This entry is super long, but I think the most interesting one, if you can get through it. Again, I question how boring it is for most people, but it was a great day. But this is proabbly the longest entry. By far.
Our day in Salt Lake City I think for me was the best time I had on the trip. I just really learned a lot and had a great time. First of all, I really like Salt Lake City. I don’t know, I just thought it was very clean, and not too big, and kind of quaint.
I actually am starting to think it’s time to get out of Silicon Valley. It’s just getting taken over by the same types of people. Super yuppie, tech dorks who are all rich. It’s not a good trend. It’s just not good when there’s an abundance of any single type. I don’t know, I really liked some of the cities we stopped in. Salt Lake City was the first city I liked a lot.
Anyway, we got up pretty early, I believe 8 or 9. This is where one of the mishaps occurred, and it’s something we had to deal with, but we still ended up going to the Temple Square. We parked in a lot in downtown, which was totally empty, and walked through the mall. I’m a little confused about this, but I believe there were 2 shopping centers. One was called ZCMI. It’s mentioned in the Great Brain series of books, if you’ve read them, and it’s advertised as being the first mall in America. I have no idea what it stands for, but my guess is Z stands for Zion. Seriously, the LDS dominates everything in Salt Lake City. There’s even Zion’s First National Bank, or something like that. They just totally dominate.
At any rate, like I said, I’m kind of confused about it, but the other shopping center I think was owned by the Deseret Book Store, which of course is owned by the LDS. The Deseret Bookstore itself was this huge LDS bookstore which occcupied part of the shopping center. Like I said though, I’m kind of confused so these two shopping centers might be the same.
Anyway, John had to get his camera so I browsed the bookstore. I was absolutely intrigued, since I had never seen anything like it. Dave, of course was scared and didn’t want to look at it, go in, or anything. But I was intrigued. It was the size of a small Barnes and Noble (maybe a bit smaller), but filled with just LDS books. All these crazy LDS books. I didn’t know there were so many. At any rate, I was too intrigued to not go in.
So the bookstore was a lot like a Christian bookstore, just LDS. I guess I had never thought about that before. But it had books on LDS life, and stuff like that. Devotionals for LDS women. Books on LDS theology. There was one book that contained pictures of Brigham Young that was advertised as being a great Father’s Day gift. Other interesting books were an LDS perspective on C.S. Lewis and a book called “Are Mormons Christians?” It’s interesting to me how they adapt some Christians and Christian ideas as their own, although I’m sure those Christians would take issue with that. And of course they do this even though they think these same Christians aren’t true believers, or whatever.
Another fascinating thing was that there were tons of geneology materials. Books for kids, geneology software – just a ton of stuff. I could not understand that until John told me later how Mormons believe that they can save their ancestors or something like that.
Of course, I was most interested in the music. I was wondering if there’s a Mormon equivalent to CCM, or if they were really conservative with their music. They had the things I expected, like hymn CDs and CDs of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But there seemed to be contemporary stuff as well. Both Mormon based (a lot of whom were published by the Deseret Book Company), of all different types, including a capella, and some well-known secular artists who are Mormon. I can’t remember who they were, just that they were well known.
The most interesting thing though was that they had some Christian artists. Among others, Steven Curtis Chapman and Point of Grace. Again, it just intrigues me how Mormons take some parts of Christianity.
I looked for and found some praise music, and I wanted to buy it, but Dave wouldn’t let me. It exists, though.
There were also a lot of statues and paintings there. The funny thing is, all the characters they depicted looked like they were from Utah. Very white looking.
So we walked through the mall to the Temple Square. Again, we were totally on guard. It was hilarious. We kind of looked around, and took pictures. There was a building near the front, where they had information and opportunities to learn more about LDS and/or talk to a missionary. We didn’t know where to go so I wandered into the building. I don’t know, the signs there just totally scared me. Like, it was very clear what they wanted to do there. Convert people. So I was wary. I found out where tours started, and when they asked if we needed anything else, I was like, “No!” A little too vigorously, I think.
