara Shimai who serves in Akashi, lives in Kobe. Yes, the McIntyre's were there, face cookie and all. It's too bad I just missed my birthday. You only get a face cookie if you're in Kobe so it's a rare occasion. That was so much fun though. We really got to see the McIntyre's as just a family. They are so young! I think every mission president should be as young as he is. Seeing him interact with his sons and joke around with the missionaries really just made them feel like family. He makes us work, but he also loves to have fun and I think that's so important. Sister McIntyre was also talking smack, because sports taikai is this week and she says she is really good at dodgeball....I can't even imagine. President McIntyre also formally invited us (The AP's, Office Elders, Kobe Sisters, Me and my companion, and the Akashi sisters) to Christmas dinner at his house. He said we will be watching Toy Story 3. Yeah, he's ridiculous. I can't believe how lucky I am to have this as my first area. This Christmas will be great, I'm sure. I love their family, they're just great people, all of them.

I guess that's all I have time for.

Just know that I'm well. Thanks for everything and have a good week!

Friday, December 17, 2010

I'm being blogged

Here's a post about my arrival in the mission field on my mission president's blog:



Hello again!

Today is my first p-day from the field. Any guesses as to where I am? Here's some space to think about it:


I'm still here at the honbu, no I'm not an AP or an office elder. We're actually technically opening a new area. Before, the office elders and AP's and one pair of sisters were responsible for proselyting in the Kobe area but they were lucky if they had one hour a week to proselyte so they added to two elders to this area. Wajima Shimai also stayed here with Shields Shimai so there are two new missionaries currently being trained at the mission headquarters. Apparently we are the first new missionaries to be trained in Kobe since 1996. It's very rare that I get to see all that happens in the mission headquarters and be close to the office couple and the mission president. It's a great opportunity. I get to see all that happens in the mission from a distance and I get to look at the area board and baptismal record everyday. I know what everyone in the mission is up to. Plus, it's a great area! When you get your mission call, you wonder what Kobe is like, but in reality the chances of actually serving here are slim. It's very strange that I'm in the Kobe mission and Kobe is my first area.

My companion is Elder Bowman from Twin Falls, Idaho. He is a very hard worker. He has six months left in his mission. I live in the apartment (right under the church, which is right next to the mission home, which in's all the same building) with the AP's and the office elders. We don't buy groceries, we give money to the office elder and they go to Costco to take care of it.

It's a huge city! I went to Iluminariae last night and it was a madhouse. You have to wait about two hours to walk through it. It makes for pretty good dendo. I had a great conversation in English with a couple who are Japanese but do business in Taiwan and speak Mandarin and English fluently.

We've met a ton of foreigners. We plan on teaching Musa from Africa this week and came in contact with people from Haiti, China, Malaysia, and Europe.

Another great thing about Kobe is the church is big here too. There's an English speaking branch that covers the entire Kansai branch. About 50% of them are black and dressed in their Sunday best (very different from Utah Sunday best) to church. Sometimes I forget that I'm in Japan. I see Americans all the time and our apartment is very western style.

So what have I been up to? Well, this is a new area so naturally we've spent most of our time finding. Finding is necessary, but I've quickly realized that finding is the not glamourous part of missionary work that you never hear about. It's tough. It's basically impossible for me to make a natural conversation. Whenever I stop people, all I know how to say is that I'm a misisonary and they immediately run away. I'm doing my best to remain positive and have confidence that I will get better.

Who have we found? We spend most of our time in Sanomiya (I sent you a picture from there last time) the really tokai part of Kobe. OUr first investigator we found who is coming to FHE tonight is Naoki. At first glance I thought he was a woman. When my companion stopped him, I wondered why he was talking to him (we have sisters in Kobe so we're not allowed to stop women). He had shoulder length purple hair, a knee length furry coat, black painted fingernails, and a shiny silver, black, and purple purse. He said he was an "artist" so how knows what he does. He seemed very open though and definitely needs the gospel.

The next day, I went on an exchange with Elder Hinton who's family showed up today to take him home. We went to a restaurant called Braziliano's in Harborland with a group and it was amazing food. We then made our way to Harbor Island and met lots of people on the bridge. The most outstanding being O-san from China. He's here studying to eventually enter Kobe Daigakuin. When we told him we represented a Christian church, he immediately wanted to come. He showed up yesterday and had cut his finger on the bike ride over. THe ward members and Sister McIntyre helped him out. He also got to see a baptism. There was a baptism in the Gaijin branch, he saw that and then came to the second half of sacrament meeting. He said he wants to come every week. I was astonished. He obviously had been prepared for this because honestly, we did hardly anything with him up to that point. We sat down with him for a lesosn after sacrament. His Japanese is good, better than mine, but was stilll a barrier in the lesson. We showed him the restoration video in Chinese and he said he would study the pamphlets we gave him and come to Eikaiwa on Tuesday where we will teach him again. We commited him to baptism on the 26th and he said he wanted to and wanted to bring his friends. I'm blown away. Hopefully this works out and I'll see a baptism within two weeks in the field!

I also had to conduct the ward mission meeting on Sunday. My companion had to do a baptismal interview for the gaijin branch so I was left alone. That was interesting, but they eventually found out what I was trying to say.

Well I suppose I'm out of time. I know this is sparse. I forgot my journal so I might've left some stuff out. Just know that I'm fine. I'm still getting used to being a missionary, but I'm having fun and I'm plenty healthy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Photos - Day one in Kobe

Conveyor-based sushi. Awesome.

Taking the Gospel to every creature.

December 9, 2010 - Live from Kobe, Japan

Kobe から こんにちわ!

I am here! I made it safely and have already hit the ground running. I left LA just fine, I felt pretty darn sick after all three flights (I never been on three flights in a row) and I nearly lost my dinner landing in Osaka, but it all went well. We landed in Osaka and got to the Honbu at about 9:15 last night. The Assistants and the McIntyryres were wating for us. They`re awesome. And yes, I met the Elder who`s mom cut dad`s hair. We briefy met with President and Sister McIntyre at dinner (taco rice) and went to bed. I already absolutely love President and Sister McIntyre. They`ve taken great care of us and just want to make sure that we`re ok. It`s been fantastic up to this point.

I slept like a rock. It`s 3:15 now and by all means I suppose the jet-lag wave will come quite soon but as of right now I feel perfectly fine.

We had breakfast this morning then four hours of training and then went to a Kaiten-zushi for lunch. It was awesome. I`m so happy to be eating this food again.

After lunch they sent us right out to dendo from which I just returned. I went with one of the office Elders. There`s a picture attached. Man, I can`t beliveve that actually happened. We were talking to everyone we saw, something I`ve never even dreamed of doing. We managed to get rid of one Book of Mormon. The man rode the train into downtown Kobe with us and gave us his phone number. He also had a beer in his hand and no front teeth and was probably drunk. I can`t even describe how clueless I felt but....bring it on. I managed to bear my testimony several times and they always smiled as if really saying (that`s so pathetic, it`s cute). It was so fun though. Just being here and breathing the air is amazing. I still can`t believe it`s real.

