Saturday, June 28, 2003

June 29

My student's wedding turned out to be an all-day affair. However, it was probably the most enjoyable wedding of all of the nuptial celebrations I've attended in 9 years in this nation. It was just the right combination of people, good food and fun stuff which did the trick for me.

The first party was held at a trendy little restaurant tucked away in an exclusive area of town called Shirogane. Until the subway line s started encroaching the area, it used to be quite difficult to access which of course had lent it its famed exclusivity. In fact, the women who lived, worked and walked there were known as Shiroganeze, basically the elite.
The food was great, the bride and groom were decked out in Japanese kimono while a lot of the guests were in their finest. A wedding here is always a great spot to see the women at their very best. The two companions I came with were themselves resplendent in a Vietnamese dress and a China doll dress. I opted for the usual suit and tie affair; a bit tough since it was rather humid.
We also had live entertainment in the form of a shakuhachi player; a shakuhachi is somewhat akin to a large recorder. As well, we also had some more contemporary fare in the form of a live band playing some bossa nova. As usual, with a wedding here, there was the customary bingo game with prizes.

Also, as with any major social event in the country, the main party was followed by a second party down the street at a place called Boheme, onother trendy little Italian bistro. We just hung out there for drinks for about an hour before heading what turned out to be our longest stage of the night, karaoke at the Big Echo just in front of the Meguro Station. Karaoke is pretty much a never-miss when it comes to thinking about where to head to next.

However, what was different about this bout of karaoke compared to all of the other trips to karaoke was the fact that just about everyone was eager to get their 2 cents in, as it were, for a song. We were getting steadily more aroused by all of the 80s party songs coming out like YMCA, Go West and even Copacabana. Heck, some of our more liberal fellows were getting into major dance mode. Even after 5 straight hours, we were quite willing to go at it further, but more sensible heads prevailed.

Finally, there were just six. The bride and groom, me and my two companions and a friend of the groom. So, now into my 10th hour of partying, I spent the last of those hours with the folks just noshing on a few more dishes (we majorly pigged out at the karaoke box) and nursed an oolong tea before making tracks for home. I was quite exhausted on my way back home and I've finally gotten back into my apartment at the relatively wee hour (for a man in his late 30s, that is) of 12:30 am.

Overall, I had a ball at this wedding. Considering that a lot of weddings consist of listening to boring speeches by the President of the company of the groom's father who should have no business at a wedding, and being stuck with a lot of people one doesn't know, the wedding I attended today was fun, cool and just down-home.

On a related topic, during the wedding party, t here was an underlying current of work and office politics which was inevitable considering that the bride and my two companions were students, and another former teacher made a surprise appearance. The teacher was telling me, or to be more accurate, making a pitch to me about taking a potential position at his private high school come January. He regaled me about the higher salary and lower hours, and also the revelation that yet another teacher will be jumping ship from our school to the high school. I was polite about it but in my mind, it was a no-brainer. The conditions might be better, but it is still a high school, and I made my mind long ago not to teach kids anymore. Unlike what he told me about me being a perfect fit for the school, I would have to say that I wouldn't be too happy there.

From the students, I got the usual complaints about the rookie teachers and even some classmates. It was a bit difficult to listen to, especially when I have no animosity against any of my students myself. However, that may be my Pollyannish side poking me with the hopes that everyone can get along. Just too many people in our programme for that to ever happen. And the gripes about students by students has been par for the course every year I was a full-timer.

The wedding itself set me back quite a few yen but it was worth it. In fact, the bride was quite worried whether I would accept the invitation because of the rather high price; another teacher had declined with the very straight-to-the-gut reason that it was just too expensive to attend. This rather rattled the bride, so she was grateful for my presence. However, for me, I'm always honoured if any student would invite me to his/her wedding. Yes, it is expensive and I certainly cannot afford to go splurging at this time, but on the other hand, I also appreciate the fact that this was one of the most important days in my student's life, and that she wanted me to share it with her and her friends. I think that factor outweighs any financial reason not to go. However, I'm not about to slag the other teacher for his reason not to go; that's his decision, and I can respect that. He could've been more tactful about his reply, though.

Friday, June 27, 2003

June 27

Well, the weather was back to sunny and warm again. And once more, my back was having mood swings.

I had my dinner tonight with my English circle and the boys from the oil company. Despite the popularity of the restaurant and our rather large number, we managed to get a good table, and the food was excellent. My ex was getting well lubricated on the local alcohol so she was in quite the ebullient mood tonight much to the amusement of most of the folks there; she certainly made an impression on the oil boys.

