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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Gaijin Bubble - Being a good husband - Taking action

himonya sunset _2475

Sunset from our front door

The intense feeling of 'being a foreigner' is starting to fade. These past few weeks there have been several occasions when I've been out and about, and completely forgotten that I'm a member of the 2%(ish) minority population of non-Japanese residents in Japan.

Upon arrival back in Japan last September I often found myself thinking about how the Japanese person serving me at the supermarket might be perceiving me, or wondering whether I was being spoken to in deliberately gaijin-friendly Japanese at the bank. Having been away from the islands for over a year I found I'd regressed to those times when I didn't understand Japanese at all, when I perceived myself as a nail sticking out. I was very much in Japan, and I felt it keenly whenever I stepped outside the door.

It would seem though that after about 4 months I'm becoming acclimatised. The areas of Tokyo I frequent (mostly Gakugeidaigaku, Shibuya and Kudanshita) and those areas outside Tokyo I infrequent (Saitama to see my in-laws) are no longer overwhelmingly 'Japan', they're just 'home'.

I think part of the reason for this is I can now get by with very little effort in any of these places. Initially, going from A to B, buying such-and-such in such-and-such a shop required planning, thought, and conscious effort. Now I can walk and shop in these places without thinking. I usually use my time spent walking checking blogs, writing emails and studying Kanji. Unless I'm somewhere that will stimulate my senses (such as a park or an area of notable architecture/interesting people) I don't like to not be doing something else whilst walking.

I appreciate that this must seem a bit sad. Walking around eyes glued to the screen. But I don't see it like this. Not only do I get enourmous pleasure from following the antics of my friends, acquaintances and role models around the world, but I also give myself the freedom to use my time at home (when I would otherwise be checking blogs etc) to do things that are far more constructive. I'm the kind of person that can waste hours and hours watching mindless crap on YouTube - I know I have this weakness and so have created a web usage technique for myself that prevents my doing this - it's called using an RSS reader (NetNewsWire to be precise) on the iPhone. It discourages endless link-clicking, thus I limit myself to about 250 web-based stories a day (over half of which I only read the first line of).

Hmm, seem to have gone down a rathole there. The magnetism of the iPhone. It draws you in no matter how far away you started off. All Mumbles lead to the iPhone...

Anyway back to my gaijin bubble then, that thing that makes the difference between being in Japan surrounded by Japanese people and being on planet Earth surrounded by human people.

My gaijin bubble is thinning out. Gaps are appearing in its liquid walls. I'm finding myself interacting directly with the people around me without any awareness of there being any difference / barrier between us.

And it's awareness that's the key. When I recently spoke to someone about the fading of the film, I found that in that instant, just by voicing this 'fact', the film became even more translucent.

It's all my perception.

I know this. I've always known it, only a lot of the time I choose not to acknowledge it.



Recently I've been pretty down on myself regarding my Japanese ability. It was just before New Year that it hit me hardest. I'm not sure what brought it on, but it's likely to have been my experience at the office, as that's where I struggle the most with clear communication. Thus, New Year at the in-laws saw a pretty quiet Joseph, a passive participant. I surprised myself.

I decided to stop that this morning. I decided that I could speak Japanese, and that I was actually pretty good at it. It shouldn't have come as any surprise then when a couple of hours later I found myself watching Joseph explain to a colleague, in Japanese, the workings of the new database (new as of this morning when I completed phase one of the merger of my new Access database with an existing Access databases - the two miraculously agreed to talk with each other).

Hey, I'm not that bad at Japanese after all. I just thought I was pants. That's pretty cool. What else can I think into existence?

Ah yes, the problematic relationship with that colleague. How about a resolution? Hey presto! at 3.30pm it was solved, the problematic relationship made a 360 degree turn. It wouldn't have happened had I not decided that there was ultimately no problem between us.

I'm currently on my second listen of The New Psycho-cybernetics, which I'm finding very inspiring [what is psycho-cybernetics?]. I've Mumbled about it before, and I'll say again what I said then: there's nothing in this book that you haven't read in The Secret or any of Anthony Robbins' books. Nonetheless, I like the approach, and it motivates me to act. It's this book that has encouraged me to shift my perception of things like my gaijin bubble or 'lack of Japanese language skills'.




This past week has (not unsurprisingly) seen an abundance of blog posts containing reviews of 2008. I considered writing one myself, but decided that it'll be easier to get someone else to do that for me when I can afford to outsource the revamp of my website and the drafting of my autobiography :-) But still, I found other people's reviews pretty thought provoking. Some were in the form of meme's, encouraging the authors to not only list what they had achieved, but also to detail how they thought they'd changed over the previous 12 months (for example, see this one by my friend the talking orchid).


This got me thinking about how I've grown over the past 12 months. Of course, marriage has been the biggy for me, and I must say the last 4 months since the wedding have taught me a lot about myself that I didn't necessarily want to know. I'm fortunate to live in an age in which emotional intelligence is considered a great asset and not some feminine weakness, and thus I am encouraged to act on bringing my behaviour back in alignment with what I know is ultimately right, rather than what is merely considered 'ok' by society at large. *Twinkle* has no complaints, I've not been a bad husband, but I know I can be a better husband. There have been times when I have held my love back when I have (unreasonably) felt threatened or undermined by her behaviour. She deserves my love and support at all times, no exceptions.

I'm also glad I had a few 'serious' relationships before meeting her. I recall times when, if challenged, I would only be able to rest when my partner was feeling thoroughly wretched.

How horrendous is that?

However, whilst of course I am very sorry to have hurt my partners I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to learn in situations where the stakes weren't quite so high, thus *Twinkle* doesn't have to put up with all that kind of crap (it's not a path I recommend though. If possible just be perfect from birth).

Anyway, It's taken New Year to make me act on this one. It's only too easy to get into sloppy patterns of behaviour. Once in that rut one can forget what life was like when one was free, acting in accordance with high-energy spirit. The effort required to 'be nice' when one really doesn't want to be nice isn't actually an effort at all, as the benefits (which are soon felt) are so great they act like helium balloons, pulling you up. The only effort is in making that initial decision.

This reminds me of Wayne Dyer's work - he often speaks of high and low energy cycles. (There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem is one I often mention - I reccomend the audio from Audible)

Going back to changes seen during 2008, I'm also happy to have seen a considerable progress in my dealing with fear, although I don't see last year as having been the real milestone - that's this year when I begin to act with courage in the light of firmer foundations. My self-image still needs considerable work. I'm far too fearful down on myself if I really want to realise many of the dreams I have.

Ironically, by stating these things I'm only making the situation worse. It's time for an end to 'recognising' things. Whilst recognition is the first step, it alone will not bring about any change.

OK. so let's make 2009 the year of Action Without Fear.

You might think it silly to have to label a year like that. But I'm greatly encouraged by such statements. I love words. I love quotes. I even have an online collection of them at http://thanks.tumblr.com (although I've not added to it recently).

I only have one excuse left now.

