Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We received the following email and pictures from Sam on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014.  Our questions are in italics.

From: Samuel Christensen <samuel.christensen@myldsmail.net>
Subject: Pchum Ben is Over
Date: September 28, 2014 11:36:30 PM MDT
Hi all,

That's great that you can go to some tourist destinations on your P-days. Yeah, it's fun to get to do some fun stuff on P days. Last P day we tried to get into the tallest building in Cambodia and get to the top to look over the world. We didn't know if we were allowed in the building or not, but we just tried to play the "white skin" card up and acted like we knew what we were doing. Turns out anyone can go in there, but no one can go up because it's still being constructed on the inside. So we went to the next tallest building and did the same thing. No one questioned us when we went into the elevator and went up. Granted, there weren't a lot of people there because of the holiday, but nevertheless. So the highest level we could get to was 23 to look out. Which I guess was high enough. It was really cool.

It's hard to believe what a great tragedy Pol Pot caused for the Cambodian people.  It's interesting with Pol Pot because I'm pretty sure he's the one that did most of those atrocities, but I was talking to a member a few weeks ago and he was telling me how Pol Pot was bad, but how really most of the people were killed by Vietnamese people out on the provinces. I don't know if that's true or not, but I think that just reflects the general dislike that Cambodians currently have for the Viets because of various political maneuvers that have taken power and land from the Cambodians. And the Cambodians have a corrupt government leader that they're all ticked at anyways. Maybe you guys can read up on that and get more educated on it than I am.

Do you write to your mission president every week?  Yeah we write the pres every week. On a weekly check-in I usually run out of things to tell him: "same as last week, President."

We talked to Homers yesterday about their upcoming trip to Cambodia and I can say that I am a little jealous but will try not to covet. You'll be jealous of the Homers going to Cambodia until you come here and realize how nice America is. I'm a big fan of America since I got here.

Do you actually buy meat at the phsaa?  Yes, mother, we buy meat every week at the phsaa. You're going to love it when you come here. It's quite the experience. It costs $5 for one kilo of pork here. How does that compare to American prices? It's so funny to see a dead pig stretched out on the back of a moto or a whole ton of raw meat squished into somebody's little basket on the front of their bike (not in a bag or anything).

We received the letter you sent us from the little girl who wants an American pen pal.  She seems very sweet!  Do you know her?  Yeah, I've never met that little girl. The teacher gave it to me and he teaches out in the kites. She's probably above average educated. It's really an amazing system that America has in public schools even though they always get wrecked in the media. Because pretty much all they have here that I know of are private schools, and if you can't afford to send your kid there then either your kid doesn't get an education or goes to some other kind of probably bad school. I think that in 50 years or so they will mostly only speak English here.

I told Grammy how I was thinking about apple pie here last week. I also told her how I think my internal clock is telling me it wants it to be fall, but unfortunately it isn't. 

Our pets at home are so spoiled. There are so many skinny cats and dogs here and I just think about how spoiled Willy is.

They announced to us at the Zone Conference that they're opening two more areas for church stuff in Cambodia, which is a pretty big deal. It'll be really hard for them to establish the church there, but they know how to do it. The next transfer has about 30 missionaries coming in, and that's absolutely massive. Everyone is bracing for the impact.

It rained really hard yesterday and the streets flooded again and I've got some pictures that you'll all probably love and show all your friends, so enjoy those

Ok, I guess that's about it. 

We bought 30 eggs today, and that should hold us for the week.

Overlooking Phnom Penh from 23 stories

Trying to stay in the wake

Sam and his companion, Elder Yorgason

This morning at the phsaa

This is my zone and the central zone which is the Vietnamese

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sam sent the following email and pictures on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014.  Our questions are in italics.

From: Samuel Christensen <samuel.christensen@myldsmail.net>
Subject: Happy Peach Season
Date: September 21, 2014 11:11:27 PM MDT

Hi Family,

I hope you're all enjoying your delicious peaches in this fall peach time. I haven't seen any peaches here but maybe I'll have to look and see if they have any.

I thought of one more thing you could send: another glue stick cap. A little kid lost the first one like my 2nd day in the country.

