Sunday, December 30, 2012

Can't Quite Hear the People Sing

My mind's been going at about a million miles per hour about what I thought of this movie. Hopefully this comes out as a somewhat structured, coherent piece of writing.

I heard about this movie on my mission. I know, I wasn't supposed to think about this kind of stuff, but good grief I was excited. I've been in really heavy anticipation for a long time.

Before I go any further, I'd like to say one thing. Les Miserables is bulletproof. It's possibly the best piece of  literature ever written and Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's musical adaptaion is perhaps the greatest musical of all time. It's definitely one of my favorites. In fact, a day where I don't go to YouTube and watch SOMETHING Les Miserables-related is quite an unusual day for me. I'm about to get very nit-picky. If you've seen this film and are smitten beyond the point of no return, I'd skip this, seriously. If you do take away anything from it though, know that even though I thought this was a heavily flawed adaptation, I walked out of the theater motivated, moved, uplifted, provoked, ready to live my life and so excited to go out and change somebody else's (it hasn't been an easy three months, I have un-published blog-drafts to prove that) and THAT is the magic of this story. 

I'm going to start with the good:

There's a reason I used the poster with this guy's face on it. He's the star of the show. His name is Aaron Tveit and he plays Enjolras. I've always loved this character and this actor. When I saw Wicked on Broadway four years ago, he was Fiyero. Plus, he was in the original cast of the musical Next to Normal which I've had a thing for in the past. I've seen and heard him first-hand and am no stranger to his ability. I had high expectations for him and he surpassed them. I don't want to spoil much...but I'm going to anyway because you should know this bloody story. His death? Perfection. He was also in complete and utter control of the part, vocally. The numbers with the group of students (Red and Black, Drink with Me, Do You Hear the People Sing, etc.) were easily the most powerful of the film and he carried them. Hats off.

I also enjoyed Eddie Redmayne as Marius and Samantha Barks as Eponine. They both have backgrounds on the stage so I knew they would be ok vocally. Even beyond that though, I think they were more grounded and believable as actors than some of their film-star counterparts. 

My complaints? They were held back. I had no problems with either of them as performers, but I really wasn't digging the way they were directed (that actually speaks for the film as a whole, but especially for these two). Eponine has a very tweeny character-arc and what makes her endearing is that she has two show-stopping numbers and very belty, expressive vocal parts throughout her time in the show. I've seen video of Samantha Barks play this role on stage; she can fill a theater with her voice but it was quite clear that she was being suppressed and told to hold back because there was a camera square in her face. Sure this is a film, and there are some powerful moments that can be done subtly with a camera, but have you ever seen a movie musical and thought "their voice is too strong, too expressive, and too full"? Jennifer Hudson wouldn't have won an Oscar had she sobbed her way through (I'll get to what I thought of Anne Hathaway and I Dreamed a Dream later) And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going. Music is written with its ups and downs for a reason. When it's sung with only downs, it's boring. A really clever blogger I stalk said she enjoyed the film but doesn't want to "live in a world where Eponine doesn't even belt 'known'". Me too Natalie Hill, me too. 

They also cut out my favorite part of "A Little Fall of Rain." Boo.

As far as Samantha Barks herself I thought she was perfect. I don't know that they could've found a better fit for the role. Her experience playing this role on the West End really showed and her youth (oh, that face) worked to her advantage as well.

I thought Eddie Redmayne's Marius was naive, impulsive, endearing and perfect. I just couldn't get past his gyrating jaw. I mean, he was really shaking there.  Once again, had there not been a camera up his nose for the entire film, I probably wouldn't have noticed it. I mean, there were shots where I couldn't see the end of his jaw nor his hairline! Audiences get a very good education on his freckle count and blonde, unshaven chin. He's a rare-case, fantastic singer in this movie though.

Despite bad direction, I was thrilled with both Redmayne and Barks.

The so-so:

When I first heard about the cast, these two were the only film actors that I thought were cast right. They're both just perfectly slimy and creepy enough to play the Thenardiers and while they're not vocal powerhouses, they have the range to handle these roles because they're probably the least vocally demanding in the show. They made me laugh, but I'm pointing my finger at the direction on this one again. They could've upped the stakes about 10 times. They were just way too mellow. Why? My guess: there was a camera maybe four inches from their face for the majority of their screen time like everyone else. Had they even a little bit more room to move their bodies around (or heck, even rotate their necks without getting a bloody nose) they could've really pushed these characters over the top, made us hate their guts while keeping us rolling in the aisles with laughter. Instead they were cute, but mostly forgettable. 