I`ll meet my trainer tomorrow. Apparently they didn`t now that Sobrinho Choro wasn`t coming so there is going to be a san-nin in the mission.

So what happened that last week in the MTC? It was pretty amazing. I just felt really loved. (Side note: it is really hard to type on a Japanese computer so I`m going really slow. I`d forgotten.) We had our final Akashi-kai with our teachers and that was incredible. They are the thing from the MTC that I will sincerely miss. I can`t explain the kind of relationship we formed. I loved having them and they were honestly the best two Japanese teachers at the MTC, I`m sure of it. Sister Davis (converted in Akita at 17) told us that she met about 10 pairs of elders before she was baptized after meeting sisters. She never took lessons from elders, but she remembers them all. She said don`t ever think you`re not making a difference. That was so powerful. I felt like my purpose as a missionary finally started punching me in the face.

We also had a departure lesson from Mills Kyodai, currently the manager of all the international MTC`s and the former Fukuoka Mission President. He was incredible. He taught us about the power of expectations and all of the history of the church in Japan and how Heber J. Grant said that the most powerful prayer he ever offered was the dedicatory prayer to open Japan for the work. He reminded us that it is a lie of lucifer to us to expect that we cannot baptize here. We can and will baptize, it`s what we`re here to do. The Lord has already done the seed planting.

Take care! がんばります!

Monday, December 6, 2010

November 30, 2010

Hello again. Saigo no MTC kara email!

I can't believe I'm to this point...but at the same time, I can. It's definitely time.

Thank you so much for the homemade jam and rolls! It was still warm and it dissappeared very quickly. Everyone loved it. Direct quote from Elder Peterson: "I don't like jam but"

We got our travel plans on Wednesday! Without question, that was the most exciting moment here in the MTC. We were all in the cafeteria cheering, screaming and high fiving everyone in sight. Our teachers came to eat with us and celebrate. I fly Delta to LA, flight leaving around 9:00 AM.

Thanksgiving was wonderful. I woke up, desperately wanting to be having Thanksgiving at grandma's house, but I got over it pretty quickly. We had a morning devotional at 10:00 AM. We had no idea who was coming. We were STUNNED when Jeffrey R. Holland and all of his family walked in. It was overwhelming. Apparently he came to the MTC the week before we got here so we weren't expecting to see him here, it was the perfect surprise. His devotional was very unconventional. He opened the meeting by saying "this isn't a devotional, this is a celebration. All you need to know right now is that the Holland's are your family right now since you can't be with yours." He chose five of what he thought to be outstanding missionaries from the MTC and had them bear their testimonies. One of them was Duarte Choro from Brazil (I think I've told you about him, nicest human being I've ever met) who will serve in Nagoya. One was an elder from mainland China who talked about whispering hymns in dark rooms for sacrament. One was another sister from Brazil who's parents told her never to return when she left. Another was a referral center missionary who has only a few months left to live. He then had all of his grandchildren sing to us and his wife speak to us. She couldn't stop sobbing the entire time. She said she just desperately wanted all of us to come over to her house to eat and that she feels very motherly toward us. Elder Holland closed the meeting and bore such powerful testimony. He talked about Christ and real gratitude. He said that we are hypocritical when we ask God for help with trivial things but then are blind to the poor in this world. It was incredible.

That afternoon we ate a decent Thanksgiving dinner. Much better than the typical MTC meal....but still MTC cafeteria food. I can't complain though.

We did a humantarian project that afternoon. The MTC made around 30,000 backpacks for children around the world.

The managing director of church humanitarian services also spoke to us about things he's done in south east asia and in Congo. He told us an incredible story about this town in Congo where the church has boomed because of one irrigation pipe the church put there.

We had a "thankful" fireside later in the evening where anyone could go up and say what they are thankful for. Tamir Shimai was one of them. She had written down what she was thankful for and the room was eerily silent. It doesn't matter what language she speaks, everyone completely shuts up when she opens her mouth. Now, everyone in the MTC walks up to her and says "thank you so much for your testimony."

This group of nihonjin have been a blast. They're hilarious. There's actually a brother and sister among them, Elder and Sister Kishi. How cool is that? The two of them are like walking cabbage patch kids dolls, you just want to pinch their cheeks. Elder Kishi loves giving hugs too. A lot of them are really proficient in English and have been learning lots of English phrases and pick up lines. Elder Kishi came to my room last night and asked me "did it hurt?" I said "did what hurt?" Kishi Choro: "when you fell from heaven"

Another sister during gym will say "I'm gonna clean your clock" or "sorry, I'm just so beautiful." Japanese people are nuts, LDS Japanese people are insane.

Am I ready to the feel. As ready as I can be. I know I will struggle to say what I want to say but that is to be expected. My comprehension is pretty good I think. There's a couple of the Nihonjin here that have crazy accents but other than those two, I can understand almost anything the others say to me...can't always respond though. I'm not too concerned about anything else. Everyone else is in a panic to learn about cultural etiquette, I'm glad I have that edge. I think a lot of the missionaries here see the Nihonjin missionaries and take them to be your typical Japanese when in reality, they're loudest, friendliest, most outgoing, and American-ish Japanese people you'll ever meet.

That's all I have time for. Have a good week! The next time you get an email from me, I'll be in the field!

November 23, 2010

Hello again.

So right after I wrote my email last week, I went to get my haircut and met an Elder who is going to Ukraine and is from Kobe. He told me that members are the only way to see success in Japan. It was really cool because the night before that, Davis Shimai said "don't you DARE, ever, ever, EVER teach a lesson without a member present." I'm glad I have that advice, I think it's pretty inspired.

Tuesday night, the apostle streak finally broke. Still a good devotional though. On Tuesday night, Elder Peterson had a pumpkin pie sent to him (he gets something almost everyday) and some big polynesian elders came storming up to our residence hall. I happened to be visiting in his room when they knocked, they said (their bodies filling the entire door frame) "are you Elder Peterson? We heard you had pie." Then they said a prayer and blessed that it would be "scrumptious and not poisonous" that was awesome.

The Nihonjin are great. It's hard to get a word in with them though, they're always being mobbbed. Two of them are sitting right behind me now though, one is Asai Shimai from New York. She has lived most of her life in the states but she speaks perfect Japanese so she only has to spend three weeks here. I'm super jealous.

I've got a bit of cold right now, for the second time. Not happy about it. It should be fine within the next few days so I'm thankful that it's happening now and not in two weeks. Speaking of...yeah two weeks from yesterday. Oh boy is it time.

Sorry if there are grammatical errors all over these emails. I read some last week and I was shocked. That's always been one of my pet-peeves, but it's hard not to make them when you're so rushed.

Have fun on Thursday. It'll be a pretty laid back day since nobody comes into work. There's a gigantic service project and fireside planned, that's all we really know. We eat Thanksgiving "dinner" at noon and then pack a sack dinner. Who knows what it will be. We also have TRC tomorrow since it's normally on Thursdays. The gym is also closed until Friday. Some people might go insane on that one.

