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Thursday, August 21, 2008

An Amazing Adventure

Amazing day. A true adventure.

Following 20 hours of non-stop activity I am pretty out of it, but I'd like to note down a few things from today that really struck me as pretty damn wonderful.

It all started at 6am, I'm up to drive to the kitchen at the community centre where the sushi is prepared. 6.30am, I'm at our first outlet, stocking their fridge. I met them for the first time two weeks ago. We see each other for 5 minutes three times a week, so that means I've spent 30 minutes with them in total.

Today, they ask me about Japan - what's it like teaching there? That's a great conversation, all three of us fully engaged as the salmon wraps go on the top shelf and California Sunrise below. The owner's sister-in-law worked there - yeah, loved it! Maybe we'll move out there when the lease on this place expires! I leave there feeling really happy. Things are good.

At 7am I'm at the third outlet. We chat too. I like him. He picks me up on little errors, is often concerned about temperatures, but I'm confident in what I'm doing, and I feel he trusts me now. I can be frank with him, it's great to talk. Meaningful 'thank you's and 'goodbyes' - real effort on his part to make eye contact, and say thank you with his face as well as words. I feel appreciated. I return with the same heartfelt thanks.

8.30am: I'm at uni now, in our CELTA portacabin. I love seeing my coursemates every day.
Does anyone have any sleep I can borrow?
We help each other out with lesson plans. We laugh and joke. We're on this journey together, and I tell you, it really does feel like a true journey. The landscape is changing around us the more we learn. We're all starting to come into our own. Caw blimey everyone should do this!

10.30am and I need to get down to the station for my train to London. I shouldn't really miss a day of the course at all, but I need to apply for the visa in person, and today is the only day we have no Teaching Practice. "Good luck! Good luck!" my coursemates tell me as I leave via the back door.

10.35am: I'm walking down West Street, and see the university's Pro-vice Chancellor of Learning and Teaching on his phone as he crosses the road a little behind me. I want to thank him - we got to know one another through my work as a CILASS Student Ambassador, and the last time I saw him was on stage at my graduation ceremony: he made a special effort to whisper his congrats and give me a big grin as I walked past - he's such a nice guy. He asks me what's next for me: I tell him, and he's really happy. We say goodbye - I thank him for his kindness, and as he continues down the road, in my head I tell him that people like him are what make Sheffield Uni so welcoming.

We're on the train to London now. Sitting opposite me is a man with an iPod, playing his music so loud I feel like I'm the one wearing the headphones. I can't help but laugh at the irony of the situation: the headphone's he's using are actually mine - him having asked if he could borrow them a few minutes beforehand.

But the music doesn't distract me for long: an Indian family come and sit in the seats surrounding us. They speak part English, part something else. The 19-year-old daughter, and mother start to play the card game Uno. ten minutes later I find myself bursting out laughing with the rest of the family as the mother, who is being thrashed by her daughter, keeps on making silly mistakes (like saying "Uno" - only to have it pointed out to her that she has two cards in her hand, not one!). The score at the end: 565 to 28. We all wish each other the best as we get off the train in London. (10 hours later we are to meet again on the return train).

I'm at the Japanese embassy. I recognise the security guards and like to think that they recognise me - of course they don't. Once scanned, I'm in, press the button for a ticket for the visa section: no sooner do I have '47' in my hand than '47' flashes up on the "next" sign.

The chap taking my application for a spouse visa is very friendly. We chat about our respective degrees whilst he meticulously checks the great pile of documents I've provided. I accidentally give him the wrong bank book - he is wondering how I am going to convince them that 417 yen (£2) is going to keep me going for a month. I swap it with the post office book, we laugh.

Everything is in order, I reckon we can have this in the post to you tomorrow, he tells me. I'm delighted. In the midst of the mirth the person at the next counter turns to me, "hello Joseph!". It's a Japanese friend from Sheffield. Funny, I'd expected to see someone from Sheffield here. We sit down and talk about his plans for the summer - he's off to see a match at Wembley tonight, then tomorrow, Penzance.

