Saturday, December 20, 2003

Sunday Dec. 21, 12:50 a.m.

Christmas is in the air mostly because there is a good measure of ice in that air. That combined with a good stiff wind made things quite Brrrrr-worthy tonight. I guess it was timely that the Winter Solstice is indeed upon us. And in a weird meterological development, most of Japan has been sprinkled or dumped with snow, except for Tokyo thanks to some well-placed mountains. I never would imagine that a hardened Canadian like myself would actually shiver today here, but I did.

My long day started with one of my last classes before going on Holiday break. It was the one kid (her sister was off doing a Xmas concert). She was OK but her delivery was still as slow as molasses. I had better luck with her mother who took over for her younger daughter. We did a Japan Times article about English and Japanese proverbs which greatly struck her fancy. It really helps when you hit the target once in a while.

Then, it was off to Shinjuku to meet Movie Buddy and his houseguest from his native Australia. We were planning to catch that leather/werewolves/vampires flick, UNDERWORLD, but all of us needed lunch so we first went to a ramen joint in the side streets, called Kumamoto Ramen. We clambered up the tiny stairs just 2 cm away from the customers sitting at the 1st floor counter and then, at Movie Buddy's suggestion, we ordered the TA-RO ramen. It certainly satisfied our MB stated, it's a bowl of some tougher-than-usual noodles with some fatty beef and lots of cabbage in what is basically melted pork fat. I think it explained why we really never got hungry for the rest of the day.

Afterwards, we went to the ticket discount shop to get the tickets for Underworld, only to discover that the last performance was last night. Now having two extra hours of nothing, we just hit a coffee shop for an hour before we did another hour of browsing at the nearby Kinokuniya bookstore and then several minutes of going through an adjoining DVD/manga shop. The highlight there was the playing of a hilarious parody CG version of a ski jump competition. The Russian pair did Cossack kicks, the African pair threw their skis into their mouths and waved them get the idea.

After that, we took a little tour of the notorious Kabukicho, the area that has often frightened a lot of Tokyoites with its red-light shops and underworld activity. Well, we did a quick jaunt, nothing too deep, mind you, and certainly the red light shops were there. I also saw one large black car with tinted windows which I'm sure was the property of a yakuza, but we all came to the conclusion that Kabukicho, at least at 6 p.m., is nothing compared to Sydney's Kings Crossing or even the Jane-Finch intersection in Toronto, let alone some of the dangerous neighbourhoods in New York or LA.

Then, after a short pit stop playing target shooting games in a game centre on the edge of Kabukicho, we decided it was time to start the drinking portion of our odyssey through Shinjuku. It was dark, and the neon lights were out. The cold also made it rather imperative that we find a bar. We went first to the Hub, a generic pub chain. It had the decor and the ambience of CHEERS but also with the Shinjuku Station traffic jam crowds. We asked if we could get a table but the young lad told us that we would have to go to the counter and hope that we could get a seat. Well, after one round of drinks, it was pretty evident that we weren't going to get our wish, so we left.

We then proceeded to the CLUBHOUSE, southeast of the HUB. It is an Aussie pub and sure enough, the final game of the Rugby World Cup was playing on multiple screens. We faced the same dilemma that we did at the Hub...that there were no seats available. However, the waitress was more apologetic and promised us that when a table opened up, we would get priority. I felt a bit badly for the waitress since I kinda gave her a resigned look after the treatment we got at the Hub, especially since she eventually fulfilledher promise an hour and a half later. During that time, we just sipped our drinks and chatted while catching some of the England/Australia game.

Finally, we got our table after the large party of young folks left. And after 6 hours of not eating due to the ramen, we were still not all that hungry but we felt that it was time to put something into our bellies. So we went for fish n' chips, buffalo wings, squid rings and popcorn shrimp. Yes, I do realize that this was a lot but we were not going to waste an opportunity to try some of the excellent fare. Certainly, though, we were risking the Ring of Fire with the spiciness of the food. However, what affected us more was the actual heat of the dishes themselves. My two Aussie companions were doing some major huffing and puffing after throwing a few fries in their mouths, but since mymouth seems to be lined with asbestos, I was fine.

