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What was your biggest culture shock moving to the United Kingdom?

I moved to the UK in 2010, almost by accident. Now I am from Finland, born & bred in Helsinki, and lived and worked in the US and other countries so it wasn’t as if I was straight from the forest just come to civilization. I’d been to UK before, but not *lived* there, if you know what I mean, it’s always different with being a tourist. I knew the language (albeit the American version), had had an Irish gf and hanged with the UK/Irish/Australian expat crowd so I kind of knew tea, rugby and cricket, but a few things really thumped me.Now some of these are positive, some negative, some just different. Some things were surprising, then one just adapts, some things still irk me. In a random order without prejudice:The gas-bill-proof-of-address… like being used to a central government registry system, and once you get yourself into one “electoral roll”, thats it. In UK you need a gas bill, or some other utility, and no, I just moved here and rent a room and… AAAARRGGHH!Damp houses “built funny” with no insulation, and uncentralized central heating in housing blocks. “Built funny” as in without any roof overhang, water goes straight onto the brick wall, and into it. Also the bricks start directly from the ground, and theres no foundation, and the door is in the middle of the wall without a step. And these are new houses, not the ones with carpetted bathrooms. And then people wonder why the houses are damp if the brick is soaked through. And don’t start me on “saving” money switching the heating off and letting the house cool down and then heating it back up… I have lived in an uninsulated log house in -35 C so I know how entropy works.Power showers - they are clever but scary, the older ones in the houses with carpetted bathrooms especially. I wish I had had one in that log house though.Council tax bill coming separately - and screwing your budget. Yes we pay council taxes in Finland too, but it is based on your income and taken by your employer in the PAYE. At least you have a proof of address now… showing a threat of a criminal record and thousand pound fines for the bank is a bit iffy though.PAYE and taxes. After Finland and the USA, the HMRC is just… magical wonderment. They just adjust things and thats it. No sweating over forms. Must be a trap…No zebra crossings. Yes there are crossings, or there is this knobbled tiles and no step and it looks like a pedestrian crossing, but the cars do not stop for you! Like you need to have eyes in the back of your head! With the stress of having to watch out for the traffic coming from the “wrong” direction, this really pissed me off before realising that I was basically stepping on the road in front of cars, when I thought I was stepping on a pedestrian crossing like at home. I still need to remind myself.If you can’t win them, join them… Having the shift stick on the left. Just no. Just can’t function on the wrong side, would need an automatic… even I was a petrolhead most of my life I’m now a cranky old git dependent on public transport.Car insurance, or rather driver insurance. I was used to if my car was insured, I could just give the keys to someone and as long as they had a licence and were sober that was it. But in UK you can’t just borrow a car. And then the prices… OK, ok, old git takes public transport.OK, no car. Train. Train ticket pricing. Screwing your budget? AAAARRGGHH! Never mind reading a Sherlock Holmes story and trying to imagine it set in the present time - the alibi would never be based on train schedules…Finding the bus. Yes, cheap. Public transport out of cities? Bus once an hour and last one at… 5pm ? AAAARRGGHH!But once you find the bus, and it is a double decker bus going on country lanes, and you go sitting on the top floor right front. Like being a kid on a rollercoaster.Taking a taxi, eating out, taking your clothes to dry cleaners, getting a haircut and a wet shave… things you thought were luxuries reserved for the filthy rich or reserved for when you flash out after payday… you can actually afford them on your salary. Order food online and get it delivered instead of paying the bus and dragging heavy bags comes out cheaper… why didn’t I move to UK years ago? AAAARRGGHH!Food. Cheap food. Varieties of food. Takeout. Pubs. Beer. Cheap beer. Sunday roast. Meal deals. Curry… what you thought a treat on payday once a month you can afford to do daily… and you do it and your clothes don’t fit any more. AAAARRGGHH! Now I am glad I don’t have a car as I actually have to walk and get exercise after extrasizing.Once you get settled and figure out how to get back and from work and more or less manage to stay alive without electrocuting yourself in the shower you start noticing the finer things starting right when you are walking to work in the morning.