Saturday, February 21, 2004

Sunday Feb. 22, 1:36 a.m.

Well, as you may have guessed from the lateness of the hour, I've just come back from another late night. As I have mentioned, I had my school's grad party today. Unlike the previous five or six I've been to, this one was a bit more lacrymally charged with one student weeping up a storm during her speech on the stage. Our coordinator was even misting up a fair bit during her speech which caused a mini-chain reaction with some of our senior students. However, I did have my usual spate of photo-taking. One of our teachers had a nice idea of trying to gather everyone's e-mail addresses together so that noone will lose complete touch with each other. In my words as host, I mentioned that during their 10 months with us, the students were able to create a community, albeit temporary, that will hopefully retain some of its structure after graduation. There are already some signs of this happening with future plans for movie outings and dinners. Whether this will become permanent remains to be seen once everyone either finds full-time jobs or heads over to foreign lands. In another 6 weeks, there will be another batch of raw recruits to teach. In the meantime, we'll once again have Empty Nest Syndrome.

After the main party, we headed for Shinjuku for one of three neighbourhood branches of the HUB, a chain of British pubs. On the way there, the Button-Downed One atypically struck up a conversation with a couple of Mexicans who were sitting on the train seats just in front of us. They worked at a Mexican restaurant which BD knew of. Unfortunately, their knowledge of English was far more limited than that of either of us, so there was a lot of gesturing and Japanese to exchange. However, I internally lauded BD's assertiveness.

We made it to the HUB, a full 30 minutes before it was due to open, so we spent a few minutes just cooling our heels on the stairs until we got the all-clear from the staff to invade its buttery-soft leather seats. The place reminded me of the Old Mad, the Madison Ave. Pub, a regular haunt near the University of Toronto. The portions of the fish n' chips were nowhere near as large as its Toronto counterpart but I wasn't about to turn down a plate of the stuff. Our large party of teachers and alumni took up a good quarter of the place. The jukebox, for some reason, mostly had 80s videos which I didn't complain about. So we got to old chestnuts like Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and Whitney's "So Emotional". The gang had a great time; the Rapper bought a couple of gigantic test tubes of draft beer which kinda spilled often . It's not easy handling two gigantic towers of beer. However, by the end, the place was starting to heat up and smoke up something awful.

We then hit the venue for the third party which was of course a karoake box. Even with the gradual attrition rate, we were still a prett y hefty party of 15 although people like Movie Buddy didn't bother to join us. He's more on the drinkers' side anyways. The women folk took on one of the staff to negotiate a good price; I felt sorry for the flunky, actually. However, we managed to get a good deal and so for the next few hours, we were singing up a storm. I threw in my two cents' worth via The Carpenters' "Top of the World" which was the party theme song earlier that afternoon, and Queen's "Crazy Thing Called Love". Of course, the rapper contributed Eminem again which gave a good deal of profanity. It was another lively affair before we finally brought things to a close. Outside in the chill air, the Rapper tried to pull of a wrestling move, the Piledriver, on an unsuspecting BD. She didn't mind...she was also a bit drunk herself.

As I said, although this 2003-2004 group has now officially flown the coop, there will probably be get-togethers at least in the near future, although I think the usual pattern is that the alumni will slowly get going with their own lives and fade into the woodwork. Such is life. However, at least for two of them, they will still have an attachment to the school in the form of me as I start their private lessons in earnest from the upcoming Friday.

The Iconoclast will be heading over here with some sayonara stuff like a frying pan and a bathrobe before he finally leaves his employment of 3 somewhat turbulent years at his company later next week. Chip Guy said that he would checking out this Canadian bar that I had given the heads-up about last night. I'm interested as to what he will say. If he gives it thumbs-up, I may check it out on Monday afternoon.

Plus, it looks like The Curry Master will be starting her plans to hold a surprise b-day party for Movie Buddy in the middle of the week. I didn't mind her decision so much since she lives so close to me and I don't have any classes until the next evening. I may be asked to spring the trap to lure Movie Buddy to Curry Master's neck of the woods.

In any case, I've gotta develop those two rolls of film from the party. There should be some interesting shots in there.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Saturday Feb. 21, 12:27 a.m.