I was rooting for most of the performers that let me down in this movie, but I just naturally wanted to hate Anne Hathaway in this role. In the end  I didn't. She was actually quite remarkable for most of it. I wasn't digging her version of I Dreamed a Dream that was in the trailer for the movie. You see, musicals have some really cool elements; music being the biggest one. That's why they're called musicals. In a play you have a script with just words and that text tells the story. In a sung-through musical with no dialogue (like this one) the lyrics do storytelling in addition to the melodies.

I thought this performance was spectacular right up until I Dreamed a Dream. Then it fell apart. She was believable, likeable, and NAILED the last note of Lovely Ladies ("...already deaaaaaad!"). And the tear that fell from her face after she was finished with her first customer was the most beautiful part of the film. I was so happy that she'd proved me wrong. 

Now I know, everyone will (erroneously) say "they were going for emotion" but I just couldn't be in more opposition. I can't help it. The melody of this song is emotional and rich with history. Not the lyrics, the melody. When it's sung with not just emotion, but volume and clarity, it un-glues people. Remember how Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent became a superstar singing this song? And how everybody was saying her rendition made them cry? To be honest, I don't think her version is anything special, but it's true to the source. She sings with volume and clarity and it penetrated people's hearts. I personally like Kerry Ellis (she was in the ensemble of this movie!), Ruthie Henshall, Sierra Boggess, and Lea Salonga singing this song. (By the way...I told you I'm a YouTube addict). These versions have all three and still take interpretive liberties. When you forget the melody and forget the notes as they're written, the equation is incomplete. It didn't do anything for me.

As soon as this song started, she suddenly stopped being Fantine and turned into Anne Hathaway who desperately wants to win an Oscar and will have an emotional breakdown while singing to prove that she deserves it.  I realize that had they gone for a cleaner version, she probably wouldn't have hit the notes. She worked perfectly to her vocal peak leading up to this number and instead made a selfish acting choice rather than staying true to the material. I can't take this song seriously while the singer is simultaneously convulsing and dry-heaving and whispers the first half. Had I never heard it before, I don't think I would've even caught the lyrics. It wasn't bad, it just didn't work for me. Besides, the songs' placement was moved between Lovely Ladies and Fantine's Arrest rather than being right after At the End of the Day so it was almost like a different song entirely. 

Either way, I give Hathaway a B- (heh) for effort. She wasn't equipped with the right fire-arms vocally, but she did her homework, loved the role, and gave it a good go. Not my favorite portrayal, but it worked.

I was excited to hear that Hugh Jackman was cast in this as well. He got his start in musical theater and has been pretty good at not show-casing it in his long film career. I definitely had the highest of expectations for him. Valjean is the life and breath of this show. It's his story, Javert is the only other character that is critical to the story (pretty much) from start to finish. He had his moments. Honestly, were this my first exposure to Hugh Jackman, I wouldn't have guessed that he had done musical theater before because he was mostly a mess, vocally. I enjoyed him for the first 10 minutes (even though the pacing was a little abrupt, Mr. Hooper) the most. He was really connected to the sub-text and enveloped in Valjean's world. He'd put a lot of thought into it.

He committed way too many vocal sins to be forgiven, however. There was way too much speak-singing. Once again...selfish actor choices. I'd rather them find themselves in the melody. He was looking pretty good in the first half. Who Am I had some speak-singing I wasn't thrilled about, but he hit the notes. Unfortunately my two favorite songs were bastardized. His parts in One Day More completely extinguished any fire that was burning during the number.  He spoke his early lines and the EPIC G4's towards the end were more like vocal exclamation points that he could barely scrape out. Killed the momentum.

The real crime however was Bring Him Home which is for many people, the heart of this show. It's borderline sacred. You're definitely walking holy ground when you're given the privilege of performing this song.  The song demonstrates the immense compassion Valjean has for Marius even though he's just met him. I was looking down and shaking my head during One Day More, but I was looking upward and mouthing "why?!" during Bring Him Home.  I mean NOW YOU WANT TO SHOW US YOUR CHEST VOICE?!?! A good friend of mine told me she thought he sounded deaf during this song. Agreed. Not that he was off-pitch, but that there was zero enunciation  The first verse should be done up in the head. The tender compassion can't really transcend otherwise. 

Were it up to me, I would've cast Ramin Karimloo (played Valjean in the West End earlier this year) in this role without hesitation.

Look at this guy. Listen to this guy! People would've shown up to see him and he would've become a superstar. 

