May 08, 2012

Close Encounter

I was at the park with my delightful daughter last night, alternating between pushing her on the swings, doling out the M&M's, and sipping on a cup of cheap, but overpriced coffee from 7-11. Each time I go to this park, people talk to me. It's nice when it's not an interrogation. That is, it's good not to be ostracized as "That Big-Nosed Foreigner," but it's good when there's a little give-and-take in the conversation.

Bumped into a couple of Mormon missionaries, late, after the park lights came on. They sort of arrived out of nowhere, announced by the bright white shirts subdivided by black ties, before their faces came into focus. Nice guys.

We didn't talk about Romney. We just, y'know, "shot the shit" as they like to say. I think sometimes, when you're a missionary, you need a break and maybe it's just good to talk to someone from "back home." Who knows. They'd been on the island for three months and six months, so they....

....  I can't even remember what it felt to be three months into a stay in Taiwan. I think I probably still looked at Western faces on the street in the hope that they might be willing to spare a moment or two for idle small-talk. Christ, how long has it been since I felt like that....

I tell my students, occasionally, if they are looking for someone to practice English with, taxi drivers are possibly the worst choice, but Mormons are a pretty good bet, but they should be approached with care. With a plan. The game, I told them, they could play was, how many questions can I ask before they talk about The Book of Mormon? I usually stretch the conversation towards 5 minutes before they bring up their church about the same time that I remember my appointment.

It's a bit of a rude game, but I'm getting better at it.

Last night, we discussed reasons for coming to Taiwan, plans for the future, foods, courses of action for language learning, who learns Taiwanese vs who learns Mandarin. We talked about the Mormon settlement in Nauvoo, Illinois that I visited as a child, finding common ground. As individuals, they were friendly, interesting, and polite when I told them that as a potential convert, they would be best to write me down as a "lost cause."

I didn't bring up coffee, or multiple wives, or ask them if they took their family dogs on vacation tied to the roof of the car. I didn't think to ask about baptizing Anne Frank. I have my opinions about missionaries, and they likely have their opinions about dirty hippies. But it was nice to have a relaxing, late-evening conversation in a park, with a couple of kids from back home.

My daughter was tired of the conversation before I was and reminded me that it was time to go get her brother from math class. We said goodbye and got on the scooter. Before I left the park, I zipped around and found them unlocking their bikes and told them the story which is my reason for not giving Mormons shit when they come up to me:

When I first came to Taiwan, 12 years ago, and was lost on the weekends and couldn't find my way on a map, I used to walk to the nearest major intersection and wait for the Mormons to come around on their bikes, because they were not only the most-visible Westerners in the city, they were also the ones who were most likely to know where shit was.

So, fellas, I continued, if you go two years and don't make a single conversion, you may well make an impact in other ways.

Just a note about a conversation. Please do not seize this opportunity to contact me regarding The Book of Mormon, or services at the local temple. I'm not interested. But, feel free to see me for a chat on the street.

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