My Friday started nicely enough. The weather was sunny and not too cold. I paid off my bills and sent off my lease renewal form in triplicate to my uncle for his stamp, and then I had my haircut. It was especially nice talking with the ladies at the salon today, and I always love the scalp massage following the shampoo, and the shoulder and neck massage before the haircut itself. It costs me a fair penny compared to what I used to pay back in Toronto, but the service is worth every yen, especially since they throw in a complementary cup of coffee.

I had some lunch before heading off to my lone class with my Friday afternoon student at the Tea Room. She's been having some political problems at her company; nothing too serious at the moment but she's starting to wonder if it's time to find new pastures. All I said was that if she's simply not having a good time there, then just quit. I helped her out with her upcoming EIKEN test on Sunday...that is, the English Proficiency Exam which is held three times a year. She's going for the second-highest level. Also, I had ordered a cup of rosehip tea for the first time since I felt pretty stuffed after lunch and thinking that anything heavier than rosehip would literally cramp my style, I ordered it. Bad move. The clear amber liquid tasted like very faint consomme. And it sure gave me enough incentives to head for the washroom...a very good lazative. My student also didn't have a good reaction to the stuff either. Apparently, though, rosehip seems to be the diet rage here.

On my way to the subway station, I dropped in at the school to find the cooordinator typing up the names for the special diplomas. She wanted my advice on how to come up with appropriate names for them such as "Highest TOEIC Score". I took a scan through the comment sheets for the top class' final class today. The teacher mentioned that the speeches were very well done and there was an emotional charge to it. I could imagine one of the students getting rather misty which would start off a chain reaction. I wonder how it will be later today at the grad party.

Then it was off to Shimbashi to meet up with my former oil class students. It ended up being two of this year's group along with another two of last year's class whom I've been meeting for the past several months. We went to HANAMASA, the Korean BBQ restaurant just downstairs from the late lamented Farm Grill. I had gone there with another friend several years ago with not much of a good impression. The beef was not all that high quality. Sure enough, things haven't changed all that much despite a freshening-up of the decor. The managment needn't have put out sushi either since it was obviously made by machine. The edges of the rice were hardened and the fish tasted like cardboard. The draft beer machine was quite interesting. I just put my mug into it and the mini-crane automatically lifted and tilted it at a 60-degree angle and poured it up. Unfortunately, noone had told me that I also had to press the stop button to cease the pouring. Instead, the foam kept pouring until I started getting some on the floor. I didn't feel too bad since other customers were falling for the trap. I wonder if there had been a candid camera installed somewhere picking up the action.

Some interesting insight into the corporate world. Today was apparently the unofficial day at the oil company for announcements of any transfers of employees to different sections of the company. Everybody usually puts on their good suit and then just waits nervously for 5 minutes between 3 and 3:05. If the boss doesn't call for you, then you're guaranteed for at least another year at your current post. One of our group did get the call to his boss' office; he's been transferred from HQ to another post uptown.

The interaction among the two "generations" of oil company employees was working out well so we went out to a second venue in Shimbashi. Being Friday night, we found a few dead ends due to the crowds, but we finally found a chain izakaya where we partook in some cocktails and boiled green beans. About 90 minutes later, we were all done. On the way home, I saw examples of what one should expect to see every Friday night in Shimbashi. I saw a furious yakuza gangster (as redundant as that may sound) yelling either at a cab driver or into his cell phone. Then there were the usual drunken , staggering salarymen around the station, and then at Nihombashi Station, there were a couple of guys getting ready to wrassle at the top of the escalator with two uniformed station officials as referees.

Coming home, I once again smell of smoke and other stuff. Plus, I'm still feeling pretty bloated after the culinary excesses of tonight. But I do have to take a shower before I hit bed. The Iconclast gave me a call tonight stating that he's willing to dump a lot of stuff on me including a futon, a pan and even some food before he finally leaves Japan next week. Plus, I forgot to mention that the Curry Master also offered me her EPSON printer. Hmm...sounds very tempting indeed.

Well, got that all-day grad party. Man, I'm gonna be so toasted this tomorrow night.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Thursday Feb. 19, 9:23 p.m.