I haven't got time.

That's a load of rubbish too though. Look at me, I've just spent two hours sitting at the kitchen table mumbling.

Many of my goals are related to online ventures. In the past week I've taken positive steps towards establishing 3 of them, doing things like purchasing domain names, contacting web hosts, and building a prototype site.

I've also taken action towards resurrecting the student of Japanese within me, by sorting out my various Anki databases.

Today, I made enquiries about taking time off work in order that I can dedicate a day or two a month to making these things happen, and that's a distinct possibility.

I'm going to keep a record of action taken, and review it on a weekly basis. I need to do this to keep myself moving forward.

Anyway, I'd best be off to bed, I'm doing another photo shoot at the nail salon in Shibuya tomorrow night, and need to figure out what I'll be doing for backdrops.

tatta.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last day of the year: Looking forward to 2009 and beyond

We're back at *Twinkle*s parents for New Years Eve, as is the tradition when in Japan. This year I won't be drinking, following a disastrous incident last time when I, along with *Twinkle*s two sisters' British partners devoured a whole crate of beer between us - most of it went down my throat.

I feel it'll be a nice quiet affair this year, with lots of food and some typically silly Japanese TV.

Cycling with my wifey

*Twinkle* and I have had a good day relaxing together. Following an easy morning spent watching Indiana Jones and eating tangerines (whilst tucked under the kotastu - a heated table which sits atop a pit in the floor for putting your legs in), we headed out on the family bicycles to LakeTown, the biggest shopping mall I've ever seen in my entire life. This huge development is located in the middle of a bunch of rice paddies here in Saitama, and even has its own (brand new) railway station. It has about 500 shops, and thus a huge variety - on the ground floor after passing a load of fantastically original restaurants (Disneyland-style decor, but more authentic), you'll then find a fleet of shiney Toyota family saloons. There's a gardening section, tonnes of cutey kiddies clothing stores, two large department stores, a cinema, a gym, three Starbucks, and a row of solar panels perched on the edge of the roof (which also serves as a car park).

camouflage phone

Camouflage phone

I usually loathe shopping centres, and only ever went to MeadowHall (MeadowHell) in Sheffield in desperation when I was in need of a Mac Genius. But LakeTown surprised me. They've done a great job of creating a 'nice' space. It's actually fun to walk around the place, and it's so big that you can walk around looking at your iPhone without bumping into people. It has sexy interactive floor guides, and Universal Design Toilets.

The Universal Design Toilets
LakeTown Loos

What more could you ask for?

Chopsticks display

How about this for a chopsticks collection

I guess that's why they say it three times

We didn't go there to shop though - in fact all we picked up was five pairs of slippers for the family feet (it's blooming freezing at the mo). Instead, we spent several hours in a cafe making plans for the Tokyo Tame family's next 1, 3, 5 and 10 years. We discussed moving house (and changed our minds once again), when the children are to be born (I guess that'll be a guideline then), specific financial goals and more detailed goals regarding our careers. We also made promises and plans regarding use of free time.


For recharging your electric car


Electric charging station at LakeTown shopping mall, Saitama Japan

It's really exciting to think that we can, to a certain extent, shape our own futures. The value of goal setting and future-life planning is something that we both heartely believe in, but don't do as often as we could. This is the second year though that we've taken time out to make these 'big plans'. Whilst we didn't necessarily hit all of our targets for 2008, merely having them in mind throughout the year helped us make a lot of small decisions along the way (will this take us a little closer to our goals?).

Lucky bags on offer at LakeTown shops: Pay up to 15,000 yen (£60) for a bag, the contents of which are a mystery until after you've paid - hugely popular in Japan.

List of lucky New Year bags available at some of LakeTown's 500 outlets

We'll be printing our list out and hanging it somewhere where we often see it.

On the way home from LakeTown we were fortunate to get a great view of Mount Fuji, some 100+km to the South West of Koshigaya. It's a shame we weren't crossing that bridge a little earlier, but still, there was enough light remaining light to cause me to gasp and shout "Mount Fuji!" when I first looked to the West.

Mount Fuji from about 100km+ (this is what happens when you shoot in low light on ISO 1600 with a Nikon D40x!)
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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai, my job, and babymaking

I don't think I could ever get bored with life. There's just too much going on.

For a start, there's events in the news. I don't follow the news religiously, but I have recently subscribed to the Guardian feed on my iPhone - I scroll through the headlines on my way home to keep abreast of world events that my students may refer to. It's not entertainment, but it does push me into a different space, changes the context within which I live. Things today are different from how they were yesterday.

I'm finding it difficult to put the horrific events in Mumbai into context, as I have not known this sort of thing before outside of Hollywood movies.

Then there's Bangkok airport, temporary home to my friends Catherine, Stew and Annie. They tell me they're safe at least, which is a relief. My brother-in-law, Leigh, who lives here in Japan is also stuck out there - I reckon he's secretly happy to be able to extend his business trip into a holiday (Leigh is quite an inspiration for me, having come here a few years back for the first time with nothing, and having established his own successful football academy has now created a second company that is contracted by Nike to provide coaching clinics throughout Japan).

A meeting was held at work today. There are big changes afoot in our office. The departure of a fairly central employee has prompted a major overhaul of the way the business is run. Whilst I was initially hired to search for / interview / place new teachers, it's now been decided that my 'talents' are needed elsewhere. Whilst initially surprised as the announcement, I soon realised that this was a very good thing.

My new roles suit me down to the ground. I have several.

The first is teaching English over the phone. As as far as I know we are almost unique within the industry for offering this service. Whilst it can be quite exhausting (8 students per hour) I find it pretty enjoyable - it helps me practice my communication skills - I get to play the game "How quickly can I suss this person out and connect with them?". I feel really good when it's clear the students have enjoyed talking with me.

My second role is that of The Cleaner. We're not talking dusty shelves or dirty carpets (a little old lady comes in everyday to do that. She always asks me if I've got over the cold I had last month), we're talking stripping down and cleaning out the old systems/ workflows, and rebuilding them using a lean model. We're talking clearing out data archives, transferring operations currently carried out manually / using real paper to semi-automatic self-cleaning databases.

I love this kind of thing. It's kind of funny, but at the same time sort of expected that a job be created especially for me that involves my doing what I love.

My third role, and this one's a little more long term, is to revolutionise our web presence. We need to embrace mobile platforms, need to harness the power of these new technologies that will allow students to study wherever they happen to be - I can't help but think how effective iAnki is in giving me the freedom to fit study in with my everyday routine, with no significant additional impact upon my schedule (it's really working by the way. Amazing program).

I find this all very exciting - I'm going to get paid to learn about and experiment with new systems that I have a natural interest in already. The only difficulty is in fitting all this in - there's only so many hours in the day. Thus, I've been given the go ahead to work overtime whenever I wish too, paid at overtime rate. This is great, just what we need as we save up more money to move house. I'll start tomorrow.