Anyway, we went on the tour. Our tour guides were this girl from Arizona, and this girl from Japan. The one from Japan spoke very little English. She had only been speaking for a matter of months. At any rate, they gave us the tour and it was extremely enlightening.
When they greeted us, though, it was hilarious. She asked where we were from, and we were all so on guard that we all just froze at the question. I remember she asked us, and I tensed up and looked at everyone else. We all didn’t know what to say, and there was this awkward silence where we just kind of looked at each other. Finally, I said, “I’m from Texas.” I was kind of expecting everyone else to say where they were from, as did our guide, but when she looked at them, everyone was completely silent. It killed me.
Anyway, I really learned a lot. For example, when the Mormons first got to Utah, they were getting overrun with crickets or some insect or other. So they prayed, and a bunch of seagulls came. They would gorge themselves on cricket, leave, regurgitate, and then come back. As the tour guide said, it was a great miracle, and they have a gold statue of a seagull at the square to commemorate it.
Another interesting things was that all the tour guides were female. I’m not exactly sure why. Even more interesting was that all of them, like all Mormons in ministry, supported themselves. Our guide had worked for several years and saved up her money. Then she applied to the church to serve somewhere, and they assigned her to the Temple in Salt Lake City. The point being, she supports herself financially. They all do, from the tour guides, to the pastors and teachers, to the head prophet – they all support themselves financially, and don’t depend on offerings at all. So all the offerings are used for the upkeep of the temple and such. That was fascinating to me. It explained to me how the church buildings are so nice, and how the LDS is so rich, partly. They all support themselves.
The Tabernacle was this place where the early Mormons wanted to gather to hear the prophet speak. There was a demonstration there of the incredible acoustics in the building (you could hear a pin drop at the front of the Tabernacle from the seats near the back). It also had this incredible pipe organ, with something on the order of 15,000 pipes. Even more amazing is that the entire place, including the pipes, is made of a single type of wood, I think it was ash. It was the only material available to them at the time. Anyway, they did some insane things to decorate it. Like the pews were hand painted to resemble oak. And the columns were hand painted to resemble marble. But it’s all ash. It’s crazy. Anyway, this is the place where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs.
The Temple was also very interesting. We couldn’t go inside, but they had pictures of the insides they let us see. I was surprised at this, actually, but our tour guide explained, the Temple isn’t secret, it’s sacred. Anyway, it was dope. Cool big rooms, and smaller rooms where you can pray. All decorated up the wazoo. They also have various teaching rooms where they teach Scripture. The cool thing is, the decoration of the rooms correspond to the lesson. So like, there’s a Garden of Eden room where they teach about the fall, with like the walls painted like garden and various animal statues. They teach the same thing every time in each room, which is interesting. Our guide mentioned how although it’s always the same, you get new insights each time, depending on your life situation. Again, really interesting.
Another interesting room is the sealing room. Active LDS can go through a ceremony that’s greater than marriage. It’s called sealing and it takes place in these rooms. The difference is that while marriage only lasts until death, sealing lasts forever, throughout eternity. Anyway, this ceremony is super exclusive. Only immediate (not even aunts or uncles) family who are active LDS can attend. The rooms have mirrors on opposite walls, so it gives the effect of looking out into infinity. This whole idea of being together beyond death was interesting to me. It brings up all these implications that I didn’t ask about, like what happens if one dies, if you can be sealed again. My guess is that this relates to the whole bigamy thing, but I didn’t ask.
A funny thing is that our Japanese tour guide 1) spoke really poor English and 2) spoke real softly. A lot of times, we couldn’t understand a thing. I actually stood in back, so I just couldn’t hear her, but apparently she was incomprehensible. But John would still nod his head with understanding with each sentence. It’s funny.
John of course, at times would ask them questions about their faith. I asked questions also, but stricly factual or historical. I hoped if we left them alone, they would leave us alone. I was afraid John would bring out his Martin Kingdom of the Cults. But he was pretty good about it.