Also, last week I mailed a letter home from some teacher guy who has a student who wanted to write to someone in America and have a pen pal. She's 11 I think, so I was thinking maybe Isabelle could write her back. It shouldn't get there for about 3 more weeks or so probably, but that should be kind of fun.

Yeah, so for last P Day Elder Yorgason and I went to the Genocide prison that they've turned into a museum. It's called Tuol Sleng or S-21. You can read about it if you're interested. I just realized while we were there and seeing all that sad stuff how hard of a time it is for these people here, and I give them a lot of grief in letters home and stuff, but they're probably doing the best they can. It was so crazy to look at some of the pictures from the mid- late-70s, and lots of things really just don't look that different from what they do now. They just still haven't been able to develop or fully recover from all that yet. It's pretty sad. People have said that Cambodia now is what Thailand was like 30 years ago, and I believe it because Pol Pot really set these guys back. And a few weeks ago we were riding into the mission home and some white guy was like hey elders, so we stopped and he said he was a member but he's been to tons of Asian countries, and Cambodia is the least modernized of all of them (Vietnam, Philippines, etc.). It's just really sad and really unfair what these people have had to go through. And just thinking about them I know that they'll modernize and get to a good place, but it'll probably take a lot of years more. They're on the right path, just a really slow path. And hopefully the church grows along with the country. The October Liahona talks about the growth of the Church in Chile and it's crazy. In like 1970 it had 15,000 members and 10 years later it had like 80-something thousand. I can't even imagine that type of growth happening here, but we'll see. Cambodia has something like 13,000 members right now, but only a generous 3,000 are active.

I guess General Conference comes a little later here than normal, but I'm not sure, so we'll see. 

What's your favorite magic trick right now?  The scarf and thumb magic trick works really well if you use it in the right setting, and oftentimes the dim, poor lighting setting is lots of the type of lighting they have here, so it turns out pretty good.

Do you have sunglasses?  I haven't been wearing sunglasses yet. Do you think I really need to do that or do you just want me to look cool? Do you have a pillow?  I have a pillow. Do you teach English class, and if so, how is it going? Every Wednesday we do English class for an hour and a 30 minute spiritual thought after, then we attack people and try to get them to learn with us. It's kind of a week-to-week things with English turnout, but we probably average 20-25 in our middle class, and they also have a low and a high class too that people come out for. A senior couple from years past created an English lesson thing to do, so we go off of that, but really they are not very good. They have lots of  misspellings and misused grammar, but who's going to be the wiser here in Cambodia?

I know you’ve seen some examples of pretty weak leadership and some absolutely false beliefs among some of the members, but do you feel that you missionaries are, little by little, helping the church and its members progress? Yes, mom, I feel like little by little by little they are progressing. It's just nice to see kids and strong youth coming to church, because I've decided that it'll have to be those kids' kids that make the church strong. I just hope the parents are teaching them well and putting the right knowledge and strong beliefs into them now.

What's the literacy rate in your area?  For my situation, most everybody can read and write. There's plenty who can't, and that's not a huge problem-we just read to them. But the vast majority know how to read, even if their reading comprehension isn't that good. Lots of times we teach people and say something really simply and say it like a million times, and it just doesn't connect with them. I say this in the nicest way possible, but it's just really hard for some of the people to try to think. Example: a week or so ago we taught a kid who's 21 and did the Word of Wisdom with him. Explained what's forbidden to eat like twice, then had him explain what's forbidden to eat and he did it. Then Elder Yorgason asked him if he'd commit to live the WoW 100% and he said yes, and at that exact second he unscrewed his bottle of iced tea that he had and took a sip. So he just didn't get that. And all the time with that guy we explain stuff and ask him if he understands and he says he does. Then we say ok what is it, and he says he doesn't know, so we explain it again and he says he gets it, but he doesn't know. It's just ughh sometimes you just do all you can.

People here aren't really sure what missionaries are, I've found out. We were reviewing lesson 1 with a recent convert family a few weeks ago and they're the super good ones I've talked to you about before, but we were just kind of acting like we were the investigators and they were supposed to explain it to us, but they told us that we were prophets. We're like "no, no, no, we are definitely not prophets." And then another member a few days ago explained to our investigator that we (the missionaries) were apostles. So, yeah, strike 2.