This evening I met up with a bunch of boy-mates for a 'boys night out'. All eight of us have Japanese wives. Except for me, everyone had been married for several years.

At one point the conversation turned to baby-making. "Oh no, you're not having to go through that are you..?" said one boymate to another. "You're lucky" they said to me. Sex is still for fun for you, right? For us, it's just a job, only to be done when the wife is 'on heat'."

It all sounded a bit mechanical.

I wondered if that would be *Twinkle* and I in 2 years. I hoped not.

Anyway, it's now 1.15am. I need to get these photos processed before work tomorrow. TTFN

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Married Life: Day 9

When in the past I've asked newly-wed friends if marriage changes things, most of them have said 'sort of but not really' or 'no', having been living together before the marriage for an extended period of time.

It's my experience that it changes everything. But then, our marriage occurred in rather unusual circumstances, and so the changes I feel can not necessarily be attributed to the act of marriage itself.

Unlike most couples I know, we married after not seeing one another for 11 months. After we married, one of us moved half way around the world to join the other. We then moved into a new apartment together - not the first time we'd lived together, but the first time we lived in a place that had more than one room (it has two), allowing for us to be a little more expressive without fear of being squashed between walls (i.e. we can hide from one another if need be in the other room, separated by a frosted glass sliding door).

making bread in a wok
twinkle and homemade bread_9486

It's been exciting. Fascinating. A bit scary at times. Everything has been up for discussion.

I found myself feeling moved by *Twinkle*s concern for me, her wanting to hear my take on things, her concern for my feelings, and her willingness to compromise. It's not that she was never willing to listen or compromise before, but I felt that now she was taking it to a whole new level.

I wondered, was this the result of conscious effort on her part, because we were now married?

When I asked her, she said no, she was just being the same old *Twinkle*, but then she said to me, but you're making a special effort, aren't you?

I laughed at that - I was just being me! Then we both laughed. It would seem that if indeed neither of us have changed the way we act towards one another, what's happened is that marriage has either changed the level of appreciation of the other, or it has changed our perception of what is a 'normal' level of care to show towards the other.

There's a strong sense of responsibility that we both have, responsibility to make it work. The wedding left us feeling that a lot of people were investing in us, believing in us, were with us, giving us strength but also helping us appreciate what a big commitment it was that we were making. Now it's time for us to act on that.

I think one of our most important roles is to help the other get through the difficult times. I've been struggling with self-doubt and a sense of insecurity re. my potential work. *Twinkle* has been doing a wonderful job of helping me see the 'reality' of the situation, that is, reinforcing what I know is the case anyway (that I will do very well in my work), and helping me take action to make abstract job prospects into concrete appointments with students.

twinkle_9480

Likewise, *Twinkle* sometimes gets discouraged in her work, and then it's my turn to bring her back to a bright reality, where she is capable and doing the right thing. (It's also my job to make sure she gets out of the house on time in the morning).

The fact that we are now married means that long term plans have become a lot more meaningful. In fact, planning in general. We've spent several hours this week sitting at the kitchen table making our short, medium and long-term plans. It's a fairly long process, and is often hijacked by actions that need to take place now before the planning can proceed further (e.g. contacting the phone company to find out what my new phone contract will really cost on a monthly basis).

There's also a lot of secretary-type stuff to do (I'm definitely the secretary around here). Things like setting up savings plans, sorting out various insurance policies, creating budgets. I had thought that all of this could be done in a single day, but with documents missing and uncertainty as to what current arrangements are it's taking a lot longer. For me, this is all a part of the marriage package.

So to sum up, it's all good. An exciting adventure - can't wait to see where it leads us next!

Anyway, I am now going to attempt to make a loaf of bread in the manner demonstrated by my daringu wifey last night.

TTFN

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Friday, August 01, 2008

The Wedding Reception

The wedding website has now be updated to reflect the post-wedding reality of our present existence. Anyone interested in taking a peek can find it at www.twinkleandjoseph.net (with the name 'twinkle' being replaced with a name she uses in 1st life). The username is 'guest', the password 'banana'.




So there we were. Married, with the church bells ringing. Very happy (I was then able to freely talk to *Twinkle* and tell her how gorgeous she looked).

The next 15 to 20 minutes were very surreal. There we were as a bride and groom, surrounded by about 80 people with cameras. These were friends and family who represented so many different aspects of our lives, all gathered in the same place. I was at a loss as to what to do, feeling concerned that I should be 'doing something', that I should be making sure everyone felt included. It was a hopeless task though, so after a bit I decided to stop trying to read everyone else's thoughts / feelings / desires and just *be* with *Twinkle*.

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With *Twinkle*s family

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With The Tames (and Elaine)

Once the family photos had been taken we proceeded to our car - and what a lovely car it was! I'd seen it in the garage a few days beforehand, but now it was all decked out in ribbon and flowers. ha! That was fun, rolling down the road in the Alvis, waving bye-bye to people in the assumed manor of posh people from the 1930s. :-)

wedding_ceremony_0499

That was such a happy car journey. Dream-like in its perfectness.

A few minutes later we were at Orcop Village Hall, location of the reception. The forecast rain had not come, and all on was track - let the party commence.

...oh, after a bit more surreality. Brother Stephen led the champagne toast (devil of a job to make it without electrocuting yourself), then there were calls for a speech. I'm not a big one for speeches at weddings, and have been known to do some pretty illegal and stupid things in the past to escape from them. Mind you, the speeches at Catherine and Stewart's wedding the previous week had been really good, meaningful, and funny (and not too long!).

There was only one problem though: The notes I'd written for my speech were in my rucksack, and that was in the car ...and the car was at the church a mile up the road!

*Twinkle* and I had been discussing a few ideas about what we might want to say - THANK YOU being the most important. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen, thank you to everyone for coming, thankyou for everyone's support of us as a couple. Really, we couldn't have done it without you.

Then, perhaps a word or two about how me met (the gatecrashed sushi party), and how we decided to use one another for our studies (*Twinkle* using me as half of a case study for her Masters Dissertation on Intercultural couples, and me using her for speaking practice for my BA Japanese Studies degree).

wedding_reception_0580

Finally, a mention of how 2 years living in minute shoeboxes together and then 11 months apart (with 2 brief respites totalling 20 days) really helped us to test the relationship, and become more sure than ever that this was the right thing to do.

As *Twinkle* said, despite the distance and my lack of awareness of her everyday routine (and therefore ability to provide context-based advice), I was still the one that she first wanted to turn to, to share and discuss things with.

I felt the same.

There was also that feeling that we both had (and which still continues with us being parted once again), that feeling that we were together all along. We are with one another at all times - I can feel *Twinkle*s presence. She's with me now here in Orcop at 10.11am as she goes about whatever she's doing at 6.11pm in Tokyo.

It's a first for me, to feel that for such a prolonged period of time.



Following my mini-speech, it was time for the cutting of the cake. When asked by mum what kind of cake we'd like I told her to use her imagination, and as you can see, she has a pretty wild imagination!

