Sunday, May 26, 2013

Blog Post #59: Like a Most Improbable Dream

Dear People,
Yes, it is five months too early to quote that movie, but it fits perfectly to the insanity that came about this week. Let me give you a play-by-play of it.

Monday- After e-mail we hung out at the Church with half of our Zone (10 missionaries) for a little bit because we have cheap fashion stores here. They all bought Poopy Pants

which I didn't have enough money or interest for. I'll probably get some as a souvenir. My companion and my District Leader (Elder Goo) were hanging out talking with people, when all the sudden Elder Goo got a text saying that his companion (We'll refer to him as... Sugar Baby) is now my companion! We immediately went grocery shopping together, to celebrate the happy surprise.

Tuesday - A typhoon (think minor hurricane) locked us in the house for half the day, and after that we had a pot-luck lunch before our District Meeting. We had homemade pizza, Chocolate Ha'aupia Pie, Spam-n-Eggs, Cheesy Goulash Sandwiches, and mangoes dipped in caramel! It was delightful, and I ate way too much!

Wednesday and Thursday weren't actually special.

Friday - We had a lady randomly call us, screaming at us that she'd been locked out of the Church and wandering around for 2 hours with her baby. We weren't sure who she was, but we went to meet her anyways. Turns out, she had shown up half an hour early for English Class, and then tried to go into the Catholic church next door. She couldn't get in, and tried to call us, but we were teaching a Gospel lesson and couldn't answer. She decided to go on a search for any other "Wan Tau Kok Lane" in the area, rather than double check the name of the Church she was at. She was LIVID by the time she got to us, but luckily one of the Missionaries at English Class is a local, so he calmed her down.

Saturday was nothing special, except that we found out that...

Sunday - Ward Conference! The short version is we had to scramble to call everyone we had invited to Church to get them there at the right time. SUPER bothersome, but we managed to get some people seated quietly. Our Stake President, the leader of the 5 congregations in this area, gave a powerful talk on the importance of following Christ, and I LOVED it! He's a great man, and I'm glad that he was not only able to speak yesterday, but that I was able to understand what he said!

So now, I'm with Sugar Baby. He's a surfing lifeguard from California that had to do Witness Relocation to Riverton, Utah to escape from the drug cartel for resuscitating a guy who'd they'd tried to drown, which guy ended up testifying in court and getting the leaders of the ring thrown in Federal Prison... Or his mom got a new job in Utah; I'll let you decide which story is true.

He's pretty funny, and likes to do little kid insults...
Example 1: Why don't you go sit in the snow and get cold... And eat a broccoli?
Ex. 2: Well, you should just put yourself in that book.. and... and shut it!
So our atmosphere is always light, but fairly focused, and we're happy to be together. He'd been living with me since he was "born" into the Mission, so it was cool to be put with a new companion that I already knew!

OH WAIT! I almost forgot!

I met an Apostle of the Lord last Friday! The members of the Quorum of the 12 Apostle like to travel around visiting Missionaries, and Elder Niel L. Anderson came and spoke to us in the Area Office building.

I took 2 pages of notes on just his talk, and at one point he asked us about scriptures we like in the Book of Mormon. We would say a chapter, and with pretty much zero thinking time he would tell us his feelings on it. We came to the conclusion that he's got the entire Book of Mormon memorized, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's got most of the Bible in his head, too.

It was amazing to hear him speak; he's got so much in common with other 62 year old men, and a lot that isn't so common. He's from southern Idaho, but he travels the world testifying of the Savior in a way that only 14 other men do. He has tons of connections in the world, but few people are so globally spread as him. I'm a little bummed I didn't get to know him better, but Missions get visited by Apostles every year, so maybe I'll get another chance soon!

I love you all, and I am so happy to hear about all the marriages that are taking place! My favorite red-head is getting ready to be Sealed in the Temple, and I am SO excited for her! I just love how life goes on, no matter what happens in the world!
I love you all, and I hope everybody has a great week!