There was a very clear definition between those who were trained vocalists and those who weren't. The ensemble made up of mostly West End performers were outshining the leads throughout, I thought. This could've been twice the movie with vocally competent stage performers who are unknowns in Hollywood. It's Les Miserables, people would've shown up without the big names. 

Ok, the ugly:

Do I even need to explain this one? Two words: Goat. Vibrato.

It was like every high note she attempted was a Miranda Sings finale.

Cosette has to not only be a soprano, but an angelic operatic soprano (that hits the notes!) because if she's not, Eponine is so much more appealing and it really makes Marius look like an idiot. It also highlights her fragility and gives Valjean so much more reason to be over-protective of her every move.

Exhibit A:

Michael Ball as Marius is flanked by three Disney princesses in this concert. Shame on you if you can't name them. Lea Salonga is just...divine. Had she been born 20 years earlier she'd be a prime candidate to bear my children. Too much? 

I'm just showing you this last harmony (by all means pull it back to the beginning and watch the whole four minutes if you have time) because it's so dang beautiful that it makes my eyes roll to the back of my head. Judy Kuhn's soprano perfectly blends with both singers. "Not a dream, after all" is sung by Marius and Cosette with just enough softness to sound like you're floating, but with enough umph to make you sigh. Plus, Eponine's "he will never feel this way" is about as pure as it gets. Add the two together and I'm about to drool. In just this vocal performance alone (forget the lyrics) you can HEAR Cosette's past. You can feel the suffering but also the relief and bliss at meeting a potential love interest. Perfection. An actress in a musical must not just be an actress, but a singer! Moments of musical-storytelling-brilliance like this were completely absent from this film.  
By the way:

This was the most validating moment in my very small YouTube commenting career. Then the channel took it down. Those jerk-faces.

I think this one also goes without saying. For some reason every time he sang, I remembered this kid:

Where was the booming, intimidating, baritone Javert? All we got was an expression-less, practically-humming star wars kid. 

Also, I'd be doing a great disservice if I didn't pay tribute to the un-sung real stars of this film:

The factory ensemble, especially the snake-eyed lady who took the note (holy crap) should be thanked when Anne Hathaway wins her Oscar because they did her worlds of favors in this scene.

Add the Foreman to that list too. His vibrato was creepy-delicious.

Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop of Digne was probably the highlight of the film for me. It was the only time that I got teary-eyed. I was spazzing. Pick up the metal object closest to you and hit yourself really hard on the wrist if you don't know who Colm Wilkinson is.

Gavroche and Young Cosette were indeed cutie-patooties. (Reference!)

I know I said it earlier, but, the students. Good grief they were perfect.

As were the Lovely Ladies.

I can't find a picture of them, but the women that sang "did you see them laying side by side?" were also brilliant. The ensemble carried this show and were the performers that kept the fire that is Victor Hugo's Les Miserables burning. 

I hope if anything that this movie makes people run to buy tickets to the live production of it nearest them. I'd rather the movie soundtrack NOT become the definitive recording. The original London, original Broadway, and 10th anniversary recordings are all fantastic and I will be listening to them everyday for months. Also, I am DEFINITELY going to go see Les Miserables at Pioneer Theatre Company this May. Who wants to come with me?!

Look at how much I wrote! I'm a blogger again!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Twitter Gold

This made me lawl. Thanks Audra McDonald.

I also have about six drafts waiting to be touched up and published. I promise that this will become a real blog again and yes, I realize that I am only making that promise to myself. Feliz Navidad!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Grammy Nominees are Out

I've never really taken the Grammy's seriously. The name sounds really prestigious and sometimes they award good music, but it's usually just a "celebrate what's popular" fest and they give awards to artists like this:

And "Album of the Year" to artists like this:

At least she has 16 of them:

I suppose they gave Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album of the year a few years ago and Mumford and Sons has a bunch of nominations this year.

Anyway, just an observation. I need to get back to real blogging sometime. It is tempting to just make this a YouTube share space though.

Monday, November 19, 2012

This one time, my brother sent me this while I was a missionary and I fell out of my chair and laughed for an inappropriate amount of time:

And this is my favorite sentence to recite for no reason at all:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Awkward Phase is Only Beginning

Today was my last Sunday of these short three weeks in Machida. I can't express how strange it has been to go to church here. For the last two years I  would stop people dead in their tracks and start teaching them about Jesus Christ; take off the name-tag and make me one of everyone else and suddenly socializing is like trying to join a horse tour riding a kangaroo.

