Saturday, September 27, 2003

Sat. Sept. 27, 11:16 p.m.

I came home smelling of sweat, tobacco and booze. Namely, it was another long party day with the students and teachers of my school. Had a larger than usual turnout for the September students' welcome party at the Grill, which rather reflects a more outgoing April bunch. It was interesting that throughout the day, I never really got to know the new students except, ironically enough, a fellow who's quickly gained a reputation of being alternately shy and sullen. More on him later.

Also throughout the day, I gleaned more insight into the various teachers and students. One of our new teachers is a young lady who's a very seasoned traveler. She's been going throughout various countries and teaching English there, and now Japan has become her newest port of call; she's very down-to-earth. However, we also have our long time Japanese teacher of English grammar who's at the other end of the spectrum. She's always been a bit in left field, and the people around her have always wondered if she is Japanese or American in her ways. She was especially out there today, with Movie Buddy commenting that she seemed to be using more non sequiturs than usual.

Afterwards, fifteen of us did the usual second party custom of going to karaoke around the corner for a few hours. One teacher, who will now be known as the Rapper, brought us more into the urban side of life with his choices of Eminem for singing. Quite a few of the younger students appreciated that and fully participated. He and I are cordial enough but I don't think we'll ever become friends; we just have too much of a cultural bridge between us.

Then, it was time for the third party which took place at the 300-Yen Bar. Only Movie Buddy knew of its location; two girls who thought they knew ended up taking us way out of range, so we had additional walking to do before an emergency call to Movie Buddy, who had to race back to the karaoke bar to help a mutual friend find her stole and therefore had left the two girls to lead us into oblivion. 15 unnecessary minutes later, Movie Buddy guided us to South Ginza into a dark side street and down the stairs into a basement standing-only bar where everything, and I mean everything, was only worth 300 yen. I initially thought that having to stand for a few hours after the odyssey through Ginza was going to kill me, but I lasted 4 hours standing, drinking, chatting and becoming a pop psychologist.

My role of a 21st-century Fake Freud came into gear when I started gleaning further insight into various members of the group after the influence of alcohol came over them. Ms. Left Field had other things to do so at least I could avoid psychoanalyzing her. The Canuck, a relatively recent addition to the crew, came by with his lovely girlfriend. He's developed a reputation of being an OK if not great teacher and a good guy, to boot. For the next four hours, we all centered around one table in one room of the cavern.

My first "patient" was sweet Ms. M, who has recently shown a very soft emotional side when her favourite teacher, the Yankee, finished his tenure at the school last week, who confided that she was still undergoing some pangs of depression over his departure. I think she just needs a bit of time to recover herself, and after all, she can just send e-mail to him. Then there was the sullen student who actually introduced himself to me. Over the course of the evening, I tried to engage him in conversation but his quiet voice and my push into somewhat more difficult vocabulary put an abrupt end to our talk.

Then, there is the Doll. She actually graduated way back in April, but she decided to take some remedial classes with the top students to prep for her 8-month stay in Seattle in a couple of weeks. She'd always exhibited a certain brittleness and uncertainty, but today it got more pronounced as she became the victim of a round of mild trash talk from the soused duo of Movie Buddy and The Rapper. The forum was a variation of a Truth or Dare game, and she got a bit steamed at some of the explicitness of the statements. I later told her that in America, trash talk was just the usual mediium of chat within a small group of buddies and that she shouldn't get too worked up about it. After all, she will probably have to face some form of it in the States.

And throughout all the therapy, there was another young lady, the Iron Liver, who kinda came in as a bit of a sidekick. She is Ms. M's good friend and she was helping out especially in her "treatment". The Iron Liver moniker came about from her reputation as a fearless drinker, as was evident when she and the Canuck were responsible for a mini-event in which they downed tequila shots with lime and salt. By the end of the night, the Liver and I had swapped e-mail addresses and numbers. I'll probably include her in any Movie Buddy outings. Speaking of which, I do have one of those tomorrow. And I also have to do some planning with the Madame about the Doll's farewell party.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Friday Sept 26, 10:34 p.m.