The Mongolian sisters are better than ever. Now that we can understand most of what Aruinzaya Shimai says, she's hilarious. She's actually got an extremely dry, quick, and sarcastic sense of humor. We're all excited to go to Kobe together.

Do you still do Japanese during Family Home Evening? You should. Sam and Clint are still young enough to learn this language. It's much easier when you can hear it often. I'm serious. They won't be as embarassed as I am when they come to the MTC and the Nihonjin are confused as to why their Japanese is so bad. Just a thought.

Best of luck this week!

November 15, 2010

Ohayo Gozaimasu.

I'll start right at a week ago today: four in a row. Four apostles in a row, I heard that ties a record. Elder Bednar came last week and that was without question the most bold I've ever heard an apostle speak. His talk was "the answer is always in the doctrine." He said that sentence about 20 times. He talked about how doctrine is most important, then principles, then applications.  He said that "gimmicky applications are why home teaching doesn't work." He also asked if throughout our lives we had focused more on doctrine, principles, or applications. He then said (the senior missionaries all sit at the front) "there are some grey heads looking at the floor right now because they know they've focused on applications." That talk has completely changed how I approach my study.

I turned 20 this week. I haven't really even taken it in at all. I feel exactly the same. I'm just glad I'll be home before I'm 22. On Wednesday, Elder Ewer (argues absolutely everything. Everything, seriously. It's hilarious) and Tamir Shimai were discussing something and all I heard was Ewer Choro say: "Subete Mongorujin was totemo baka desu" then Tamir Shimai, grinning ear to ear says "Oh, honto? Shinitai desu ka?" They get funnier by the day.

My birthday was great. We all go to the classroom at 7 AM for 45 minutes of personal scripture study. My companion said he needed to go to the bathroom at first. We went and when we got back, the lights were out, so of course there was a celebration waiting for me. Everyone in the district had 3x5 cards that spelled out H-A-P-P-Y-B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y on them. The Mongolian sisters had made them. And they weren't just holding the cards, they had sewed handles on the back. Holding the cards, or even stapling rubber bands to them would just be too easy right? On my desk was a box wrapped in that flowery wrapping paper from our house, so of course I knew who had wrapped it. Inside were some mints, some ice cream, and a journal that everyone in the district had written in, including the teachers. Ten pages were scriptures copied in Japanese in English accompanied by scrapbooked pictures of the savior, the prophet, the temple, etc. Tons of time and effort had gone into that. I said "Dare ga kore o kakimasitha ka?" and immediately Tamir Shimai responded: "Dare?! Iesu Kirisuto!" Elder Shumway also had one of his friends send me a twelve pack of Coke that is hiding under my bed.

I'm still realizing how epic these two sisters are. In class, we had to answer a life question using the Book of Mormon in Japanese. Tamir Shimai answered "is there life after death?" and talked about her father, whom she has never told she loved before and has now passed away. She said she knows he'll feel her love most if she can share it in the mission field. All of this of course being in completely perapera Japanese. I also learned that Sister Aruinzaya is somewhat of a legend in Mongolia. She's served three mini missions and went on splits once a week in Mongolia. She was involved in the conversion of two sisters and the reactivation of another sister, all three of whom are at the MTC now.

They didn't have a Mongolian translator in sacrament meeting this week, so they asked my companion and I to translate into Japanese. That was insanely difficult.

The class has also been really amused by how Davis Shimai makes Japanese vocal expressions while she thinks. If you ask her a question she has to think about, she sounds like a bomb falling out of a plane. She'll go (pitch starting high and descending gradually): "AAAAAaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhaaaahhhhhhhaaaahhhhh" and if she does it for 10 seconds, the class will make an exploding noise. They're in for a big surprise when they start teaching investigators that are much more strange than her.

Last night, she said she had the second biggest laugh attack she's ever had in the MTC. Her hobby in Japan was always karaoke. She's actually a fantastic singer and whenever the hymn hit the second verse, she takes the soprano part up a half step. Peterson Choro, the rugby player, who hates singing, subconciously tried to follow her last night and his voice cracked comparable to a rooster. They both laughed through the entire hymn and the prayer. It was just hysterical to see her laugh so hard. Her Japanese mannerisms were telling her to stop laughing, so she covered her mouth, but she simply couldn't stop.

Speaking of, the next wave of Nihonjin arrived yesterday. 3 Elders, 8 (we heard 8, we've only seen six so far) sisters. We've only got to see them very briefly. The international office keeps them busy until Wednesday. All four sisters we got last time were constantly being flirted with by every elder in the MTC. ...I don't think we'll have that problem this time. It's a good thing though. If all 8 of them looked like the last four, they wouldn't be able to get anything done.

I'm really excited to have them. I felt like the three weeks we had the last group were the three weeks where I saw the most improvement in myself language wise, so hopefully I can do that again this time. I feel fine as far as teaching in Japanese goes, but I'm far from conversational and I want to be there before I leave. When we do the 15 minute "task" (shopping, obtain a referral, discuss food) the investigator will say "ohhh perapera desho!" or "sugoku hatsuon!" but then when we go into the 30 minutes of teaching, I struggle. I still have three more lessons to teach in the TRC to improve.

It is getting pretty difficult to be patient with this place. I think everyone feels that way. The MTC has nine weekly training meetings, so if you're here for twelve weeks, they start over. Yes, it feels extremely redundant now.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Drop off at the MTC, saying goodbye.

I love this picture. We're the half-jins of the branch (1/4 in Elder Soliai's case). Elder Shiozawa is on the right. These are two of my favorite people here.

My companion and roommates. Elders Ewer, Shumway, and Anstead.

Elder Araki and Elder Kobayashi from Machida.

Nice-uh gaii pose-uh!

Sister Sato saw the three of us taking pictures and ran over saying, "I am Japanese too!" Sister Escalante and Sister Williams jokingly jumped into the picture as well. Escalante and Williams left with the rest of the Sempai yesterday.

Our district, from left to right: Elder Ewer, Elder Shumway, Elder Peterson, Elder Clements, Elder Adams, Elder Anstead, Elder Low, Sister Aruinzaya, Sister Tamir, Sister Ferris, and Sister Holker

These are the Nihonjin and half-jin missionaries.

The sisters of our district. Right before we took the picture, Sister Tamir said, "Wait! Preach My Gospel: Important!!"

Elder Ewer showing Sister Tamir the meaning of "crap" in her dictionary.

The elders of our district looking right at the sun.

October 26, 2010

It's becoming difficult to keep track of what happens in a week. I've said it in probably every email, but they are indeed all bluring together.

We're no longer Kohai (Juniors). The Senpai (Senior) and Nihonjin (Native Japanese) left yesterday at 5:00 AM. We'll have new missionaries a week from tomorrow. That's a weird thought. Not sure that we're ready to be Senpai. I've been here for more than a month. Almost to the halfway point.

