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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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Friday, January 02, 2009

Cafe de Twinkle



Today is a day to be remembered. *Twinkle* and I have a whole day off together. It's a rare thing.

We stayed up pretty late last night (about 3am), planning and working on our goals in our cosy little bedroom - with the heated carpet warming our tootsies (had a little switch-on ceremony). This morning we woke up at 9am, had muesli for breakfast, and then set about continuing on our projects, *Twinkle* on her Apple-branded Toshiba, me on my Mac. Listening to the beautiful Kate Rusby.

It's a beautiful day. The sun is streaming in on our 'office' through the park.

We were thinking of going to a cafe to work this afternoon to avoid distraction, but then unbeknownst to me, *Twinkle* decided to create her own cafe. I heard her pottering around the other side of the sliding doors that divide our two rooms, but didn't peek in. Then, just after two I was invited to dine at the Cafe de Twinkle, where freshly dutch-oven baked (homemade) raisin-and-walnut bread, potato and seaweed salad were served, accompanied by chai tea.

I'm grateful for today not just for the immediate happiness we're feeling relaxing together in our home, but also for the memory it will provide us with, which can be used as a powerful tool to encourage us in the future.

Today is representative of one of our dreams: to be working from home together, free to choose the hours that suit us. Pursuing our passions as opposed to working for the sake of creating an income.




We've decided to stay in this apartment come March, as despite the cost of renewing the contract, the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter, we are unlikely to find another place in such a nice location for so little. The sounds of birdsong and running water are not something you find comes with a lot of apartments in Tokyo. It seems a shame to turn our backs on such a gift.

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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!)
fuji_2336

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Our first professional engagement as a couple



The lack of broadband at home has finally driven me out to an Internet cafe. I would just use our iPhone, but it's a bit tedious when it comes to long texts, and also I needed to use Skype ...although now I'm here I find that you're not allowed to talk in this place. Oh well. I could talk via Skype on my iPhone, but need a wifi network for that.

Anyway anyway, with time ticking by I need to be brief. Not only am I paying by the hour for this connection, but also I'm starting two new jobs tomorrow, one of which requires some prep.

The Hanpane Rally 2008 ("Volume 1") was an unforgettable experience for *Twinkle* and I. It had been organised by a group of about twenty people in their twenties looking to promote the idea of young people going into business for themselves - *Twinkle* was the main co-ordinator, reporting back to a couple of people in their 40s who took overall responsibility.

*Twinkle* first mentioned it to me a couple of months back, something about a rally at which we'd be MCing. She sounded pretty relaxed about it so I didn't think much of it.

Fast forward to last night, 6.30pm. We're backstage at Nakano Zero Hall, an audience of over 550 filing into their seats out front. I'm crapping myself as I try and learn my lines (in Japanese) for our introduction, lines that we'd only written a few hours beforehand but not had a chance to even glance at due to frantic last minute prep. Hair cuts, clothes shopping etc. I hadn't quite realised just quite what an undertaking this was until the last minute when reports came in of the number of tickets sold. (I was pretty shocked when we arrived at the hall an hour beforehand -the audience were already queuing outside the front door).

Things got even more stressful when the DVD player that was being used to project our videos onto the big screen crapped out at the last minute, and calls went out for a laptop. Macbook came to the rescue - there followed an intense five-minute crash course in (English) Mac basics for my friend, whilst I simultaneously tried to think what alerts might pop-up on screen during the show (calendar reminders, backup programs etc), and rehearse my lines.

It was all pretty surreal. I made a half-conscious decision that none of it was really happening, as if I really thought about what I was going to be doing I probably wouldn't have been able to talk at all.

But there was that part of me that also knew that everything was going to be absolutely fine.

And it was.

*Twinkle* had written a bloomin' good script. It was very natural, very her, very me. She was the serious MC who knew everything, and I was the comedic husband who feigned ignorance. Despite the fact that we hadn't been able to learn our lines (and thus were overly script-dependent), it (apparently) came across as being pretty natural. The audience seemed to warm to us right from the start, with*Twinkle*s professional delivery of the long narratives, and my insertions of odd bits of English and overly casual Japanese (and multiple mistakes). We got quite a lot of laughs, and a lot of people later remarked on just how well we engaged with the audience.

It's a shame we didn't have a chance to listen to the main speakers - we were too busy backstage learning our lines for the next section.



The two hour set flew by, and before we knew it I was telling everyone to get home safely. ...The relief was immense. We'd done it.

The after party took place just down the line in Koenji, in a mad little Japanese restaurant populated by sailors. Our guest speakers served to further dismantle my old prejudices against millionaires, all being the nicest, most interesting and engaging people you could wish to meet. They were inspirational too, with stories of Scottish adventures, business challenges overcome - and books published from personal blogs.

The thing that struck me most about them was the fact that they were really no different from anyone else I know. I find this very exciting as my family are all waiting for us to become very wealthy. That's one of our goals, not for the sake of being rich and owning 'stuff' or having a high status, but because we want to help as many people as possible, and another way we can do that (apart from giving our time and energy and love to friends, family and others) is to become wealthy, and then distribute that wealth.



It doesn't really matter to us that our MCing was at times pretty unprofessional.It doesn't matter that I stuffed up my lines and pronounced words incorrectly. We learnt so much through the experience - not just about MCing, but about each other. I respected *Twinkle* enormously beforehand, but last night found myself in awe at her ability to deal with it all in such a cool manner, and to be so confident in what she was doing.

But actually, in reality, last night's event wasn't really all that much of a big deal. OK, so it's the largest group of people we've addressed live, ...but they only numbered about 550.

It's what the event taught me about *Twinkle* - by seeing her pull together an event like that - and us about Us as a couple that I find so exciting.

She was bloomin amazing. Co-ordinating so many people, not only on the day but over the past couple of months, and then making sure everyone knew what was going on in the hours leading up to it whilst simultaneously learning her lines. I couldn't have done it. 

And it wasn't just that she did it, but that she did it without getting stressed.

This was our first professional engagement together, and it's shown us that whilst as individuals we are pretty good at what we do, as a couple working together towards a shared goal we have enormous strength. It's also taught me what fun it can be to work with *Twinkle*.

Today we've talked about our marriage quite a bit, about just how much of a blessing it has been.

We've been told that following last night's performance we'll be called upon again for future events like the Hanpane Rally. I find this very exciting as public speaking is something I enjoy a great deal, and any opportunity to further develop the necessary skills is welcome.