It's Pchum Bun here, which is one of the two biggest holidays. It's essentially a 9-day holiday where there's a mass exodus from everyone in the city out to their province or homeland. Like more than 50% of the city probably goes and everything is closed. So that slows down missionary work, but it's a lot more peaceful and a little bit quieter, so that's welcomed.

Probably all for me. Keep on keeping on,
S-21 Prison/Museum

Cool picture

Meat at the phsaa

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sam sent the following email and pictures on Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014.  Our statements & questions are in italics.

From: Samuel Christensen <samuel.christensen@myldsmail.net>
Subject: Hello, hello, Yes it is I, your favorite son
Date: September 14, 2014 11:23:16 PM MDT

Hi guys,

I hope the sports updates I give you aren't too distracting.  You never have to worry about sending too much in the "distractions" category of info, dad. That's plenty welcome. It really makes my heart hurt to see the Angels absolutely killing it and all the things that are happening in baseball. I used to know so much about everything, the whole league, individual players--everything!! Now I know nothing. But I've been thinking the past few weeks about how much I love reading and learning about sports. Man, that is really what I love to do (you know, aside from spending time with family and preaching the gospel and etc yada yada). So maybe I seriously should consider some type of career that I could be surrounded in sports. I don't know, I was just thinking about that a little bit ago.

Do you get a little saddle sore from riding your bike so much?  Yes, thank you for asking, it is tough to be in a saddle all day. I sit on that bike a lot. But it's great when I get to go in the house at night and not have to ride it for 10 hours or something like that.

Church yesterday was pretty good. Because basically none of our main investigators showed up, so we didn't have to worry about things running smoothly or having a teacher or making sure people weren't peacing out before church ended. So yes, it was easier and less stressful than most weeks, but we didn't really accomplish the desired goal of getting people to church either. So we kind of won and lost. We have a couple investigators who are really good, and a couple that we dropped last week and a couple more we will drop this week. Most of the contacting just comes in down time while we're fixing bikes or something of that nature. Sometimes you just go up to people and ask them a random question that you already know the answer to and then you say oh, ok. Well actually we're missionaries from the Christian church...

Are you still liking your new apartment?  The new place is still nice. We're trying to keep it clean, but it's still miles nicer than the first place. 

We were wondering if your rice is white rice or sticky rice or something different.  The rice is just rice. I guess it's probably sticky rice. I don't know. It's white.. 

How is the sun? I need to start putting on more sunscreen more often than I am now. I think I've gained a few more freckles.

Do you have an exercise period each day or does all your bike riding fulfill your exercise quota?  We're supposed to exercise every morning from 5:30-6 AM. But oftentimes I don't quite make it up quite at exactly 5:30, and then I just write in my journal what happened from the day before. And we definitely ride the bike plenty. If I see myself starting to get fat, I'll start exercising more. 

In the photo you sent last week, how heavy were the barbells you were lifting?  I think that bench press was only about 60-something pounds. I did 35 reps, but back in the day 60 pounds was absolutely nothing.

[We sent Sam some pictures of Skibby playing powder puff flag football last week.]  Those were some sweet action shots of Skib. She's such a baller. 

We are trying to get our ducks to fly away but they keep coming back...  I hate to be the one to say I told you so with the mallards, but.....

What kind of music do the Cambodian people like, and do they play instruments?  They like a lot of weird music here. Actually, a lot of people are into David Archuleta even if they aren't mormon or know about the church. They kind of like that romantic-type of song. Kind of like Engelbert Humperdinck meets the 90s kind of thing. And usually they're a few months or years behind what's popular in the United States. They can kind of sing, but not usually because most of them can't read music, but they do their best. No one plays instruments that I've seen. I don't really share my talents, but I did get to play the piano by myself in the sacrament room this past week and that was fun. But all I remember is like the first two lines of tons of songs. That's it.