Before I leave the embassy, I ask if Stephen is in today. Stephen is the legend. He has provided me with so much advice, help and support as I've prepared for my visa application, and I want to thank him in person. He appears at the window, a little bashful as I thank him. "Looking forward to your next podcast!" he tells me. "Me too! (as soon as I have time for it!) I reply.

I leave, grateful, and careful to say goodbye and thank you to the security guards who I like to think know me, but who don't.

I'm then getting off the Tube at the wrong stop and trudging for about 45 mins in search of the river Thames. I'm starting to slip into that old thinking mode: I'm tired, Im lost, I'm not going to find a cafe round here. But then I catch myself. I stop, stand still. How about if I approach this in a different way? How about 'I'm heading straight towards the place I need to go, although I don't know where that is yet. The exercise is good for me, I enjoy exploring London.'

suddenly, things are a lot easier.

Eventually I find myself in Trafalgar Square. There's a bookshop, and in the bookshop, a cafe. Perfect. I order some italian milkshake, shake all the sugar off my chair and onto the sugared carpet, and get my pen and paper out. Time for some lesson planning.

The train journey had provided me with ample opportunity for brainstorming - an idea was now taking shape as to how this lesson could look. I scribble it all down. I'm there for two hours. Writing. Thinking. Listening to Patrick, the little 4 year old at the table next to mine with his mum and dad. He's really happy watching the cars through the window.

Look! A blue one!

Oh, it's gone now. Mum, the blue car's gone!

The two Scottish businessmen on my right have been here since I arrived, slagging off their clients.
"I get angry with my colleagues too. They just can't do it right, I can't trust them, so I do it myself". 
I'm happy i don't work for them.

I turn back to the child talk, it's like the pot of gold at the other end of a rainbow that has somehow found itself with one foot in an oil-slick.

Piccadilly Circus next for Curry Rice. It's a genuine Japanese restaurant. Not a Chinese Japanese restaurant or a British Japanese restaurant but a real Japanese one. The staff are Japanese, and so is the curry rice. It tastes like home.

I'm full, and standing watching the crowds go by. Wow! It's exhilarating! So many amazing stories walking by! I want to film it and speed it up. But I don't.

If I had a tripod it would be ok. I could pretend I was a film-maker then. But filming handheld I'd probably get arrested as a terror suspect.

I have two hours until my train - back to St Pancras International - and what a beautiful station it is since the trains to Paris came to call it home last November. I sit in Costa Coffee, still devising my lesson plan whilst trying not to listen to the conversation being held by the Japanese couple beside me. I can't not listen! In the end, I move to the other end of the cafe.

I'm happy to see the train back to Sheffield is one of the new models = power socket for laptop = can work more on my lesson plan. I do. There's a man opposite me who's also got a laptop. It's a Dell. Then a man on the table the other side of the corridor gets his out and starts to type. As if in response to this two more men then appear and plonk a shared Sony Vaio down. We look quite funny, A lady walking by stops and laughs,

"Look at you boys with your toys. Is this some kind of competition?!"

The man opposite me smiles and says, "Mine's bigger than theirs!".

I respond by stroking my MacBook in mock-seduction, "Yes, but it's not necessarily size that counts..."

The carriage is filled with laughter. The woman moves on. We men now pretend that it didn't happen.

On the two hour journey home I near the completion of my lesson plan. It's been real fun, and I feel it's a good plan. Yep, I've achieved a lot today.

As the train pulls into Sheffield a man runs down the aisle with a coffee, shouting "F*ck!". We smile, pack our laptops away, and head out onto the concourse. I feel music is needed to accompany my walk up through town to the SushiMobile. Ah yes, I was going to associate this time with the new Coldplay album wasn't I?

And then there I am, walking up past the illuminated fountains, listening to the first track on the album. ...and I'd not noticed this before, but crikey, this first instrumental track really does sum it all up! There's the sense of a great history of 'stuff' leading to this moment (a moment lasting several weeks), this moment marking the dawning of a new and truly exciting era. But it's not all about anticipation, it's glorious and exciting in itself, every bit!