Pleasant day today. After class, I went over to Shinjuku and met up with Movie Buddy to have some spicy ramen before catching Lara Croft 2. It was one of the few times that Movie Buddy sounded even more pessimistic than I was about the flick. To me, it was actually better than the first one, if only for the lame reason that I was able to stay awake for the sequel. The FX and stunts were good but the story and use of characters were weak points.

Afterwards, we returned back to the area of my school and caught up with a student at a nearby cafe for an hour. I'm in the midst of planning her farewell party before she takes off for Seattle in 2 weeks for the next several months. While she went off to the washroom, we noted that she was usually quite tough on herself, and she needed a better sense of humour. Hopefully, she'll find it in the States.

Then, I had my final Friday night circle at the Tea Room. Nothing too fancy or emotional; just naturally, we rather went over old times before breaking up.

Looks like that morning quake has been upgraded to a Magnitude 8.0, even more powerful than the Kobe Quake and just a few points weaker than the legendary 1923 Kanto Quake which wiped out hundreds of thousands of people in Tokyo and Yokohama. Only the fact that the epicenter was far out to sea saved Hokkaido from becoming a true disaster area. However, the quake became the center of discussion amongst all of the people that I spoke with, especially with the oil class. I'm keeping my eyes and ears open for any more possible temblors.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Fri. Sept. 26, 5:38 a.m.

Looks like we've had an exciting start to our morning. About 50 minutes aga, there was a strong quake in the Hokkaido area with a magnitude of 7.8 or Shindo 6 Minus. I did what everyone does and turned on NHK, and saw a whole bunch of NHK offices in the north get majorly rocked. All TV stations are now focused on the quake with a superimposed map of northern Japan showing tsunami warnings. There are even reports of a burning oil refinery, train derailings and power outages. One amusing thing, though, is seeing a Fuji-TV announcer who often comes across as a Jim Carrey-esque clown giving a no-nonsense commentary on the quake

The tremors were felt in my area as slight but unusually long vibrations. So I figured that there was something up with this one. Perhaps those rumours I mentioned in my last entry may have some kernel of truth after all.
Thurs. Sept. 25, 7:54 p.m.

I received an interesting rumour from one of my students yesterday. She had heard that with the recent tremors rocking Tokyo, seismologists are "predicting" that there will be a major quake in the Tokai region (for those not in the know when it comes to Japanese geography, it's the band of land just west of Tokyo including the tea region of Shizuoka) sparked by the explosion of Mt. Fuji on Halloween Day of all days. That ought to bring some excitment to the annual pumpkin carving at my school.

Looks like I may be picking up a couple of more students in the next few weeks. One is a recommendation from my Tuesday night juku owner; she needs help to pass an exam for JAL. And the other is another former student.

The next few days should be quite filled with activity. I've got an early end to my Friday so I'll be meeting Movie Buddy and catching Lara Croft. Then, on Saturday, I have the welcome party for the September students at the Farm Grill. We may have to be fighting the Chinese tourists over the waffles, though. But it looks like there will be a bigger attendance than usual for the September welcome. And finally, I've got another movie outing for SWAT.

I received an e-mail from a friend of mine who's living in Shizuoka after several years of landed immigrantship in Canada. She got cut from a company after having a rather lively exchange with the big boss on the telephone. Her direct superior relayed to her that the big guy would only respond favorably to certain expressions, which of course, reflects him as the tyrant he is. I gather from the length of the letter, she was pretty upset, so I relayed some of the problems with my management over the years. Hopefully, she'll be OK.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Wed Sept 24, 10:50 a.m.