I meant to tell you a story of what happened last week at church. So the teenage girl who usually conducts the hymns wasn't there, and there was nobody to fill in leading the congregation, and so since I was sitting on the stand because Elder Yorgason pushes buttons to make the piano play itself. So when the first song starts they're like ok go, go, go. Go conduct the hymn, so I'm like ok that's fine, no problem. The first one is their  favorite song--I need thee every hour--and they sing it at least once or twice each week without fail, and it's the one I know the best. So I led it and they sang and it was fine. Then after that we had the sacrament hymn, so I got up to conduct, got ready, and started trying to sing it the best that I could and lead also. But about halfway through the first verse when I looked up at the congregation no one---NO ONE----was singing. I was like oh crap that's embarrassing, I must have been conducting and singing through a longer introduction to the song. Then it kept going and I realized that wow, nope this is the song, just nobody knows it so nobody is singing. And usually Elder Yorgason sings loud to help people out, but this week there was only only hymn book on the stand and I was using it. It was sooooo awkward of 3 minutes of listening to the piano play, trying to lead and sing, and being the only one doing it. Ugghhh

Then on the bike front this week I told you last week how my pedal and arm came off, so I had it getting fixed by some members and they gave me a temporary bike to use. On Tuesday I was riding their dumb bike and hear a loud pop and shoot, yeah the tire's popped. Like the whole tire not just the inner tube. After a while we got it to a repair place and they put a new tire and inner tube on for 8 bucks, which is average but a little high here. I was pretty mad because that was 8 dollars for a new wheel on a bike that wasn't even mine. Then when I ended up getting my bike back a few days ago i had to pay 3 dollars for it and I'm not sure they actually fixed the problem. Then last night we were riding home to end the day and my front tire went flat. We got to a place to fix it a little later and it had 3 holes in the inner tube, so they had to replace it. The couple that runs the place charged us 3.75 for it, which is a pretty big ripoff I guess. Like twice as much as it should be. But I was in a compromising situation because they'd already fixed it, so I had to pay it. I was trying to think how Jesus would act in a situation that he gets ripped off big time and gets a weak excuse that the inner tube came from Thailand so it's better. We were talking about it last night and figured he'd probably just take getting ripped off. But then for personal study this morning Elder Yorgason was reading in Acts 5 about a couple that ripped Peter off and lied to him about how much something was, and he stretched forth his hand and struck them dead or something like that. So we figured maybe that's how Jesus would have handled that situation. So we had every right to be mad that they ripped us off. I'm kind of joking.

There's a lot of good things to share, but if I tell you all of them, no one will be excited to see me come home. So I'll hold off. 

But I will tell you about one guy who was a 1st counselor in the Bishopric about 10 years ago and is now basically inactive. He comes once every 2 or 3 months. We visit him when he can and he came to fast sunday last week. But he told us a miracle that happened with him when he came: So he came and was apparently planning to pay tithing, but the Holy Ghost whispered to him "don't pay tithing" because if he did he wouldn't have enough money to buy gas for his moto to get back home." So he heeded the advice of the Spirit and didn't pay the tithing. What do you know, that Spirit was right! He had to buy gas to go back home. What a miracle. His testimony of the power of the Holy Ghost grew. Brilliant. Also, he called on himself to share the closing prayer, and he asked to bless all of the less actives that they could come back to the fold.

Ok guys, that's probably it for me. I hope you're having a good week and surviving school, work , children's choir, missions in California, etc.

The water pictures are when it rained last Monday and we were driving home.

Monday, September 8, 2014

We received the following email and pictures from Sam on Sunday, September 7, 2014.  Again, I will preface some of his paragraphs with the questions (in italics) we asked to prompt them.

Subject: Hello all you beautiful people
Date: September 7, 2014 11:54:34 PM MDT

John and Carol Homer are going to Cambodia in a month to pick up Jessa, and they were so kind to offer to deliver a package to you.  Is there anything particular you'd like us to send?  ok, i will only need about 1 or 2 cool little magic tricks tops. Then a bottle or two of bicycle tire goo would be sublime. But please, not too much stuff. Then some american candies that can transport would be nice. Not much. I'll keep thinking if there's anything that would be good and I'll let you know. I shouldn't need any more drugs or medication things seeing as right now I have enough drugs to open up my own cartel.