Anyway, I must get out of here. I'm over my hourly limit and now paying by the 15-minutes!

Start my full time job in 10 hours - Ganbarimasu!

xxx

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Laser eyes, the work, the friends and the MCs

You find me sitting in the waiting room at the Shinagawa Laser Eye Clinic in central Tokyo. ...feeling queasy. *Twinkle* has just been taken up to the 15th floor to have her eyes done, leaving me in the big waiting room on the floor below, stuck in front of a TV showing an instructional video on what's going to be done to her. I find it positively terrifying, but try and reassure myself by thinking of all the people we know who have had it done lately, and how they could 'see' immediately after the op, and made full recoveries within a day or two of being fried. It's pretty affordable too (about £700 paid interest-free over two years) - well worth it considering the difference it will make to her daily life.

Anyhow, I need to try and take my mind off it, so let's talk about something else.

Mr. Joseph the Teacher

I've had a fair bit of part-time work since I got back to Japan. The vast majority of it has been through the English school in Shibuya, where most classes are taught one-on-one. Many students are there to learn English for a particular purpose (usually a business trip to the US/ Australia etc); this makes lesson planning and execution a lot easier (especially with the additional ideas and support I've received from my friend Shari). I also have a couple of private students I meet in quiet cafes. Also, today I had a successful interview for a long-term part time contract teaching weekly group lessons at an American firm's Tokyo office.

My full-time job starts Monday; looking forward to that.

Joseph the househusband

Outside of paid work I've been pretty busy with housework and 'admin'. With our marriage came the need to change *Twinkle*s details on accounts of all kinds, then there was the house move, changes in insurance policies, a new Internet contract, misplaced tax bills, lost bank books, forgotten online banking passwords and so forth. When I finally received my gaijin card (foreigner's ID card) I had to update all my accounts with the new address. There's not much left to do ...just need to get my Japanese driver's license I think.

I find sorting these kind of things out really satisfying. Perhaps it's the control freak in me, wanting order in my life. I like to have a clear picture in my head of what policies we have where and what's due when - it enables me to get on and concentrate on the important stuff.

The house is also starting to feel comfortable. Latest additions include a plant, and 2 x 780yen plastic stationary sets of drawers. They have CHANGED MY LIFE. I now have a whole drawer dedicated to pens, and another to scrap paper, with the other four also having their own unique role. With the arrival of the drawers, so we see the departure of the living out of boxes (except for the other cupboard.

I've also cleared out all the salad crops from the tubs on the balcony, except for the aubergine plants which are still producing. Bought ten tulip bulbs and look forward to planting them and watching them shoot. I'd like to plant some winter crops too - any ideas dad?

I'm getting better at making bread in the wok, although still need to experiment a bit more to get it good and crusty (by applying water and flour to the surface) without deflating it post-rise. I'm also enjoying making simple things like fruit salad (little known in Japan) and potato salad. Nothing too ambitious, but very healthy, tasty, nutritious and rewarding nonetheless.

We're pretty much completely vegetarian at home now. We might get a bit of chicken in when guests come to visit, but other than that we feel really good without any meat. I'm really grateful to *Twinkle* for being so accommodating (although it hadn't been a request of mine).

Joseph's foreign friends

I've really enjoyed having quite a lot of contact with my friend Tom (who lives pretty near us in Meguro-ku) - I can see the weekly Sunday morning jogs around the Imperial Palace becoming a long-term part of my routine. They're almost therapeutic. It's good being in phone contact with Stu as well - our schedules at the moment mean that I've seen a lot less of him than I'd like to have done. Hopefully we can work something out so we can ensure that life doesn't get in the way of communication.

That's something I missed in the UK - male (and to a certain extent female) friends whom I could talk to about pretty much anything. I think perhaps it's being in Japan that has enabled me to develop these friendships which otherwise might not have come to much, as I'm usually much more inclined to hang out with and talk to women. Here, we have shared challenges / experiences, and I think it's these that served as a foundation upon which the friendships have been built.

I've found that marrying *Twinkle* has led to a stronger sense of kinship on my part towards both Tom and Stu, both of whom have Japanese wives. Whilst our relationships are all very different, we all have our challenges at times, and it helps to be able to share these things.

It's only in writing this now that I appreciate just how much it means to me to have foreign friends in Tokyo. Last week, *Twinkle* and I visited two young 'old colleagues' of mine from the place of work I'll be returning to next week after six years away. I've not seen them in years, although I must say that due to the communication we've had via our blogs it didn't seem like a case of 'long time no see' at all. Alongside pizza we were treated to Shari's delicious homemade hummus. I tell you, it was fantastic, the genuine article, certainly didn't expect to find myself indulging in that here in Japan.

Anyhow, food aside, it was lovely to spend time with them and chat about this and that. They are the kind of people in whose presence it is hard not to feel relaxed (something which no doubt plays a part in their popularity as teachers); it felt good sharing 'stuff' with them, and I wondered to what extent our all being foreign played a part in creating such an atmosphere.

Ogura san, our homeless friend

I'm continuing to work on extending my social circle, which is currently distinctly square shaped. I've joined the Vegan Runners Club and Toastmasters, so should be giving them both a shot later this month. *Twinkle* and I meanwhile have been trying to open up our house a little more, now it's relatively organised (only one cupboard left to go). We've had a few visitors, including our homeless friend who sells the Big Issue in Shibuya, who came to supper the other night accompanied by another member of his support group of which we are members. As I mentioned in a previous post, he's a really interesting guy - now in his 50s, he owned his own company until someone else's business for which he had acted as a guarantor went belly up, resulting in him losing everything overnight.

Business, income, house, wife and child, all gone, just like that.

He often says that he can hardly believe that he's now homeless. He never even dreamt of the possibility. It's unfortunate that in Japan homeless people have the odds stacked against them: in addition to the discrimination they face, with no fixed abode they are not entitled to government assistance. Without government assistance it can be hard to find work that will generate an income sufficient to maintain a small home - it's a vicious circle.

He's now working to set up an NPO to support people like himself. It's hard though. Whilst Big Issue sales might generate enough for him to afford to stay in an Internet cafe overnight, it's not enough to lift him out of the hole he's in, thus his ability to move forward is hampered by a need to provide for today.

Despite all this, he's incredibly positive, with a similar outlook upon life as myself. We're working to try and promote the work he's doing and hope to have him speak at an event that we're organising for next month.

Ogura san can be found most days on the East side of Shibuya station.

