"Dear Mum & Dad,
Finally I am not in a hurry when e-mailing! So you will get a long, proper e-mail for once in my mission, thank goodness.
I got three letters from Dad this week, on three different days, out of order. Most of them had been sitting in the office for quite a while, I think. Dad, do you still have any of your tapes left from your mission? I think I can make sound recordings on Liz, and probably listen to them too, but I'm hestitant to do it because I somehow feel that a typed letter is a more secure record. Maybe I'll try to send a sound clip today, and see how it works.
Big news of the week:
Well, gochu roulette.
A gochu is the Korean pepper that gochujang is made out of. Koreans will eat them straight, like carrots. I will do this too. They're not actually spicy, for the most part--they taste like green bell peppers, though they look like a large, bright halapeno (I can't spell Spanish). Some people brush out all the seeds, where most of the capsutin is (I can't spell English either), which is fine. I've never had a problem with them. A couple have left my mouth feeling prickly for a minute or so afterwards, but most Korean food does so it doesn't bother me. But eating gochus is like Russian roulette: there are some that are spicy, and they look just like the ones that aren't. And this week my luck ran out.
I was at the Sujeong bishop's house, enjoying a quiet, pleasant meal, and I picked up a pepper and ate it. Of course, it prickled a little, but it was fine, so I ate the rest. And then the prickle got worse. And then it got worse. And then it just didn't stop! And of course, there was nothing on the table that could help . . . I had rice, which helps with spicy things, but it was still hot and the heat just made the chemical burn worse. And of course kimchi or kimchichigae were bad ideas. And water was once again conspicuously absent. The only thing that offered any relief was coleslaw (read: shredded cabbage with a cream dressing poured on it; not actually coleslaw but basically the same idea). I ate the whole plate. The whole communal plate. I just kept having to put more in my mouth, to keep the burn down until, five minutes or so later, it finally faded. Oh, my gosh, it hurt. Whew.
President Jennings, last week, had to face a bit of a gauntlet. He had a meeting with the bishops* and stake presidents**, attended by his own assistants and clerks, who gave the rest of us the play-by-play. President Jennings is in a tight spot right now. See, he's been sent out here to revamp the whole missionary program. The other three missions in Korea do most of their work through English teaching--they teach English to people for thirty minutes, then gospel for thirty minutes, and count it as a lesson. This method gets a lot of lessons, and a lot of baptisms, but not really a lot of converts, as such. It's a big reason for the huge lists of inactives*** we're fishing through now. So when the Church sent President Jennings out here, his instructions were pretty clear: this has got to stop. And stop it has. Pusan mission now teaches people who are interested in the gospel, not just in free English classes, and teaches them long enough for them to understand the covenants of baptism and gets them integrated into their new wards, and once they're baptized they stay active. Sacrament meeting attendance has gone up. More people are preparing to go to the temple. But the number of baptisms has gone way, way down. And the local leadership is ticked. It was a rough meeting for President, who's a very non-confrontational person (Yeah, a non-confrontational lawyer . . . who'da thunk. Like a surgeon who faints at the sight of blood), but he held his ground and we're continuing to do things the way we've been doing them. Apparently Dad's mission was doing the same thing when he served--President was glad to hear that.
I will now, to the best of my recollection, instruct you on How To Bake a Thunder Cake While A Missionary In Korea:
1. Crack and separate three thick-shelled brown eggs. Put the whites in your house's largest tupperware. Give this and your house's only fork to your companion; instruct her to beat them 'forever'. Put the yolks in a bowl and the shells in the freezer.
2. Peel half a tomato and chop it fine with a pair of scissors you got for a dollar at a mungu around the corner; mangle it as well as you can with your fingers.
3. In your house's largest saucepan, combine 1 cup butter and 3.5 scoops (a scoop is half a cup) white sugar. Mix a bit; if it's hard, pop it on the stove for a few seconds. Who needs mixing bowls, really?
4. Add the egg yolks, the tomato, 1.5 teaspoons vanilla flavoring powder (vanilla extract? What's that?), and 2 scoops of cold water to the saucepan. Mix a bit.
5. Check on and encourage your companion.
6. In a large saucepan or a noodle bowl, combine 5 scoops of flour, one teaspoon salt, one teaspoon 'cooking' soda and a shake of cocoa powder. (The original recipe calls for half a cup, but your apartment contains barely that and the stuff's almost impossible to find and worth its weight in heroin, so a good shake is about as much as you're going to get). Mix a bit.
7. Oil and flour the inner pot of your rice cooker.
8. Praise and hug your companion; let her stretch her arm.
9. Mix the now-beaten egg whites in with the liquid stuff, then add the dry stuff. Pour the whole thing into the rice cooker and bake at 170 degrees Celsius for about an hour, or until chopstick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
10. Let it cool . . . in the fridge if you trust your kimchi tupperware that much.
11. Invoking all the blessings to which you are entitled as a set-apart servant of the Lord, pray that the cake will release cleanly and not break into pieces when you try to turn it out of that pan.
12. Turn out the cake.
13. Prayer of gratitude.
14. Decorate with powdered sugar (just a little . . . see above note about cocoa powder) or Christmas sprinkles you found in the back of the cupboard.
There was a solar eclipse this week. A 93% solar eclipse. And I missed it because nobody in the whole mission thought to mention it to me. They all knew. And nobody told me. And I was indoors when it happened. I was really, really, really mad. Livid. But I managed not to kill anyone, which I thought was admirable.
And this week Brother McGreuder (who seems to be blogstalking me; hi, Brother McGreuder!) took us to dinner at the Seaman's Club. It was so peaceful, somehow, to sit in a quiet cafe and eat a chili cheeseburger and drink a rootbeer, and just enjoy the fundimental normalcy of everything . . . like a big glass of ice water instead of a little metal shot-glass of a thing, and a canteen selling American candy and medicine (Sister Pak pointed out something that looked good to her--she likes grape flavor--and I had to gently explain to her that 'Claritin' is not, in fact, a candy, but an allergy medicine). No matter how accustomed you get to the wierdness of Korea, there is always some part of you that is holding its breath. But I got to breathe a bit, and it was lovely.
Dad: HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I almost missed it, almost forgot it, but caught it, thank goodness. Unfortunately, the present I wanted to get you, I have not yet found, so it's going to be late, and that will be lame, but I am thinking of you, and I love your letters and read them all the time, and I miss you like crazy.
And here I am going to end this e-mail and see if I can send a couple pictures before my time's up. I love you!
* bishop: the guy in charge of a ward (i.e. parish), about 200 families. A bishop has 2 counselors and an executive secretary to help him. In the LDS church, a bishop wears a suit and tie (as opposed to a mitre and sceptre, elaborately embroidered robes and a skull cap).
**stake president: the guy in charge of a stake, which is made up of 5 or so wards. Also a suit-and-tie guy.
***inactives: people who have been baptized into the church but who, for one reason or another, have stopped coming to church on Sunday.