The special talk event of “Happiness Talk Salon” on May 23, 2015

Title: “Happy people I met in the world”

Speaker: Tokushi Terashima, Former JICA senior Volunteer

Venue: The second floor of Bhutan Museum Fukui

(An abbreviated minute of the talk)

 After I graduated from a university, I worked for a big general contractor for 28 years. For most of that time, I was working on projects such as power station, dams, ports, etc. in the Middle East and South Asia. For four years after retiring from the company, I have traveled all over the world, while mainly living in Bangkok. Then, I became a senior volunteer of JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), and worked on technical cooperation projects in developing countries such as Bhutan, Fiji, El Salvador El. The term of each project was two years. After coming back to Japan from El Salvador, I became a backpacker, and enjoyed traveling in Africa, northeastern India, Central Asia, Caucasus, etc. I also trekked in Himalaya mountains, too.

 Through those experiences, I met people in many countries. I would like to share some of my most exciting stories. But, even though the title of this talk is about happy people, I will talk about not only “happy people”, but also “unhappy people.” I really hope my talk will help you think about the concept of happiness.

 I went to Taiwan in 1970 to climb Mt. Yu-shan, the highest mountain in Taiwan, and that was my first trip abroad. When I visited Taiwan via Okinawa, Okinawa was still under the control of the USA. The first stamp on my passport was “Okinawa”. Okinawa has been suffering from many serious problems since then. People there looked happy, but I also felt a kind of sadness on their faces.

 From October, 1981 to July, 1983, I was working on a construction project to build facilities related to President Saddam Hussein in Iraq. At that time, Iran and Iraq were at war. Some of my Iraqi colleagues suddenly disappeared and they never came back to my workplace, which made me feel so sad. One day while I was working, I was attacked by fighter planes in Iraq. Iraq in 1980’s was a police state under the charismatic leadership of Saddam Hussein. Now, Iraq is a democratic state, but it is plagued by terror. I still have no clear answer to the question under which regime Iraqi people could live a happier life.

  I visited Iran in 1979. Iran was governed by King Pahlavi, a Shi’a Muslim. At that time, the country was under the strict control of the government, but people seemed to enjoy their own lifestyle. Women wore light pink or blue scarves to hide their faces, which made them look more attractive. After Ayatollah Khomeini took control of Iran, women were forced to wear black veils. Both Pahlavi and Khomeini are Shi’a Muslims, but I still do not know under which government the people were happier.

  When I was staying in Baghdad, I went to the highlands with some of my colleagues near the borders of Iran; but, doing that was against the company rules. We entered a town where we could see many Iranian soldiers on the edge of the border hill, and we were stopped at a checkpoint. We tried to go return to Baghdad, but the soldiers did not allow us to do so. We were so worried because we really had to return within the same day. I asked to drivers on the street one after another to take us out of this town, and fortunately one kind driver signed to put us under a sheet in the back of the truck. We barely managed to escape from the town and got a mini bus to a bus station where we could catch a bus to Baghdad; but, we found out we had almost no money with us. We were again in big trouble. While we were still wondering what to do, a female student on the same mini bus got off the mini bus. After the mini bus started, we saw the student running to us with waving her hands. Because she knew we didn’t have any money, she wanted to give us some money according to the Muslim’s basic teaching to give money to those who are penniless.

  When I first visited Thailand in 1980, I landed at Don Muang Airport in northern Bankok. It is about 25km away from the city center. At that time, there were no freeways, streetlamps nor traffic jams. When I tried to check-in a hotel, the receptionists were not good at English unlike now. They smiled and joined their hands in prayer. I still remember many smiling faces on the streets in the town. Thailand was once called “The Smiling Country”. The Thai people still use thirteen kinds of smiles to express the emotions. There are four words which Thai people often speak, “Sabaai”, “Sanuuk”, “Suai” and “Mai Pen Rai”. It is difficult to translate those words into Japanese, but I think they mean, “Don’t think over difficult or complicated things. Let’s spend our lives at home.” Such a way of thinking obviously rises up based on the human primitive passions. It seems to tell us, “We should feel free to do whatever we want to do!” I love to live like that. Since Thailand is a devout Buddhist country, most Thai people are happy with believing Buddhism to be the source of their spiritual peace.