Elder Nelson came on last Tuesday for devotional. He was fantastic. Very simple principles, almost all of which we had heard before, but it's always profound hearing it from the mouth of an apostle. We always have district meeting after devotional and we discuss what we learned and bear our testimonies. This week, Tamir Shimai told us that when Elder Nelson came to Mongolia, he stayed at her house and gave her entire family blessings. These girls are pioneers. Anyway, during her testimony, she started to cry and said "I want to express so many things, but I don't know how, it's hard. It's very hard." She said it just like that in perfect English. The thing is, she and her companion bear stronger testimony than any of us. Their lack of words helps them. As we closed the meeting, Elder Clements, also tearfully said, "please stop worrying, you don't need words. We know exactly what you're saying." Language is critical, but not the most important thing here.

Speaking of the language, we taught our last lesson in the TRC on Thursday. We teach in Japanese this coming Thursday. I'm pretty nervous, but these are volunteers, they know what they're signing up for. I can ask questions and respond to many things, explaining doctrine is coming along, but not yet where I want it to be.

One of the Senpai stayed behind and was put in our district. He recently had to have knee surgery and wasn't able to leave on time. He's Elder Cannon from Boise, Idaho. He's very...Idaho-an. And that's not a bad thing. He's definitely ready to get out of here and not happy about staying, but he's being a good sport so far. He's trying to schedule teaching evaluations during class so that he doesn't rip his hair out learning the same thing over and over again.

This week, Davis Shimai had us each give something up for a week in order to get a small taste of what it's like for an investigator to give up an addiction. None of us could do it. I gave up dessert and soda (I never drink soda here anyway), yet I still had a Coke in the dorm that my roommates brought back from the hospital. My companion tried to give up cracking his knuckles and failed miserably. Andrus Sensei, our other teacher, has hinted that he is dating a girl named Jessica (from Elder Cannon's homeward incidentally) and told us that they went "scootering" on a date. Elder Peterson jokingly wrote "Jessica and Scootering" on the board as Andrus Sensei's addiction. Funny enough, yesterday in class he told us they had "ended it." That was hilarious.

I have a favor to ask. Our district leader hands out mail in class twice a day. Of course, it's just like elementary school and everyone is on the edge of their seat crossing their fingers for mail. The Mongolian sisters have never gotten mail. They always jokingly say "Watashi? Watashi?" ("What about me?") and our district leader will thumb through them and pretend to find one for them. They giggle about it because they know they won't be getting any mail. Still, I know there's part of them that is slightly dissappointed. A couple of the Senpai asked for their mailing addresses and Tamir Shimai made them promise to write. Could you possibly send them a small note? It would need to be very short and simple. I think it would probably be best if it was in simple English and translated to Japanese line by line. I think they read Hiragana better than Romaji. Just say something about how you've heard about them, wish them luck (Tamir Shimai is still struggling with migraines), whatever you want. Just keep it short and simple. I know it will make their day, their week, possibly their time at the MTC. Their mailing addresses should be exactly the same as mine, just address them to "Sister Tamir" and "Sister Aruinzaya." Address:

Box 161, JPN-KOB, 12-06
Missionary Training Center
2005 North 900 East

Provo, UT 84604-1793

There was also another Elder here with ties to Machida that left yesterday. Elder Ikeda had a younger brother (I think his name was Kei) who is deaf and in the Machida first ward. He looked so familiar to me and he said the same for me. He typically would visit his brother during the summer and we concluded that we probably met at church five years ago. How weird is that? Five years ago, I attended church with two of the Elders from Japan that passed through here. Crazy.

I'm sorry if there isn't enough info in here. I'm not sure what else to write. I'm almost out of time. I should start keeping more detailed journal entries in order to send better weekly emails.

That should be all for now. Thanks for writing, the packages, and all the support. It's greatly appreciated. Until next week...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Letter - October 12, 2010

Thanks for the Dear Elders during the week. It might be a good idea to continue those while I'm in the MTC. We have such limited time to email. By all means, don't stop emailing me, but if you have something you want to Dear Elder me during the week, please go for it.

Grandma's emails made me laugh. You'll forward this to her right? Wendy sent me a Dear Elder too. As did Jacob.

This week has flown by. It's so interesting. During the day, my thought process is "I'm never going to get out of here" but then when I go to bed at night I think to myself "I've been here for three weeks?" The weeks are like days, the days are like weeks. Very strange.

Davis Shimai is one of our teachers. If you remember, she is the Nihonjin who converted at 17 and served her mission in Hawaii. She told us that we are her last district. That doesn't seem like a big deal, but it was very sacred to her. She's been teaching at the MTC for three years, making her the most senior Japanese teacher at the MTC. She started crying as she told us and said "this is very not Japanese of me, you're not supposed to see me cry, but I love all of you and I'll always remember each of you." We sang "I Believe in Christ" as our closing hymn and there were so many more than 12 voices. Angels were in that room, singing with us.

The Mongolian Sisters in our district: I still can't explain how incredible those two sisters are.

In fact, I could write a whole email about them. We all bear our testimonies after Tuesday night General Authority Devotional. The Mongolian sisters always struggle through, but manage to put everyone in tears every time. They have very few words, but more of the Spirit than they know what to do with. Tamir Shimai held her Book of Mormon with one hand and had her companion rip it from her hands. Then, she gripped it tightly with two, and her companion couldn't rip it from her hands. She then said "I love this work. I am sealed to my family. We had no money to go Hong Kong Temple, but we have faith and we are sealed. I love missionary work. I am a daughter of God. I know this church is true. If need to, I would die for church."

Also, last night, my companion put on some finger-less gloves. He calls them his "bum gloves." The Mongolian sisters asked why he was wearing them and he said "these are my bum gloves." "Bum gloves?" they replied. We laughed, they laughed. Then we tried to explain "homeless" and "hobo" but they looked up "homo" and were really confused and laughing quite hard. All of us were stumbling back to our residence halls laughing so hard. Those sisters never fail to put us in tears, either by the power of their testimonies or by their senses of humor. Our district wouldn't be the same without them. They are a miracle in action. They kick our trash when it comes to Japanese.

I found out one of the Nihonjin missionaries is from the Machida 1st ward! Elder Kobayashi! Please forward this to Grandma Keiko. I'll get a picture of him and print it off. I about screamed when he told me that. Also, one of the missionaries that teaches in the Teaching Evaluation Center, Brother (Elder) Bradley who is short and half-Japanese said he served in both the Machida wards just a year ago and that Ii sounds very familiar.

As far as the language. The learning curve continues to be ridiculous. I only have this week and next and then I'm teaching entirely in Nihongo. I know I need to work harder. Everyone in the branch has to write a talk on a specific topic every Sunday and then speakers are chosen at random. This weeks topic was repentance so everyone was walking around saying "kuiaratamenakerebanarimasen" as fast as they could. Andrus Sensei told me this week in an interview that the language sounds beautiful coming out of my mouth, but it's hilarious to see how hard I have to concentrate to use the write verb conjugations. If you hand me a sentence, He also told our whole class that we have to make solid goals and that the senpai (seniors) are not speaking good enough Japanese. He said if we work hard, we'll catch up to them. Don't follow their example. I can spit it back out with correct pronunciation and decent speed, but I have to stare at it for a minute before I can decipher it. A bit frustrating, but I'll get there. I'm not behind by any means as far as speaking goes.