During our conversation at the table, one topic came up which could define my time here thus far and my time for the rest of my life. Movie Buddy pointed out that being an English teacher in this country was a dead-end job: no hopes for promotion or big money. And once the teacher returned to the home country, he would be starting from ground zero. As reluctant as I was to hear this news, he did have a point and I now wonder if I have sealed my fate here after nearly a decade in Tokyo. I think I could certainly eke out a living back in Toronto as a teacher but I'm not sure if I would ever have the same level of satisfaction.

Well, at 10:30, it was time to head home. My clothes had an olfactory record of everything we did today. But I was glad that I had the extra sweater on as it was very cold. I had to do the usual wading through the Shinjuku Station masses to get my ticket. But I did manage to get onto the packed Yamanote Line to head for Takadanobaba Station and the Tozai Line for home. I also had a stiff neck. It was ironic that I was reading a massage book at Kinokuniya so I can try to knead out the kinks.

Sure enough, the Yamanote Line was announcing several delays on the JR lines due to various accidents and snow. And on the Tozai line, there were the usual exhausted travelers and two young punks with a drunk female companion. First, they sidled her up next to my seat by the door which worried me a bit since the female companion could potentially spew at any minute. Then, to add insult to injury, they were able to get seats right beside me. Luckily, everything went peacefully. In fact, I was able to get a well-needed nap before I got off.

Well, now my entire week is filled with events, since Movie Buddy will be coming over on Boxing Day to watch some DVDs with me at my home. We may even have the first nabe of the season. As for tomorrow, or later today, I've got some oranges coming in from my friend in Shizuoka, perfect for my cold. And finally, I'm gonna take a shower to get rid of the smells of the city.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Thurs. Dec. 18, 11:19 p.m.

I got my New Year's cards done today. Over here, I have to write both Xmas cards for the folks back at home and the New Year's cards for the folks here, including relatives I now never see. It's always a bit more difficult writing the latter since my kanji ability is so limited, and I can't seem to write straight up and down. My script always seems to take a diagonal direction which annoys me and probably my relatives. Also I have to write down some pithy statement of good wishes for the new year. Luckily, I've got a book which gives some sample statements that I can readily u se.

I had my buffet with The Iconoclast at the Hilton today. For some reason, the cake buffet didn't hit me as well as it had the first two times I went. The cakes seemed a bit too sweet, which is really saying something from a guy who has a sweet tooth.

It looks like I'll be pulling out of the party tomorrow at my student's place. I'm not feeling all that well, and besides, I'd just end up looking goofy by myself. I cannot schmooze to save my life, and since I don't have anyone to come as my date, there really is no one to talk to. One other student and her daughter will be coming, but I remember the first time I went there. One former student and her daughter were there, and although I could talk with them for a little bit, both they and I kinda just sat there for 2 hours feeling uncomfortable. As much as I don't want to disappoint the hostess, to just be a cigar store Indian in the middle of a house for a few hours is something I want even less.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Thurs. Dec. 18, 8:28 a.m.

I'd thought about hitting the hay a bit early last night since I was feeling somewhat under the weather. However, I ended up going to bed a couple of hours later than scheduled since an old friend of mine had an emergency request for some proofreading. As it is, I'm not doing so bad right now, and I managed to get some Xmas wrapping done as well.

Looks like the "Be Kind to English Teachers Week" is continuing. I received a Starbucks card from my Wednesday night. I seem to be spending my days in Starbucks.

Today, I have to head on out to get a number of things done, notably add to my wardrobe. I need a pair of black shoes and a trenc hcoat, possibly for the big Xmas party tomorrow, most definitely for the Xmas dinner next week. Then, I'll be meeting my friend for a bit of that cake buffet at the Hilton. Now, that the Farm Grill will soon be a fond memory, the Hilton may have to become my default place for tons of food.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Tues. Dec. 16, 11:49 p.m.