As a missionary I felt MOST confident at church. Everyone is there to help you and everyone has lots of respect for you because they know the sacrifice you're making to serve. Therefore, they're kind and really easy to make relationships with. At least that's how it was for me. As a missionary I could walk right up to someone at church and ask them all kinds of questions and have all sorts of things to discuss. I had none of that confidence attending this ward for the last three weeks. I even got told to sit closer to everyone else this morning in opening exercises. 

A typical recent conversation at church:

Other person: はじめまして!(Nice to meet you!)
What I want to say: はじめまして、ロウ長老です!(Nice to meet you, I'm Elder Low!)
What I actually say: はじめまして..... (Nice to meet you...)

Other person: 。。。お名前は?(Your name?)
Me: ロウと申し。。。ロウと言います。(My name is [studder trying to decide whether to use respective or standard form] Low)

Other person: 今日はどうされましたか? (What brings you here today?)
What I want to say: 来る予定をしている求道者はとくにいないですけど来週来るはずですのでフェローシップよろしくお願いします!(We're not planning on having any investigators here today but I'm sure someone will come next week so be sure to say hello to them when they do!)
What I actually say: あの。。。遊びに来ました。(I...came to hang out)

Other person:あーそうですか。(Oh really?)
Me: 先月神戸伝道部から期間してきました。(I just returned from the Kobe Mission last month)

Chaos ensues as I try to explain why I'm here and not in the U.S.

Other person: 面白いところ見に行きましたか?(Have you gone to see anything interesting here?)
What I want to say: 昨日渋谷をずっと回ってました。人はいっぱいいるね!福音を聞くように備えられている人はきっといますね。(Yeah I walked around Shibuya yesterday. There are so many people there! I'm sure there's plenty of them prepared to hear the gospel.)
What I actually say: そうですね。色んな所に。(Yeah, I've gone to lots of places.)

And then like I wrote in my last post they try to invite me to something or propose that I do something and I have some super lame, but unfortunately real excuse. I've become the kind of person I just didn't understand on my mission. Sigh. I can't wait for this to be over. I guess I should say I'll just try and put myself out there even more.  がんばろう!

By the way, today was the Machida 2nd ward's primary program. I saw a couple primary programs in Japan on my mission but they never had more than 8 kids. This one had 20 and it was so precious. Three nursery girls sang I Am a Child of God and attempted sign language. One of them for some reason was really determined to sing while sitting down on the floor. One of the kids went up to the pulpit and all I could see was the top of his head shaking. We watched the primary president kneeling next to the pulpit whispering in his ear for about 10 seconds until she finally stood up and said: 今緊張しているので後で言います(he's nervous now so he'll say it later). There were plenty of other precious moments as with any primary program.  It's so comforting to see Japanese members in large numbers. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fast Sunday

One week returned missionary's testimony: meeting a guy on her plane ride home who had canceled an appointment with the missionaries that day and giving him lesson 2.

Her younger sister who just turned in her papers: running back to institute in tears to retrieve her cell-phone and miraculously running into a member with keys on the way back.

Testimony meeting is fun in Japan too.

Me, after the meeting: getting invited to hang-out with all of the YSA and telling them that I would be at Disneyland...alone.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Chasing the TV

Before I start my sentimental travel narration, random thought:

I've been subscribed to this YouTube channel from the beginning and always liked it. They've certainly come a long way in the last two years. I just watched this and thought it was really neat...but I didn't recognize a single song. In fact, I couldn't tell where one started and one ended. Had I not known better I wouldn't have realized it was a medley. I'm so clueless...and I kind of like it.

Japanese TV is really interesting. Usually you're watching somebody walk around walking into interesting little stores and restaurants while a bunch of people in the studio gasp and ooh and ahh in admiration.

It's hard to see, but there's a girl walking around eating food. Notice the face in the top right corner reacting to everything. Don't be distracted by my Grandparents commentary.

We were watching a guy walk around a place called 二子玉川 Futakotamagawa). He went into a tiny little store that sells these edible animals to put on top of cakes. They are ridiculously detailed and all made completely by hand. It takes up to three days just to make one of them.

He then went to this place called 玉川大師(Tamagawadaishi) a little tucked away buddhist temple with a bunch of very significant statues in its basement.

As we awed while watching, my grandma turned to me and said, "want to go?" So we did, just like that we hopped on a train and went to see what we'd just seen on TV. 


The guy running the small store was so happy that we'd come after seeing him on TV. Apparently we were the first customers that saw the store on TV. My grandma being the lady she is bought a ton of stuff to make him happy. 

