This life thing

There is something very special about true friendship.

I am fortunate to have found a few people in all four of my major homes – Sheffield, Tokyo, Bristol and Hereford – who show a lot of trust in me and care for me.

Tonight, I met up with a precious couple here in Sheffield who have been an enormous source of love, inspiration and laughter for both myself and *Twinkle* throughout our time here. I have missed them this past year in Japan, and tonight, as we sat by a sizzling tray of octopus balls in a near-deserted pub courtyard with my favourite track by the Japanese band HY playing in the background, I thanked my lucky stars to be counted as one of their friends.

Just being in their company calms me. Any stress I might have been feeling disappears on the night breeze. I no longer care to plan what I’m going to say, rather, I let my heart speak, and speak it does – of the intelligence of the octopus, of engagement, of penguins with built-in fridges. I love rolling in the atmosphere of warmth that is friendship. I celebrate in their partnership, they celebrate in ours. They too wake up and celebrate today, they too see a happy future ahead. They too continue to educate themselves through reading and hanging out with others with more experience in life, they too are thankful for all they have.

As I close my eyes tonight I am thinking, This life thing, there’s just no beating it. How can anyone stay mad when there’s so much beauty in this world?

Student Life Revisited

Before I get into the emotional turmoil stuff, I’d like to tell you about a wonderful music service I have discovered (thanks to Leo), called Magnatune, (“We are not evil”).

Magnatune have an astonishingly large collection of hour-long podcasts featuring DRM free (no copy protection) music, covering many different genres. To find a genre that suits your taste, open iTunes and do a search for “Magnatune”, then sit back and enjoy hours of wonderful new music for free. My personal favourite is the World Music podcast, followed by the Ambient and Indian podcasts.

It’s fascinating observing oneself trying to deal with change, especially when one is in the process of implementing new methods of dealing with change, as I am.

Up until today, the return has been relatively pain-free. Sure, there have been periods of struggle, but generally they have been limited to a few hours at a time, and soon dealt with through positive action.

Today however, I have been caught off-guard as ‘student life’ has suddenly rolled up on the doorstep and demanded entry with the full force of a rather large tidal wave of bricks. First off, there was the 1st-year intro meeting, which saw me (as one of the 4th year representatives advising the new folks not to go out and get drunk every night!) being taken right back to my first day at uni, when I too discussed with my new classsmates the best ways to remember kanji.

Following that, it was the Freshers’ Fair, which saw Japan Society (and 160 other student groups) doing its thing and recruiting new members for another year of fun. This year, whilst unable to completely let go of the society that played such a pivotal part in my student life in 2004/05/06, I am managing to not feel responsible. It helps that it is in very good hands, my classmate Maria and my former senpai Zak being at the helm. This year, I intend to make the most of the opportunities the society offers to meet Japanese students to help me improve my language skills, in addition to helping them to have a great year in Sheffield; lasting, meaningful relationships are the desired outcome.

As the new community of Japanese language students and Japanese exchange students starts to take shape, I catch myself thinking of a previous year, in which there was a Master’s student called *Twinkle* just about to start her course. It makes me a little sad that she is not here in person this year.

This afternoon, as I wandered around the Octagon Centre being bombarded with flyers and free sweets from eager society volunteers, I couldn’t help but feel a little tired. Whilst I look forward to the language study, I do find myself challenged by the culture of the student’s union. I hate to say it, but I actually feel a bit past it. It was great in the first and second year, I loved being able to go back in time to when I was a teenager, receiving all those free sweets, T-Shirts and disposable cameras, being handed hundreds of flyers which after the briefest of glances went in the bin. I was full of enthusiasm for going out and failing in every drunken attempt to get laid.

Today, having signed up for JapSoc and donated an old SLR camera to PhotoSoc in lieu of a membership fee, I found myself wanting to get out, to retreat to my comfortable room, to sip a sweet, milky, fairtrade coffee and listen to Radio 4. I was grateful to be able to tell myself “You don’t need to be here Joseph. If you want to go home and listen to Radio 4, do it”. And I did.