Well, I managed to get in touch with my uncle and he has agreed to be my guarantor. He gave me the usual invitation to Osaka...I gave my usual response that I would like to. Whether or not the invitation is true or not, I'm wondering if I should take a visit there sometime this year. In any case, I ought to send some stuff in thanks.

Today was basically a holiday for me outside of my first class with the Curry Master. I proofread her resume and then had a short discussion on an article I had brought with me. We further discussed on some other approaches for future classes but I'm not particularly sure whether this will become a long-term deal.

I finally got a chance to listen to the LOTR CDs. And I ended up an emotional wreck after listening to the final tracks of "The Return of the King". The soundtrack and the movie have shown their quality.

Tomorrow, I will be getting my bimonthly haircut and then meeting up with my Friday afternoon student at the Tea Room. I may also drop in at the school since for a good majority of them, tomorrow will be their final class there for good. Afterwards, I meet some more alumni from the oil class for dinner in Ginza. Now that the Farm Grill is history, we'll be heading for yakiniku at the shop beside where the Grill used to be.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Wednesday Feb. 18, 9:36 p.m.

Well, I had my trio of students today. All were pretty good. The Stylist did pretty well in her first class, the Hawaiian was a real plugger as usual, and the Office Lady was beaming proudly over her TOEIC score. As for me, I managed to rake in a bit of cash, but next week should be sparse since I only have the Stylist on alternating weeks and The Hawaiian is off to Hawaii for the next few weeks. Along with the usual monetary rewards, I also got some good culinary rewards. I found a pretty decent Chinese restaurant on the top floor of a department complex next to the Stylist's station, and the Office Lady let me know of a good Chinese restaurant near Omotesando Station.

I tried calling myuncle tonight but all I got was a busy signal. Perhaps he has a visual display of incoming phone numbers and has cut me off. I'll try again tomorrow. Just in case, I sent a heads-up to Mom to smooth things over.

I found out about a new Canadian bar in the heart of Shibuya. The Maple Leaf Sports Bar boasts that it's the only Canadian bar in Tokyo. That may be so although I know that Canadian-owned restaurants do exist. In any case, I intend to check it out...perhaps I'll let Chip Guy know as well.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Wednesday Feb. 18, 8:11 a.m.

Last night's trio of classes went rather smoothly. Even my third student who comes in perpetually exhausted...not surprising considering his line of work...was quite good last night. My first class, consisting of that giddy pair, exchanged phone numbers with me. And I've found out that one of them is quite taken with Orlando Bloom's Legolas character. I'll have to give her one of the promo cards that came with my LOTR CDs.

I've got a fairly busy day coming up. I've got three private lessons with the Stylist, the Hawaiian and the Office Lady. I will be looking forward to a late wake-up tomorrow. Unfortunately, I will probably be facing a couple of package arrivals then as well. Well, at least, one of them will be arriving after noon.

Also, I have to swallow my pride and go hat in hand over the phone and talk with my uncle about the guarantor situation with my apartment. I'm not looking forward to that.

As I said back on Monday, I did go a bit nuts on my CD splurging. One of the discs I picked up was a self-titled album by Michael Buble. He seems to come across as a Canadian Harry Connick, Jr. In reviews, he has been referred to as the second coming of Frank Sinatra. I'm sure that Harry Connick, Jr. may not be too happy with that comment. In any case, Buble has got similar looks and chops. He does quite a good job with "Fever" and "Moondance" . It'd be rather nice if he and Diana Krall ever decide to collaborate.

I also picked up a CD single by that local songbird, MISIA. I took a listen to her newest full album but I wasn't too impressed...the first time I've ever thought that for one of her albums which is why I just went for that single.

My most conversational e-mail buddy, and the only friend who overtly knows of this blog, told me about a personal website of one of the cast members of CSI: MIAMI which reminded me of ol' Sir Ian McKellen's site. So I dropped in over there and read his last entry concerning his work on The Return of the King. It's interesting to read what basically comes across as some actor's blog. I can only hope for such an interesting life.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Tuesday Feb. 17, 3:08 p.m.