MCs *Twinkle* and Tame

Speaking of events (and as mentioned before) *Twinkle* and are scheduled to MC at a meeting for 500 business-minded people in their twenties on Saturday. The aim is to encourage them to pursue their dreams (whatever they may be), and not just follow the crowd into jobs in which they have little interest, but feel they 'ought' to take. We have a few fairly high-profile speakers lined up whose names I forget. There's a nice article on one of them in this month's 'Free and Easy' Magazine featuring him camping in the Japanese outback, Ray Mears stylee.

I'm a bit nervous about that, as it's all going to be in Japanese, and I don't really know what I'm supposed to say or do.

Whether we will end up MCing or not I'm not quite sure. Since beginning this blog 5 hours ago we've returned to *Twinkle*s family home, and her eyes are now causing her an awful lot of pain follow the surgery. Thankfully she seems to be sleeping now; hopefully she'll be feeling better by tomorrow morning.

iPhone Update

The iPhone remains my darling. The new Facebook app is absolutely fantastic, taking advantage of the iPhone's distinct characteristics and putting on a pretty slick show, a great example of what a mobile app can be. I look forward to the other apps I have also being updated to more reflect rhe iPhone style rather than just feeling like ported versions of apps for other platforms.

It's also proving its worth whilst we have no broadband. For example, without the iPhone I wouldn't have got the job that I got today. That'll more than pay for the monthly contract.

However, I do find the iPhone's lack of an audio / vibration alert for new emails to be a bit of a pain, especially when *Twinkle* and I are carrying out a text conversation. Thus, I've bought a second mobile which does make a noise, and which also happens to give me free calls and sms to not only *Twinkle* but to all of my in-laws, and vice-versa.

When will Japanese carriers allow SMS to be sent cross-network me wonders?

My new phone basically uses the same OS as my old mobile, so hasn't required any brain power to make it work. I'm very impressed by the new predictive text function though, just amazing. Shame the iPhone can't match it when it comes to Japanese.

Anyhows, that about sums it up for now. As you can see, we're pretty busy, but things are good, very good.

oyasumi xxx

[EDIT] Happy to report that the patient has just woken up and CAN SEE! They were right when they said it would just be painful for a few hours - what an amazing thing the human body is!

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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.

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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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Monday, August 18, 2008

Date set for departure for a new life

This morning I decided to have faith in the international postal service and the Japanese embassy in London, and buy my flight to Japan, despite not having yet applied for my visa, or having yet received the documents I need from Japan to apply for it.

Having been granted student status again I was able to benefit from STA travel's 'Blue flights" - £382 to Tokyo, direct with British Airways. I'll be leaving on the 4th of September from Heathrow's Terminal 5.

The documents (Japanese family register, *Twinkle*s certificate of residency, copy of her passport including all UK entry/exit stamps and letter of guarantee from her) are scheduled to arrive by EMS on Tuesday. Provided they do turn up then, I can go down to London on Wednesday (Wednesday being the only day i can really take off from CELTA due to it being the only day that we don't teach on), if everything's in order I should then (hopefully) receive the visa by the 28th of August, about a week prior to departure.

I will have achieved my goal of getting back into Japan on a long-term visa. It will have taken me five years and cost me in excess of £20,000 (US$40k) - but it will have been worth it. I mean, come on, I get to spend the rest of my life with *Twinkle*. Who wouldn't invest that amount in order to be able to do that?

Hmm. So that means that in three weeks from now, I'll be with my *Twinkle* in our flat in central Tokyo, at the start of a long and happy life together. It seems somewhat unreal. We've never been in that situation before. Up until now we've always been on 'one year contracts' - not just in terms of housing, but in terms of how our entire relationship is structured. This will be different. There will be no enforced changes to act as a safety valve. I'm going to have to start working harder on our relationship than ever before. I want it to be the most rewarding relationship it could possibly be, for both of us. I'm also going to have to work harder in a job than I have for many years in order to pay back the debts we have. I think I'm going to be very busy.

Anyway, my eyes are tired, and I want to go to sleep dreaming of what it will be like living with *Twinkle*.

night
xxx

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Married for the second time in a month

As mentioned on Twitter this morning, *Twinkle* and I got 'married' again today. I was in bed, asleep in the north of England. *Twinkle* was in her local town hall, Japan.

I was happy (I mean even happier)

All she needed was our original wedding certificate, my original birth certificate and copies of my passport. With that, she created a new family register (koseki tohon) in the name of 'Tame'. She also officially changed her name to Tame.

The Japanese certificate will take a week to arrive at our place in Japan, house, then another week to get here. The embassy in London have said that they may be able to process my visa application in a week, so if all goes smoothly I should be flying out in the first week of September.

fingers crossed.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

A CELTA weekend, and Family Planning

So this is what a CELTA weekend is like then: study, study and more study (and a very enjoyable 3-hour trip out to the Peak District to see friends - thank you!)

It's been fun though. You know, I think I'm actually starting to get my head around English grammatical terms, after 30 years of being frightened of them (yep, right from birth). Did you know that a preposition is a word (or group of words) that is used to show the way in which other words are connected? I didn't.

Spent a good few hours on my first assignment too - language analysis. I find it strangely interesting.

Today I'm creating my lesson plan for tomorrow afternoon, a 40-minute class teaching listening skills. My theme: "Mysteries of Everyday Life". Looking forward to it. :-)


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Spent a while on the phone to my darling in Tokyo today. Crikey I think I'm rather in love with her. Anyway anyway, we've set aside a weekend soon after my arrival to make some life plans / family plans together. What we would like to achieve in life both individually and as a family, when we'd like to have children (being conceived in Paris so I'm told), that sort of thing. Once that's done we'll look at what we need in order to accomplish those goals, how we need to improve (or bring in outside help) to achieve them.

Of course we've both done this as individuals several times over the past couple of years, but this will be our first family plan as such. It's very exciting!

Caw blimey, I'm going to be living with my cutey by a big pond ten mins from Shibuya in four weeks!

I love life.

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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. :-)

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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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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

The wedding service

The morning of the wedding was pretty hectic. I'd had this idea that if I tried to prepare everything as far in advance as possible, there would be little to do on the day itself ...but it didn't quite turn out like that!

At 7.20am I was on my way to Hereford to do some shopping. Concerned that we wouldn't have enough drinks, I'd decided to get a load from the local supermarket, to where they could be returned afterwards if we didn't use them (although I'd forgotten that alcohol can only be sold after 8am - had to wait by the checkout with my trolley, watching the seconds tick by!).