How are your shoes holding up, and are you eating well?  The Ecco shoes are really really nice. I love them! I haven't had as many opportunities to shine them as I was hoping, though. We bought 20 eggs this morning for this week. We're figuring eggs are a good way to spend the money instead of spending it on peanut butter and stuff. I still buy a lot of bread though, because a loaf of 20 slices costs 1.05. I bought 3 loaves last monday, and I've eaten 53 slices of toast this week. Delicious. Other than that, yeah I'm pretty much more into the Khmae stuff. We eat rice for breakfast and lunch everyday just about. We now have a frying pan and a spatula, so that's much nicer. And I made a little rice pudding a few days ago. I just put the cooked rice in with some milk and sugar and folded it together and it tasted good.

Do Cambodians eat duck, and how is your haircut?  I'm not sure if they eat duck, but I would guess they do. They eat just about everything. I did get my hair re-cut last week pretty short, and I thought it looked fine, but all these khmaes were laughing at it and making fun of it all week. 

Peter gave Sam a sports update...  That's great for BYU. Wow, you'll have to let me know about next week's game. Any Jazz news? Good for that shoemaker guy. He'd been buried in Triple-A for a few years. Looks like he got a chance and made the most of it.

Do you spend much time at the mission office on your P-days?  The mission office we just get mail or get reimbursed, say hi to people, get materials, and leave nothing much.

Are some Cambodians relatively wealthy?  I really wouldn't know how to compare their wealth because everybody is poor to some extent. I guess there are some people who drive some really nice cars. Idk its confusing. On the roads, the cars are either super super old and run down, or are nice mercedes, lexus cars.

How is the traffic?  I realized now that i'm very used to the crazy traffic. Cars whiz by like inches from me, and I literally don't even notice now.

Do many Cambodians speak English?  English is apparently still a really hard language for the people here. I'll send some pictures of why..

If you don't understand what people are saying here, you can pretty much get by by just saying "ok"and "very good." Everyone here says OK, but almost no one uses it in the context that normal Americans would use it.

We were fasting starting after saturday's lunch. We went and taught one guy at a little tea/coffee shop that he works at. We'd taught there once before and they brought out iced tea for us and we had to tell them that we can't drink it, or here you say i don't know how to drink it. So when we went back yesterday, they did the same thing and we had to tell them the same thing. But I was thinking about how funny it would have been if they had brought out some ice cold water after having failed with the iced tea, and we'd have to tell them "Yeah, we don't drink that either..."

Last thing for this week: We had a member help teaching a new investigator about tithing. Unfortunately, our member help really screwed everything up when he started saying that how in Cambodia you only have to pay tithing according to your faith, so if you're still a new member you probably only have to pay 2% because your faith is really small still. And how sometimes if you're poor it's better to just keep your tithing money instead of giving it to the ward so they can give it back to you in the form of charity. So he'd screwed up fast offerings and tithing. Scary part of that is that he's our ward clerk. Yikes!

OK, I have more cool stuff I could share, but I've already been here for over 3 hours and have to get on with life. I've got it all written down in my journal. Maybe John and Carol could bring over that other missionary journal that I sent home a while back. 

Love and miss you guys!

This was this morning when I only had one pedal on my bike so I was
holding onto Elder Yorgason's bike, and this is seconds before a near crash...

Cambodian ducks have been drinking the water.

Me getting some exercise in

Juxtaposing class with Cambodia

Yeah, that's your Advanced Stamford International School right there. If you want to sign anyone up, 
let me know and I'll see what I can do.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

We got the following email and pictures from Sam on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014.  Sam's paragraphs are basically answers to questions we asked him, so I'll preface each with the question.

Hi there folks,

Have you tried the rice pudding recipe yet?  Ok, mom, I hate to spoil the fun with the cooking thing, but I can't do the rice pudding because we don't have an oven. No one here does. Also my eggs are a lot better now because I put a lot more oil in. It also doesn't help that we don't yet have a pan or spatula in the new place so I cook the egg in a pot with a fork. So that should only improve.