  In Jinka Village in Southern Ethiopia, I met an interesting old man. It took two hours to fly from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to a town called Arab Minchi. Then it took five hours to get to Jinka village by bus. There were many ethnic minorities, one of which was called Mursi. The women insert dishes made of clay into their lower lips. As they grow older, they wear larger and larger dishes, because the bigger dish they wear makes them look more beautiful. It is said that when a daughter gets married, her family will be given more cows by the groom’s family if the bride wears a larger dish in her lip.

  After I arrived in this town, I went into a local bar to get honey wine, the local beverage. I saw a middle aged man who was drinking alcohol there. Soon after he saw me, he welcomed me with a beaming smile. Later, I found out why he had welcomed me so much because I was missing some of my front teeth. In fact I fell from a motorcycle when I was traveling in Thailand fifteen years ago. Two of my front teeth were seriously damaged by the accident. I lost one in the mountains in Bhutan, and the other in El Salvador. To this day, I am still missing those teeth. Surprisingly, there is a custom where the men of the Banna tribe extract a front tooth with their own hand to show their bravery and patience to the pain. I guess the man in the bar thought I was such a brave and patient man. Thanks to my missing front teeth, we became very good friends, and cheered each other with honey wine. We fitted in a picture as shown below.

  Since we were good friends, I poured honey wine into his cup, but he never drank it. The mistress of the bar said to me, “The people of the Banna don’t drink unless the glass is filled up with wine.” So, I added some more wine to his glass, then he gulped down the wine all at once. Since I am crazy about alcohol, I thought this was a great custom. That also made me envious of the people living with such a custom.

  Madagascar, a country in Africa, is famous for uniquely-shaped baobab trees and cute lemurs. Among the 250,000 kinds of creatures that exist in Madagascar, about 80% of them can be found only in Madagascar. Not only are the animals special, but also the people. In other words, the people of Madagascar are so pure and innocent that I could not believe how such people could exist in this world. The buses are used as the main transportation for the local people. They are remodeled from small cars or trucks. On the buses there is one driver and no conductor. There is a timetable of departure, but most buses do not depart unless the buses become full of passengers. After a bus leaves the terminal, passengers pass their bus fares from hand to hand to the driver, and later the changes are passed hand to hand back to the passengers. The bus fare differs depending the destination, but the driver apparently believe in passengers’ honesty. When seeing the scene, something warm was felt in my heart.

  I met a group of children, each of whom was carrying a broom, a plate, a bowl or something like that. I took a picture, which I show below.

  Every child was full of energy, and looked very friendly. I wondered for what they were going to use their possessions. Later I found out that they used them to find jewels and gold sands in a nearby river. The jewels were sold to support their families. Madagascar is an island state separated from the African continent, and the country has so much uniqueness in culture. In the southwestern part of Madagascar, we can find many gravestones which model statues of men, women and birds. The heights of the gravestones show at what age they died. I have heard that such artistic gravestones are so unique that they have frequently been stolen by maniacs, so a small number of them are left now.

  I want to talk about the countries whose people are especially friendly to us, Japanese. I know that Bhutan is one of such countries, but today, I first talk about Turkey. Two years ago Tokyo was selected as the host city of the 2020 Olympic. Tokyo was competing with Istanbul, Turkey in the final ballot. At the moment when Tokyo was chosen as the host city in the IOC (International Olympic Committee) in Buenos Aires, the scenes were broadcast showing many Japanese, including JOC committee members, hugging each other and jumping in delight. If Tokyo were not chosen, I wonder how disappointed these people would have been. I can see how the result was discouraging for Turkish people. But, according to news reports, Turkish people clapped for Japan, and gave their blessing to Japan. Do you know why Turkish people are so friendly to Japanese? When Turkish Frigate Ertuğrul sank in the Wakayama coast in 1891, lots of Japanese local people rescued the Turkish crew on the ship. I do not have enough time to explain about the details of the incident. Thereafter both Turkey and Japan continued to help each other whenever the both were damaged by natural disasters or wars. Turkish people keep a strong bond with the Japanese.

  There is no doubt that Thailand, where I live now, is a pro-Japan state. Besides Thailand, I thought El Salvador, Georgia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, etc. were also pro-Japan countries while I was there.

  I wish I could talk more, but time is running out. I hope that you learned about people living happy lives in the foreign countries through my speech, and I hope you feel compassion for those who live in difficult situations.

  Thank you for listening to me today.


“From the editor of this article”

  This article is an abridged version of Mr. Tokushi Terashima’s talk, “Happy people I met in the world,” given in the Bhutan Museum on May 23, 2015. He talked much more than the contents written here. But, since the space for this article is limited, the editor tried to shorten it without losing what he really want to talk.


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