some stories around ‘shelter’

One night in May 2016 in a park in Western Tokyo, I made myself comfortable in between sheets of cardboard. There were high wind in the trees above. I felt the ground move powerfully under me, like riding a giant worm. An earthquake? In that moment, I felt so incredibly safe — and grateful that I was not suspended in a concrete box.

Another night in June 2016, I struggled to sleep in a friend’s rented room in Taipei (while he was away). Traffic lights sat right outside the window, the fumes and noise of the late-night scooters kept me alert. Honestly, I had more rest under the Tokyo Tower on top of a piece of cardboard beside a bamboo grove.

(The shelter crisis does not only concern the ‘homeless.’)

Another night, August 2016, as I walked to my bus stop under a wintry drizzle in Auckland City, I spotted someone sleeping under the eaves of the Central Library. Sleeping bag over sheets of tarpaulin. I felt cold even though I was walking and wearing a woollen hat. He must have felt even colder. I wanted to tell him: it might be warmer if you get some cardboard over you. I did that in Tokyo a few months ago. But, I kept on walking.

(The last time I successfully hitchhiked alone in Auckland, I walked backwards on an early Sunday morning in the rain, out by Bethells Beach. After an hour, a car finally stopped, I was picked up by a surfer couple. They knew exactly how it felt to be standing in the rain and cold and seeing all these cars pass, for they had experienced the same at another time.)

In Hamburg, lured by a price cheaper than hostels beds, I tried Airbnb for the first time, while trying to find a more permanent abode. One misinterpreted text message got me kicked out of the place after one night. In desperation, I message the only friend I had, freshly made via dancing. Fortunately, he understood the feeling of having no place to sleep in a foreign land, having done hitch-hiking, couchsurfing, squatting and busking at an earlier time.

(I later read that a monetised sharing economy is ‘not real sharing,’ for it was merely access to resources, rather than human-to-human interactions.)

In the early hours of the new year 2017, a lost (and slightly drunken) young man at the central station gave me the chance to share ‘my’ temporary shelter, opening up new understandings of gratitude, kindness, and how we relate to each other as human beings.

He held onto my arm, and asked ‘Can I stay at your place tonight, please?’ If I had couchsurfed and offered my couches to ‘strangers’ on the internet, why was I hesitant to a person right in front to me? Other people’s voices in my head: ‘Do not trust strangers’… but I knew how he felt—for U was in a similar place a few months ago, and right then, I was in a position to help.

The next morning, he was so, so grateful. It felt incredible, to have contributed to a miraculous experience for someone.

(Giving is also a form of receiving.)

kind people, warm hearts

Understanding that comes from direct experience, of having been in ‘another’s shoes,’ through my own body.

How do you have a big heart?

A big heart is spacious. Spacious and full of possibilities.


With thanks to the New Zealand Japan Exchange Programme and Creative New Zealand for enabling some of these experiences.

Leave a comment