…Green, everything is green. Lawns everywhere. And they cut the grass in the winter. But lawns. And huge lawns.There is an actual milkman doing deliveries.Cats, free-roaming cats, everywhere. Cats. Meow.Parents with kids in… school uniforms - coming from a country where you don’t have them, just makes you realise you’re no longer in Kansas…Not only the schoolkids being bare-kneed in the winter. People in shorts and shirtsleeves or a skimpy dress when I’m wearing woollens and freezing my nads off. “But you come from a cold country” - no but yeah but no but yeah. Still no. I wrap up. In the summer inside the house.Going to the GP complaining about your frozen… erm… result of which is a chest infection. Medicines costing one fixed prescription charge. And finding generic stuff cheap in the supermarket.People greeting you regionally in ways you never associated with UK. “Are you allright, mate?” “Yeah, allright”… mate?Thinking you know English and then trying to cope with expressions. Say a coin, slipping your hand on the street or on the lawn, will “drop on the floor” and if it is a £2 coin, it is “two pound” as the money has no plural ‘s’ apparently.Class society and basing the pecking order upon your accent…. yours truly, the apparently random South African.Class society based also on where you went to school and how you dress.Official racism in all kinds of official applications and census forms.Racism based on… well, can’t really be racism as you are the same color can it but…. in the pub… “those travellers” - I can’t tell the difference from the person talking… “bloody foreigners/immigrants” - erm, I’m one… “but you speak English I meant those Poles” - erm, I thought you said your grandfather flew in the RAF Polish contingent and isn’t your name Pilsudski…Someone showing up in a suit to the pub, the question is “how did it go in court?” … I guess back in the day it would have been a ticket to Australia… mate.Everyone rolling cigarettes, and into these tiny filters making a really thin rat-tail. At first I thought everyone was doing spliffs, as the only people I’d used to seeing rolling cigarettes were druggies, winos or really skint old gits… After seeing the prices of a pack of fags I am really glad I don’t smoke.Police officers being really supportive, and as long as you can recite your address and postcode, you get told to carry on home, instead of spending the night in the drunk tank let alone being held at gunpoint and arrested for not carrying your ID.Morris dancers… well, umm… interesting.Lewes Bonfire Night, OK you can now watch Morris dancers with a stiff upper lip.

How much does it cost to build your own house? If I have an empty lot of around 4000 sq. ft., what will be the approximate cost to build a house?

I may have some authority to comment on this, since I have actually built my own house.To be completely honest, I bought a small chalet, completely unfinished, just with a foundation, outer walls, roof, and some sub flooring in place. Thereafter, I did all the wiring, plumbing, heating, masonry, ceilings, insulation, interior walls, floors, tiling, trim, appliances, painting, deck, and everything else.Then a few years later I expanded the house, more than doubling it and adding a basement. For that I did the design and architecture, framing, roofing, and rebuilding the original house (obliterating and reconstructing a good part of it), plus all of the foregoing -- plumbing, wiring, etc.Virtually all of this was done on weekends, plus a few vacation weeks, over a period of years. I had some help from my children and from a few friends, from time to time; but I would say 85 or 90 percent was my own labor.Because all of this started long ago, I paid $28,000 for the land and the original shell. Materials and appliances for the initial project were around $25,000. Then when I did the expansion, I kept track of purchases until the new total got past something like $106,000. I lost interest in keeping track after that, but I daresay that I put more than ten thousand additional into it after that; maybe 20 or so.To me, that is serious money; to you, it may be trivial, or perhaps impossibly large. The important point is, that it was under my control. I could buy as cheaply, or as good, materials as I wanted. Top-grade shingles, for instance. Plumbing pipes of 3/4" copper, instead of 1/2", and copper instead of galvanized. (Now, of course, plastic tubing is an option.) Wooden interior walls, instead of drywall. Big, stylish windows and sliding French doors. Skylights. There are all sorts of options that make a better house, which will add -- maybe considerably -- to the cost.I wanted a huge, heroic fireplace in my main recreation room, which of course gets much more use than the living room in the original part of the house (and which has a dinky, but serviceable, fireplace). The masonry for this -- concrete blocks down to basement floor level, and up beyond the