I think back on the day. I'd met so many people, so many lovely, kind, funny, happy people. Even people who might in some novels be thought of as insignificant extras - like the man in the Post office who sold me the Recorded Delivery pack for my passport. I forget what it was that he said to me, but it was kind, and not in his job description - I appreciated that.

And now finally, I'm here, in bed. *Twinkle* is with me (via emails to and from her mobile), telling me to go to sleep and blog tomorrow. (I can't, I need to let it out, it's been such a good day).

None of this would have been possible without other people. And with only a couple of exceptions, that's other people who were and who basically still are complete strangers, whom I will never see again. Together, this amazing pattern has been woven. Bloomin marvellous.

LIfe. I highly recommend it.

(OK *Twinkle*, I'll go to bed now...)

Night Night.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

The secret to forgiving

I'm now into week 7 of my TSI coaching course. Initial goals I set myself at the beginning of the course have mostly been achieved, thus, when this week I was asked to once again identify problematic areas within my life, I really struggled. In the end, I had to contact one of my coaches for guidance, and it was through this experience that I came to wonder if my positive outlook on life is actually impairing my ability to identify (and address) problems. I was really struck by how difficult I find it to look at any event or situation and not focus on the good in it (I'm not talking things on the scale of war atrocities here, I'm talking the environment that I live in).

I wonder if this tendency to only see the good in others / situations will impact negatively upon my life in the long term?

There's a risk that by seeing things in this way I could alienate myself from others, or perhaps reduce my own capacity to sympathise and show love when it's needed. I think I've actually seen this happen already to a limited degree, when I have neglected to make an effort to see a situation from the point of view of a friend who is not so inclined to see things positively and subsequently come across as uncaring.

I'm thinking that I need to be careful to strike a balance between communicating my own positive take on events, and acknowledging and responding appropriately to the hurt felt by others.

Another theme in this week's course has been that of forgiveness. If I recall a situation in which I have harboured bad-feeling towards someone whom I feel wronged by, I can feel myself having that black heart. It's painful, it sucks up energy, it's stressful. But ego tells me that they have to apologise or make up for what they've done before I can let go of it, which is a load of rubbish. The thing is, the longer I hold on to blame, the longer I hurt myself. It's just silly, why make life more difficult for myself, when I can just forgive?

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” - Lewis B. Smedes


If I'm finding it difficult to forgive someone, one trick I use is to imagine them dead.

Nice huh.

No, but really, it works. "If this person were to die today would I want them to die knowing that I am harbouring these bad feelings towards them?" The chances are, if it's someone I care about (as is nearly always the case when it comes to strong feelings whether positive or negative), I won't want them to die like that. I'd want them to know that I love them, that I care for them, and that I appreciate what they have done for me.

And of course, there's no reason why they might not die today.

If that trick doesn't work, then clearly the connection between us is weak, and thus I am being a bit daft to be investing so much energy in feeling bad towards them.

Anyway, I can hear the Sheep Man calling so I'd best be off. He doesn't like to be kept waiting.

xxx

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Happy for today


Before I get on with this mumble, I'd just like to mention that this post is not an invitation for you to kill me.

Thank you.




These really are good times.

Whilst it is a core belief of mine that it's important to appreciate today and not postpone the attainment of happiness for 'tomorrow', sometimes something will happen in my life that prompts me to question whether I really am valuing the gift of being alive.

When faced with that question, I look for an answer by asking myself another question:
"If I were to die today, would I be OK with that - is there anything I would regret not having done?"

The film Pay it forward, which I previously mentioned seeing for the first time the other day, provided one such prompt.

I used to think that I would only be able to say "Yes, I would be OK with that, and no, I would not have any regrets" if I had already accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish.

I can't remember exactly when it was - perhaps some time last year? - but there came a point when I realised that I no longer felt the need to achieve anything in particular in order to be happy, because I was happy, and I am happy. Very happy.

If I try and determine why this is, two things come to mind: the love of my family & friends, the love of *Twinkle*, and my living in alignment with my core beliefs, which are centred around love and acceptance (Hhhmm. Perhaps I could turn this mumble into a Little Book of Happiness).