I think what it is, is that today’s events have posed a direct challenge to my feelings of being an adult, with my own beliefs and attitudes towards the world. Due to the nature of the Fresher’s Fair many of the people working behind the various stalls are (quite naturally) passionate about their causes, and thus overly-eager to encourage others to adopt them as their own. This makes me feel uncomfortable, it makes me feel that the punters are being regarded as blank canvases onto which society logos can be etched.

It also feels a bit like walking down the Bund in Shanghai and being bombarded by requests to buy a plastic glow-in-the-dark model of the Eiffel Tower.

I know that things will settle down after a while. The initial hubub will subside, and those first year students that haven’t dropped out will be found sitting in rocking chairs, smoking pipes and listening to Radio 4. Then I’ll be happy.


Recently, I have been trying to work on that part of me that likes to be a consumer. This has been a strong part of me for as long as I can remember, and is manifested in the many belongings I have filling this room. I have always liked owning things.

Influenced by my reading on the Tao, I’ve recently begun to try to let go of things (thus the flurry of activity on Amazon Marketplace this week, and For Sale / For Free messages on the university website). And you know what? It feels good. It feels good to be light and nimble, to not be weighed down with belongings, to be free of unnecessary clutter that might just come in handy one day. This may sound a bit weird, but through relinquishing permanent ownership and instead embracing temporary guardianship, my attitude towards everything around me has changed to one of gratefulness. There is no taking anything for granted, but instead a feeling of joy that I am fortunate enough to have (for example) this sexy Mac at my fingertips, this beautiful mug to drink this tasty coffee from, this swiss army knife with its mini-scissors. It’s great to feel joy every time I cut my toenails.

Another thing partly influenced by my reading this past year is a change in my attitude towards my body. One always hears how important regular exercise and a proper diet is – but how many of us take it seriously? A recurring theme of many books on health, success and spirituality is that of taking care of the body that we’re temporarily inhabiting. Through my reading I was made increasingly aware of how I tend to take my body for granted, and that if I was to put off looking after it until after my health began to deteriorate I would be a fool indeed. Thus, these past few weeks I have been thinking “I really must get back on track”, but where was the kick up the backside to come from?

Then it happened: last weekend the opportunity arose to attend a free fitness coaching session run by a top US instructor, who also happens to be a very very nice guy. Boy was that inspirational! He reminded me how good it felt to be fit, and outlined a basic 10-minute exercise routine which can be done every morning without having to turn one’s daily routine upside down. I’ve been doing it every day since – and Wow! What a difference it makes to my general sense of wellbeing!

The routine is: 4 minutes of running fast and slow (on the spot in my pajamas – you should see me, I look like a right idiot), 3 minutes of resistance training (I use free weights), 2 minutes of core body work (with my 75cm sports ball that doubles as my desk chair to help improve my posture), and one minute of stretching. You’d be surprised how puffed out one feels after all that – and studies show dramatic improvements in health / weight loss after a few months of such a program. The key is to enjoy it, which I do.

I’ve also re-started taking EPA and DHA (from fish oils), which with our family’s history of heart disease is only sensible, and of course I’m continuing with my organic supplements (vital for students otherwise powered by Baked Beans!).

Also influenced by my reading of the Tao (and other texts) are my continuing attempts to not feel obliged to fit in. I know that I will only find true peace when I abandon the pointless quest altogether – easier said than done! Curse my social conditioning! Oh to be a toddler again!

But you know, with practice it’s becoming easier. This does not mean that I am purposefully going out there and being a rebel, rather, I am listening more to what my heart tells me is the right thing to do or say, as opposed to attempting the impossible – to get inside the minds of my counterparts and act in accordance with what I think they want to observe. It feels so good to trust in one’s own inner voice or whatever one might call it, rather than having to attach values to conflicting viewpoints, weigh them up and act in accordance with the result.