Also, I found out tonight from one of the guys that there is a remote chance that Tokyo may have its first programmed blackout on Monday although I'm not sure if the news had been made public. Due to some scandals involving Tokyo Electric with botched inspections and subsequent coverups, the majority of the nuclear reactors powering the Tokyo grid have been taken off-line until further noticed. Therefore, demand may overtake capacity and we'll be in the dark.

Charlie's Angels debuted today all over the world, and it looks like the movie will get a very mixed review. The reviewer for the Japan Times liked it but a local gaijin magazine didn't. However, this movie is probably going to fare better with critics than the Matrix Reloaded.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

June 26

It was raining kennels tonight. But it was cooler and dryer than it has been over the past few days, so we have some respite from the heat. And concerning the current soap opera that is being played out on my back, I was getting some major climaxes there over the course of the day, but for some reason, it's going through some very pleasant denouement righ t now. Hopefully, then, my back is slowly getting back to normal.

Well, my weekend will once again be a hodgepodge of social activities again. I've got my regular Friday circle meeting for dinner at a Chinese restaurant tomorrow. And then I have a student's wedding to attend with a couple of her classmates on Saturday. Not cheap but hey, it's an important date for my student and I'm just grateful that she invited me

Came home tonight and had dinner while viewing a MISIA concert DVD. Who is Misia, you ask? Well, she just happens to be one of the few singers in this country who deserves to be called great. She is this tiny bundle of energy from Okinawa or somewhere in southern Japan who has quietly created a very large and loyal following without any (over)exposure on TV and very few commercials. For most singers, talented or otherwise, they're usually pushed into making tons of appearances on the various music or even variety shows to push their CDs. Not Misia.
Misia's brand of music is hip-hop/house/R & B which often has a 70s disco flavor. The special thing with her is that she has a set of pipes which can knock one's socks off. Apparently, she got her inspiration as a child from the musical "Mama, I Wanna Sing!" (which explains her singing style) and the J-Pop band, Dreams Come True whose lead singer, Miwa Yoshida, also possesses a great voice. And in fact, a couple of years ago, the two did meet and collaborated on a minor hit song.
The usual question which I usually ask to myself when it comes to these real talents is if she can actually make it big in the States. The practical answer to that is sadly least at this time. The current genre du jour Stateside doesn't particularly fit Misia's type of music; it would probably be considered to be more pop and even worse a novelty act (Wow! A Japanese person singing hip-hop? How cute!). Several years ago, a Japanese pioneer in rhythm n' blues, Toshinobu Kubota, tried to break into the US market with nary a ripple. It wasn't because he was bad. Far from it, Kubota is a very accomplished singer. It's just that there is plenty of the American product around. It would have taken Kubota a song with almost impossible appeal for him to get noticed outside of Japan. And I think that would be the case with MIsia. But then again, I think Misia is quite happy enthralling her local fans without the usual media influences.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

June 25

My back has gotten worse. It's even a chore just remaining sitting up and getting dressed is an exercise in pain. I bought some liniment just now and I've been popping the Tylenol but I have a feeling that I'm going to have to see a doctor pretty soon. Luckily (perhaps) I got that private class with the doctor's kids, so maybe he can help me out. I have a bad feeling that I may have a slipped disc. If that's the case, all that money I've been paying for health insurance for the past 8 years will probably go down the drain pretty fast. In any case, this hasn't been one of my more favourite weeks.

Well, I just got back from a bit of research on the Internet concering back pain, and apparently a slipped disc is very rarely cause for least in the US. Might be a bit prejudicial to say, but I think a number of doctors over here love to make some money on the side from their diagnoses for extra medicine or that big winfall: a date with a scalpel. On a better note, I found that one of those non-surgical remedies happens to be as simple as anti-inflammatory liniment which I bought today. It certainly feels a lot nicer right now. Plus, that aspirin is coming in handy.

Forgot to mention that I caught one of my all-time favourites: AIRPLANE! I remember seeing it back at the Golden Mile Plaza back in 1980 with my brother and just guffawing non-stop through the picture. The gags only elicit a fond grin now but I can still appreciate the humour in it. Since I saw it on DVD, I was able to hear the commentary by the creators; unsurprisingly enough, it felt like hearing a bunch of beer-swilling men in a basement rec room...just the types who would come up with this sort of film One point that the boys didn't mention that I thought should be mentioned is that AIRPLANE spawned off some interesting things: Leslie Nielsen's new career as a wacky comedian, the mini-genre of crazy comedy movies such as The Naked Gun and Hot Shots and the fact that otherwise serious avuncular leading men can do comedy.