We then went to the temple and it was spectacular. 

It was tucked away in a hard to find place and there were only two other people inside. The basement was unbelievable. Totally an adventure. You walk down a tiny little steep staircase and it's instantly pitch black. You can't see ANYTHING. All you can do is cling to the walls.

It takes about ten minutes of walking through the pitch black before you get to this:

Cavern after cavern of ancient statues underground lit only by candlelight. I felt like I was Indiana Jones...for real. The lack of crowds and silence also made it feel very reverent and sacred. Loved it. 

To top it all off, there was a pretzel store right next to the train station.

We had just been talking that morning about how when my Grandma would fly over from Japan to visit us when we were kids, she'd buy us Pretzel-Maker pretzels and how she hadn't had one in years and really wanted one and how she'd never seen them being sold in Japan. That was perfect.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Flying Solo

Hi. I`m in Tokyo.

My grandpa took me to see the Imperial Palace for the second time. It was a lot of fun. A lot of walking, and exhausting. He`s getting old and being out and about with him is just plain stressful. He insists on it though.

I was invited to attend institute in Shibuya by one of my friends from my mission. Shibuya is that first picture up at the top. You`ve probably seen that  crosswalk in movies before. There`s not a more crowded crosswalk on earth, I`d guess. My grandpa and I split up at Shibuya and I had a couple hours to myself.

I wandered the streets for a couple hours, did some shopping, did a lot more people watching.

During my short ten days in Utah, I was mostly at home and if I ever left, I was with someone else. Essentially, this was my first lengthy experience alone in public since being released as a full-time missionary. And it`s quite the dramatic place for your first all-by-yourself stroll if I do say so myself. It was pretty scary. I had all kinds of thoughts running through my head but I couldn`t turn to my companion and express them. 

I remember coming here when I was 14 years old and thinking it was heaven. I could`ve stayed there all day. The buzz, the noises, this lights, the people, the people, the people, the people, the people, just really fascinated me. I loved the city. I still do, but I think age opens your eyes to so many things. I`m sure I was perfectly safe which really is a blessing. This country is miraculously safe. However, I noticed a lot of things my 14 year old eyes couldn`t. I suppose that`s the curse of age and our loss of innocence. As I`m sure you can guess, anywhere where people gather in mass, there`s bound to be people up to no good. I got a little bit nervous in certain places. I also got lost looking for the church. I looked it up previously but didn`t have a cell-phone equipped with GPS to guide me and I ended up going in exactly the opposite direction and had to ask the police for directions

There WAS thrill in getting lost amongst the swarms. You feel so insignificant, yet so alive. That didn`t change for me. That was a sensation I got addicted to when I was 14. None of these thousands of people know you in that instant...but there`s no denying that God does. 

Institute was a fun experience as well. I was nervous as heck. It felt like my first Sunday as a missionary all over again. The Saitama stake president (one of my companion`s stake president and good friend that he always raved about) gave the lesson on "ward council." The class was a leadership class. Yet another opportunity to count my blessings. These kids, all very close to my age, most of them freshly returned missionaries are already filling ward leadership callings in which they have to attend ward council. I was so awed by their maturity and so grateful for their willingness to accept and fulfill those callings with the very few years of life experience that they have. This is the Lord`s church. If it weren`t, it would fall apart because kids my age are helping to run it. 

The instructor had us do a role-play ward-council discussion and chose me (by patriotism? He happened to be American...) to be the bishop. I was so nervous. If you were to ask me to do the same thing three weeks ago as a missionary I`d jump at it, but I amazed myself with how nervous I was. It turned out to be a really good experience though. I really felt like even though it was a role-play, the exercise was inspired. We perfectly demonstrated what the instructor was trying to teach. The discussion just naturally ended and we resolved the issue (an investigator stalking a member) we were given beautifully, if I do say so myself.

It was also so great to see friends from the mission as their normal non-missionary-selves.  They were so impressive. Just good people. They had an EFY counselor meeting after class which ended at 8:30. Add in an hour train ride home and they were probably all getting home right before midnight on a school night all for church callings. I bow in awe of the members that sacrifice so much for the work of salvation in this country. 

I rode the train home unable to wipe the smile off of my face. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The End of One Life and the Beginning of the Rest of it

It's me. I'm in control of my blog again. In some ways it feels like I've been given back one of my appendages, in another it feels like I've been given a snotty step-child to take care of for the second time.