As is her style, she made two. A traditional fruit cake (covered in feathers), and a chocolate cake (covered in flying saucers). Both delicious, and both providing a good insight into how mad our family is.

wedding_reception_0549

wedding_reception_0548

We then had a couple of hours 'free time', partly to allow *Twinkle* to get changed into her wedding kimono, a beautiful family heirloom. I also changed into my organic fair trade cotton clothes, which felt much more *me* (should have sorted out my collar though).

wedding_reception_9932

When it came to food, we'd decided to make it a bring-and-share affair, and boy-oh-boy was that a good idea! Our guests brought the most delicious dishes, and lots of them (I was frequently made fun of that evening for having worried that there would not be enough to feed everyone).

Main courses and desserts, absolutely gorgeous. (*Twinkle and I ended up taking three huge bowls of desserts back to our honeymoon hotel too :-)

It was after all the proper wedding things were over with that I was able to truly relax (I think had I not given up drinking last year I would have been completely plastered by this time). It was just a shame that I hadn't brought my clone - so many people I wanted to talk to and so little time to do so!

It was so good to look around and see happy people everywhere. Groups of friends inter-mingling ("Oh good, good, so-and-so is talking to so-and-so, I knew they'd get on well!"). Some were outside on the grass, sitting on the straw bales, others were sitting at our beautifully decorated tables chatting and eating, or hanging out right by the buffet tables... hmmm, it was nice.

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wedding_reception_0065






Later on the fantastically talented and very lovely members of Wiffeldy came on to play some lovely tunes ...and then get us dancing with a ceilidh!




Ha! That was such fun, I just loved it (as did *Twinkle* and a lot of our guests I think). I love ceilidhs. What a great way to party. Caw blimey. You know what was really nice though, was seeing my in-laws embrace their first encounter with this kind of madness. And other friends too who had never experienced the delights of a barn dance, really giving it their all.

By now it was growing late. What a great day it had been. Just perfect, it couldn't have gone any better. Like a dream.

It was time for us to retire to our honeymoon suite. We said our goodbyes, and made the 10 minute journey to the Pengethley Hotel ...when I realised that I had neglected to sort out a night key, and everyone was asleep (with no night porter). I had visions of us having to go back to mum and dad's on our wedding night, and having to share the front room with my sister, her husband and a baby (it's not that I don't like them...!)

However, after ten minutes of knocking on windows and ringing what I thought was the doorbell, I spotted a half-naked man looking out of an upstairs window. It wasn't long before he opened the door to us, and we made our way to our lovely suite.

It was so nice to be together, married, eating left-over dessert and opening the many many beautiful cards that we had received. Everyone was so generous with their gifts - we are deeply grateful.

And with that, our wedding day came to a close.

Thank you so much for all involved. You made our day.

Thank you also to my dear cutey, *Twinkle*, for being my dear cutey, who I'm so excited about spending the rest of my life with!!!

xxx

Photos: John Dinnen and other guests - thank you

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Marriage: it's like a sheep pen on the island of Crete

wedding_ceremony_0292

In the end, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

6 months apart, followed by 9 days together, then the wedding.

It seems to have been a good combination. I recommend it.

wedding_ceremony_0307

I've been thinking about this feeling I (we) have, this 'being married' feeling, and wondering how much it is a result of our time apart, and how much it is a result of the wedding itself. My conclusion is that I don't know, and it doesn't matter anyway. The feeling is all that matters.

I'm quite surprised by how different, and how good, it does feel. I didn't really expect things to be very different. I mean, all we've done is say a few words and sign a piece of paper, right? - That was the kind of attitude I may have had a couple of years back (historically, I've not really felt like the marrying type), but no, it seems that we've done much more than that.

wedding_ceremony_0301

There is a strong feeling that this is the start of something new and wonderful. The birth of a family. Our family. Joseph and *Twinkle* Tame (I do a double take every time she emails me from Tokyo using her updated email account). Mr and Mrs Tame - and baby on the way in a couple of years (but already very present in spirit).

We Are Family.

The feeling of family is strong. We laughed and played with it during the 40 hours that we had together after we had made our vows, and before *Twinkle* boarded her flight for Japan.

*Twinkle* Tame I called her. She referred to me as My Husband. We quoted lines from the wedding service to one another, grinning wildly whilst doing so.

The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.
It is given as the foundation of family life
in which children are born and nurtured
and in which each member of the family,in good times and in bad,
may find strength, companionship and comfort,
and grow to maturity in love...

... *Twinkle*, I give you this ring
as a sign of our marriage.
With my body I honour you,
all that I am I give to you,
and all that I have I share with you...


I felt very happy that I had reached a point where I could make this kind of declaration, surrounded by friends and family, knowing that it was a vocalisation of the true feelings that I had for *Twinkle*.

And you know, it felt important that it was before a large group of loving friends and family. That really struck me - the presence of so many loved ones really did make a difference (of course ideally I would have streamed it live to the world, but the Church of St John the Baptist is yet to be broadband enabled).

I feel that the communal support for us, represented by the presence of those people, and by the cards, gifts, messages and posts on our Facebook walls that we received from all over the world, really added to the sense of us being blessed as a partnership. People were putting their faith in us as a couple - and that mattered a lot. It's like cement in our relationship.

wedding_ceremony_0339

We became a 'unit'. If I try and picture the result of the transformation, I keep on getting this image of the dry-stone wall sheep pen I slept in on the island of Crete, in Greece, in 1995.

(marriage = a sheep pen? Hmm, worrying..)

No, but I see this protective circular stone wall that is formed by *Twinkle* and I. We are interlocking pieces, providing one another with support. Able to look inward to our private enclosed space for comfort, love, advice, support and shelter (whilst I can't see it in my visulisation, there's probably a wifi-enabled Macbook on a little stone table in the middle of this sheep pen). This is our family unit. In our unity we give one another support in the face of the wind and rain that comes to the island now and then.

There's a door too, and we love to welcome people into our space. We love to share the shelter (and probably wifi) of our new family with others. Together, we are a source of support for other back packers traipsing around the greek island, and hopefully an inspiration too.

May the hospitality of their home
bring refreshment and joy to all around them;
may their love overflow to neighbours in need
and embrace those in distress.


We also have much learn from our visitors, much to be inspired by.

I'm deeply touched by the investment that *Twinkle* has made in me. I know that I am the recipient of something wonderful and rare, something to be truly cherished. It's been there for a long time, and I think was the solid rock that gave us something to hold onto when times were tough over the past 11 months (minus 10 days) apart - a rock that really came to shine through the ceremony.

wedding_ceremony_0496

Over the next few days I'll write more about what actually happened last Friday, and share more photos.

For now though, I'll leave it here. Any more talk of sheep pens and I may find myself with rather a lot of explaining to do over Skype...

xxx

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Friday, July 25, 2008

The night before my wedding

bw_joseph twinkle

It's now ten minutes to midnight on the night before my wedding day. I dropped *Twinkle* back to the cottage we've rented for her parents, where she will spend her last night before she becomes my wife.