second floor gable roof) -- aren't all that expensive; couple or three thousand. Flue pipes and other hardware add something. But the labor, all that masonry work and carrying the blocks and mortar upward or downward, laying the bricks and the blocks and making everything level and perpendicular ... that was a lot of work. Plus carrying and lifting 40 tons or so, piece by piece.And I also wanted a fireplace in the new master bedroom, upstairs. Actually, that is something I had ordered in a house that was built for us in Indiana, about 15 years earlier. When I showed it in the plans to my builder, he said "... zat is a Very big lugzury ..." (he was a European immigrant, with a heavy accent). And of course he was right, but it is a luxury that we enjoyed enormously. And so for the house I then built myself. More materials, an additional chimney, lots of additional work -- but it sure has been nice to have.The point is, you can spend relatively little in building your own home, or quite a lot depending on the quality and luxuries you want in the home. We put in some huge, custom-cut beams, just for appearance. We got some upscale plumbing fixtures. We put a total of four bathrooms in the house, so that the upstairs bedrooms have private full baths. We installed a huge hot tub in the rec. room, and even a small very personal hot tub in the master bedroom bath. We built a seven-foot-long two-person shower in the MBR bath; someone told me "That's just for newlyweds" -- which was correct, as I married for a second time, not long after moving into the new addition. But you don't Need such things.Spreading the construction out over a long (actually, very long) period allowed me to hunt for, or wait for, bargains on a great deal of what I bought. At showroom prices for everything in the house, I could have spent tens of thousands more. And doing my own building allowed using some items which I got at a bargain, because I could adjust the size of a room or a nook so that they would fit just right.Your cost will be greatly affected by how much work you have to hire other people to do. I had to hire someone to excavate for my new basement, which was costly; but maybe you have your own backhoe, and a place to dump the excavated material. I built out in a rural area, so I could do my own plumbing and wiring. If you are in a town or city, you may be required to have those done by a licensed plumber and electrician; and those contractors are very costly.Learning how to lay bricks and concrete blocks does not come from a book; and unless you are trained, a novice can botch things pretty badly. Same for laying concrete -- you have to do it rapidly, and you have to do it right the first time. If you mess up concrete work too badly, it will cost you a bundle to have it jackhammered out and hauled away. So I hired a guy to pour and finish the basement floor. Fortunately, my son had a friend whose father is a stone mason, and the guy was himself learning to be a mason. So he came over a few times, and taught me the rudiments of laying bricks and laying blocks. Unless you know how now, you had better either find such a friend, or else plan on hiring a (costly) masonry contractor. (In the end, I laid the basement walls and built a 40' chimney, 6' wide, without a twist or a lean or a leak.)We bought a furnace and an oil tank, and ran the heating pipes throughout the new addition and the original house also, replacing the prior electric heat. A combined plumbing and carpentry job. Again, you have to design the heating system correctly, and install it without error, or you will have to hire a professional to do (or redo) it, at some considerable cost.Where you build your house, relative to where you are now, can have a considerable impact on costs. We built about 200 miles from our main home, which entailed driving and paying tolls every weekend. Because we began with a shell, we were able to camp out in the original house while working on it, saving a lot on motel bills. And we were willing to eat from a camp stove until the kitchen got built; but otherwise we could have had some considerable restaurant bills.So if you plan to build your new house within reach of your present home, and stay in your present house until you can move into the new one, your costs will be much lower than if you have to travel, or if you have to move out of your current home, and rely on motels and restaurants. I didn't include any travel or meals costs in the price of my home, but over time that amounted to lots of tanks of gas and tolls, food checks and tips.Of course, when we did the addition we could stay in the original house, and after moving into the addition we could tear apart and rebuild the original house.It is pretty easy to figure out the lumber, drywall, insulation, and so on needed for your basic house, then to price that out. You can either get estimates for the