Since we have 12 weeks together, districts have now bonded with the whole Japanese branch. A little branching out, if you will (sorry). If I were speaking English, I'd be in the field now. There are some amazing missionaries in our branch. Elder Ahn from Korea is 26, a body builder, 5'2, converted only a year and a half ago, and learned English once he got his call by listening to English tapes 8 hours a day. Just thought that might be interesting. There's another half-jin here too named Shiozawa. He's even more stressed out than me because his name AND looks give him away completely.

I'm out of time...I'm going to pick up your package now. Thanks for everything!

Low Choro

To write to Elder Low:
Select "Provo MTC"
Box #: 161
Mission Code: JPN-KOB
Departure Date: 12.06.2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

New Life, New Look

Here's a bit of an inaugural post as my life heads in a different direction, as does this blog. It may be completely fascinating, boring as heck, or perhaps not updated at all by my family. We'll see. This text is available as a page above.

What's most important about serving a mission is the calling. When you are called to serve a mission you are called to serve as a "missionary for the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The exciting part that everyone wants to know is where you are assigned. Lots of inspired thought and consideration is put into your assignment. The assignment doesn't matter so much as the calling.

What's most important about serving a mission is the calling. When you are called to serve a mission you are called to serve as a "missionary for the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The exciting part that everyone wants to know is where you are assigned. Lots of inspired thought and consideration is put into your assignment. The assignment doesn't matter so much as the calling.

My assignment is pretty exciting. Why? I've been called to the Japan Kobe Mission and I'm connected to it in a few ways.

  1. My mother was born and raised in Japan. She came to the U.S. at 19 where she met my father. All of her family is still in Japan and I have visited them several times, twice by myself.
  2. My parents lived on the small island, Shikoku when they were first married and my older brother was born there. They attended a very small branch and my dad taught English at dozens of junior high and high schools. Shikoku is within my mission boundaries.
  3. The Ii clan, my mother's maiden name, were located in Hikone where a feudal castle still exists today. Hikone is within my mission boundaries.

All of these are very exciting coincidents. It is very easy to see how my assignment was indeed inspired by the hand of the Lord. However, if I were called somewhere else and I couldn't see coincidents like these, I would still know that the assignment was inspired (I would find out why later) and I would know that the calling is what's most important.

The mission has approximately 134 missionaries, 45 of them Japanese, 85 foreign; 110 elders, 20 sisters and 2 couples. It includes 6 stakes, 3 member districts, 30 million people; and the major cities: Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Okayama, and Wakayama.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Being honest and being blunt are two very different things.

Just because you CAN tell it how it is, doesn't always mean that you SHOULD.

Honesty, and especially sincerity are wonderful attributes, but tact is equally wonderful.

Tact is sorely under-utilized in our society.

Patting yourself on the back for always "telling it like it is", even when unnecessary and insensitive, doesn't make you look cool; it makes you look rude, dumb, AND pretentious.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010


You know all that commotion over that proposed mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center?
I think President Uchtdorf says it best:
"It seems only right and proper that we extend to others that which we so earnestly desire for ourselves."

You know that other quite prominent issue that has our church under fire? The one that particularly pertains to California at the moment? Try this one on for size (same talk, President Uchtdorf):

"I am not suggesting that we accept sin or overlook evil, in our personal life or in the world. Nevertheless, in our zeal, we sometimes confuse sin with sinner, and we condemn too quickly and with too little compassion. We know from modern revelation that 'the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.' We cannot gauge the worth of another soul any more than we can measure the span of the universe. Every person we meet is a VIP to our Heavenly Father. Once we understand that, we can begin to understand how we should treat our fellowmen."
Just a friendly reminder I suppose. Words from a prophet, seer, and revelator. I love that I can find words like these for comfort and inspiration. I love that I can whole-heartedly agree. I love that even though they are primarily spiritual, they are completely applicaple from a secular perspective. I sincerely hope that there is evidence of me acting upon these words somewhere.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice it."

Each summer, I try to become more culturally literate by blazing through as many classic pieces of literature that I can. Last summer, I read The Color Purple by Alice Walker. That is one that I'll never forget. It's difficult to stomach at times yes, but its message is hard-hitting and presented completely devoid of arrogance.

Here's what I learned from it:

You are you.
You cannot be anyone else, and nobody else can be you.
Everything in life can make you stronger...
...or it can kill you.
You choose.
You need to love,
and you need to love people.
Nobody else can love the way you can.
Some people need you.
You exist.
You're here.

I was reminded of this book and these lessons because of the recent events in Fantasia Barrino's life. If you haven't heard, she tried to take her own life a couple weeks ago. Fantasia played Celie in the stage adaptation of The Color Purple on Broadway and was so popular that she nearly doubled ticket sales and performed at several stops on the national tour. If her understudy went on, people would walk out and demand a refund. She had never seen a play before being in it. She received rave reviews.  My favorite line from any review of hers? "Whatever power is at work here, it's enough to confirm your belief in the divine."

She released her third album this week, the final track being the song "I'm Here" from The Color Purple, which I downloaded today. Even after living through Celie's story hundreds of times, Fantasia apparently forgot that she's "here." She forgot about the uplifting and inspring nature of her other-worldy talent. She forgot that she's a mother. Please, don't ever forget that you're here and here for a reason. You may not know that reason now, you may not ever know it. Regardless of what you believe, what you don't believe, or what you may or may not want to believe, you are human. And you ARE here.

"I may be poor, I may be black, I may be ugly, but I'm here."

"I'm thankful for each day that I'm given. Both the easy and hard ones I'm livin'."

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I've wanted to blog about the film Departures (Okuribito, its original Japanese title) for a long time...

...but I cannot find the words to express my thoughts on it.

Listen to the little bugger at the top of this, let that do the talking for you.
Then go watch it.

If it's hard to track down, come over to my house and we'll watch it on Netflix.
I've seen it twice and am itching to see it again.

It's about life, death, happiness, loss, passion, family, forgiveness, and...well...everything.
It'll haunt you forever.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Some More YouTube Shares

If you haven't heard of Antoine Dodson before now, where have you been? Let's get one thing straight: this isn't a funny situation. The guy really is commendable for saving his sister. However, I dare you to watch this without laughing. Be sure to check out the Bed Intruder Remix which is, as of right now, the #34 song on iTunes (and as of 8/20/2010 #89 on the Billboard Hot 100!). Awesome.

The Hiroshima anniversary was a couple days ago. I always watch this when I need a little humility in my life.

How much do I love Audra McDonald? Too much. A cruise ship in Mexico, conducting the audience, two unexpected key changes, flipping off the pianist, and absolutely rocking it. She is simply a living legend. How can you not love her?

This is so my little brothers.