That trip kind of set the pace for the rest of the morning. I think it was also demonstrative of how I was having problems letting go. Having spent so many weeks planning and organising, I was now finding it hard to trust that the details would sort themselves out. I wasn't used to having so many people on hand willing to help, and still felt that if something needed to be done I should do it myself (not that I didn't trust others, but rather because it was my 'responsibility' to make sure everything was OK).

In the face of this my brother Stephen did a fantastic job of ensuring that I breathed before the service. I was confined to my bedroom, forbidden from coming downstairs. I was to get dressed, and then sit on my bed and wait until it was time to go.

I more or less managed this, and the last hour or so before the service was actually pretty relaxing.

A memorable moment came at 2.30pm, half an hour before the ceremony was due to begin. I suddenly realised that I could hear the bells ringing at the church across the valley - they were ringing for us! That made me so happy... I thought of the difficulties I'd had in finding the bell-ringing team (in the end I located them through a wild Google search!) - it had definitely been worth it!

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All suited up, we then made our way to the church in my little hire-car. *Twinkle* would be following later from the guest house with her father in the classic 1930s Alvis, owned by a neighbour of ours who had very kindly offered his services (and he did so against the odds too - only a few days earlier the gearbox had packed up; he'd put considerable effort into finding another in time so that he could drive us on the day).

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*Twinkle*, father, and the Alvis, arriving at the church

Arriving at the church a few minutes later I was stunned - there were all these people there that I knew!

I know it sounds silly (after all, I was the one that had sent the invites out) but it really was amazing. All these dear friends and family members, some of whom I'd not seen in ages, had come together for us. It was surreal in a way, and time and time again I found myself surprised and delighted by the faces that were there. The neighbours had come down to watch as well - these were the neighbours that had donated flowers from their gardens, given us cards and presents, leant us staplers for our order of service, dropped off hay bales for people to sit on, offered their homes for our friends from far away to stay in... 

They're all AMAZING!

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Flowers, courtesy of 'aunty' Louise and mum - and the neighbours

And this is something that has really touched me: the community effort. I lived in Orcop for about 8 years, until the age of 16 when I moved into that bedsit with the walls that crumbled when I attempted to put a shelf up. Since then, with the exception of the Torquay Years, I've always regarded it as home, that safe place that never changes and is always open for me to come back to should I need to.

That's why that despite the fact that I've not 'lived' here for 14 years it felt appropriate to hold the wedding in the valley. It was also an area that *Twinkle* was familiar with having visited here several times for little holidays. Looking back on the events of last week, I can see now that it was indeed a very good decision.

Yesterday, I was going through a list of people that had helped make it happen. Not counting those actually present at the wedding, I came up with over twenty local families that had played a vital part in ensuring that everything was in place. As mentioned above there was the car, the flowers, the accommodation, there was also parking at the church (in people's driveways and also in a field of sheep), local B&B and camp site owners who had been so flexible, the church cleaning team, the chap who mowed his grass next door so people could park on the verge, the provision of an amp for the service, oh, and the Royal Air Force too - they did a low, slow fly past in a Hercules when we came out of the church!

It seemed everyone in the area knew about the wedding, and expressed their support and congratulations.

Naturally, we are both very grateful for the all of this support. ...and it feels good, affirming my connections with the area before leaving the UK.

Anyway anyway, where were we? Ah yes, I'd arrived at the church.

Walking down the aisle to take my seat at the front I was again delighted to see yet more familiar faces - caw, this was all a bit exciting really! Everyone was here to share in our marriage commitment.

After a little wait, Mum #2 pressed the magic button, and Pachabel's Canon filled the church - *Twinkle* had arrived. I didn't turn around though, too nervous at first, but then I kept on hearing Louise urgently whispering in excited tones to Stephen, "Tell him to turn around! Turn around!"

And so I did.

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I must admit I felt breathless when I saw *Twinkle* in her wedding dress. She was the most beautiful bride in the whole world ever, soooo beautiful (OK, so I may be biased). I wasn't sure if I was going to cry or not, so looked away ...but had to look back again. Caw blimey, this is quite a coup I thought. How on Earth did I manage this?

Having had the rehearsal not 20 hours beforehand, we were both pretty comfortable with our lines (although I'm told that we both said "till death us do part" backwards - not that we noticed!). It was good though, it felt very right to be making those promises. I know one or two members of the congregation raised their eyebrows at references to Father, Son and Holy Spirit (knowing that neither of us are active church-goers); they told us so afterwards as well. But as I have written before, I see these elements of church services as just another interpretation of broader spiritual ideas / truths / beliefs that are the very core of our existence, regardless of religious beliefs. 'God' 'Love' 'Source', no matter what your chosen label, it's still referring to the same thing, and that's the energy source from which we have come, and the energy source that connects *Twinkle* and I.

I was sooo happy when we were pronounced husband and wife! tee hee. What a happy moment. In fact the whole thing was rather happy.

I'm so glad we got married in that church too - it was the perfect setting, with its cute red carpet and sloping floors. Many people have commented on how much they enjoyed the service, and I must say, it really felt very right.

Mum #2 was in ambidextrous mode, and in addition to being our DJ, she read that lovely chapter from Corinthians on Love - she even did the last line in Japanese (and great pronunciation too!). My sister Emma, and *Twinkle*s friend Mariko from Osaka read from Gibran's The Prophet ('Valentine'), giving us the opportunity to think about what we were entering into.

As we signed the register with our witnesses Jess (my sister, with nephew Jamie in tow) and Xinxin (dear friend from Sheffield), so Ruth began to play her piano and sing Al Green's 'Let's Stay Together'. She has such a great voice, just beautiful. Added so much to the atmosphere. Thank you Ruth.

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(Jamie is hiding behind Jess)

Following our blessing, DJ Mum #2 pumped up the volume - we receded down the aisle as husband and wife to Mendelson's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba - a traditional and very jolly tune!

And with that, we were married :-)

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(*Twinkle*s take on the whole wedding thing can be found on Mixi!)

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Photos



Our thanks to John who will be taking photos for us at the wedding (so that I don't have to pause proceedings in order to take a photo of us - although I'd like to!) Here's one he took yesterday in the garden :-)

If you're coming to the wedding, don't forget you can upload your own photos to our online album.