Since I've got some time before I head on out, I have finally gone onto a "quick" translation request by that friend I had met on Friday. He works for a tech company out in Shinjuku. All I can say is that those pro translators definitely make and deserve the good money. I did try one of those online translation programs; pretty hit and miss. There were some glaring errors in the translation; but then again, computer technology hasn't quite reached the subtlety to recognize nuances and probably won't for at least another decade or so.

From Chip Guy, I am borrowing a whole ton of B5 and DS9 DVDs. They should keep my machine busy for the next several weeks. Among the DVDs, there is the Babylon 5 pilot. From what little I remember of it is that it was probably one of the worst cases of an acting troupe against the backdrop of Toaster special effects tha t I ever will see. Tamylin Tomita, who is quite a tall drink of water to gaze at, couldn't act herself out of a WET paper bag in that one. It's not a real surprise that she wasn't picked up for the series and had to be replaced by the character of the new Russian second-in-command.
Wed. Sept 24, 12 midnight

Currently watching George Bush just as he's being announced to address the UN Assembly. He's going have to bat this one out of the park and into the parking lot if he's gonna get any sympathy. UN Secretary-General gave a pretty eloquent speech...he'll be a tough guy to beat.

On this official first day of Autumn, the weather has cooperated with us, and it has been appropriately sunny and cool. I went over to Movie Buddy's apartment across town for his BBQ party. His apartment is smaller and more expensive than mine, but he has a large balcony which puts my gutter of a veranda to shame. Once again, my clothes are stinking of garlic and sauce as we dined on beef and sausages on his tiny grill. However, the amounts were easier to handle.

The party was a nice group of three teachers and three other friends. Movie Buddy's girl became more of a whirling dervish as the day progressed into night and as the alcohol progressed to nothing. Mind you, she was getting on my back about how I should be lighting a BBQ which reminded me about how my ex could annoy me at times. At the same time, though, the later cuddling between her and him also reminded me of us in earlier and happier days.

One of the group was a teacher who had just left the school and has become, like me, a freelancer. Also like me, he's enjoying his newfound freedom since he's had little love for the staff. When the non-school folks went home, the remaining members who have been with the school starting talking about past teachers and students, including some of the scuzzier folks. It was then, with some sense of irony, that he told me on our way back to the station that he had tried to make "first contact" with one of the women there. He pointed out that he really wasn't interested in her; he just wanted to see if he got a positive or negative reaction. The response was indeed in the slightly negative range, according to him. My feeling about that confession was also rather negative. No, he wasn't nearly as bad as some of the past teachers on the make, but I don't think him going on a fishing mission like that was particularly the smoothest thing to do. Why, for example, if he really weren't all that interested in her, would he still attempt a touch?

In any case, I've washed my hands at the whole romance thing. It looks like any spark between me and the Madame has fizzled to nothingness although we will still get together for movie and dinner. However, my social calendar is getting quite busy. I'm catching a couple of movies in the next week, and I've been asked by another student if I would be interested in joining her class for a BBQ in late October.

Well, back to work.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Tues Sept 23, 12:44 a.m.

If there are any mental health specialists out there in the world, you might consider this an SOS for Japan. Today in my lone class, I heard one of my students relate an incident involving her teenage daughter last week in which a nutbar tried to maul her on her way home from school. She screamed which resulted in her attacker to try and muzzle her with his hand leaving some scars on her face. Somehow, she was able to break free and then went after her assailant which surprised him. He ended up running away. Traumatized and angry, she raced back to the school gate to tell the security guard on duty; he just merely told her to be careful and that there was little he could do since he had to take care of things at the gate. Even I was left fuming inside when I heard that.

Recently, there have been incidents of attempted and successful kidnappings of students, pedal-by stabbings by mentally unhinged people including one 25-year-old fashion hound who was stabbing kids for their Hermes or Louis Vuitton bags. Luckily, she was apprehended, but many others aren't. Plus, there was that incident of that guy going postal in Nagoya last week, and the spree killing in Osaka 2 years ago by a psycho in an elementary school which left several children dead.