The days leading up to the Holidays can be very rewarding ones for an English teacher like myself. Today, I got treated to a nice lunch at a fairly swanky Japanese restaurant in the Makuhari Messe convention area, thanks to my Tuesday morning regulars. I had myself some of that great Hakkaisan sake. My ears were glowing but the sake is so smooth but that was about the extent of my inebriation.

After a few hours of respite, I went off for my final round of classes at the juku before the Holidays. They all went pretty well, and I got surprised when my first two students presented me with a bottle of...Hakkaisan. It isn't as big as the huge magnum of the stuff that I got from the president of a major printing company over a year ago, but I'm still not complaining.

Mind you, I felt rather out of it physically tonight. I may be coming down with a cold. Unfortunately, the very chilly air outside didn't help matters. Well, I have to catch up on those New Year's cards as well as get back on track with sending out the calendars to the folks back at home.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Mon. Dec. 15, 11:24 p.m.

The world's most famous imprisoned dictator is playing true to form and being a "wiseass" in front of his captors. And CNN will be there!

It was a good enough day for me. My rich students spoke a bit about the big Xmas party on Friday. I'm still not sure whether I'll go or not though one of the students told me that her daughter was looking forward to meeting me. If I do go, I'll have to pick up a new pair of shoes and a good trench coat.

I met up with the friend who had stood me up at Shibuya Station on Friday after my class. He apologized and admitted it was a boneheaded move to keep me hanging there. That was good enough for me. I took him out to VOLKS, Tokyo's premier steakhouse chain in Shibuya, at least until the OUTBACK arrived here a couple of years ago. After lunch, I just showed him the RAMEN YOKOCHO in Dogenzaka since he may try to go there with his girlfriend and other friend later on this week. When we parted at Shibuya Station, I offered in a further move to show that the events of Friday night were forgotten to show them around, but I got the impression that that would be the last time I would see him in Japan. Fine with me.

Being payday, I was still surprised that I made a s much as I did. That certainly prompted me to splurge a bit more on a Pet Shop Boys CD and even the Dummies Guide to Jazz. Now that I've been interested in the genre for the past few years, I decided to delve further into the written history. Certainly the title is rather befitting for me.

I had my regular class with the folks at my friend's company. Looks like things are starting to gel a bit more, though the president wasn't there due to other matters, and it looks like he won't be attending class for the rest of the year. Afterwards, my friend and I went to another decent Chinese restaurant nearby the company. My friend seems to have the greatest knowledge of Chinese eateries in the Shinjuku area of anyone that I've ever met. We also had a good talk on philosophy, something I rarely do.

Checking my e-mail, I actually received a rare message from my former full-time bosses asking me if I would be willing to teach a JICA class on Fridays. Hearing about the curriculum for the students and the fact that the students have had a reputation of being somewhat holier-than-thou made the decision quite eary for me.

I also received a message from Dory, one of my students. I had invited her to the Xmas dinner on the 25th. She politely declined due to lack of funds, but that got me thinking about something. I had initially invited The Madam for dinner in a gesture of perhaps a semi-date. Now it was my fault that I left the caveat with her that she could invite anyone she would like to bring. It was also my fault to make the reservations for two before finding out that she had invited one other friend of hers, another former student whom I'm not sure about. I think that perhaps we don't get along, and the paranoid part of me wonders if The Madam had invited her because of some mistrust of me. If that is indeed the case, I will feel matter how much the rational side of me understands her reasons for doing so.

Well, tomorrow I have another Xmas party, this time with my Tuesday morning folks. We're going in a bit of style by going to a hotel for a nice lunch. Then, it'll be my last class with the juku folks for 2003.


Sunday, December 14, 2003

Sunday Dec. 14, 11:09 p.m.