Friends who are not attending the wedding are also welcome to view the album, although much of it may be repeated on Flickr. Email me if you'd like the address and login details.

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The wedding tree

*Twinkle*s family arrived yesterday. I was a little nervous about the meeting of the parents, what with mine being completely crazy.

Thankfully, it went really really well, with *Twinkle*s parents saying afterwards that they found it hard to stop laughing (that'll be dad's humour which does indeed seem to cross international borders).

After the initial meeting, and before supper, *Twinkle*, her family and I made our way to the local Woodland Trust Millennium Wood. Three years ago I found a little sprouting acorn on the Welsh Garden Project. I planted it, and it's now a healthy baby, about 2 foot tall.

With *Twinkle* and I soon leaving to live in Japan, we thought it would be nice to leave a symbol of our relationship here in the UK, something that would grow stronger over time (and suck up the Co2 that we breathe out during our future visits to the UK).

Thus, last night, having been granted permission by the Woodland Trust, *Twinkle*s parents, sister and the two of us cleared a patch of bracken and brambles in the Millennium Wood, dug a deep hole and planted our oak tree.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marriage - from the pre-wedding perspective

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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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Touching base

In response to anonymous' comment on the previous post: you'll have to bear with us - things are a little busy at wedding central...

Will be back online 'soon'.

Driving back from Heathrow

twinkle joseph driving back from Heathrow

At Ludlow castle

twinkle and pepe at Ludlow_8931

Camping

twinkle and joseph in their tent

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ittekimasu!

Ittekimasu is what Japanese people say when they are leaving the hosue. It literally means, "I'm going, and I'll come back".

I'm off to Heathrow - *Twinkle* should be touching down in just under three hours. It's terminal 5 - let's hope the wedding dress makes it too!

xxx

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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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Thursday, July 10, 2008

I'm marrying *Twinkle* in 15 days


Ha. Everything but the girl. Nice.

Last week I upgraded my Macbook's hard-drive to the 320GB Toshiba MK3252GSX. At £66 it was a bargain, and being a Macbook the upgrade can be done on the kitchen table in about three minutes.

One result of this is that I can now fit my entire music collection on my laptop - I used to just carry a small selection, whilst my main library was on an external drive that was a bit of a bore to plug in. This week I've been stuck on the playlist "Not played recently", and wow, what a treat it has been. What a wonderful gift music is. Rediscovering all this old stuff that I've not heard in ages. Pink Floyd. Everything But the Girl. Genesis. Beth Orton. Joni Mitchell. Dick Gaughan. Nick Drake.

Another result of the upgrade is that I've rediscovered my video collection which, like my music, had been languishing on an external drive. I was staggered to find that I have 567 home-movies, many of which I haven't seen in years. My favourites were those taken in the first few months of my relationship with *Twinkle* (I haven't shot so many since then). She's so funny, and so cheeky. Watching those really brings it home to me why I love her so much. I wrote a little while back about a difficult patch we were going through then, and how we had 'lost touch with one another's realities."

After 6 months apart, the love I feel for her is not grounded in or dependent upon any physical realm. It's not her cutey looks, her kind words or her personality. It's underground, it's her spirit, her 'soul'. That's been so important, as when there's ripples across the surface, I just look below - the water is calm, rich, full of life.

Thus, watching those videos of her in hysterics due to me looking terrible in a photo that she'd just taken of me (etc) have been a great reminder of just what a joy it is to be with her on a 'superficial' level. She is so lovely to hang out with, and I can hardly believe that I have been so fortunate as to be destined to be her husband. I mean seriously, I can hardly believe that someone who fits so perfectly with the 'girl of my dreams' is coming to the UK next week to marry me. It's a miracle!

I have a lot to thank Sheffield uni for, and a lot to thank the world in general for.

Thank you world

(now please tell Apple to get on with the MobileMe launch. .mac was due offline 9 minutes ago but it's still working!).

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Generosity, and packing for Japan

Been a funny old day today. Everything's been out of context. Started with being woken by my mobile. I get an average of one phone call a week, so it startles me even if when I'm already awake. My friend had a puncture, meeting might be delayed. I can sleep in a bit. Tired after last night's coaching call, finished that at 1.30am. It's almost the end of the course, more change there. Good change. Change is good.

But hang on, it didn't start with that phone call. No, it started with what happened the night before. It was about 11pm, and I was unpacking my bag. Earlier in the day a friend of mine (another student) who I'm probably not going to see for a long long time after this week handed me an envelope: "Look after it, and open it when you get home".

When I did open it, I gasped. Inside was a beautiful handmade card with a lovely message, and inside that, a number of bank notes. I was stunned, and tears came to my eyes. This was an act of supreme generosity, utterly unexpected. I was completely thrown by it, and spent some time feeling lost in the kitchen talking to myself.

I contacted them, communicating my feelings. They reassured me. Boy am I grateful. Thank you so much.

This act of generosity made me think a lot about giving and receiving, and reinforced for me the importance of giving in my life.




This afternoon I was on Three Seeds business, Three Seeds being our online publishing company. Met up with our marketing adviser, who, in a nice way, pointed out all of the flaws in our plans. I was very grateful for that - better to hear it from him than someone whose business we are looking for (or the judges at next week's competition final). We need to do some serious thinking about where we want this business to go. It would be a shame to bring it so far (we're now in testing) and not see it to the launch. It's a shame we lost two months to the first company we approached, but no doubt the reason for that will come to light in due course.

Tonight I've been starting to pack for Japan. I move out of here next Tuesday, but will be heading down to London on Friday for a rather special meeting with a high-profile businessman from Japan (I hope I can still speak Japanese!), so basically I need to prepare for the move now. I'm taking a lot of stuff to the charity shops: stationary, kitchen ware, small bits of 'furniture', books, women's clothing.

Whilst I've moved every year since about 1999, this is the most important move yet. I won't be coming back to live in the UK for a long time, so decisions need to be made about stuff that means a lot to me, but has little practical use, or can be bought in Japan for less than the cost of postage to Japan.

I'm down to about ten books. Ten books that have changed my life in various ways. All the rest have gone to Oxfam. I have quite a few things that have been given to me as gifts by friends over the past 15 years, but serve no purpose other than to look pretty and remind me of them. It's tough parting with these things, but I know that my relationships with these people are not ultimately contained within these objects. It's time for someone else to provide a temporary home for them.

I'm so glad that the vast majority of my photos are digitised. If my collection of 20,000+ were in the form of prints and negatives I really don't think I could justify shipping them over. As it is, they just occupy an eighth of my Macbook's (320GB) hard drive. Handy that. Hurrah for technology.