So, I'm not a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber. At ALL. And I'm REALLY not a fan of Phantom of the Opera....not one bit. I laughed when I heard he was writing a sequel (Love Never Dies, currently playing in London). I laughed even harder when I heard the premise of the story. He did cast two of my favorite performers, Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo, in the lead roles. I've heard most of the music; it's pretty bad. This song however? Incredible. Easily my favorite song by Webber. And, can I just say I want to be Ramin when I grow up? Ladies, brace yourselves before you watch this.

Me, Myself, and I has always been one of my favorites. Anyone that denies her ability as a vocalist is deaf.  She's not particularly difficult to look at either. This one's more calm and controlled, this one is just plain fierce.

This is my favorite music video. It always makes me think.

I remember hearing about this story in the news years ago. I remember everyone talking about this guy in church and how he was such a great example. I don't think I appreciated his story until I saw this. Prepare yourself before watching it. It's difficult to watch, but carries the most beautiful message imaginable.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Quiz

Edit: Thanks for all the responses. I've loved reading them. If we're being fair, I need to voice some of my own responses. They're in bold. Keep commenting if you're reading this just now!

I think a lot. I've been thinking about some things, some serious, but mostly trivial. I have questions and I want to hear the answers from YOU. Don't even try to get away with reading this and not commenting. I KNOW YOU EXIST! I look at the traffic on my blog and I have nearly ten times as many views as I have comments. I'm not mad about it by any means. I'm actually quite happy that people that I'm unaware of are reading this. BUT if you are frightened to leave a comment, don't be. I don't care if you're my best friend or if I've never heard of you, I want your responses on these, just for fun. 

Some have no right or wrong answer, some do. Answer as many as you wish or feel compelled to answer.

  • Why do we have private blogs? Really though. The internet is public domain. Social networking sites offer loads of privacy settings in order for you to stay privately connected with your friends. What's the harm in having a public blog? Isn't that why you create one? I think letting a select few people read your big ol' self-indulgent blog posts is, well...self-indulgent. Create a blog, prepare to be stalked. Actually, there's no such thing as blog "stalking." That's my philosophy anyway. Agree?
    • Private is private. :)
  • We're always getting on pre-missionaries' cases about "filling the canteen" before their missions, but why are we so proud of girls that collect missionaries like Silly Bandz?
    • Rachel, I love that answer. Missionaries don't belong to anyone but the Lord. They are not "your missionary." Sorry, but I don't have much sympathy for girls that are torn up over "their missionary" leaving. That's covered in a later question.
  • It's politically incorrect to refer to someone of African decent as just "African." The correct term is "African American." Why is it that I am always, always, always simply refered to as just "Asian"? Apparently I'm not American, despite being born in the country.
    • I'm really not upset about this at all. I just think it's peculiar and wanted to hear your thoughts.  I agree, Shannon and Rachel being "politically correct" is silly.
  • Name three African nations off the top of your head.
    • Bravo.
  • Give me three distinct differences (cultural, culinary, language, etc.) between China and Japan. Can you do it?
    • Shannon, you rocked this one. Sometimes I want to give a copy of Ai's handout to everyone I know. The differences are there, and easy to notice. Ignorance is the only thing that can blind you.
  • So Miley Cyrus (just an example) is now the sleaze of the century. Is she entitled to the kind of art she is currently producting? Is it wrong? Are you upset about it? Why?
    • I really have no opinion one way or the other. It's not hard to look away.
  • How does same-sex marriage harm you? (NOT playing devil's advocate, just curious).
    • I'm starting to think the best policy on this issue is to keep my mouth shut. I do advise everyone to really examine themselves on this and every issue. It is very important to be politically aware. Don't use your religion as a cop-out and don't choose the trendy side of the issue. What do you think is best? Why?
  • I think feminism killed chivalry.
    • Good one Joni. Feminism comes in all varieties, which also mean chivalrous expectations vary as well. Which means there is a bit of trial and error that has to take place....dang.
  • Name three Canadian provinces.
    • You made me look really dumb, Aimee.
  • Where is Latvia?
    • Phew, ya'll are alright. Do you know what the other Baltic nations are?
  • How do you justify being someone's biggest fan? A groupie, per say. You know who you are.
    • I was being far too specific on this one, yet you still nailed it on the head, Shannon.
  • Do you like authority?
    • Too general. My bad.
  • Which culture is yogurt from?
    • It's (drumroll)....Turkish!!
  • What language do they speak in Ukraine?
    • Good job.
  • The United States has no official language. Do you get upset when people can't speak English at McDonalds?
    • I'm torn on this one.  Really, I don't know what to think.
  • Lady GaGa. What do you think?
    • Quit reading my thoughts Shannon. The woman IS talented (acoustic covers on the piano anyone?). And I enjoy that she can be emotionally provocative. However, there is a line that she crosses again and again and it makes me like her less and less. Showing up to a Mets game in your underwear, swearing, screaming, and flipping people off so much to the point that you are moved into Jerry Seignfeld's private suite (not yours) ain't artistic, it's trashy. Normal people would've been kicked out in an instant. Enjoy what you can, Wendy. I don't think that's hypocritical at all.
  • What language do they speak in Brazil?
    • Haha, I asked this one because I remember one of my friend's telling me they "speak a little Brazillian."
  • What's a veto?
    • Sheesh, this question makes me sound like a snotty third grader that got second place in the spellling bee.
  • In the LDS faith, we're (males) taught not to steady date until after we serve a full-time mission. What's the severity here? Is someone that drinks coffee just as condemned as the high school senior with a girlfriend? Why?
    • Going back to the previous question. THIS is why there shouldn't be any sorrow over departing missionaries. It's all in the words of the prophet. Choose your battles.
  • Why, why, why do we lose socks in the laundry?
    • ?

I guess that's enough for now. I may get too carried away.

Go. Answer, respond, do something.

Just watch. Nobody is going to comment on this post, now that I've asked.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

They Say You're Going Places

I just got back from a week in California! If you know my family, you know that Disney is a big deal. Big, big, big deal. We are in Disneyland at least once a year and usually at least one of us is also at Disney World or the Tokyo Disney Resort at one time or another during the year. 90% of the art work in our house is Disney. I tell people that Disney barely comes in second to Jesus in my family. They laugh, but it's not too far from a reality.

This was our first year staying in one of our vacation club condos. We have membership in the Disney Vacation Club and get to stay in really nice condos with multiple bedrooms and a full kitchen at the Disney Resorts. I was perfectly content to sit in the condo all day really. The Grand Californian hotel is nothing short of spectacular:

We are definitely a bastard step-child family when it comes to vacation club guests. We stay in an extremely nice condo in a five star hotel, but we drive in a crappy mini-van (which got us stranded in the desert on the way home; 'nother story, 'nother time) with a Utah license plate. We didn't fly in. The window on the driver's side doesn't roll down so we open the door to talk to the bell-hops. We don't want them to carry our luggage to our room because we can't afford to tip them. And on our drive to and from we stay at super sketchy, white-trash motels in St. George. Real classy.

Disneyland can be miserable in the summer if you don't know how to do it right. I feel bad seeing other people having a horrible time in the park. I've decided I'm going to make every effort to only go during off-season. It is simply the only way to go.