Much thanks to my dad for taking care of it and updating it so dilligently every week. It'll be a nice history for me, if anything. Just for everyone's information, he did lots and lots of work editing and making it world-wide-web worthy. I was still relatively snooty and sarcastic as a missionary, it just all got cut in order to maintain a sparkly perfect image. Thanks dad.

Browsing through it now, it looks like he also added little reader-friendly translations here and there as well. 大変.

I'm not sure as to whether I want to start writing Japanese posts, translate some posts, or start a new Japanese blog altogether. I know I need to write in that language if I'm going to remember it. I guess I'll just re-learn how to use this thing first. Still working on a title, design, etc.


I figured I'd give a quick recap of what happened my last week in the mission: Monday-Friday.

We had matching MTC shirts. I got really physical with everyone for my last two weeks. I had this inner-resistance to saying goodbye to the mission. Some sort of weird instict that said if I held on to everyone physically I wouldn't have to let go. This guy probably got the most of that べたべた stuff. He's a trooper.

On Tuesday we went to pick up the new missionaries at Kansai Airport. Really strange experience knowing that I would be back there on Friday on my way home. Saying よろしくお願いします (really nice Japanese greeting that pretty much means 'we just met, let's be friends from now on) was in a way, heart-breaking.
It's built on a man-made island and the drive back was perfect.

The drive from Kansai Airport to the 本部 includes a view of Universal Studios.

Missionary bios in the Kobe ward.

I had the opportunity to meet a guy that I found and taught in Kobe right at the beginning of my mission. He was baptized shortly after I left. He's had to work on Sundays but is trying to figure something out.
 By Monday morning my replacement in the office was here. I showed him the ropes, translated for the new missionary training, and then pretty much floated around and said goodbyes, which I hate doing.

I'm so glad that I ぎりぎり got to have Elder Shinohara as my last companion. He taught me more than I could ever write...and all of it by example. Love his guts. We stayed up later than we should have talking for my last couple days.
I gave 篠原長老 that tie and he wanted to take a picture in this spot where trainers and trainees take their first pictures together. I didn't train him, but he always called me "office papa." Goll, I miss him.

Elder Lee told me every day that week that it was my "last Sunday," "last Monday," "last Tuesday," etc. In the end, he really didn't want to have to say goodbye. He's so great.
 Thursday morning came. My MTC buddies Elder Shumway and Elder Ewer showed up at the mission home. Sister Uyema also went home with us. She extended a transfer. She's awesome. The four of us went out to eat, had lots of time to just talk about our missions. Seeing the growth in each of them was remarkable. Nearly tangible. All three of them were evolved, new beings in Christ.

What was really remarkable was seeing them continue to fulfill their missionary purpose all the way home. They gave bold, very encouraging words to a missionary who was struggling with various issues who happened to be there at the same time.

That afternoon we had our final interviews, dinner, and a testimony meeting at the mission president's home. It was, well, magical really. I can't believe how warm it felt. I'm so glad that my going home group was as small as it was. We just laughed and enjoyed each other's company not worrying about time at all. It felt like family. It was a feeling I hadn't felt in a long time. That warmth. It was just so warm.

Hearing the other missionaries' testimonies, I realized that each of us had sacrificed this time to give other families that warmth; and now it was time to return to our own. The testimony meeting was sacred. I'll never forget it.

The next morning we had breakfast, laughed, enjoyed each other's company some more and that was that.
The four of us (Sister Uyema-Honolulu,Hawaii; Elder Shumway-Eagle, Idaho; Elder Ewer-Gilbert, Arizona) about to board a ferry across Kobe harbor to Kansai Airport.  The three of us elders have lost so much weight since the MTC; nearly unrecognizable.

It was a dirty window. You should be able to see President and Sister Zinke waving goodbye to us. That moment was just...awesome. I felt like I was in a movie. They were amazing to us.

And, we landed in the states and got ourselves something to drink. That's a medium on the left, small on the right. That small is bigger than a large in Japan. None of us were able to finish...we just threw them away half-full.
The one thing from those last coupe days that is burned into my memory forever: as we knelt and prayed to close the testimony meeting, President Zinke said "help these missionaries to know that Sister Zinke and I will love them forever."

Gosh. I get choked up just thinking about it. Isn't that what it's about? We teach a gospel that is about love. Christ did it all for us because he loves us. When people learn of Christ, they get to experience a love that is unconditional. A love that never ends. I just pray that I too can love everyone "forever." Not just until I forget them, until they move away, when there's an ocean between us, or until they stop calling me, but forever.

I have so many more feelings inside of me, but they're going to go in my journal so that they don't turn into something  I regret.