*Twinkle*s getting closer. 15 days. Can't quite come to terms with that. Kind of scary. It means we're getting married soon.

This morning I did a bit more wedding organisation. Booking rent-a-cars, and a hotel for *Twinkle* and I in Windsor, where we'll stay the night before she returns to Japan. It's all going to happen so soon. In a month she'll be back in Japan, and I'll be back here at Sheffield, learning how to teach.

Ho hum.

Well, best be off. I need to sleep - tomorrow is my last day working for CILASS (probably!). A group of people from Hong Kong have come to the UK to tour learning environments - I'm one of the Sheffield Students providing the student p.o.v. on the IC.

Nighty night.

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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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Monday, April 28, 2008

Wondering what's around the corner


I'm about a third of a way through the 27-hour audio version Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicles.

Murakami is the first fiction author whose books I've read more than one of - this is my third (following Kafka on the Shore & Norwegian Wood).

I'm finding this one as involving as the previous two, and I'm wondering, is it now reaching that point where it start to teach me whatever it is I need to learn from it?

If I think of Kafka working in the library, I'm back there on the carpeted floor of the Mongolian Yurt on day two of my stay last summer- thankfully not being skinned alive (not the most relaxing bedtime story. I could hardly bear to listen to it). If I move on a bit to Hoshino trying to open the stone I'm bumping along on that 9-hour car journey back to the capital, Ulaanbatar. I almost feel like I wouldn't have survived that journey without sharing in Nakata's own journey.

Norwegian Wood (which sees me clearing the path on the Welsh Garden Project site) led me, I realised afterwards, to finally come to understand an old Japanese friend of mine. I'd lost contact with her, abruptly, and I never figured out why. When listening to Norwegian Wood, she popped into my head once or twice, and i recognised her in the characters portrayed. It felt good to have closure on that.

As I listen to Toru tell the story of his marriage to Kumiko, I can't help but think of my own marriage. It's something I've been thinking about quite a lot in any case, as is only natural. What does it actually mean to me? This feeling of responsibility it contains - is that coming from within me, I mean really within me, or is it more a product of outside influence?

How will our life differ this time from last time we lived together? Then, I was a student, on a temporary stay. This time it will be very different. There will be an element of ...permanentness.

How will this affect my attitude towards life in general? In a way I have had it easy for the past 8 years. Ever since I split up with my ex in fact, and left Torquay for Switzerland. But even then,despite the fact that we'd bought a house together, deep down we knew that it was only temporary. Since then, I've lived knowing that even if I made absolutely no effort at instigating change myself, my life would change in a big way anyway, all by itself, within a maximum of 12 months.

Switzerland: I was on seasonal contracts.
Japan: My visa would expire
Bristol (UK): My Access course would come to an end
Sheffield: I would graduate


And now, as of August 2008, I will not have this safety net of prescribed change. If I want things to happen in my life, it will be entirely up to me. If I let myself drift along (as is only to easy to do), I may be happy in the short term, I will get things done, change will occur ...but I'll feel somehow unfulfilled. I don't think I'm the kind of person cut out for that. Many people are, and that's great, I'm not knocking them for that, but I feel like I am so absolutely packed full of energy just bursting to be channelled into 'stuff' that I'd be stifled by having no prospect of guaranteed change or progression.

In a way, this is another reason why i want the CIR job in Japan. With an annual contract (renewable up to 5 years) there's that time limit. It would push me to make the most of today, every day, and never put off trying to realise dreams for some tomorrow that will never come.

I sometimes wonder where this excitement has come from. Did I always have it? According to my beliefs, yes, I did. I have always been a little hyper; "OTT" was how I was described to my parents by my teacher as a teenager (I felt terrible about that at the time, like I'd really let them al down).

Hmmm.

I hope to get a reply from the embassy this coming week. It's nearing a month since everyone else was informed. I can only assume that my application is continuing to give them grief due to my request to be near *Twinkle*. In a way though, I feel the longer I wait, the better the chances that this will all work out for the best.

It feels a bit like sitting in the bottom of a well though, waiting for a line to be cast down. It's not a well of doom and despair, just a well of contemplation and nervous tension, wondering what the view is going to be like when I get out.

Ho hum. Start of a brand new week in the morning.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Whizz Boing Pop day


I find it astonishing (and at times disturbing!) how much detail my camera lens can pick up. My hand doesn't look so wrinkly to the naked eye, but an adjustment of the levels in the raw file shows the prints and lines in all their glory. I guess this is where photography is going now, especially with the advent of Nikon's incredible D3.

Got back into the daily exercise thing today. Up at 6.30am, out to the park to jog (and, er, take photos of the blossom. and my hand. that was a spur of the moment thing).



Then, at nine I took part in presenting for a CILASS IBL cafe (IBL = Inquiry based learning), a weekly event open to staff and students in which we present / discuss IBL related topics. Today we focused upon 'Being a CILASS Student Ambassador and Employability'. I won't say more about it here as I'll be blogging about it on the SA Network blog ...and I get paid to blog there! (I'll link to it when it's up). Really enjoyed that though. Lovely people I work with, wonderful start to the day.

Following that I popped along to the SEAS office having been summoned by email - they had a bottle of wine for me (and a timesheet!) to fill in following this year's open days, bless them. They are so kind. Only two weeks until a core member of the family leaves - I wonder how that will effect things?

Next it was on to a writing class, then translating literature from the 1950s. I am absolutely terrible at this, and for my last piece of coursework got my first ever 2:2 - with some of the categories seeing me down as far as a third. Whilst I enjoy reading the stories, when it comes to precise translation I am hopeless. The thing is, whist we have always had precise translation classes (at which I have always done pretty poorly) the general rule in everyday life is to go for the general meaning - and that's what I do. I think that's what we all do as humans really when we are unable to catch it all: we listen for familiarities and then fill in the blanks with our context-based knowledge. But you can't do that with precise translation. Whilst I was shocked when I got my feedback, I'm not upset about it at all. I just accept that this is not my strong point, appreciate that I have to try better next time, and move on (and not get a job which requires precise translations of 1950s Japanese novels).

Following that I went up to the healthfood shop Beanies to pick up my organic vegee box. I was in for a bit of a surprise there too as when I told the lady behind the counter my name so she could tick my box off, she said,
Oh, I know your name! My daughter was doing some research for something and found your blog. She told me about it as you'd mentioned us - and when I had a look I saw it was you!"