It's been an amazing day. Thinking back over the last 16 hours I feel tearful - we have been shown such kindness by so many, and the day itself is yet even to begin! We are so so grateful. Thank you so much to everyone involved.

The village hall looks great - we have hundreds of metres of bunting - handmade by a friend. There are hundreds of origami paper cranes too, made by *Twinkle*s family (it took three of them several hours to fold them all, but they look amazing). In the church we have some beautiful beautiful flower arrangements made by my brother's fiancé and mum, using flowers donated by local gardeners. Paper flowers too, made by *Twinkle*s family and fixed to the walls by *Twinkle*s best friend from Japan, Mariko, who arrived from Barcelona at lunchtime. Our guests from the Netherlands have also arrived safely, as has *Twinkle*s second bridesmaid from Tokyo.

I am staggered by the amount of organisation needed just for a party of about 80 people. My head has been buzzing so much I've found myself feeling pretty out of it for a lot of the day. Kind of like, in a dream world. Floating, watching as my body goes about doing this that and the other. It's not been a bad thing, although I know I've looked pretty dreadful!

But I really can't emphasise enough just how much this wedding is a product of many hours of effort by our family and friends. I am so grateful to be able to hand over huge great chunks of organisation to various volunteers. How can we ever repay them?




Following the rehearsal, *Twinkle* and I decided to spend some time together to just 'be' and share our thoughts and feelings of what the day gone by had meant to us, and our feelings about tomorrow, and our married life beyond that (and to practice our ceremonial kiss!). The venue was our lovely little hire car (I am anti-car in principle but i do like our little blue Chevy which came as a free upgrade from the hire company and sports a string of wedding flags flying from the back!), and the Moon Inn at Garway.

I recently wrote of how marriage is changing things - and again tonight we noted how we could almost reach out and touch the change. It's shifting our feelings for one another to a deeper level. The feeling of trust and commitment is really strong - it's taken me by surprise several times today. (...but I thought I already trusted *Twinkle*, and wasn't I already committed to our relationship?!"). The past week has been a simply perfect 'ramp up' to what will take place tomorrow. The timing could not be better.

The wedding rehearsal was really enjoyable, and natural. It was very relaxed - meaning that it felt appropriate to turn around and put my finger to my lips signalling everyone to be quiet when the priest asked if anyone knew of any lawful impediment to our marriage... tee hee, ;-p We are very fortunate to have Elaine as a priest - she is fantastic, and sets everyone at ease.

If I think of us doing that for real tomorrow surrounded by 80 or so of our closest friends, well, ...wow! Just indescribable! How wonderful to be in that environment, sharing our commitment for one another with all those that mean so much to us.

Well, I guess I'd better get some sleep. It'll be an even longer day tomorrow.

My thanks again to all of those involved in making this happen. In my mind, tomorrow's event will not just be a celebration of the relationship that *Twinkle* and I are committing to, but also a celebration of community, of mutual love and support, of family, of friendship, and of the general wonderfulness of life.

night night.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marriage - from the pre-wedding perspective

twinkle and joseph_9018

The past couple of days have started to see a change in the relationship between myself and *Twinkle*. I think I know why that could be - the Marriage Effect.

It first struck me yesterday when we were driving home to the holiday cottage that we've rented about 500 yards from mum and dad's place. Before now, we've lived together for the best part of two years. I didn't expect marriage to change much in the dynamic between us, but it would seem that it's doing just that.

These past few days we've been pretty independent. My parents have kindly given us use of the family car, which has enabled us to freely go about doing the things we need to do in preparation for the wedding, in addition to do things like go and watch the sunset from a local hilltop. During all of this, we've been talking. Talking about the past, the present, and the future. Talking about what marriage means to us. In fact, we've started creating our own list of additional marriage vows - a bit more definite than the vows we shall swear in church (those being the foundation on which we can build these additional promises).

All of this has led to a subtle shift in our relationship. A strong feeling of commitment is on the rise. Sure, it's been there before, but not like this. This is something far bigger, something that can be relied upon. It's tied up with a deepening sense of trust, and excitement that we're in this long-term, together.

The marriage creates a strong feeling of team work - and independence too. Independence from our immediate families who have supported us in so many ways until now. This will no doubt be strengthened by our setting up a new home in Japan, a long way from my family, and the other side of Tokyo from *Twinkle*s. The combining of our finances too, which has basically already happened, promotes the feeling that whatever we're working on, it's a team effort with a common goal.

It may be a couple of years before we have children, but nethertheless, we will be a family in our own right.

It's a bit surreal to be reaching this point after 30 years of being dependent upon others.

Hmm, so it's feeling like it's quite a big deal really.

It is a shame that *Twinkle* will be returning to Japan just two days after the wedding, but provided she makes it hop, skip and jump to the local ward office in Japan asap I should be able to join her within a few weeks.

Then it all starts for real.

:-)

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Monday, July 21, 2008

*Twinkle*s arrival and the first of two weddings

The drive to Heathrow airport never takes as long as I expect it to. I think of London as being a long way away, but it actually takes less than three hours to get there from Herefordshire, and what with the airport being located just off the M4 there's not much in the way of traffic to deal with.

Whilst I object to the expansion of UK airports, I couldn't help but be impressed by Heathrow's new terminal 5. It was only a one-minute walk from the car to the arrivals gate, and no chance of getting lost.

heathrow arrivals00222

I arrived at exactly the same time that *Twinkle*s flight touched down; the display told me that that the bags were arriving in the terminal within ten minutes, and 20 minutes after that Japanese businessmen, students and families started to emerge from behind the automatic doors. Any moment now, *Twinkle* would show up.

I must admit I was pretty excited ...excited and nervous. I sensed that *Twinkle* had changed quite a bit since I had last seen her, and consequently some aspects of our relationship were an unknown.

And then there she was.

It was a bit funny at first. I'm not sure how to describe it. A bit surreal. We weren't sure what to make of one another.

But that was before we spent no less than twenty minutes trying to find the car in the huge multi-storey car park. In my excitement I'd forgotten to make a note of where I'd parked, and not knowing my parents' registration number I couldn't use the Car Finder machine (the car park has thousands of cameras pointing at every single number plate). Thus, *Twinkle* and I has to visit every single level, before finally locating it on the 3rd.

That reassured *Twinkle* that I was as silly as ever, and it wasn't long after that that we got back in the groove.

It is soooo good to be with her again. These are really very happy days.

mischevous twinkle_8833

During our six months apart, our conversations were often restricted to 'issues' or 'problems'; with limited talk-time these would naturally take precedence over idol chit-chat and the sharing of niceties, consequently turning the relationship into something that revolved around serious and meaningful 'stuff'. Now back together, I'm surprised and delighted by how nice it is to just 'be' together, to share silly moments or our appreciation of a beautiful view, to make fun of one another, to smile, to be kind to one another, to comfort one another with a hug.