I landed in the U.S. friday night, was released Saturday morning and have just been at home alone trying to figure my life out. Not making too much progress but I guess that's to be expected.

It's still weird not being a missionary.

I'll probably write some snooty post about the culture shock of returning to the states soon.

I loved my mission. If you haven't served one, you should try it. お勧めです。

To my investigators, members that supported me, missionary leaders that supported me, my two fearless mission presidents and their wives, my super-human companions and all others that I was blessed to 知り合う on my mission:


Monday, October 8, 2012

October 6, 2012

This first batch of pictures were taken on last week's P-day visit to Kyoto. Click on any of these photos to enlarge and get a better view:

At Kinkaku-ji, "The Golden Pavilion"

The gorgeous Heian Shrine.

The famous Torii gate tunnel at Fushimi Inari Shrine

I don't really know what's appropriate to write this week.

There was a Typhoon on Sunday and church got canceled in some areas. It didn't get bad until the afternoon after church. 86 year old O-san still walked over with an umbrella. She decided to go home after Sunday School before it got too bad. 篠原長老 (Elder Shinohara) and I walked her home. I just felt really good about myself as a missionary at that point. This woman won't forget what she feels at church. I hope she'll be baptized soon.

On our way out the door for church on Sunday.

Sister Zinke made us delicious cookies.

Talking, working and planning in the office.

Going out to eat at a really cheap yakiniku place. It was ok. The company was great though.

We taught S-san on Monday night. He went on a spur of the moment trip to Thailand and Cambodia for his last week of summer vacation from graduate school. It was a pretty hilarious story. I'll have to tell it when I get home.

Quail. Takeda 長老 bought one. I had a taste. It was just crunchy.

Zone Leader council was this week so there was lots of crazy preparation going into translating the mission training plan, Kobe no Kiseki (mission newsletter), etc. and making copies. Then of course, as always, they come over after their meeting and stock up on stuff for their zone and we run around for a little over an hour trying to accommodate them.  It's fun.
Zone training yesterday. My last meeting.

We finally moved the Senri apartment. They needed it, their old apartment was really bad. This new one was nice, but on the third floor with no elevator. We were sore. Elder Hugo, who happened to help us move the Sakai apartment, got transferred to Senri right after it moved. I feel so bad that in two transfers he's had to move two apartments. I hope he gets to stay and enjoy this one. He was extremely helpful with both. Elder Vilchis is the other Elder in Senri and he was in my district in Ako. It was good to see them one last time.

In the truck, on the way to Senri.

Waiting for the moving van.

Eating a quick lunch at McDonald's.

All done, and holding some of the junk that was left.

The AP's picked us up from the rental car place and took us to the Burger Pit. Do you remember me writing about it the last time I was in Kobe? It's incredible.

Kobe beef burgers. Expensive, but totally worth it.

All of this going on and I still have to pack and get my suitcases sent off by Monday.

I suppose this is the last email I'll write home. For some reason I don't feel quite right about sending some sappy wrap-up. Do you need one? I figure what I've said every week is sufficient.

I'll attach the last president's letter I wrote:

President Zinke,

Well, in accordance with the exit letter I received at the beginning of the transfer, this will be my last letter. It's the end of the line. I don't know what I'm supposed to think, supposed to feel, supposed do, or supposed to say. To be honest it's kind of a scary place I'm in right now. I have no idea what's waiting for me on the other side. I have to leave everything I know and love behind...just like I did two years ago. I guess going on a mission and returning from a mission are very similar experiences emotionally.

It's hard for me to look at my mission as a whole. When people ask me questions like "what's the best thing you've learned on your mission?" or "what's your favorite/least favorite thing about a mission?" it's really hard for me to answer. It's so much more than a single experience. The time period is too long to measure as a single experience. I've spent two years of my life wearing Jesus Christ's name everywhere I went and testifying of him. The experiences, lessons, and memories are too many to review and too varied to sum up.

We use the terms "birth" and "death" to describe coming and going missionaries, and it's discouraged because we would hope that missionaries take everything they learned home with them and continue to be disciples of Christ for the rest of their lives. These two terms however, have taken on a very poignant meaning for me as I near the end of my mission.

I came on my mission proud. I thought I was strong. I thought I could handle anything. I thought that I was very specially prepared for my mission and that for some it would be hard, but for me it would come naturally. I laugh reading what I just wrote, but I really think it's true.