Back down the road and I discovered I'd accidentally kept hold of a key for some of the classrooms in the IC. I was a little bemused by this, why I had I done that? It all became clear when I got back to CILASS though, as Dr. N who runs the Case Studies project I participated in had just finished a meeting, and there was a fair bit of lovely italian food left over. Well, it would have been a shame to let it go to waste..!

Plate loaded down with the finest cheeses, pasta and pizza, I returned to a room in the bowels of the Octagon Centre where Japan soc was to meet a couple of hours later. No sooner had I sat down than *Twinkle* skyped me, and we talked, and talked.

It is such a treat to talk with her, makes me so happy. What I especially like is the way in which many conversations (like today's) become learning experiences. We really are pushing one another, each using our personal strengths to challenge one another's thinking. Makes it all so real, engaging, fun ...and makes me feel that I can't wait to be back together with her! 17th July is the day. Heathrow the place. She's so good for me; good job she's not seen through me yet...

Anyway, I've just realised that I've not written those two mini-japanese essays that are due in last week. I was going to write them this evening, but got carried away preparing the budget and other documents for Japan society - we hand over next week, and that will be it - my three years with them over :-(

It's been great though, what a fantastic learning experience. Thank you Japan soc.

so, er, yes, must sleep.

night night xxx

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bank Holiday stuff

Every time I come back to my parent's house I make a point of a) eating mum's home-made chocolate cake, and b) sorting through the stuff under my old bed to see what of my belongings can be given away. As time passes so it becomes easier to dispose of stuff, and it's now reached the stage where all that's left is photos, 40 or so diaries (written when I was age 10 ~ 25), Main Lesson books from the Steiner School, and a large collection of letters from friends before the dawning of email. Oh, and the two amazing jumpers which mum knitted for me when I was about 7 years old, which I'm keeping for our girls (they WILL like dragons!). Come July, it'll be a case of packing these up and giving Yamato Kuro Neko (delivery co) a call - Sheffield Japan Society members being eligible for a discount.

When having a look for any boxes I may have missed last night I came across a camera bag: in it, the old Olympus OM10 that got me started in photography way back in the 18th century. I thought it had been chucked, and so was pretty happy to see it again. I was even more pleased to find the old flash unit that went with it, which, it turns out, works with my NIKON D40x DSLR. OK, so it doesn't exactly sync - I have to put the D40x on manual and compensate -but it fires. Can't use it at shutter speeds above 1/250 though as the flash fires too late and you end up with a section blacked out as the shutter closes (see example of various shutter speeds, from 1/1000 to 1/300 to left). But yeah, this is great as I've wanted a flash unit for a while now as the built-in flash tends to result in bland images, and new Speedlights cost a bomb. This one's got the 360/90 degree swivel so it can be bounced off any surface, resulting in a much more natural spread of light.

Just watching my *Twinkle* on skype. She's on the phone to a friend but left the camera on for me to gaze longingly at her. Happy. Haven't been in touch much lately so it's so nice to see her face again. Reassuring to know that I can understand almost everything she says despite feeling that my Japanese has suffered a bit since I left Japan. And reassuring to find that she's even cuter on skype than in my imagination (tee hee). What will she be like in reality I wonder?

You know I said recently that I'd be taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test test this year? Well, I've been thinking a bit more about this and decided that really, I'd like to enrol on some language course or have a weekly private class to ensure that I really do continue to improve. Also, I'd like to take some training courses of some kind. Exactly what kind I don't know. Some vocational courses. I feel that if I'm to make the most of this chance then I need some guidance. It's all very well having skills, but if you don't know how to apply them you're no better off than a hedgehog armed with an aluminium foil helmet being approached by the Wheels of Doom.

It's funny really, on the one hand I am sick of studying, but on the other hand, the thought of further study/training really excites me. I guess it's because I associate further training with almost immediate benefits to my family. Must be careful not to hide behind "needing more training" though.

Anyway, I'd best finish off this assignment that's due in tomorrow.

Tarra!

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Norwegian Wood, Religious Weddings and the Canvas of Life


Latest addition to my mum's art portfolio

Fascinating, thrilling day today. It is so great to see family after such a long time.

I caught the tram at 6.30am, train down to Hereford, bus to Wormelow, car to Orcop. Thoroughly enjoyable journey. Not only did I get to indulge in one of all-time favourite hobbies -sewing patches on my jeans (and this was a MAJOR patch, handmade by my talented friend Suzie H a couple of years back, I've been saving it for such an occasion as today's), but also, I was able to indulge in listening to a new Audiobook - Norwegian Wood by Murakami. I've not read it before, but have long wanted to, knowing how much it is liked by so many of my friends. I absolutely loved 'Kafka on the Shore': I listened to that as I crossed the East China Sea, and found myself identifying with the characters as they made their own journey's West.

Whilst the narration of Norwegian Wood is not spellbinding in the way that that of Kafka was, I'm really enjoying the story nonetheless. I recognise the characters in people I know, the most prominent example being that of the upper-class womaniser destined to be a bureaucrat, who appears to me as the chap from Oxford university who made it to the final of the speech contest with me last month (to the right of me in this picture).



I did a bit of PC-doctoring today, getting my sister's webcam working for Skype (secret is to uninstall the Logitec software and let Skype handle the camera itself) which the boys liked (funny seeing yourself on screen for the first time!), and setting up iTunes so she can listen to some of the audiobooks I've purchased from Audible (you can license up to 3 computers to play your DRM-protected tracks).

Also talked about the wedding quite a bit, lots of good ideas emerging. It's going to be great.

One 'issue' that comes up for some people is this getting-married-in-a-church business. Neither *Twinkle* or I are particularly religious, and as you know, I am not too keen on traditional Christian notions of an almighty 'God' ...so why do I want to get married in a church?

Well, as with everything in life, a church wedding only carries the meaning that an individual chooses to assign to it. In Japan, 'church' weddings are popular (although the church is unlikely to be 'real' and the priest may well be a fake). I feel I have been somewhat influenced by the research I carried out on Japanese 'Christian weddings' in 2006/07, in that for me such a wedding does not necessarily have to relate to any religious tradition, and is really very appealing.

What others may label as "God" I feel is a nameless infinite source; love; an immense energy that fills us, that is us, and all of our surroundings.