plumbing, heating, electrical, masonry, and so on; or compute the materials needed, and price those out. You can estimate the amount you will need for nails and fittings and paint and insulation and all of the other stuff, and come up with a cost. Then you can decide how fancy you want to go with interior finishing, kitchen appliances, bath fixtures, and additions such as fireplaces, porches, hot tubs, garages, and other such stuff. It's kind of interesting to think your way through all of that, and see just how much it will actually cost to build a house.But before you get started, be sure you have the patience and endurance to stay with it until the end. Construction work is hard effort, and very tiring. And there are lots, and lots, and lots of jobs to do. You make progress bit by bit, piece by piece, with thousands and thousands of bits and pieces. Most of those bits and pieces you have to make by yourself, measuring and drawing lines, cutting and fitting, nailing and screwing and drilling, planing and piecing and pouring. When you are shingling, whether on a roof or putting up cedar siding shingles, you can cut pieces and pound nails over and over, thinking that it is never going to end.Of course, it is doable. It is satisfying while you are doing it, and it is satisfying when you see it done. If you do something conspicuously well, you earn bragging rights. Each job you do leaves money in your pocket, compared with having had to hire someone else to do it. There is, in the end, justifiable pride in having tackled something large, complex, and difficult -- and in having conquered it. There is an absolutely incomparable feeling in knowing that your new house is your own -- not just in a legal sense of having purchased and paid for it, but having conceived it of your own mind, formed it with your own hands, raised it with your own back. assembled it with your own skill.Good luck in your endeavor.

What do you think of the Japanese spiritual teacher Ryuho Okawa?

The Pursuit of Happyness: Australia’s future spiritual destinyIn a religion that simultaneously advocates world peace and conflict, is the country ready for the unique and radical theologies Happy Science wishes to impart?Ryuho Okawa has a vision for Australia.He has prophesised that in 300 years’ time, the centre of civilisation will shift down to our shores. A great historical figure will be reborn on this soil. Previously known as Confucius, he will propel the world into the next stage of modernity. This has been foreseen in the ninth dimension above.But now, centuries beforehand, I find myself on the busy road to my local Shoshinkan. A flurry of cars, trucks and motorcycles speeds past at all hours. If you blink, you’ll miss it. I turn off the Pacific Highway and come face-to-face with the beige exterior of the temple. A row of gold letters perched above a two-tiered building sitting on tall neoclassical columns, cast a shadow onto my windshield: HAPPY SCIENCE.Kofuku no Kagaku—otherwise known as Happy Science—is a New Age Japanese religion that originated in 1986. Devotees in over 100 countries seek a state of bliss through faith and soul-training, with the ultimate goal of entering a realm of heaven before being reincarnated back on Earth. There are two temples in Australia: one in Melbourne’s St Kilda, and the other here, in the North Shore suburb of Lane Cove.– LIGHT –I’m standing at the threshold listening to the low murmur of chatter. Inside, in the entrance hall, there’s a stack of tidy books and pamphlets, beckoning me. I walk in. Suddenly, the background noise stops and five curious faces look up at me. Steam from freshly brewed green tea wafts over the smiles plastered to their cheeks. A woman in her fifties rises out of her chair to ask about my visit.“I hear there’s a meditation this morning?”Yes, she says, every day at 9:15. The leaders are privately reflecting at the moment, but I am more than welcome to wait inside the Prayer Hall.The main room of worship is modest in size. A procession row splits it in half, with 36 chairs spaced out evenly on the marble tiles. The walls are adorned with framed calligraphy and watercolour flowers painted by a temple regular: irises, cherry blossoms, water lilies. In the back corner, a harp. Everything seems to have its place.Green arches form a tripartite collection at the front of the hall. My eyes fly up to the larger-than-life statue at the room’s centre: El Cantare. Supreme god, creator of all, a lurid mass of yellow gold. Standing on lotus leaves, El Cantare is draped in regalia and topped with a gemmed papal hat. One bent arm dangles a sword and the other thrusts a winged staff towards the congregation before Him. At His feet, a plaque reads:Spread this truth to the end of the world!地の果てまでも伝道せよ。