It's been a bit of an off-kilter day today. I was pressed for time this morning, and the fact that I had a large load of laundry to hang up before heading out didn't help matters. Plus, this morning's class just seemed ponderous. The lone text exercise we did didn't grab the ladies. It was interesting that the one woman whom I had asked about the guarantorship and got rejected was a no-show due to a cold. I don't doubt her reasons for not showing up but I just wonder if fate had an intervening hand in this. I was thinking that things could have been slightly awkward if she had been the first one (which she usually is) to show up. Also, my initial response to her rejection was bounced back by the Hotmail server. Rather eerie.

I'm still grateful for the lull between the Tsudanuma class and tonight's load in Urayasu although I will no longer be having the current group of students at the school. It gives me time to rest up. Well, I'll be getting the rice cooker all fired up for dinner and then I'll just make something on the cheap before heading out for the night shift. Tomorrow ought to be a heavy day with three classes.

Tuesday Feb. 17, 12:44 a.m.

Well, I got that response from my student concerning the guarantourship for my apartment lease. Not surprisingly, she declined it. It is a heavy responsibility but in another way, I can't help but be a little disappointed. You would think that a trusted teacher of over five years acquaintance who has had a spotless record for a decade would mean something. I guess that means I'll have to face my uncle, and perhaps some resentment from him.

I got at least some good news today from my morning student. It looks like I may have another new mouth to feed, so to speak...her sister-in-law. If everything works out, I will be teaching her immediately after my class.

My pay for this month didn't exactly jingle too badly. Still, it's kinda hard to realize that I'm not making the big bucks anymore. Having said that, I went rather nuts on the purchases at Tower Records afterwards. I bought a whole mess of CDs including the triple pack of the soundtracks of each othe LOTR movies. I figure that this opportunity doesn't come often, and I know enough of lost ones that I shouldn't give this one up.

After my regular class tonight, the Iconoclast and I met up with his HK girlfriend at HALC, and then went off to join a fourth member of our dinner group, the roving manager of the tea bar that we sometimes drop in at. For a woman who has never done a homestay overseas, her English was pretty good. We had a brief tea there before we went off to the seedy neighbourhood of Okubo, just north of Shinjuku. I was initially a bit nervous walking up the street , especially when we passed a couple of cops talking with a suspicious type but I was later to discover that Okubo isn't too bad on the main street. It was quite bright, actually and had a lot of Chinese food stores which reminded me of Toronto's Chinatown.

In any case, we ate at a Malaysian restaurant. The food there wasn't too bad but I wouldn't recommend it to any of my students. I think the taste isn't quite up to their palates. Plus, the service wasn't all that competent. The manager of the tea shop was also quite unimpressed by the sight of a cat on the floor not too far from our table. Being the proprietress of a culinary establishment herself would probably make her quite sensitive to the cleanliness issue. However, it was nice for the chat. The manager also surprised all of us when she popped out a couple of photos of her and former President Bill Clinton when he made a trip to Japan last year for some reason, and she gave him a box of tea as a present. He was quite weathered-looking but surprisingly enough, his hair looked rather blonde, albeit in a sickly way.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Sunday Feb. 15, 7:31 p.m.

It's been a gap of a couple of days since my last entry, partly because I had Movie Buddy crashing over here last night, and I would rather have not had him discovering my blog habit.

My Saturday started out easily enough. My two kids in the morning were not spectacular but they fit the bill. Then I headed out to meet my newest student who was a buddy of the younger sister. It looks like I have another fairly well-to-do family to deal with. Again, it was another grand automatic gate opening for me, and a front yard to engulf my apartment. The kid herself was pretty quiet but good. In a way, this family is a bit of a mirror image of the Saturday morning group. My morning kids aren't all that enthused about English but their mother is quite keen. In this new group, the mother didn't speak a word of English and seemed rather button-down. My new student was also fairly reserved but her older sister could talk up a fair bit. She's a student at my old unit, NOVA, where she's classed as an intermediate level customer. I may also be teaching her from time to time if her schedule allows it. However, for my main student, she'll need work on conversation, phonics and reading.