Thus, a demonstration of my commitment to *Twinkle* in the 'presence of God' is for me, not a subscription to norms as laid out in holy texts, but rather, a powerful acknowledgement of our decision to commit to strive to bring our energies, our love, into flexible alignment.

There's other, somewhat more tangible reasons for having a church wedding too. I want to see my dream bride walk down the aisle in a beautiful white dress -it's in all the movies! I want the experience of church bells ringing overhead, confetti being thrown as we leave the church. I've been influenced by popular culture, and I want to live the dream.

I also feel that our parents would appreciate a church wedding. Perhaps here again I am influenced by Japanese customs I feel that our wedding is in a way as much an event for our families as it is for us.

Dad

I'm not sure I could have handled a church wedding a year or two ago, but the timing now is perfect.




It's been a tremendous day of synchronisity. I won't go into details here, but just to say that thoughts that have been circulating within my head have today been vocalised by two people close to me, quite out of the blue. It's all related to where do I go from here? Suddenly, concerns over employment after I return to Japan are made to seem like nothing but minor details that are sure to addressed through the natural unfolding of life.

These worries have been dwarfed by the appearance of this huge blank canvas that stretches out as far as the eye can see. In front of it is this incredible array of coloured materials and tools for their application. There's a sign there too. It reads:

Paint your future. Then Live it.


Aghh! I can't deal with that! Where's the colouring book with the numbered options: 1 for red, 2 for blue, 3 for green? Just choose your picture and fill in as prescribed. I know if I do that I'll succeed, everyone does!

...but a blank canvas?! You mean I can paint anything at all? ...But, I dunno what to paint! And what if I go wrong, what if I get the colours mixed up?

I must work to accept that it's only when artists move away from the colouring template that new colours are created by the mixing of the primaries, its only through experimentation that breakthroughs in style are made - and that it is these breakthroughs that bring great joy to artist and onlooker alike.

I've not been faced with such a huge canvas before. It keeps on getting bigger too as it is unrolled further by friends, by family, by books, by experiences. I understand that I'm being challenged to pick up one of the many tools before me and make my mark, but what tool I should use, and what colour should I apply?

It'll come to me. I know it will. I needn't be afraid because I will be guided by someone or something.

It's also important that I not feel I have to paint the whole picture with a single brushstroke - I'd never dare make that sweep from left to right! If I start small with little dabs, holding a clear idea of what I'm looking to create in my mind, with time the scene will emerge. I may accidentally put a splurge of red where green would be better suited, but that red will come to play an important part, perhaps a little poppy in the field of wheat.

Hmm, it's very exciting.

What's even more exciting though, is that in reality, we are all faced with this canvas, every single day.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Coping

As fresh as a Greek daisy. One of the first ever flower-shots I took, back in 1996

I'm glad I don't usually have a car. Two parking tickets, a blow-out, and now today a section of the front bumper missing after someone reversed into me in the car park. I really am glad that on the whole, cars don't excite me.

It's been a pretty full-on few days. I was a photographer at a business seminar down south on Saturday - that was in-between the trouser-patch sewing, which incidentally when very well, although when I got home I realised that one of the patches was unintentionally shaped and positioned to look like a big testicle...

Having had the major Sheffield Graduate Award deadline on Friday, I'd spent much of the week getting my portfolio together. Thus, it was only on Sunday that I dared to finally re-open my to-do database.

Gulp. It was rather full.

One major to-do is my dissertation; I've got a deadline of Wednesday lunchtime to get the next section in, but it's not going to happen. I felt very weary on Sunday, and it soon became apparent that I wasn't going to do any work on it, as I was too busy hoovering, tidying up the noticeboard etc. Realising that this wasn't a good situation to be in, I gave myself permission to procrastinate for the rest of the day - provided I procrastinated by doing stuff that was on my to-do list (but required less emotional input). That turned out to be a good decision, as I managed to deal with a whole bunch of emails that demanded responses, I wrote a journal article (1 down, 3 to go!), sorted out some wedding stuff, spoke to *Twinkle*, processed some outstanding RAW images, changed the wheel on the car again, and dealt with the huge bunch of paperwork that has been gathering on my table with the legs sawn off.

At the end of the day I felt quite happy with how I'd turned it around.

Today is the first day in the past week that I've not taken a potent cocktail consisting of a large dose of Vitamin B and Caffeine to keep me going. As a result of this, my body has finally had a chance to reassert itself, by sending me to sleep in the library at lunchtime. To be fair though, I was up at 6am again today for the usual (if temporary) morning routine: This involves picking up food from a community centre with a scary alarm, delivering it to the university shop, processing returns, picking up the catering trailer from up the hill, setting that up on campus, and fetching water. I love challenging myself to apply Lean Production tecniques to cut down the amount of time it takes me to get this done. I've now got it down from 2.5 hours to 90 minutes. I like looking out of the window when I'm back home at 8am, seeing the traffic queues and thinking, "wasn't like that when I got up!"

With these temporary responsibilities I've 'not had time' for my daily exercise: the negative impact this loss has upon my energy levels is staggering.

Today has been semi-productive. I was in the library for about 8 hours, reading books when I wasn't dozing off. But I have felt under considerable pressure.

Indeed, tonight it did all get to be a bit too much for me. Absolute exhaustion, and a desire to say 'sod it all'. To ease things, I went and bought a big tub of ice cream, a bar of chocolate, and some stationary. I now feel somewhat better, and very fat.

More helpful than the consumption of 3 million calories though has been the recollection of a fundamental truth,

It Doesn't Matter.

None of it does. Journals will still be published without my input, life will carry on without my emails, I will graduate (with a 2:1) even if I only get 40% on all my modules. Just pass, that's enough.

As a treat, I gave myself an hour off my dissertation today and used it to look for jobs. That's something else that has been on my to-do list. It wasn't all that positive really, just tonnes of teaching jobs, but I'm not worried. I have a strong feeling that everything is going to work out for the best. I trust that when the time comes for me to act, I will know it.

I realised today that it's actually going to be another 4 months before I see *Twinkle*. That brought me down a bit. I've been missing her so much recently, probably partly due to the fact that she would really benefit from my support at the moment. I miss being very much in touch with how she is feeling today, emotionally, and I miss her physical warmth.

Hmm, still, the way things are going these four months will fly by, and before you know it we'll be back off to Japan. I am so looking forward to living with her again.

Well, it's now 10pm, and time for me to go to sleep. Tomorrow will be another long day, bu a productive and enjoyable one too, and thus I look forward to it.

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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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