What I really want to talk about is a little excursion I made by myself. The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California is the only place my family EVER vacations. Does it get old you ask? Yeah. It does. I'll always love that place and I'll always go back, but I do have yearnings to see other things. I kind of realized that even though this is a travel experience, I'm so sheltered because it's the exact same trip every single time. I see the same things. I might as well be teleporting back and forth from Farmington to Anaheim. This time, I was going to actually take advantage of being in Southern California.

I was lucky that my family chose to go to California while the Tony Award winning musical In the Heights was playing at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. I was in New York just a couple weeks after In the Heights had won the Tony Award for Best Musical and of course, getting tickets was impossible. I couldn't even believe my luck when I found out that Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer, lyricist, and actor who originally played the lead role, Usnavi, was booked for the Pantages engagement. I HAD to go.

The tickets were surprisingly very affordable, it was getting there that was going to be difficult. I was going to go by myself in that my family clearly wasn't interested. I wouldn't have the car because my parents were taking my younger brothers to Legoland that day. I could ask the concierge at the hotel to set up a cab for me, but that could potentially cost hundreds of dollars. My option was then public transportation. And let me tell you, it was the experience of a life-time.

I meticulously planned out the trip, looked up what trains to take and where to make the transfers. I gave myself hours of extra safety net time, but of course, I ended up on the train (thanks to my parents) as it was leaving, without a ticket. I was immediately kicked off the train at the next stop in Fullerton because I was riding illegally. Luckily, another train of a different railway system was right behind it. It costed extra, but hey, it was super nice and completely empty. It was a coach coming from the airport and the interior was nearly identical to that of an airplane. I got on with a guy in his 20s that had a little kid with him that couldn't have been any older than 10. They sat right in front of me. The ride was just under an hour to my transfer and I couldn't help but overhear parts of their converstaion. It was absolutely beautiful. I was able to establish that they were cousins, the younger one had come from out of town for a family reunion. They were looking through a photo album and I heard things like this:

Young cousin: "Who's that?"
Older cousin: "Your other cousin, my younger brother."
Y: "Why haven't I met him?"
O: "He died"
Y: "How?"
O:  "A drug overdose."
Y: "What does that mean?"
O: "He just took too many drugs and his body couldn't handle it. He was 15 years old. You were a baby."
Y: "Would he come to the reunion if he were alive?"
O: "(laughing) How would I know that?"
Y: "(pointing upwards) Ask him."

The ride on that Amtrak coach to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles was really nice, and I came out teary eyed. Call me a creep, whatever.

Union Station was intimidating to say the least. I needed to transfer onto one of the metro lines underground. It took me a while to find it. It was definitely a change of scenery. Definitely different from the nice clean train I had taken earlier. Riding in that metro was like checking into an insane asylum. While I waited for the train, people were eyeing me and standing ridiculously close to me. I had my hand glued to my wallet. I was dressed decently in that I was going to go see a professional, national touring company, and by default I was by far the wealthiest looking person around. Once I got on the train, I noticed I was the white-est person there; a very different feeling for me. I'm used to being the only person of any color at all in sight.

Just before the train started moving, this five foot nothing hispanic woman, probably in her 80s, gets up and moves to the seat directly across the aisle from me. Once we started moving, she was yelling at everyone on the train in Spanish with this terrifying scowl on her face. People disregarded it as if it was a regular occurance. I was terrified. Some people got closer to her and nodded, others glared at her, most ignored her. A couple stops after, a man that looked like he had never bathed in his life got on. He had dread locks that looked like possums, inch-long fingernails, and smelled like something had died inside of him. He was completely delirious. He was giggling, whispering things to himself, grinding on people standing up, getting right in people's faces and screaming "EXCUSE ME!" every ten seconds or so. He was happy though.

Although  I was shaking and maybe a little bit scared for my life, I think that was a great experience for me. It was great to get away from sunshine-y, squeaky clean Anaheim, into the real world of Los Angeles and Hollywood. It's not a nice place, but hey, most of this world isn't. Luckily the Hollywood and Vine station was right across the street from the Pantages so I didn't have to wander around. Even in my short walk across the street, there was a very dark and filthy spirit associated with Hollywood Blvd.

I sat down and watched the show, and was absolutely blown away. If you've seen this show, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. The energy has your blood pumping from beginning to end. The score is up-beat, exciting, and beautiful. The story is hilarious, heart-breaking, relevant, and inspiring. I had high expectations, and they were more than met. I'm serious when I say that this might be the best piece of musical theater I have ever seen. I've been reading reviews of this touring company, and some say that they are a stronger group than the original Broadway cast. That doesn't surprise me. Every. Single. Person....was absolutely incredible. This was the best collection of talent I've ever seen in a single produciton. It was amazing to see Lin-Manuel at the helm, guiding his baby. It's really something to see someone play the lead role in a piece that they wrote themselves. He had an indescribable investment in the show. How have I been so lucky this summer? Audra McDonald and now this?

There was a beautiful correlation between the depicted financial struggles of these people in Washington Heights, New York and what I had just experienced on the metro.

I most identified with the character Nina. I sort of loathe when I identify most with a female character because then I know I can never play them. ANYway. Nina has just returned from her freshman year in college, but has a big secret. We're at the same place in life, so it's not bad that I related to a chick, ok? I'll relate to Usnavi more once I'm older and working in the real world. Anyway, what I really loved about this story was that it centered around such normal issues. I think sometimes we want theater to make us uncomfortable. We want to see these horrible ordeals, these adult situations, these gruesome sights. Don't get me wrong, I think there is a lot to learn from heavy subject-matter, but I also think that you can tell a moving, dramatic, and inspirational story about simple problems. The issues covered in this story are very simple. There's no drugs, no adultery, no suicide, no abuse, and no murder, but the story is still very serious and very moving. Anyone that's ever been part of a family or a community can relate to it. I don't want to spoil any more of it. Just make every effort to see it.

Arielle Jacobs singing Breathe:

So beautiful. This video doesn't do her justice though.

The rest of the touring cast on Lopez Tonight:

Sorry about the scatter-brained nature of this (and every) post. I'm too lazy to organize this many thoughts. Overall, I'm glad I got to go on vacation. I loved being in my home away from home, but loved getting out and seeing the world even more. Exploration is a great thing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fast Forward

It's kind of crazy how fast my life is moving right now. Things that I have known would always come my way are here. I really have no idea what my future holds for me. That's a weird feeling.

I made a summer to do list. As of Wednesday, it's done.

I drove to Cedar City on Tuesday and saw some Shakespeare (food for my soul). I saw Peter Pan at the Utah Shakespearean Festival back in 1999 and have wanted to go back basically every year since then. This year I finally did. Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth both highly recommended. I saw this brilliant woman named Kym Mellen-whom I had the pleasure of working with at BYU- do this:

And this:

Both of her performances were beyond description, so brilliant. I felt honored to know her and to have been directed by her. I think I forget how privileged I was this last year. People would kill for the kind of experience I got and the talent I was affected, taught, and uplifted by.