Elder O'Gara

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Blog Post #58: Enchiladas

Dear Friends and Family,

Last Saturday was Elder Goo's birthday! A family in our Ward (we have 4 Elders serving the same congregation) wanted to feed us, but they wanted me to cook. I don't know who let out the secret that I want to be a chef when I grow up, but because of it, I was asked to make Enchiladas for 8 people.

Now, 8 is not a huge number, but when your Enchilada Experience is as limited as mine (eating the ones my mother makes), it's a little bit daunting! I was simultaneously making a South-West Black Bean and Corn Salad and Horchata, and the only reasons I survived were Elder Goo and his Trainee, Elder Tong, acting as my Sous-Chefs.

As a result, we had a LOT of delicious Mexican food! We split two heads of lettuce, 3 chicken enchiladas, 3 Taiwanese sausage enchiladas, two quarts of Horchata pudding (Elder Goo was quick on his feet and averted that disaster), and 6 quarts of icecream (Rocky Road, Mint Chocolate Chip, and Cookies-n-Cream, with a dish of chopped Macadamia nuts on the side). We were all full, and there was even a little leftover dessert (which got left at their house; we had to ride a 16-passenger minibus back home, and the icecream would NOT have lasted that half hour trip).

Beyond that, not much has happened. We are working through the heat (26-29 degrees with 80-95% humidity for the rest of the month... and the next, and the next) fairly well, with at least one McDonald's Sundae Cone a day. My Sourdough Starter that began life as a handful of oatmeal, a little red sugar, and a splash of water is now a bubbling mess in a peanut butter jar on top of our fridge; expect news about that in the future!

Elder J.E. O'Gara

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Blog Post #057: Panda Express and Wanchai Ferry

Dear Beloved People (whom I love),

Good Morning and Alo-HA! I just got done talking to most of my family on the phone for my Mother's Day call; and from all the questions I got, I'm going to guess I haven't talked enough about what I eat here in the Fragrant Harbor. So, let me illuminate the subject for the next few paragraphs.

Chinese Breakfast
I am not sure what exactly constitutes a "Traditional" Chinese breakfast. I know that it is acceptable to eat noodles or rice at all three meals, but I'm not sure beyond that. I have seen my companion, Elder Chan, eat cereal most mornings, and all out skipped the "Most Important Meal" the rest. On Preparation Days we like to go to McDonald's, which is a complete zoo. School kids, old fogies, business men, hobos, and expatriates all line up to order their delicious tray or bag of hot and greasy "M-Gei".

They've got the American classics; eggs with sausage and a muffin, pancakes with sausage and a hashbrown, the Sausage Egg McMuffin with cheese, the Cheese and Ham sandwich, and even the Filet-o-Fish served with Coffee and a hashbrown. Is that last one normal?

Then there's the more Chinese stuff; the noodle bowls. You can get a big bowl of macaroni soup with a fried egg, chopped pork or chicken, (or a hotdog for another dollar), and a slice of cheese. You may have that in the US, but it just seems super Chinese to me. 

Chinese LunchEveryone here has the option of going to lunch at M-Gei, but there are a number of smaller places that advertise deals that are a little bit too good to pass up.

There is the classic "Fried Food Stand", where you can get three pieces of pretty much anything lightly battered and fried for $5. My favorites are eggplant, fishpaste, and tofu. You can also get a handful of noodles boiled up right there for you, thrown on a waxpaper square, and then drowned in sesame oil, soysauce, and chili oil.

The other option is to catch High Tea (9-11, but served all day for Public Holidays), which is another great and beautiful thing for the early-lunch-eaters. The Shanghai Noodle place here in Tai Po has 4 wantons and a glass of hot or cold soymilk for $12, which is awesome. I like to get 2 wantons, a bowl of sour soup or 1000-year-old egg congee for $14, which is also a pretty good deal. I usually stick to water because lunch time here is usually about 90 degrees with 90% humidity, so I've lost almost all of my internal water supply by that point.