It's a great feeling though, because it helps me deal with the pressures of consumerism (except for the Apple iPhone of course, which I absolutely must have) and social norms re. careers. I don't need to feel pressured by others promoting a 'better' lifestyle, because, well, I have it already, sitting here in my little student room, with £24,000 of debt and just a couple of suitcases of 'stuff'.

The net effect of this feeling is something that I cherish - the feeling that every day from here on is a bonus.

I wake up: "Wow! ANOTHER day! What can I do with this one I wonder?!" This doesn't mean I feel pressured into having to do something 'incredible' every day, but it does prompt me to remain true to myself.

Of course it doesn't always work. I stuff up, a lot, but that's ok. It means I go to bed a little wiser than I woke up, even if I do have a swollen tongue from trying to lick a slice of parmesan cheese attached to a mouse trap (only did that the once).

But wouldn't this feeling of happiness rob me of an incentive to try and 'achieve' altogether? It seems not. I don't know why, but I find instead it inspires me to try and achieve more, more stuff with my passion at its core. Kinda exciting really.

I was thinking, it's not just the film that's made me look at these things recently, it's the spate of stabbings, first here in the UK, and now in Japan too. It just reminds me, there may be no tomorrow, so I'd better not place happiness there.

...Well, today is an extra happy day in any case, as in the last hour Apple's website has the announced the 3G iPhone, and an increase in storage on our family .mac account to 40GB from 10GB. What a glorious age to be alive in!

xxx joseph

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday 5am

Highslide JS
Signs of Spring

Yesterday at 4am myself, and 34 others who live in my block at Broad Lane Court, were rudely awoken by the ringing of bells. Doorbells.

It was a little alarming, as our doorbells are quite loud; we can hear the neighbours' bells almost as clearly as our own. All of them were going off together. After a few moments of lying there feeling semi-consciously confused, I managed to rouse myself - someone might be in trouble, desperate for attention. I stumbled down the stairs to the main door, and was soon joined by several flatmates in similarly dazed states. The bells had stopped ringing by now.

I looked out through the glass panels of the door, but all I saw a man strolling nonchalantly out of the courtyard. He did have the gait of a drunkard - it just seemed that he'd had a sudden urge to wake lots of people up. Which he successfully did.

Things like that don't really annoy me. I tend to just put them to one side and know that I'll understand that I'll probably appreciate why it happened at some later date. As it was, I was asleep again within seconds of returning to bed, so wasn't really inconvenienced.

Thinking over this later in the day, it struck me how light it had been at 4am.

Living in a thick-walled block of flats with only a small double-glazed window out onto the world, it's only too easy to become insulated from the natural cycle of the seasons. This, I feel, is a great shame. We've lived according to the rhythm of the seasons for millions of years. It's a fundamental cycle that I'm sure affects us as it affects the animals and plants.

Thinking about this, I realised that perhaps I had something to learn from the 4am bell-ringer. And that's why I could be found in the part at 5am today, doing my exercises.

I tell you, that 7am-Sunday-in-the-park thing - you can experience it weekdays too, at 5am! It was just beautiful. So peaceful. The sun was a fair way above the horizon, its lovely golden rays reflecting off a million little mirrors created by frost-coated blades of grass. Hitting the trees that surround the football pitch it made them seem like huge huggable cushions of green (although I admit they would probably not feel like cushions if fallen on from a considerable height).

So, a big thank you to the man who rang all of our doorbells at 4am, for re-connecting me with the rhythm of the world the other side of my double glazing.




Today promises to be an exciting day. At 8.30am I'll be meeting a few staff from various university departments, and we'll be heading off to a 3-day residential event near Nottingham, the aim of which is to get an exciting new project off the ground that seeks to utilise Web 2.0 tools in the enhancement of learning and teaching. I'll not be able to stay for the whole day today as what with this being week 12 (the final week of taught lectures) I have my last ever class with Nagai sensei (sniff). There's also a little awards ceremony to attend for the photo competition.

Anyway, best get on and eat my porridge. Lots to do before the rest of the world wakes up!

xxx

p.s. for someone who is a lot more in touch with natural cycles (pun intended), check out Bastish.net. I've mentioned this blog before. It tells the story of a couple who left the pressures of Tokyo city, to start life anew in the countryside. 