I then drove to the middle-of-nowhere Ivins, Utah to see a bunch of people swing around on a fly system and pretend to be gorillas in an outdoor amphitheatre called might've heard of it? The show was about as good as my description. Oh, and it didn't start until 8:30 PM, ended at 11:00 and when the show ended it was still over 100 degrees outside. My back was drenched in the middle of the night. Oh, AND the pregnant lady next to me peed her pants and I nearly gagged on the smell for the entire first act. AND, her daughter, who was sitting four seats away, kept walking up to her and complaining, in an outdoor voice, about how she couldn't see. And I think the married couple from Vegas sitting in front of me might've been hitting on me and everyone around them...collectively. And (you get the picture). It might be a while before I come back here again.

Being in Cedar City was kind of weird. It triggered some unexpected emotional responses inside of me. I shouldn't have been surprised though, I went there with these people. I think I've just convinced myself to forget which makes remembering all the more painful because I promised myself that I wouldn't forget...yet here I am, forgetting; if that makes any sense at all.

I feel like I've sort of arrived. Everything I knew would happen is happening. Now all I have are my memories, which I have very foolishly neglected. Why is it so hard for us to just be little kids? Why?!

Oh, and that brings me to this other kind of big thing...I'm going on a mission! I can't believe it's here, but at the same time, I am so ready to just get out of here. So ready to teach. So ready to serve. So ready to help. So ready to give everything I have. Where am I going you ask? Does it matter? Nah. But anyway, I'm going to Kobe, Japan! Heck. Yes. My parents lived in the boundaries of this mission when they were first married. My older brother was born there. My dad taught english there in several different junior high and high schools. Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Nara are all in the boundaries of this mission. My grandpa's family roots are in the boundaries of this mission. My family has a freakin feudal age castle in this mission. Cool stuff. I am so excited and humbled. I leave on September 22nd. Hoorah.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Simple Little Things

I have to write about this while it's fresh on my mind. Tonight I saw Audra McDonald and Will Swenson in 110 in the Shade at Hale Center Theater Orem. Two mega-Broadway stars reprising roles they played on Broadway in a 300 seat community theater-in-the-round. Big deal. Huge deal. This is like the planets aligning...kinda deal.

Anyway, um...this was quite possibly the best theater experience of my life. I've never been so entertained, so impressed, so thrilled,  so inspired, or so touched by a piece of musical theater like this before. The talent was phenomenal across the board. There is not a weak performance in the bunch. I was not unimpressed or dissappointed in anyone on that stage at any time and that is a huge deal. That being said, watcing Audra was like nothing else. You think you know what a perfect performance is, and then you see her. I have never, ever been so blown away by a single performance. My expectations were sky high and she managed to shatter them. I don't know how better to sum this up than with the Simple Little Things I saw:
  • Front Row - This theater is so freakin' tiny. I've seen a couple other shows here, both times towards the back. There isn't a bad seat in the house, but I did  have a great seat. Will hit me with his rain staff accidentally when he turned around. Audra's dress brushed against my legs several times and she rested her hand on the back of my chair. Heaven.
  • Lizzie's entrance - The energy was like nothing I've ever felt before. I've seen big names in Broadway productions before and in my experience, when a big name makes their entrance, the audience cheers and the actor stands there, frozen, basking in the applause the audience is feeding them. Audra had none of it. There was an eruption of applause alright, but she didn't spend one moment not being Lizzie Curry. She hugged her father and her brothers and started doing the dishes. She didn't stand there and indulge herself.
  • The first note she sang - My heart fluttered in unison with everyone in the audience. She has such a unique, stunning, mixed voice that rattled the walls of the theater and pierced the hearts of the audience.
  • File - He was just so great from top to bottom. I've seen this guy in another show and I was very impressed with him yet again. He has a fantastic voice and he is such a smart actor. This may be a bizarre observation coming from another guy, but he has such expressive eyes. You could always tell what he was thinking by looking into his eyes.
  • Starbuck's entrance - The collective swoon of the ladies behind me was just as natural as his performance. Will surprised me. He was charming and unassuming. He didn't make the role anything more than what it really was.
  • The Picnic - You cannot fake a performance as emaculately detailed as Audra's. There was passion and humanity even in the way she set up the plates. The expression on her face when she realized that File wasn't coming was unforgettable.
  • Raunchy!  - I think I finally understand the phrase "bring the house down." She so brought it. I've never seen someone so animated, so alive, so ridiculous, but at the same time, completely grounded and real. She had everyone in the palm of her hand and had them rolling in the aisles. It was also fantastic to see H.C. actually playing a harmonica and guitar.
  • When Noah told "the truth" - I loved the way he delivered it. It was such a harsh thing to say, but he honestly believed that it was the right thing to say and did it because he loves her. It could be very easy to hate this character, but I felt for him. It made it all the more heartbreaking to see Lizzie reluctantly agree with him.
  • Old Maid - Just...oh my gosh. Bore her soul.
  • "I'm Pretty" - And she pretty. I had a huge lump in my throat when she asked "is this really me?" with tears streaming down her face.
  • The choreography - I was holding my breath a couple times. I was terrified that someone was going to fall off of that tiny stage but they were all pro. Hats off.
  • The end - It's just perfect. Go see it. "Oh Starbuck, you said the wrong thing."
I could make minor criticisms about the staging and such, but really, what purpose would it serve? And, I don't want to.

If there's one word to describe this show, it's honest. Everything about it was real. Hale could've really dropped the ball with this. They could've made this show a flashy spectacle and alienated their cast from Audra and Will, but they really pulled it off. The entire cast is to be heavily commended. Yes she's Audra McDonald and her performance stood out; she doesn't have four Tony Awards for nothing. But it was an honest performance and it was a humble performance. It was never about her. She was contributing to the rest of her cast, giving them their moments and being as true to herself as possible. The look on her face during the curtain call told it all. She nodded to each side of the audience, just bowing her head in thanks. No arms flailing, no fake smile, no blowing kisses, just genuine appreciation.

 I honestly feel as though I've gotten to know her through her two hours of vulnerability on stage.  When you give an honest, connected performance, you let people see the highs and lows of your life. That's what I saw tonight and that's why I love theater. I believe that everyone has something deeply divine in them that is worth sharing with the world. I love seeing people for who they really are and the theater is the best place for it. This really reminded me of that beautiful truth. Thanks to the cast and crew of this incredible production. This was a once in a lifetime experience and I'm a better person because of it.

This production plays until August 7th, but Audra and Will's limited engagement ends this Saturday, July 10th. This is a must-see, cannot miss. Really. Tickets range from $99-$149 and there are still plenty of seats available. It is worth every penny. BUT, if you simply cannot afford these prices (I couldn't) there is a solution! Show up an hour before the show starts and any remaining seats can be yours for $25! That is the deal of the century. You will never get the opportunity to see a performer of this magnitude in a space this small ever again. I'm considering going again. If you haven't seen it yet, I would be showing up at 6 every night until Saturday if I were you. It is certainly worth your time. I promise.
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