One thing that I have found disquieting lately is the realisation that my ego is far stronger than I had ever realised (you can save the comments!!!). This is something I have begun to work on, although I am only beginning to move into the second phase of this process, the first having been to look back on past incidents of ego-domination and be appalled by the behavior shown as a result. Now, just in the past few days, I have started to catch myself at those times when my ego is exerting excess influence upon my behavior, and saying “Woah there horsey!” (or something to that effect).

It’s so exiting to journey inside oneself. There’s not a dull moment, and boy does it take the stress out of things.

Anyway, I must be off as I have a Japanese BBQ to attend. Will’s WillYaki business is going from strength to strength; I feel privileged to be a part of his journey too.

Tatta for now.

Love joseph

The final word

It’s now 4 days since I arrived at my final destination, Sheffield, bringing to an end my 9000 mile, 30-station trip halfway around the world in 28 days.

I made it!

Sitting here in bed under my Paddington Bear duvet, accompanied by a Penguin and an oversize teddy bear, how do I feel about this past month now? What have I gained from the experience? How has it affected me?

Firstly, I have a new sense of connection with Japan. It is no longer in a different world, it is just at the end of the line (albeit rather a long line). This is having a profound effect not just upon potential feelings of Japan-related loss (which are virtually non-existent), but also upon my attitude towards everyone else I meet. For example, the Chinese student who lives in the room next door comes from Jining. This is no longer a totally foreign place on a different planet, but rather a friendly city with two plastic tigers at its centre, a city that through a boy named Tom welcomed me with open arms and led me to embrace China as I never have before. When meeting people from places I have yet to visit, such as Pakistan or Finland, I no longer feel that their roots lie in foreignness, in places of which I know nothing. They like myself come from this beautiful planet Earth, and if I were to continue moving in a particular direction for a period of time I would arrive in their hometowns. I would be standing upon a shared landmass, looking up at a shared sky that knows no geographical or political boundaries.

This feeling of connection with others is truly wonderful. It enables conversation to flow without that barrier of differentness.

I have also gained more of an understanding of the cultures that I passed through. The people of China, Mongolia, Russia – all are very different from the big butch security guard who calls me “duck” (or “love” if I’m lucky”) in the university library, yet if there is one thing that strikes me about all of these people, and that is their similarities. Whilst they may all differ in terms of language spoken and behaviors, they are all fundamentally alike.

We are all human. One might think that statement superfluous, but at times one could almost forget that fact in this media age where nothing but differences make headlines. Fundamentally we are all the same. We come from the same source, and we will return to the same source – why must we insist on differences during our time here?

Oh what a beautiful sight!

When thinking on why I haven’t felt this sense of oneness before (I have, after all, spent over half of the last decade living abroad), I think it’s because until this trip I have not enjoyed the sense of there being a physical connection between the places I have visited. It has always been a case of getting on a plane, sitting there for 15 hours, going up into space, coming down again and getting off in another land. Is it any wonder that I thought I’d arrived in a foreign world far removed from my reality, when the experience of the journey itself was so unlike any that nature may provide?!

A 15-hour flight only serves to reinforce the sense of differentness.

And now I’m thinking, “what would happen if all politicians around the world agreed to participate in a 5-year experiment? An experiment in which they refrained from flying when visiting other nations. An experiment which saw them travel over land and see to foreign lands, in order that they gain a true feeling of oneness with their ‘foreign’ counterparts.”

World Peace? Or perhaps just a booming international rail industry.

This trip has affected my behavior too. The most notable difference I see in myself is that I have a renewed sense of confidence when it comes to meeting others. Whereas before I tended to hesitate before initiating a conversation with strangers, now I don’t think twice. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a part of my long-term approach to life, or whether one week at university surrounded by Freshers finishes it off!

A few people have asked me if I will be taking the train back to Japan next summer. The answer is, I don’t know yet. Let’s just say I would like to.

The 19-storey monster from below

And with that, I bring my journey halfway around the world in 28 days to a close. My thanks to you all for your support throughout, knowing you were there has encouraged me to engage with those around me, and has led to some great adventures that had I opted to play it safe might never have happened.

Thank you.

With love to you all under our shared sky,