I take a seat at the back.A handful of worshippers begin to drift in. Each person bows at the door before picking up a navy palm-sized booklet. ‘The Dharma of the Right Mind’ is Happy Science’s main sutra, consisting of over 20 pages of back-to-back prayers. It must be recited twice a day. Mechanical blinds churn down and shade engulfs the room. Believers join their hands at the chest and bend forwards. Each line, chanted in unison, is short, abrupt and robotic.The soul is immortal intelligence…The soul is imperishable energy…The soul is all and everything…A tall man to my right leans towards me. As I later learn, this is Steve, one of the lead Happy Science ministers. Through a light New Zealand accent, he instructs me to sit upright, rest my forearms flat on my thighs, and face my palms upwards. This way, he tells me, I can receive the Light into my heart. After 30 minutes, my back muscles are straining. Orchestral music echoes above as the guided meditation tape takes us on a roundhouse trip to the ocean, the moon, and the inner depths of our souls.– WISDOM –March 23rd, 1981.A Japanese businessman in his mid-twenties has a finance degree and a trading job under his belt. His name is Takashi Nakagawa. But on this special day, Takashi spontaneously receives Great Enlightenment. He can venture back in time, visit the future and speak to intergalactic creatures beyond our comprehension. In a past life, he was Buddha. Not only does El Cantare live within him, but Takashi can suddenly communicate with Margaret Thatcher, Thomas Edison and George Washington. He is the chosen one and must share the good news with all of mankind.More than 30 years later, he is now Ryuho Okawa, the founder and CEO of a global, multimillion-dollar religious organisation.Okawa has written thousands of books, as I am repeatedly told, most dictated through revelations in his sleep and written in record time. Each person offers a different figure: maybe 1500, more than 2100, around 2300 publications. The divine words flow seamlessly through intermediary to page. Many of these texts line the bookshelves of the foyer, some in Japanese, but most translated into English.Professor Carole Cusack from the Studies of Religion department at the University of Sydney saw Ryuho Okawa speak during his second Sydney visit in 2012. She described the presentation as cheesy and unappealing. Okawa, she says, “wears a suit and is very bland and mainstream”. He is an exemplar salaryman guru whose capitalist roots are explicit.But when devotees speak of their Master, their eyes light up and passionate smiles creep onto their lips.“He’s a grand spirit,” says Sean, who has followed Happy Science for five years. “He’s an amazing consciousness. But he’s also teaching to help the happiness of humanity”.Sean’s sentiments are shared by a reserved man who calls himself ‘J’. Over the years he has been coming to the temple, J’s life has benefitted from Master Okawa’s wisdom in ways he could not elaborate. “He is the combination of all religions in the world. He brings them together. He teaches people about the truth and educates them.”In one of his seminars in Hawaii, Okawa proposed: “I’m either a liar, a storyteller, or the Saviour. You must choose one.”– TRUTH –The Lane Cove temple is four storeys tall. Its top floor has a study room with a television for watching Okawa’s lectures and the anime movies produced by Headquarters. Around the corner, seven bedrooms peek out from either side of the hallway. Most of them are simple, with bunk beds and desks for overseas visitors, but some are large enough to cater for a whole family. Gold-framed photos of Okawa are everywhere, his voice bleating constantly from the speakers above. The floors below hold a laundromat, bathroom, kitchen and staff living quarters.Steve and I sit at the communal table outside of the Prayer Hall. The woman who led the meditation clicks past in heels and a tailored skirt. She stops and offers to make us tea. We accept and a few minutes later, she places two warm mugs down in front of us. Sitting before me, Steve begins to deconstruct the intricate world that Ryuho Okawa has painted for his followers. He insists that Master’s theologies are “very clear and logical and easy to understand and quite sensible and there’s nothing crazy in there”.Happy Science teaches that humans never really die. We live for all eternity, as visitors on planet Earth. After our physical bodies wear out, our souls venture back home to the heavens above. There are nine dimensions of heaven, where we roam with others whose spiritual wavelengths align with our own. Which tier we occupy depends on how enlightened we are—El Cantare sits at the top, along with Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Isaac Newton. Between this world and the fourth dimension, which is considered the gate to heaven, there is Hell: “a world that disappears when the earth changes to a utopia” fuelled by suffering and the “thoughts of conflict and destruction of people on earth”, Okawa writes.In order to cultivate our minds