The MTC was a dreary, half-reality three months, but once I was in the mission field, it truly was about as close to being a new-born infant as I've ever been. I could do nothing on my own. I knew my purpose as a missionary was to invite others to come unto Christ, but I didn't know how to go about doing that. My language abilities were 1/10 of what I thought they were. My confidence was 1/100 of what I thought it was. Even beyond my purpose as a missionary, I needed to be nurtured as a human being. I even relied on a companion to feed me at the beginning of my mission.

There were miracles along the way. I learned some things quick; some things I never got used to. One thing that was consistent though were trials and difficulties. But it wasn't constant. I feel like there were times when I felt really good about my mission, and felt like it was the happiest time of my life, but I also experienced what I thought was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life....about five times over.

When I thought I had overcome the worst, there was always another bigger trial waiting for me.
I thought for a lot of my mission that it wasn't fair. I've felt like I could've done so much more had my circumstances been different; had I not been with that companion, had I not been in that area, had I served in that position, etc. I've regretted and felt like I wasn't given a fair chance. I've felt like I could've helped more people had I not been given such difficult challenges.

However, when I look at the big picture, the much bigger picture, it all makes sense. A very wise man (I'm guessing you've heard of this before) whose name starts with an Mc  related Mark 10:21-24 and Matthew 6:19-22 to an arch. To enter heaven, we must walk through a very short arch, almost akin to a camel passing through the eye of a needle. The arch is short so we have to kneel and if we're carrying anything, we won't fit. The arch we also have to build. The only thing it can be built with are Christ-like attributes: charity, hope, and faith being the crown jewels. Also, most importantly, the foundation must be humility. We cannot develop any attribute unless we are first humble.

As I reach the "death" end of my mission, I realize that I haven't won the lottery. I'm not taking home any flashy items, no glory, not anything that anyone would have need to be jealous of. I'm not the incredibly skilled, perfected person that I thought returned missionaries are. Rather, I've been brought to my knees, stripped of everything I have, hoping only that I fit through the arch to the other side. All I can carry is the knowledge in my head and the people in my heart.

That's what I've learned on my mission. "Treasures in heaven" cannot be held, they cannot be seen, and they cannot be bought. We can only earn them in wearing ourselves out in the service of our Savior. Taking His name upon us, throwing away everything we have, acquiring His attributes, and giving others every ounce of love that we have. Sometimes we're selfish and don't trust that that is the way to heaven so the Lord has to humble us through trials.

I'm so grateful for the opportunities I had to serve others; to teach them the gospel, to help them, to love them and to be loved by them. I'm grateful to have been chosen in the furnace of affliction (1 Nephi 20:10) on my mission. I'm thankful for each one of my companions. I'm thankful for my mission presidents. I'm especially thankful for the Man that made it all possible. I'm thankful for the covenant I've made to testify of Him for the rest of my life.

I guess this just sort of popped out. It would've been appropriate to give some investigator updates and stuff. If O姉妹 wants to be baptized before the end of this transfer, she will. The last time I saw her she said "I'll do what I can to get baptized as soon as possible." She's old so she may change her mind, but I pray that it'll be sooner rather than later.

We haven't been able to make too much contact with some of our others. I'll do what I can to make sure they're on the right course before I leave.

Thank you so much for everything. I don't know how to express that properly, just know that I'm thankful. I appreciate all of the time and thought you've given to the mission, especially for me individually. I'm certainly not worthy of any of it.

(Thank you for all you've done. Until we meet again . . .)

That's how I've felt lately. I'm really not ready to say goodbye to a lot of people, surprisingly. This last little bit of my mission has been a really nice finishing touch. I've been able to interact with the mission as a whole and made a lot more friends than I thought I would. I'll really miss my companions who are still in the field. I feel like I'll write to them, but who knows about letter writing when I get home. 篠原長老  (Elder Shinohara) has really been such a great support and example here at the end. I'm really glad that I got to end my mission with him. Really though, each one individually; the relationships I have with each of them is one of the biggest rewards I get to take home.
On top of that is the people. It hit me today when Elder Dalling took us to the grocery store in his car...just watching people walk around the streets made me emotional. I will miss these people so much. I know I will come back, often. I'm already trying to commit myself to be an EFY counselor here next year. This isn't just my 伝道地 (Mission Area), this is my other half that I've finally been reunited with.

I've been through the unspeakable on my mission. There were times when I really didn't want to look forward, just was satisfied with drowning in the pain, but in the end it was all worth it and I wouldn't be who I am today had I not gone through every single difficulty I went through on my mission. It wouldn't feel the joy I feel now.

See, this is cliche. 止めておくわ。(I'll stop.)

I'll see you all very soon.