Well, it looks like the US just got an early Xmas present and a huge boost to the forces since President Bush pulled off his surprise Thanksgiving visit. Hussein has finally been nabbed. I'm sure there is much rejoicing in the streets of Iraq and America, but this will probably won't stem the flow of attacks. In fact, I think there will be an increase in retaliation. But it's a big surprise that the big guy got caught alive if bedraggled.

My weekend was a fairly eventful one. I met up with my brother at the hotel for some breakfast on Saturday morning. I was OK with it, but he was far less impressed with it considering the price and the variety. I can't say that I blame him since the Canadian variety is probably a lot huger.

Then, it was off back to my neck of the woods to attend my juku's Xmas party which was basically for the kids. I met the one other veteran teacher who was responsible for all of the kids, and at one point, she was asking (pleading?) if I would take a few of them off her hands. I of course, mentioned that I was busy with other classes. There is NO way that I'll take any more kids. Just wearing the Santa suit and playing Bingo and cards with them were enough to wear me out.

I headed back to Shinagawa and met up with my brother once more at the hotel for a short while to rest up before we took off for the Ginza area. He asked a few questions about the area and took some snaps with his digital camera. Our timing was good since things went dark and the lights of the Ginza were on full power. We also searched for puff pastries in a forlorn hope for him to take some back to the home country. But one woman at the hotel bakery informed us that they wouldn't last the plane ride back.

For dinner, we ended up at the Farm Grill where I was given a huge bombshell. The buffet place that I had been haunting for the past 8 years, the place where I had to get my roast chicken and waffles, the place where I would get my students to attend for welcome parties, is closing its doors for the last time on New Year's Eve. To be honest, I couldn't be that surprised to see it go. In this city, where 90% of restaurants just struggle to make it through the first half-decade, the Farm Grill was a minor miracle. With the stuff they offered, it was a miracle that they could stay afloat for a s long as they have. And to be blunt, their best stuff started faltering over the past couple of years. However, it will be a shame to see it go. I enjoyed the privilege of being able to lounge around the Grill sipping coffee with friends, and perhaps I may get one more shot at it before the end of the year. Long live the Farm Grill!

After the dinner, the two of us just took a look around the Shiodome complex before we headed back to the hotel. I crashed there for the night and then had one more breakfast with him at Anna Miller's (notorious for their short-skirted waitresses, but Hooter's it ain't) in the morning before I took off for Shinjuku. I hope he was able to carry all those presents for the family.

I met up with The Madam and the Ballerina at the movie theater. Our numbers were unexpectedly smaller due to a cold which knocked out three other of our movie buddies. The movie of choice today was FINDING NEMO which had just started on the 6th. I must admit that I found NEMO a bit overrated. I didn't think the writing was all that sharp except ina few parts, and as one critic put it, the neurotic Marlin schtick wore out its welcome pretty quickly. Once again, the usual Japanese viewing experience of muteness was at hand which possibly influenced my opinion of the film. However, the visual effects were truly amazing in that I didn't even notice them; they were that advanced.

Afterwards, the three of us went to a nice little izakaya for a couple of hours of chat and eat. Then, the Ballerina had to take off for home, but since The Madam always likes a post-dinner coffee, the two of us searched for a cafe. Starbucks was not surprisingly packed to the gills, but we did find a smoke-infused little hole-in-the-wall on the 2nd floor of the MY CITY complex in Shinjuku Station. Among the stuff we talked about was the Ballerina's behaviour at last week's Xmas party. Her second farewell party is slated for the 27th, and the Madam is the organizer for that one. I decided to let her know about being careful with the Ballerina in terms of her love of drink since I just want to make sure that things go smoothly at the party and that perhaps some sort of backup will be in place if things don't.

Well, back to work tomorrow. However, I am meeting that friend who stood me up for 2.5 hours on Friday to give him his tickets. I'm willing to forget about what happened since he is sorry about it, but geez, I'm gonna hate those first few minutes of discomfort.