(there's the real physical stuff too, which I shan't bore you with. But I'm grinning as I type this!)

All of these things have been lacking since January, and our memories of them couldn't help but become clouded by the passage of time, the separation, and the dominance of seriousness. Rediscovering the sheer joy of just being in her presence, knowing that she is close by, is just great.

Bridesmaids at Catherine and Stewart's wedding


bridesmaids_8784

We've had a really fun 5 days together so far.

On Friday we attended Catherine and Stewart's wedding, Catherine being a dear friend whom I first met at the Waldorf School, many many years ago.

The venue was the beautiful Walcot Hall, a lovely stately home set in the gorgeous Shropshire countryside.

I was so nervous as Catherine came down the aisle - partly because I knew that in exactly a week from then it would be *Twinkle* doing the very same thing. All those people watching, such an important event, but then I saw her smiling and laughing as she kind of made fun of herself, and I relaxed. I need to remember this for next week I thought. Don't be too serious!

The civil ceremony was lovely, and had some good comical bits to help set everyone at ease. Catherine looked absolutely stunning, and what a bloomin' nice chap Stewart is.

catherine wedding dress_8782

catherine stewart just married_8792

The reception was great too. Initially I felt a little out of place, but within an hour or so friendships were forming - and food was on the table (delicious).

At one point, *Twinkle* and I went for a dance in the pitch black garden - that was rather amusing, especially when it suddenly poured down with rain drenching us both!

It was pretty late when we left. Our accommodation for the night was a little two-man tent in a field at the bottom of the drive, and very comfy it was too. The perfect end to a perfect day.

joseph twinkle in their tent

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Back in the Alps


As part of my prep for leaving for Japan, I'm going though my box of diaries, which also contains a few DVDs of TV programs featuring me or my friends, and converting them to MP4 format which I can keep on my laptop.

One of them I've not seen for years is the documentary made about my home of two years up in the Swiss Alps, Kleine Scheidegg. It's extraordinary seeing all those familiar faces again. Albert our station master. Tomoko who worked in the buffet. My boss, Andreas, and other colleagues from the hotel.

Andreas

Tomoko. She was very strong. I was a little afraid of her.




These memories will be with me for life. Watching Tomoko go up the stairs of the station building I'm taken aback by my sudden recollection of the smell of the place. It's not that it was particularly smelly, but it did have a distinct scent, a cross between wood, clean toilets and bratwurst sausage. It's amazing how much information I must have stored in my brain, all these little details - like the train conductors shouting "achi achi" (That way that way!") at the Japanese tourists in a Swiss-German accent, or the trains with their electric folding wingmirrors.

Oh! And there's Phil, from South Africa. He worked as a photographer with Benny the dog. Benny would pose with his brandy barrel in the midst of great gangs of Japanese tourists, the must-have Swiss shot to take home to their families.




Having these records of past lives helps me appreciate just how fortunate I've been to have had these experiences. We've all had them of course, but I personally find it difficult to remember events that happened a long time ago unless I have a trigger - such as a photo or film. I don't want to forget, they've all been such an important part of making me who I am today.

I used to take it to extremes. When I was age about 14 I'd always read my diary entry from exactly a year ago. It became a bit obsessive, and I remember worrying that I was becoming stuck in my past.

I like to think I've found a healthy balance now. A balance between appreciation for what has gone before, planning for the future, and focusing upon the here and now.




I visited some friends last night who are helping a great deal with the wedding. I lived with one of them, Frances, for about a year in the very same Hotel Kleine Scheidegg as featured in the documentary above. She became a dear friend to me, and seeing her again after what might even be years without meeting reassured me that we are still close. It was such a meaningful experience to sit and talk with her, and observe how we've both changed since our time in the Alps. People like her make the world a very happy, caring place.

Frances, about to throw a snowball at me

frances_snowballs




The wedding is really starting to take shape now. This evening I spent some time painting elephants on jam jars for the nightlights on the tables. That was very therapeutic, and helped me unwind after yet another day of sorting through belongings and assigning stuff to the recycle or charity shop pile.




I think *Twinkle* and I are going to have to work very hard together, especially over this coming year. We're both capricorn, both very ambitious, both with strong personalities. Of course, we differ in many ways too. For a start, she's much cuter than me.

I hope that I'm far enough along the relationship road to have learnt to not put pride or ego before love. It's going to be a challenging education, being husband to *Twinkle*, but I'll do my absolute best. She's worth every bit of energy I have.

We've been apart for over 4,800 hours. In 40, we'll be together.

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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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Saturday, May 31, 2008

The challenges of a long distance relationship



A misunderstanding this week between *Twinkle* and myself has led me to realise that, after 5 months apart, we've started to lose touch with one another's realities. Whilst we do communicate regularly via email (just over 2,500 messages since we saw one another in January), these cannot give us a true picture of the daily mosaic of each others lives. Skype is all well and good, but the time difference and our busy schedules means that these exchanges are limited in number, and quality, with one or both of us being too exhausted for meaningful conversation.

This means we are losing the ability to understand one another's feelings and reactions to the everyday occurrences that we do talk about.

Things have become especially difficult lately as the end of this period apart has suddenly been moved back by between one and four months. This is due to recent conversations with the Japanese authorities, who not only require me to go through a tedious 2-month-plus application process for my visa (whether it be a work visa or spouse visa), but also require that I have between £2000 and £3000 (US$ 4K - 6K) in my bank account for three months. I'm a student at the end of 5 years of higher education, so of course that is money that I don't have - and I don't know anyone who could lend it to me either. Even if I did, we couldn't do the usual temporary transfer to get the required bank statement. It needs to sit there.

This means that I might even have to stay in the UK until the autumn in order to save up the necessary funds (even if I had a job lined up before I went to Japan I would need funds to keep me going for the first two months). Thinking of how difficult things are between myself and *Twinkle* at the moment, this is an horrific thought. Especially as we'll be newly married in July.

It's all a bit of a mess really. The only thing I can think to do is try not to worry about these disagreements that have resulted from a lack of understanding of our current situations, and instead focus upon the love and understanding that holds us together at a deeper level. I think it's important that we not let the situation get the better of us. We are good together, and we know it. Just got to stay strong.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

The shouting lady


I spent much of today in the library, hammering my dissertation into shape. We're getting there. All but the conclusion written.

This week, the weather has been just beautiful. Real warm sunny days, no need for jumpers or jackets. This brings me such enormous pleasure. It's been a very long winter, and I was getting to be truly tired of cold mornings.

Pondersa Park on a Sunday at 7am is a beautiful place to be. Arriving there this morning I was struck by the peace. Here I was in the centre of Sheffield, but close my eyes and I could easily have been deep in a Siberian forest. All I could hear was birdsong (and beautiful birdsong at that). I stood there for a while and soaked it up - country bumpkin that I am it was like having my batteries recharged.