It's not just beautiful photography. I found the recent post "Lost in the countryside" very interesting. For me, it's a reminder that whilst the grass may be greener on the other side, it does require a lot of care.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rivers of money ...and parking tickets

This past year I have adopted a policy of not holding on to money.

The idea is not just to spend willy-nilly. As you know, I've done that in the past, with spectacular results.

Rather, the idea (simply put) is to not take ownership of money in the first place. Instead of thinking that I 'have' a finite amount of money that has to last me until my next student loan payment, I picture money as a river that flows through my life. I trust that I will have enough to meet my needs (I've not yet gone hungry in 30 years): as some leaves my custody so more will arrive, from somewhere.

[n.b. This approach requires that one believes that we live in a world of abundance, not a world of limited resources. I'm talking a general mindset here, not stuff like oil or water reserves. For example, a world where we are not jealous of others' success ...because actually there is plenty of recognition for everyone.]

It is important though that I use the money in accordance with what feels right. Thus, for example, I can't just go out and buy a MacBook Pro in the belief that the money will show up from somewhere, as it would simply be my own greed motivating that action, and thus the chances are that I'd end up in a pile of horse plop.

However, when it comes to giving to worthy causes, the river technique really works. I don't know how, but it does. It's simply amazing. The more you give to others, you more you find money flowing back to yourself in even greater quantities.

The result of my scientific survey in which I have been deliberately far more generous than has been the case historically, is that all sorts of money-generating opportunities start to present themselves. It's happened time and time again this year, and I even find myself able to put some money aside for our wedding, despite the fact that according to my budget forecast I cannot even meet my basic expenses this academic year.

I encourage everyone to give money away. It's liberating.

Sometimes though, one is presented with difficult situations that send one straight back to the land of limited resources. Today, that happened to me, as the university's parking services gave me my second £60 parking fine in two days. There has clearly been an unofficial change in policy, or perhaps the regular traffic warden is off sick and some jobsworth has taken over.

Yesterday I wasn't overly upset as I only got the ticket after following instructions from a member of staff whom I incorrectly assumed has some insider knowledge of the university's parking system (he told me to park in a registered bay). I have appealed that, and have no intention of paying. Today's though was a little more complex. I was parked outside my house, as I have done on many previous occasions, in an area that whilst not an official parking area is often used by residents who have temporary need of somewhere to put their car.

I think the attendant must have seen the car and recognised it, and thus thought that he'd teach me a lesson by ticketing it. Again.

Technically, I'm in the wrong. But I strongly object to being made to pay £60 for something which didn't cause anyone any harm, something that caused absolutely no obstruction and which many people do almost every day without penalty. It's our courtyard, and we don't mind sharing it.

I visited the university's parking office to see what could be done. Unfortunately, whilst one member of staff was polite, kind and helpful (and I was grateful for her understanding my feelings), the other was not. She kept on butting in, gleefully telling me that there was no way that I'd get out of it.

This really upset me as she seemed to be getting a great kick out of deliberately trying to make me feel bad. It was only the second time in 4 years that I'd met someone like that on the university payroll...

I was pretty surprised by how upset I was - I actually had to leave the room very suddenly as I felt myself about to burst into tears. (What's happening to me? What's all this emotional stuff about?!)

After leaving the parking bunker (now armed with a temporary permit which the nice lady had given me), I wandered home in the rain, and thought about how I could deal with these feelings. I realised that one reason I was feeling so upset was that I had attached meaning to that money, that meaning being £120 less for my wedding.

...so how about if I let go? How about, if I just paid the second fine, and accepted it as part of the natural flow? Trust that the pot would be replenished. This sounded like a good idea, and thus a few minutes later I'd contacted the 3rd party parking company and given them my card details. I also realised that by doing so I was demonstrating that I was willing to pay a 'just' fine - perhaps this would give me a little more leverage as I attempted to get the first fine cancelled.

I felt a lot better then, and went on to eat free pizza in Bart House.



Case Study - "Making Students Matter: The Family of East Asian Studies" - now online!

I'll blog about this next week. By then, I'd like you to have read this text :-p

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