and expose ourselves to different worldviews, we must interact with others back on Earth. Thus the cycle continues. Our new life is mapped out, and a death date locked in. We subconsciously strive to be better the second time round by following the lessons learnt in previous lives; but we cannot remember our past identity because “it’d be a lot of burden if you were, say, Abraham Lincoln and had to live up to expectations”, as Steve analogises.A month after my initial visit, Steve runs a public lecture on negative spiritual energy. In the space of an hour and a half, I learn that all material problems are produced by the mind—and can be fixed by the mind too. Lack of wealth is the result of “poor mentality”. Cancer is the reflection of a “shadowed” soul, something that can be cured through prayer and good faith. I’m also taught that suicide is a futile attempt to cheat fate: suicide victims are stuck on this earth until their allotted time is up, wandering unseen and tempting others to join them. According to Steve, 50 per cent of illness, 70 per cent of mental health issues and 90 per cent of divorces are caused by possession by evil spirits.– PROGRESS –Every Sunday, a seminar takes place in the Prayer Hall. The material varies: sometimes it draws on the Master’s texts, other times it focuses on individual betterment or spreading Happy Science throughout the world. This particular week is significant. Reverend Hironobu Sunada has just come back from hearing the Master speak in Japan. He has made a tentative translation and wishes to share the important news Okawa has disclosed.At the press of a button, a video from Okawa’s lecture begins to play. Thousands of people cheer, clap and wave at the camera. Back in this room, a continent away, only twelve people have turned up. It’s an even split of middle-aged Japanese women and Caucasian men.Okawa begins his address. His voice is shrill and confident, blaring from the projector screen. In his trademark lounge suit and slicked-back hair, Okawa is emphatic; small hands flick ahead of the paperless stand before him, occasionally exploding behind his head to emphasise a point. It’s not long before he delves into geopolitics. The South Korean President is a reincarnation of Mussolini; a war between Japan and its neighbours is inevitable; US President Trump is respectable because he “always adds words like ‘in the name of God’ or ‘God Bless’”.A short, timid woman pulls me aside after the seminar and asks me not to be put off. After all, she says, Happy Science is the missing link between individual and global issues. We must make the most of the lessons relevant to the now, while Master walks on the planet with us.Ryuho Okawa is no stranger to public life: in fact, he brought his religion into the political sphere in 2009, when he founded the Japanese Happiness Realisation Party in 2009. And he is notorious for his radical opinions, often framed as revelations. Last year, for example, he alleged that the spirits of World War II sex slaves, or ‘comfort women’, told him that they had lied about their treatment at the hands of Japanese soldiers—a confession that conveniently aligned with the timing of the Japanese Government’s attempts to organise a memorial and victims fund.Ideal politics, according to Happy Science, is when politicians pray, reflect, meditate and listen to God before making decisions. When I ask about Okawa’s political intervention, Steve is emphatic: “It’s arrogant if you think that you should just decide how the country should be run [without] asking God what you should be doing,” he says. “We would hope, in the future, to have a Happiness Realisation Party here in Australia. And in every country!”– SALVATION –Our mass spiritual awakening as a country, led perhaps by Okawa’s descendants or future form, is but inevitable in the eyes of those who look up to him. But is Australia truly ready to be the new fulcrum of global spirituality? Will Australians ever throng to a religion like Happy Science?When I ask Professor Cusack whether she believes it will ever reach the same popularity here as it has in its motherland, her short answer is no. Australians are just too “used to rationalism, science and technology” to wholeheartedly take on board Master Okawa’s “eclectic and unusual” teachings.In Japan, Happy Science boasts over 10 million members. The Sydney branch cites a few hundred followers who come and go throughout the week.I say my farewells, weaving between clusters of believers catching up, sharing jokes and passing out served plates. They look forward to seeing me again, hopefully in the near future. Glass doors swing shut behind me. I restart my engine. Soon, I’m welcomed back into the familiar hubbub of traffic, beeping and asphalt.It’ll take four or five more reincarnations for me to fully understand the teachings I leave behind.

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