Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First 4 Days in Bintulu

Thomas was busy the first 4 days in Bintulu.  He visited many people, taught lots of lessons, attended the local church meetings, and, on his first P-Day (preparation day during which he gets to do errands, check his email, and do other activities), got to play futsal with the other missionaries in the city (8 total).  He apparently played well.
The members of the Bintulu 3rd Branch (the congregation Thomas is working with) are all Iban and Malay is their 2nd language.  Thomas is able to understand the Malay people speak but is still not quite fluent in speaking Malay.  However, he has taught some of the lessons in Malay and gets help from his companion, Elder Bench, who speaks the language fluently.  He hopes to learn some Iban before long.
Thomas is very impressed with the church members in Bintulu, who work long hours 6 days a week but still take the time to volunteer and help others.  He is also grateful for Elder and Sister Orien, a senior missionary couple who serve as the young missionaries' mentors and love them like their parents.
Quite a few members in the congregation remember Ben, Thomas' older brother who served in Bintulu 2 years ago.
Here are some of the pictures Sister Orien took at Thomas' first weekly "district meeting", in which the 4 young elders and the senior missionary couple get together to discuss the work in the area and do some training.  The meeting was held in Elder and Sister Orien's apartment.
Elder and Sister Orien and the young elders

Monday, August 30, 2010

First Photos from Bintulu

Elder and Sister Orien, senior missionaries serving in Bintulu, sent us 3 photos of Thomas taken Sunday evening (8/29/10).  With him were Elder Bench, his companion from Mission Viejo, CA, and Pres. Gaadong of the Bintulu 3rd Branch.  They were visiting members of the Church in the Hock Peng area near the jungle.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thomas is on his way to Bintulu

Thomas wrote from the airport in Singapore that he was about to board his flight to Bintulu via Kuching.  His mailing address:

Thomas Kwok
Lot# 720A
Sungai Plan
97000 Bintulu
East Malaysia

[Due to local sensitivities, do not address him as "elder".  Please note that international first class mail costs $0.98 for the first ounce.]

Thomas' First Assignment is in Bintulu, East Malaysia

Thomas arrived in Singapore in the middle of a 4-day Mission Conference so he had the rare opportunity to meet all the missionaries in the Singapore Mission on day one.  His first assignment is to work in Bintulu, East Malaysia.  His companion is Elder Bench from SoCal.  They leave for Bintulu on Saturday, 8/28/10.
Bintulu is the 4th largest city (a town really) in the state of Sarawak. It is on the northwestern shore of the Island of Borneo, where Orangutans are found in the jungle (the only other place where Orangutans are found in the wild is Sumatra, Indonesia). Borneo is divided into 3 parts, each belongs to a different country: Malaysia has the northwestern part of the island, with the States of Sarawak and Sabah; Indonesia has the southeastern part of the island; and the Sultanate of Brunei, along the northern coast surrounded by Malaysian territory.
Bintulu is a booming industrial town of 180,000 people. The main industry is natural gas found just off-shore. The city has many ethnic groups but the largest group is the Iban. Natives to Borneo, the Iban's ancestors were fearsome warriors. The other ethnic groups include the Chinese, Malay, Kayan, Kenyah, Punan and Segaan.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Thomas is on his way to Singapore

Thomas' flight just took off from Salt Lake City and is on his way to Singapore.  With layovers in LA and Hong Kong, it will be 9:30 PM San Francisco time on Tuesday (12:30 PM Singapore time on Wednesday) when he arrives in Singapore.  The total travel time is about 25 hours.  With the 16-hour time difference (between Mountain Daylight Time and Singapore time), he will have quite a bit of jet lag.  He is expected to head out to his first assigned area (probably in Malaysia within a day or two).

In the latest letter he sent home, he included a few pictures:

With his friends Whitney and Douglas from South Pasadena

With Sister Ith from Singapore

With Elder Denies from Penang, Malaysia

Portrait drawn by Sister Wong
The pose for the portrait

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thomas' Flight Plan and Address in Singapore

Thomas and 8 other missionaries are heading for Singapore on Monday, August 23, 2010.  He leaves in the evening and flies to Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and then Singapore.  Because he will be crossing the International Date Line, he arrives in Singapore midday on Wednesday, August 25th.  He will be flying on Cathay Pacific Airlines across the Pacific.
If you want to write to him, please use the following address (postage for international first class letter is $0.98 for the first ounce and $1.76 for two ounces):
Thomas Kwok
Singapore Mission
253 Bukit Timah Road
4th Floor
Singapore 259690
Because of local sensitivities, do not address him as "elder" on the envelope.  The mission discourages packages but if you do send them, you may need the mission office phone number: +65-6735-6723
You can also email him at: thomas.kwok@myldsmail.net
He will not be able to email you back but he promises to send you handwritten letters in reply (probably takes about 2 weeks).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thomas is leaving for Singapore in 11 Days

It's hard to believe but Thomas is almost done with his training and is scheduled to leave for Singapore on Monday, August 23, 2010.  It is likely that he will stay only a day or two in Singapore before going to Malaysia for his first assignment.

Following MTC tradition, the whole group of missionaries heading for Singapore/Malaysia have committed themselves to speaking only Malay for the 4 days this week.  In other words, Thomas has been speaking only in Malay since Monday.  The rule is that every time one slips up and speaks in English, one has to do 10 push-ups (see the post-it note on his name tag).  Thomas slipped up quite a bit so he had to do 440 push-ups over the last 2 days.  He is doing a lot better today (Day 4 of the pact) and he hopes to use the language more instinctively for the rest of his time in Provo.

He has been playing the piano for Sunday services at the MTC and he has been teaching the gospel lessons to volunteers who speak Malay (mainly BYU students who served their missions in Malaysia).  Some of the volunteers served in the Singapore Mission with Thomas' older brother, Ben, and were shocked to find themselves being taught by Elder Kwok 2.0.  We can imagine how the church members in Malaysia will be delighted to meet Thomas, having known Ben from before.