Just as I was about to fall into a trance, I was suddenly dragged back into reality by the sound of shouting. I opened my eyes. At the other side of the field I could make out a woman in bright white trousers and a black top. She was walking briskly towards me. Shouting. At first I couldn't catch what she was saying, then I realised that there was a good reason for that - she was shouting in Chinese. She continued to shout in Chinese as she crossed the field heading in my direction ...then walked straight past me. She showed no acknowledgement of my being there. Just carried on looking straight ahead, shouting.

She seemed quite happy in her shouting though.




I got a little upset with *Twinkle* this afternoon. I'm not sure where it came from. She hadn't said anything that might have provoked me. I think it came about as a result of pressure that's been building up, anxiety over our post-wedding plans, or more precisely, the lack of plans. With finances extremely tight and my being unable to work immidiately following my return to Japan (it will take a little while to exchange the tourist visa I'll be flying on for a spouse visa), I've been wondering whether I shouldn't stay in the UK for a little while after our wedding in order that I can save some money. But that doesn't really seem right. It goes against the spirit of a new marriage.

Thinking on our brief email conversation, I realised that the time had come to make a decision. I'd been waiting for some kind of sign, and this was it.

I called the magic number, and 20 minutes later has a small loan arranged, to be paid back once I start work. This means that I can fly the same day as *Twinkle* - Sunday July 27th 2008, and thus I should be able to start work sometime in late August / early September. I'll call the embassy in the morning to check the details.
I am extremely grateful to the people who are helping me out here, thank you.




Tomorrow sees the start of my penultimate week of classes. The end isn't in sight yet though. Lots to do between now and my final exam. (All this endingness has had me looking back at beginnings. I can't believe I was in women's clothing only a month after my arrival in Sheffield).

ttfn

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

IBL Staff-Student Symposium



Full day of work today, from 8.30am to 4.30pm. I say 'work', but it was more like hanging out with friends. CILASS friends.

Today was the 2nd CILASS Inquiry Based Learning Staff-Student Symposium. Some people may remember me talking about giving a presentation via Skype from Tokyo at last year's event - well, this time around I was able to eat the free lunch as well.

I won't go into details here as I'll be blogging about it on the CILASS blog and will link to it. But I would like to share a few photos of the day.

Student Ambassadors modelling sexy CILASS T-Shirts


Got to the IC at 8.30am to blow up helium balloons with Barbara - that was FUN!



Laura, student ambassador co-ordinator and all-round wonderwoman was also on the scene to wake us with that smile of hers



Next, I moved to my station in CILASS 3, armed with Macbook and a VAIO to co-ordinate live blogging (limited success, I wasn't forthright enough) and the uploading of photos taken at the event - the idea was to see how quickly I could get photos from the symposium sessions onto flickr & tagged in order that they automatically display on all the screens in the place (its things like this that give me insane amounts of pleasure). Got about 250 photos up by the end of the day.

It was whilst sorting out the tags and things that Barbara and I came up with a stunning idea, inspired by thinking of those tourist spots where you stick your head through the holes in the big wooden signboards and have your photo taken so it's your face with some famous person's body. Well take that concept, and cross it with Disneyland, and throw in some tools for Inquiry Based Learning, thus creating an 'IBL Land' - albeit a bit smaller (i.e. as small as the glass-walled CILASS 1, which is about 2 metres by 3 metres in size).

Yes, this was a fantastic idea! We kitted out the room with an assortment of Sony VAIOs, Toshiba Tablet PCs, a white board and a big collection of impressive-looking books from the nearby shelves, all promoting the theme of Inquiry Based Learning.

Then, we put a sign up outside: "Come and get your IBL Photo taken here today!"

Students, "Doing IBL"



At one point I was dared to ask the Pro-Vice Chancellor (who was visiting for prize-giving) to come and have his photo taken in our IBL land - I did - and got the shot (although not realising how silly I am he was a little bemused at first).

Speaking of the Pro-Vice Chancellor and prize giving: I mentioned the other day that myself and my classmates had successfully nominated our tutor for a £2000 prize in recognition of all her amazing work in promoting IBL - today was the day that she was to accept the award. However, at the last minute, I realised that she wasn't there ...I gave her a call, and was told that she couldn't make it because she was in class - would I accept it on her behalf?



Later on, I presented her with the big bunch of flowers and award certificate: no doubt receiving them from me was almost as exciting for her as receiving them from the Pro-Vice Chancellor!

I'm so happy that she won. She really deserves it. In a way, I like to think of it as a thank you from all of us in our final year for all the work she's put in these last few years to teach us Japanese. (She's so modest though. When I took the flowers to her office it turned out that two of her closet colleagues didn't even know about it!).




I'm comforted though in knowing that it isn't really the 'end' of any relationships. If I Look back over the past 12 years at the various places I've lived and the stages I've been through, all of those places and stages are still very much a part of my life, In this era of email, Skype & online social networks, it's not easy to lose contact. Classmates, CILASS colleagues, tutors & other friends - all these people won't suddenly dissapear from my life the moment I leave uni.

In a way, with regards to my language teachers this could be thought of as just the beginning. As my language develops during my time in Japan, so I'll be more inclined to contact them. That was one thing I enjoyed towards the end of last year, 'calling home' to Sheffield from Tokyo several times to catch up on the latest departmental news.

Ho hum.

I have about 13 days to finish my dissertation. I'll spend much of this weekend offline writing that. If you've sent me an email recently, thank you, I'll be in touch. Have a bit of a backlog at the mo.

night night xxx

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Family of East Asian Studies and the Opinion of Others

About a week ago, my case study "Making Students Matter: The Family of East Asian Studies" was published on a new section of the University web site.



Case Studies Project overview

The Case Studies project aims to create a library of examples of good practice in teaching, highlighting success stories in order that academic staff across all departments can benefit and learn from one another. In such a large organisation several departments might be faced with the same challenge (such as, 'how can we effectively teach statistics?"), with each department struggling on its own to find suitable solution. If one of those departments did then come up with some new whizzbanging wopaloobop technique, the chances are they would not be aware that other departments might also benefit from this, or, they may be hesitant to approach others and say "We've found the answer! You should do what we're doing!".

This is where the Case Studies project comes in. It seeks out examples of excellence, and actively promotes them to the wider community in order that all can benefit from the experience.

Whilst individual case studies may initially seem to be subject-specific, they often have the potential to contain valuable lessons for a wide variety of departments. As is the case, with the SEAS case!

In my study I basically discuss something that I think has played a major part in making my experience at the School of East Asian Studies such a good one. I quote:
Joseph Tame, a final-year student reading for a BA in Japanese Studies at the School of East Asian Studies, found his learning experience greatly enhanced by the department’s familial atmosphere. From first contact with the dedicated, friendly office staff, through to his final semester six years later, he was made to feel that students genuinely mattered thanks to a culture of care and respect promoted on a daily basis through the attitudes and actions of all staff and lecturers.

My article then goes on to describe in detail the little things that staff do to help promote this community atmosphere, which plays a big part in making my learning experience the fantastic thing it is.