I met up with Movie Buddy at Shinjuku where we made our first attempts to catch The Return of the King. Not surprisingly, all of the theater tickets for Saturday night were sold out. Virtually the only seats available were not seats but space for standing. I did want to see LOTR but not enough to be willing to stand for over 3 hours. Taking the defeat in stride, the two of us just went over to the Aussie bar for some good ol' fish n' chips and a couple of Crown Lagers...a good beer.

To change our viewing strategy, we ended up heading all the way to the modern theaters in my neck of the woods where we could reserve seats for the noon showing today. Mission accomplished, we went back to my place where we spent the evening looking at a couple of DVDs. We had been invited by one of our other colleagues over MB's cell phone if we would like to go to a student's place to catch her copy of "Lost In Translation", a movie that won't be making theatrical release until early May. We decided to politely decline the offer since the student's apartment was all the way on the other side of town, and besides, MB went to the trouble of renting the DVDs we were to watch.

Our first entry was "The Time Machine" with Guy Pearce of "Memento" fame. Not a bad flick. Certainly, the effects were good but the overall execution of the story didn't work too well. The story just flew by as fast as the time machine itself. Kinda too bad as it would have been a nice feather in the cap of Simon Wells, the descendant of the author who penned the original story.

After that, we risked our good taste and caught "Queen of the Damned", that faux sequel to "Interview With A Vampire". Again, I was interested in the backstory behind the vampire civilation but something about the movie didn't quite ring true. It was notable just to see Aaliyah's only Hollywood performance before leaving this mortal coil.

The next morning, the two of us headed over to the family restaurant, Skylark, near the apartment. Our breakfast was more of an early lunch by the content of our orders. I had a hamburg steak and two breaded prawns with corn soup and garlic toast. Several years ago, I used to go there for a buffet breakfast almost weekly until I decided to take better care of my girth.

Then, we returned to the theater. MB was getting downright giddy for LOTR. I was somewhat more sanguine although I was also interested in seeing how the epic trilogy wrapped up. In retrospect, I think we were lucky going to the neighbourhood theater instead of the older places in Shinjuku last night. We had great, comfy seats with plenty of leg room (the guys at Toyota would be so jealous). We caught trailers for "Master and Commander" and "Once Upon A Time In Mexico" . The latter film certainly took its sweet time in getting here. And then we caught the trailer for Brad Pitt's "Troy". It looks like it's trying to go for the post-LOTR title of epic picture.

Finally, The Return of the King. May I say that this film is a triumphant final third for a classic trilogy. Those 3 hours just flew by. Of course, there were tons of jaw-dropping battle scenes and loads of the epic plot. But I think one element that took this final movie over the top was the heart and charcterization. Usually, I don't really invest all that much sympathy into the characters even if the story is good. However, the last several minutes of the movie had my throat lumping up something awful, and what nearly sent me over the edge into lachrymal territory was the scene where King Aragorn and everyone else bowed low in front of the 4 Hobbits with the familiar Shire music playing in the background. Having said that, I thought that the tiny subplot involving the mad Denethor and poor Faramir should've been excised. And I think Peter Jackson rather extended the anticlimax almost to breaking point after the exhausting battles although the penultimate scene once again threatened to get the waterworks going. I think the final scene was totally unnecessary, but I'm quibbling over little stuff. During the end credits, I think it was a nice touch to see the drawn images of the cast shown beside their names, even Sean Bean's. If Bean could be thrown in there, despite the fact that he died two pictures ago, I kinda wonder why Christopher Lee's name and image weren't included. Not that I think Lee is the most angelic actor (my impression of him during cast interviews was somewhat akin to watching a prima donna) but I certainly thought he would have been thrown in. MB thought that contractual and union factors were behind it, but I don't quite buy that. Lee is probably still stewing in his octogenarian juices. In any case, I think if LOTR doesn't pick up Best Picture honors in a couple of weeks, it will be a major cultural crime.

Now that my Movie Buddy weekend is nearly over, I have just to prepare for Monday's classes. I'm not sure but I may have to pick up a bottle of Extra Light No. 1 maple syrup for the Monday morning folks tomorrow at Kinokuniya before heading to the house. It should be a fairly normal week. Certainly, the weather has cooperated so's been downright balmy this weekend.