Of course, they were trying hard core to witness to us the entire time. And any time they asked any questions, we all froze. I answered the first time, but we made John answer when they asked about our religious background since he’s the holiest. We also made him read when they asked one of us to read from the book of Mormon. It was a passage similar to that in the Bible, saying if you come to God with an open heart and test these things, He will guide you into all truth. The tour guide asked us, “So have you?” That is, tested these things in our hearts. What we wanted to say was, “Yes we have. You’re wrong.” But we couldn’t, so we made John say something uncomfortable, I think.
They also made us listen to this presentation at the end. It was at a statue of Jesus that consisted of this voice reciting some of Jesus’ words from the Bible over this weird cosmic music. It was interesting to me. What they portray Mormonism as being on the tour wasn’t that weird. In fact, I wouldn’t say there was anything that was really different from Christianity. They pretty much stuck to Biblical concepts, and except for some minor things, it could have been Christianity they were talking about the whole time. And it was all very reasonable. If I was a non-believer, I would be sort of compelled to believe what they presented.
The thing is, of course, that they neglected all the weird stuff in the tour about Mormonism. Everything they present is from the Bible. Even the last passage from the Book of Mormon was like one in the Bible. If they were to present the things that make Mormonism different from Christianity, I think people would be like, “What the?” Because Mormons believe some truly strange things. It was just interesting to me what they chose to present and what they chose not to.
I wondered though, if how I saw them as weird is how non-Christians see Christianity. Like, could the way I see them be equally true of my own beliefs? Is Christianity also weird, it’s just that I’m acclimated to it?
I really think, though, that it’s not like that. I think there’s a real reason why what they explain about Mormonism on the tour are those things that are similar to Christianity, and skip the differences. There’s something just very appealing and reasonable about the Christian faith, which I think stems from its truth. That’s why they essentially present Christianity, not Mormonism. Because that’s what’s true, and thus that’s what’s reasonable. At least in my mind.
I thought it was kind of cool though, that they could witness so hard core and without shame. I mean, what could we do? Complain? We freaking came to their Temple. We couldn’t complain. We had no right.
So it helped me see some advantage in having such a dope building. If we had these dope churches that were so cool that even non-Christians would want to visit, we could witness without abandon. That’s kind of neat. So it gave me a vision for building a dope church building / center. There we can witness without shame and they can’t complain. Yeah, I know that goes against the idea of meet-at-home cell churches that I’m really into. But it will work somehow. The Cell Church Tabernacle Square.
The other things also is that, like them or not, you have to respect the LDS organization. Men with walkie talkies kept the tours going smoothly, and the guides were trained in exactly what to say. Plus, they had many guides who spoke tons of languages, so they could always try to convert a group, regardless of their language. I can see the advantages of being so… cultish, so single minded. The unity is just striking. It helps me understand what Jesus meant when he said our unity would be a witness to the world. They put Christians to shame. It’s amazing. And scary.
I mean, all decisions for the entire world are made at the top; all things go through the main office building. All missions efforts are unified and coordinated, as are finances and stuff. As are their beliefs. I don’t know, there’s just a lot of power in that.
I also learned that they have stuff like churches, but that Temples are only built when there’s a critical mass of believers in an area. There are actually a lot of Temples. And people are assigned to places based solely on geography. Again, total unity.
At the very end of the tour, they had us fill out these response cards. Just to give comments about the tour. There was a space for our names, but she said we could leave it blank if we felt nervous about it. John didn’t, as per his mom’s advice. But I think the rest of us felt bad about leaving it blank. Dave, after being so on guard the whole time, inexplicably put his name, first and last. Henry had planned in advance to write Henry [something] so he did.
So at first, I just wrote “Daniel.” Then I suppose for the same reasons I felt bad about leaving it blank, I felt bad not putting a last name. So I thought a while. I didn’t want to write my real name, so I wrote my mom’s maiden name, “Cho.” Then I thought about it. Would God want me to lie? Even to the Mormons? So then I added an “i” making it “Daniel Choi.” My Korean name is usually translated Choi, so I felt I was being somewhat truthful, while not allowing them to bother me for the rest of my life.