Maybe you could hand out treats to all the ward members who make it to the end of the 3-hour church block?  I would hate rewarding people for doing something they're supposed to do. I really don't know what to do. Pretty much I think it's just too much of a lost cause to try to get them to stay. It's really, really hard to sell church as being fun sometimes. It's crazy, because for us one of the ultimate goals is getting people to church, and then we'll have a stinker of a week, and we have to make it seem like church was really great. And when those stinker weeks happen (often), the leadership in the church, I think, is pretty much like oh well, we had a few people to church. We'll have it again next week. They work on the ward for about 3 1/2-4 hours every week. We literally spend all of our waking time trying to figure out how we can strengthen their ward. So when church goes badly it feels like a whole week was wasted instead of a couple of hours. We have so much invested in this. And the only reason we had so many people at sacrament last week was because they handed out some kind of institute graduation certificate <during sacrament> for all the youth who passed the little class thing. It was about 10-15 minutes of the bishop handing things out. Most of the people who got the certificate we have never seen before, and probably will never see again. They just had to come to their church for one hour to collect their graduation stupid little thing. It's really maddening.

Tell us about the picture you sent last week where you and your companion were standing with the two men dressed in white.  We baptized the one standing next to elder Yorgason, whose name is Khiin. His friend is next to me and he baptized him. When he baptized him, he didn't really have a lot of practice or know-how, and apparently he didn't really heed the advice we gave him the day before, because he pretty much said the prayer (we had the words up against the glass), and threw him down into the water, and Khiin had to get himself up by himself. But, he was immersed, so it passed. It was really, really funny actually. 

Tell us about the picture of you with the 3 Cambodian guys, where some of you are flexing your muscles.  Those are some other guys that we've talked to a couple of times and they're cool. The two biggest ones are mutes or something because they literally can not talk. They just grunt and cat call girls that walk by and stuff. We were talking to them and asked if we could get a picture. That was right after we asked if we could teach them a lesson some time. We taught them once, and they'll probably flare out like most people do. But they're nice, and nobody in Cambodia is strong like that guy is, so it's worth the picture.

How many missionaries are living in your new apartment?  Just two of us in the new apartment. 

What's the weather like now?  So the rain season is about now through December, and it's supposed to rain just about every day. It rained quite a bit this week. Sometimes there are streets that look like Venice, and we ride down them, only we take bikes instead of gondolas. Last Wednesday it rained a ton, and we rode straight through it. It was fun! I honestly couldn't have gotten more wet if I had jumped straight into a swimming pool. For as much as it rains though it's amazing how well the streets dry, because the next morning everything is completely drained and the roads are dusty again. The rain comes on super fast. It will drop a few drops and then it's just like a complete downpour the next second. My backpack cover is absolutely great. I wouldn't say it ever just sprinkles. I think if it's planning to not rain as much, it just takes less time instead of spreading it out in a sprinkle.

Are your roads paved or dirt?  The roads are about half and half. But a lot of times the paved roads are really dusty too. Potholes everywhere. There's one road that was especially bad with potholes, but it was on the way to our old house, so we shouldn't be going down there quite as often now.

Do people smoke there?  Yeah a ton of people smoke. I don't know if they smoke pot or what, but a lot of people smoke.

Are you getting enough to eat?  I'm eating more now that we're in the new house and don't have to split everything 4 ways. And last week I wrote down all my expenses to find out where my money goes each week. Once I know for sure I can find better ways to spend it. I think I'll have to just buy more khmae food like vegetables and eggs and stuff and spend less on the american stuff like cereal and peanut butter. Today at the phsaa we bought one kilo of pork, 5 dollars worth of vegetables, and 5 kilos of rice, all of which should go a long way. The best thing I eat here is called baay saec chorop which is a morning thing and it's rice with an egg and pork and pickled vegetables, and it's 75 cents. We did get a soup thing for breakfast this week because this old lady always tells us to eat at her place when we ride by to get the bsc. She makes breakfast soup stuff, and it tasted good, but it had tones of cow bones in it and also had a cube of coagulated pig blood in it. I didn't eat either of those. I just took them out and the broth stuff tasted really good. But we will not be going back any time soon.

I have to get my hair trimmed up again because they cut it like 2 hours ago, but the style here is short on the sides and long on top, so they rarely cut the top and it's annoying. I told them to cut the top and so they cut the front and I didn't realize, but they didn't make the back of the hair the same length, so we're going back to have them fix it.

I'll send you guys some more pictures of Cambodia when you send me some pictures of Utah.

Peace and love. I hope school and fall is going well. Give Cubby my best.
Good food vs. not so good food. Fried pineapple and meat stuff [above],
 versus coagulated cubed pigs blood soup [below], which actually tasted pretty much fine.