Chinese Dinner
Dinner is usually a larger meal shared with your family. The first time I saw it I was thrown off because, after a bowl of "Mystery Ingredient Soup" (which turned out to be Sharkfin) they put 3 plates of what I thought was one person's serving on the table, then handed me a bowl of rice with a pair of chopsticks. The thing to do is throw a couple pieces of one of the 3-5 "entrées" on top of the rice, and then eat it with the rice, thus filling you up and eventually leaving half a bowl of flavoured rice to be eaten while you talk. I usually do 3 bowls of rice, while most locals do 2.

The other option is going to "Yum Chaa", like a buffet where you sit and order little baskets of expensive and delicious bite-size things. Also called "Dim Sum", I'm a huge fan of this kind of thing, but it's so expensive that once every other month is about all I can afford.

Chinese Dessert
The Chinese don't like sweet stuff, so their desserts are a bit different. The favorite is "Dau Fu Faa", hot tofu with red sugar, ginger juice, red beans, grean beans, or black sesame pudding on top. Tai Po just happens to be the home of the best dau fu faa in Hong Kong, where you can get any flavor of the above for $9, or just sugar for $7.

There are a few places that serve "tong seui" (literally sugar water), that has bits of chopped sweet potato, occasionally corn kernels, usually a bundle of watercress, and a lot of honey in a big steaming pot. Tong seui actually grows on you; it's good stuff.

To be fair, there are the occasional and expensive dessert shops that will sell thin pudding to you for outlandish prices, but it's good and it's worth it. The best is mango pudding with tapioca pearls (think frog eyes), but most of that kind of stuff is a little bit outside a Missionary's price range (unless you just give up dinner for the night).

So yeah, I like Chinese food! Panda Express got the Sweet and Sour Whatever with Bell Peppers and Onion exactly right, and Wanchai Ferry is sold here in the nicer supermarkets. Any good grocery store in a highly Asian influenced area will carry the Amoy and Lee Kum Kee brands, both of which are made at factories here in the Tai Po Industrial Estate. Go out and be adventerous! Try a new recipe, or at least go to a "Chinese" buffet!

I love you all, the work is going great, and I am having an awesome time. I love what I'm doing out here, I love the people I'm serving, and I love the people I'm working with! Beyond a doubt, this is the best place for me, and I intend to make the most of it. I am so glad I was called to be hot and sticky in this air-polluted city for two years, because there is no where else in the world that has as many people who I can help. Everyone here is waiting for the Gospel of Jesus, they just don't know it yet. I love Hong Kong!

Elder O'Gara 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Blog Post #56: Temple Day

Dear People,

Happy Wednesday! My district went to the Hong Kong Temple today, so our Preparation day is today as well! Next week it'll be back to normal, so be sure to check Monday for the update!


It was really nice to be in the House of the Lord today. It's the 11th Anniversary of my Step-Father passing away, and I'm used to being with my mom to comfort her. Being in the Temple helped me remember that this life, although the most important part of our eternal existence, is the shortest part as well. My mom might be separated from her husband for a time, and I might be separated from all of my beloved family members, but this is all just a tiny part of everything we're going to experience.

Missionary Work is the same way; whenever something bad or annoying happens, you just remember that we've got 730 chances to have the perfect day, and another one is coming up pretty quick. I want to live my life this way; focusing not on what's bothering me now, but what can make me happier later. I want all of you to try that too; stay connected and involved with the real world, but don't let sadness and depression get you down! Choose to be happy!

Everyone has more than enough reasons to be sad, but few of us choose to shrug them off! Face your problems, tackle them and defeat them, but don't let them kill you! I've learned that the people in this Mission that have the most problems are the ones who refuse to be optimistic. Don't be like them! Don't be sad! This phase of our life is too short to mar with negativity! Make your mortal life a time of joy, not regret!

I love you all,
Elder O'Gara

Wednesday, May 1, 2013