Unbeknownst to me, Dave had been watching me the whole time, so he saw me write “Daniel” then stop and think, then write “Cho” then stop and think, and then write the “i.” Apparently he died. I don’t know, I guess you have to understand how on edge we were.
Anyway, the entire tour was great. Just very educational, and for me, totally thought provoking. I’m really glad I got to see and learn what I did. It’s just made me think a lot.
So after, we went back to the mall and had lunch. At the bookstore, they were having book signings, and there were a lot of authors there. (Interesting thing is, the custodial staff looked Latino. Even in Utah, I guess that’s the way that goes.) Anyway, that made sense to me. Since Salt Lake City is the center of LDS, it makes sense that a lot of the authors and leaders would live there. I just wondered what it must be like to have everything so concentrated like that in one place.
After that we had to take care of the unforeseen problems, which were significant. Fortunately, things were taken care of well enough, praise God. But it involved having to go to the police department and a lot of help from Lorraine, believe it or not.
Side note – there is not a single Bank of America or NationsBank in Salt Lake City.
After that, we went west to see the Great Salt Lake. It was in the opposite direction. But there was no way I was going to pass by Utah and not see the freaking Great Salt Lake.
I’m kind of like that. The whole trip, when we were somewhere, I just wanted to see something associated with that area. So in Reno, we need to do the Reno thing – gamble. In Salt Lake City, we have to see the Temple and the Great Salt Lake. And so forth. I don’t know why I’m like that, I just am.
Anyway, we saw it. Like the rest of the state, it’s hideous. Nasty water, and a terrible smell. I don’t know, I kind of wanted to float on it, but it was too gross. We stopped at this place that used to be a resort that for the life of me I can’t remember the name. It actually had a hilarious history. It kept getting burned and flooded. Anyway, the history of the Great Salt Lake is actually totally fascinating. I’m not joking. It made me want to research about the whole history of the lake. Just how it got to be, why it’s so salty, and why it’s so variable. The size of the lake changes a lot, because it’s pretty shallow. But again, I’m glad we saw it. It was a freaking huge lake. The largest I had ever seen in my life. No good lake here. Very clearly a great salt lake.
So, after getting up early, we didn’t end up leaving until quite late, setting off for Denver. We passed by Wyoming on the way. In particular, we passed by the Continental Divide. This is the point where, on one side, water flows to the Pacific, and on the other, it floats to the Atlantic. We got this great picture there, where Dave is pouring water. I should post it.
I finally started driving again in Wyoming and Colorado. Another wrong with Dave’s car is the driver’s side window doesn’t close right if you open it. And like I mentioned earlier, the engine was overheating. Anyway, I’m stubborn, so I wouldn’t open the window, just the other ones, when it overheated. The thing is, I just felt the full brunt of the heat in my face. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I’d switch the vents to the feet. But then after a while, my feet would die. I thought the metal in my shoes would melt. It was torture. I don’t know why I was so stubborn about it. But I was.
I also had a Chili Cheese Dog from A&W in Wyoming, as well as some Turkey Jerky. I’m not joking, that combo gave me the worst smelling farts I have ever emitted. They were so incredibly rank. It was absolutely disgusting.
We stopped for dinner I believe in Laramie, Wyoming, for no good reason except I think Laramie cigarettes from the Simpsons. On the way, there were these absurd ads for Little America, some place in Wyoming. Like a rest stop or something. There were ads for it hundreds of miles before. The absurd thing is, there were billboards for it hundreds of miles after we passed it. Totally confusing. Did they want us to turn around? It made no sense.
The place we ate at in Wyoming was very cowboy, by the way, Weird southernish accents, lots of smoking, cowboy hats, and they were playing Country and Western music. (Country. Western. Two different things.)
We got into Denver pretty late. Henry had made reservations at the Hilton near the airport, and it rocked. It was quite a day. There was evening, and morning. The third day.