June 24

I indulged in one of the perks of my career by joining one of my private classes to a housewarming party for a former student up in the wilds of Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture. She has a very well-kept condo with her family and cooked up a storm of hearty dishes while we had a nice chat. Sure beats work. And the crazy thing is that I still got paid my regular fee though I didn't teach anything. One of the topics we ranted about was the overhype of Beckham during his time in Japan. One of my more gleeful students went on a rare bender decrying the stupidity in falling for this athlete.

In a very sad sign of the times in this country, a couple of rather heinous crimes have come to light recently in the news. One was the mass murder of a family in Fukuoka for reasons unknown; the father, mother and 2 children were all strangled and dumped into a local river. The other was the gang rape of a student by a rather notorious Waseda University circle. There have been arguably even more heinous crimes committed in Japan over the past several years but these two are still a sobering reminder that even this country is not all safe and comfortable.

Interesting. On the Dark Horizons movie website, I saw news about this new version of Battlestar Galactica so I checked out some of the images. I saw the popular Cylons and one Viper. However, I then saw Edward James Olmos, the cool Lieutenant from Miami Vice, as an officer. He and the rest of the supposed crew seem to be garbed in blue jumpsuits reminiscent of the guys on Enterprise. Uh-oh.
I used to watch the original back 20 years ago as a high school student, and managed to endure the repeated film footage of battle scenes. I did like the late Lorne Greene as Commander Adama; no idea if Olmos will be taking on that role. My favorite episodes from the short-lived series were The Pegasus with Lloyd Bridges as the legendary Commander Kane and the other one featuring Patrick Macnee as the head Cylon himself.

Monday, June 23, 2003

June 23

A bit of a return to the old spending splurge of old, though I did hold the reins somewhat more tightly in lieu of my new spending diet. However, I think with a payment of 20,000 yen today from two different classes, I could treat myself a bit. Picked up a Hall & Oates' 12" remix CD (no snickering) from Tower and then got the DVD of that hilarious comedy of yore, Airplane; will always be a fan of the Zucker Brothers.

On a sad note, I found out that they closed down the World Magazine Gallery permanently when I stopped by for a bit of a read. There was a just terse English statement but the Japanese version had a full explanation about how the popularity of the Internet had a hand in its demise, which I think is a crock. The organization probably just couldn't afford all those magazines anymore. In any case, I greatly lament the loss just when I'm now a part-timer and would have appreciated the extra time browsing through the mags for free. As a result I also picked up a couple of mags at HMV along with the DVD. At least, I could use my point card and get a discount.

Having lunch at TGI Fridays today in the Ginza, I realized their 1000 yen lunch special is only a bargain if you choose the hamburger. I unwisely chose the chicken fritter which ended up to be this deep-fried hunk of very substandard fowl...and yes it was quite foul. However, it was a lesson learned.

Then I had started my new Monday night class with a former student and her colleague at his place all the way on the other side of Tokyo, a good 70 minutes away from my place by train. And it starts at 9 p.m. and finishes at 10:30. This is the latest class I've ever had so the commutes home will be a bit of a drag but at this point I'll take anything that's potentially lucrative.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

June 22

True to form, summer has indeed come to Tokyo in "person" as well as in tradition. I actually had to activate the air conditioner for the first time this year. But it was nice to see a sunny day.

My friend and I caught The Core at the neighbourhood theatre yesteday. It was one of those check-your-brain-at-the-door films: as long as you're not looking for any deep meaning or even deep science, you should be OK. Plus I gather that the actors involved must have seen this as a good paycheck as well as a bit of a summer-stock lark. In fact, several of the performers completely passed under the radar though they are famous names (Stanley Tucci, Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo), a fact that perhaps enhances their reputation as character actors. In any case, it was a good-enough flick for a summer blockbuster. Hilary Swank was the only one recognizable actor I could pick out although it was amusing to see Bruce Greenwood who had played JFK in Thirteen Days basically play the same character as the commander of the life-or-death mission.

Afterwards we got back to the apartment and just pigged out on some major junk food: Pringles, Domino's Pizza and Haagen-Daas while we scanned through a couple of DVDs: Goldmember and From Russia With Love. It's quite nice to go wild once in a while, especially after having been trying to keep the calories lower for a while. My buddy stayed over for the night and kept the air con on all night which makes me dread what my electric bill will look like next month.

This morning, we watched Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, the best of any of the Trek movies (and yes, I do realize that Patrick Stewart can act orbits around William Shatner) which saddens me that it's been 20 years since Khan was released and perhaps only First Contact has even approached the appeal of it. The relationships, the philosophical message and the battles all came together in a way that hasn't really been achieved in any of the others. And sorry to say, the only relationship in the TNG movies worth mentioning has just been the Picard-Data duo.