Brown-noser

On reading that article, one of my classmates emailed me: "You know, you could be accused of being a complete sycophant". (I looked the word up in the dictionary (!) and found it to mean a yes-man, bootlicker, brown-noser, toady, lickspittle, flatterer, flunky, lackey, spaniel, doormat, stooge, cringer,suck, suck-up).

Well, yes, they are right. I could. In fact, some people already probably think of me as such. But I would say that if giving someone positive feedback for something amazing that they have done requires that one be labelled a sycophant, I would rather be labelled as such than not give that feedback.

I asked my friend, "Can you imagine what it would be like if we never received anything but negative feedback from our tutors when our homework was returned to us? Imagine how demoralising that would be!"

And yet, in a way, that's exactly the situation that many staff are in. I don't know about SEAS itself, but I do know from personal experience that in some departments there is so little positive feedback received by staff that even the slightest compliment regarding their efforts results in astonishing gushes of gratitude, with comments like "That really made my day!" "All we ever get usually is complaints!" "I just can't stop smiling!" "I'll pass it on to all staff in the department!".

So whether it's an individual, a department, or an entire organisation that has been striving to do something good for you, I feel its really important to express your gratitude. Gratitude is a motivating force, leading to a desire to continue to do well (or even better). Whilst criticism may reap short-term results, long term it can have devastating effects. I am sure that if our teachers had decided to just focus on when we got things wrong, there would be far fewer than 17 of us remaining on our course.

Finally, in response to the idea that I may be ridiculed or looked down upon in some way for highlighting the wonderful attitude of SEAS staff, I recalled the quote

"Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of the things that matter least" (Goethe)

...And in this case (as in many cases) what others think of me matters far less than the staff being recognised for their work. 

...And in any case, if someone was to be so cynical as to believe me to be a sycophant (or lickspittle for that matter), I think I would be something of a fool to attach any importance to their opinion.

Righty ho, on with the show.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Organic vegetables, Nelson Mandela, and your own thought processes

Ha. It's another of those nights. Those nights when I go to bed, but feel so excited about everything and nothing that I have to get up again.

Part of it's the music, I know. I'm listening to Everything But the Girl - Walking Wounded. One of the few CDs I ever owned. Bought it in Switzerland I think, Interlaken. That was before I knew any Japanese. I remember that as the CD case has a bit of Japanese on it, and it was only a few years after I'd bought it that I realised what it said (Eee bee tee jee = EBTG). It's truly wonderful how music can take you back in time to a place, to a feeling, to a state of mind. Listening to this and looking at my swiss photos sees me up that Alp in 1997. Caw, that part of the world is staggeringly beautiful. I do hope that *Twinkle* and I end up back there one day (by that I mean that I hope that that remains one of our goals).

My weekly Organic Vegee box from Beanies

Doesn't that fruit and veg look delicious?! I love organic vegees so much, more than any form of processed food - including Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. The taste of a fresh organic salad is, according to the interaction between my taste buds and mind, the most delicious taste there is. The taste of this pile of fruit and veg could only be surpassed by an identical box of produce that I'd grown myself. It will happen.

I had a difficult day yesterday. I was feeling troubled by Nelson Mandela's treatment having finished his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. What an incredible story. Certainly puts things into perspective. I think of his 27 years of incarceration, and of the appalling hardships endured by black South Africans under Apartheid, and then I think of complaints that I or my friends might have about noisy neighbours, our language course, or what so-and-so said... and I am reminded how spoilt we are. We have so much to be grateful for. Every single day.

Thank
.

You
.

When I reached the part of the book where he described his release I paused and paid a visit to You Tube, where I observed the same scene from outside of his body. Having just gained an insight into what had led to that moment I found it to be incredibly moving. I wiped the tears away, and bang! I was back there. Not South Africa, but our lounge, in front of the TV. It was the 11th of February 1990; I was 12 years old. ...I can vividly recall watching that live news report on the BBC. I'd heard of Nelson Mandela and Apartheid, and I remember being excited, and so happy, running around the dining room and the lounge.

It was cold outside.

Sun shines down beyond the Arts Tower

I went to give blood today. Unfortunately due to my history of epilepsy, I'm unable to be a donor until 2011, and was actually advised to never give blood. It's not that my blood poses a risk to others, it's that giving blood poses a risk to me in that it could trigger a seizure.

The nurses were very good about it - they could see I was upset. In fact, they treated me even more nicely after that, insisting that I go and sit down and have a cup of tea and a biscuit.

So, I'll just have to make do with saving people when I die instead :-) ...and keep on buying cakes all week from the Bone Marrow Society. (Bloomin' good cakes too).

I was pretty surprised by how many people were there. It was like discovering a whole hidden culture of Good Samaritans. How come I had never tried to donate blood before?



Been missing *Twinkle* a lot this week. In a way I wish I could bottle this experience, and keep it as a reminder for future years when we are 'always' together, to ensure that I don't get complacent, to ensure that I stay concious of how fortunate we are (will be) to be able to share our lives with one another.



I feel I've become more aware of our differences this year. Having so much space enables one to step back and think about how differently one sees some things. That's not a bad thing at all. I see her as my teacher, thus the more differing perspectives, the more we can both learn (I would add that I don't think that the differences would be so welcome if there was not an underlying meeting of spirit!).

I'm grateful that over the past year I have been encouraged to explore the idea that there is no right and wrong - there is only differing perceptions of 'reality'. This proves to be especially helpful in situations where social norms would normally dictate that conflict was the appropriate response. With there being no 'right' and no 'wrong' there is no impulse to convince the other that one is 'right'. One can have a completely different opinion from someone else, and yet accept that they are just as 'right' as you. After all, the 'thing', whatever it is, just is. It has no implicit meaning, it only has the meaning that we assign to it.

This way of thinking has really helped me to back down and accept *Twinkle*'s way of thinking without my pride getting in the way. I've not quite got it down to a fine art yet though - far from it! But, being aware is the first important step, and I'm glad to have taken that.

Changing the subject, this past week I've been marvelling at the brain's ability to assign meaning to things I see. I've been playing a little game whereby I look at something, and then observe my thought process as meaning is assigned. Of course normally it happens to fast that we barely notice (you look at a traffic light, and before the you know it, you know it's a traffic light!), but you can slow it down. One method is to turn the lights off so the room is pretty dim, then look around until you make out a shape. You can actually see you brain sorting through an amazingly comprehensive database of images, experiences, feelings, meanings! Absolutely amazing (and we think Google is clever...!). Another way to set yourself up for this experiment is to reduce the exposure on a bunch of photos, so the subjects are barely visible. Or, next time you meet someone whom you know you recognise but can't actually place or name, watch your brain sift through your memory bank in a bid to come up with a match of sorts.

Ahh, the pleasure of introspection!

Well, I'd best be off to bed. Up early tomorrow, and my list of things to do is almost as long as my nose :-)

Mush love xxx

p.s. I want this girl's voice.

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