Crime in Japan is low in quantity but what it lacks there, it more than makes up in its heinousness. Adults and teenagers are snapping for various reasons bu t there aren't nearly enough mental health specialists such as psychologists in this country because there isn't a demand for them because there is the stigma of being identified as a mental patient. The problem is that the special stresses that occur in Japan will only mean more of these psychotic attacks on kids. The government just has to do something about this, but I'm cynical enough to know that it won't happen unless something really tragic happens.

After that harrowing report, I met up with Chip Guy and his family again less than 24 hours after I had left them for lunch. We went to the neighbourhood Outback Steakhouse where I had the Honey Mustard Chicken Sandwich, and also made the mistake of ordering a cheesecake. I know that the Outback desserts are phenomenally big but I just can't seem to shake the habit of perpetually ordering the sweet course.

Afterwards, we went back to Chip's house for a few hours. The weather was much cooler and sunnier after the typhoon had luckily merely just kissed the Pacific coast before heading out to sea. This felt like a Toronto autumn, and I hope that this trend will continue. I managed to catch half of CONAN THE BARBARIAN for the first time (which surprised Chip no end) before heading out to meet up with my oil class at Tokyo Station fo r dinner.

Once again, as often happens at the big stations, we mixed up our meeting points which delayed our meeting about 10 minutes. But we did get together and we headed for a nearby Korean BBQ restaurant where we infused our clothes and ourselves with lots of alcohol, beef and garlic for 2 hours. We all got a bit tipsy on drink but since Tuesday is a national holiday, it felt more like a Friday. We certainly relaxed a lot more than we usually do in class.

Then, it was a short and necessary walk over to the Yurakucho area to a small bar where we sipped on drinks for another couple of hours. I actually enticed a couple of students to try the notorious B-52 and the Kamikaze cocktails. One guy got a bit quiet for a while as he tried to stop the room from spinning while the other got a bit more lively in his talk. Unfortunately, my sinuses were starting to drain again. Smoke-filled bars may be quite alluring in the nightlife of Tokyo, but my nose certainly begs to differ. A bit risky but I swallowed down three cold tablets after swigging a Brown Cow. Felt a bit woozy but by the ride home, I was feeling much better. The subways were certainly on a Friday night schedule. They were packed to the gills. I'm sure that everyone knew where I had been for dinner tonight.

Now back home after midnight, I've taken a well-needed hot shower to sweat out some of the garlic oil, and then gave my mouth a good scrubbing (although I will still have morning breath with the potency of a WMD when I wake up). It was a good night, and I think I really made some good friends with the oil class. In fact, we insisted that one of the guys ought to bring his new fiancee to the next event.

Tomorrow is Movie Buddy's BBQ across town. More eating...sigh.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Monday Sept. 22, 8:54 a.m.

The rains fell down yesterday and the winds were a bit gusty this morning but this so-called typhoon didn't bother us too badly. Thank heavens for that although my friend's BBQ had to be postponed from yesterday to tomorrow. Instead, I met up with Chip Guy and the family for a nice dinner and dessert. This week should be pretty free and easy. I've got my Monday morning regulars and then a yakiniku dinner with my oil class in the evening. In between, I'll probably drop by Chip Guy's house again since he'll be alone taking care of the baby.

Koizumi handily won the LDP presidential race on Saturday but that didn't seem as important as the fact that he selected a new Secretary-General of the party who looks (relatively) younger. There was a full court press on the selection of Mr. Abe, who may be the youngest politician to be chosen for the position at the age of 49.

As I said, this week shouldn't be too difficult. Tuesday is a national holiday so I head over to Movie Buddy's BBQ. Wednesday and Thursday will be my regular days of private lessons and good classes at my former full-time school, and Friday will just see one class in the morning before I meet up with Movie Buddy to catch Lara Croft. Not a great choice considering what I've heard about it but he's pretty eager.