Saturday, April 24, 2004

Sunday April 25, 12:21 a.m.

The work part of myday seemed to have followed the Murphy's Law corrolary of being killed by a thousand paper cuts. First off, the Tozai Line gets sidelined because of some sort of smoke emanating from one of the stations on the line, so I had to make a quick detour to the adjoining Oedo Line. I was rather lucky with that one since if the subway had gotten delayed at any other station, I would have been very late for my lesson.

Then, after rushing to get copies made for my first kid, I found out from her mother that the older sister who had been originally scheduled to head off for volleyball was now available for her lesson. This, of course, rendered all of my rushing and copying and planning moot. The mother looked a bit nervous when she apologized to me despite my surface replies of "No problem". I did a look bit stern but it was only because I was simultaneously cooking up a plan for the older sister in my head. 17 years of experience came to my rescue. As it were, the lesson went pretty well, especially considering how laconic the older sister usually is.

I ran off to teach my next kid a half-hour away by subway. There, I found out that I was gonna be teaching both sisters there. So I had to leave a message with Movie Buddy that I would be an hour late in meeting him for a pre-party coffee. The younger kid was fine, but I think the older kid is a bit harder to teach.

Next, I call up Movie Buddy again to find out that another old fellow teacher had caught wind of the Ballerina's dinner and wanted in, so I had to call up the restaurant again to make the adjustment. Plus, I ended up going to the wrong subway line to head to Shinjuku. With only a few minutes before my supposed rendezvous with MB and that other teacher, heretofore referred as Scarecrow, I had to grab a taxi and spend another 2100 yen to get there 10 minutes late.

But meet them I did, and we spent about 40 minutes drinking coffee and gabbing about Kiefer's hit show, 24, and other movies at the Excelsior Cafe before heading off to meet the others at the restaurant. Skippy and the Ballerina were there first, followed by another alumnus shortly. Then, we went off to DOMA DOMA, across from the Shinjuku Prince Hotel.

Another alumnus was waiting up at the door, and later on, the Madam, the Rapper and AO arrived to complete the group. The food was fine and the drink was flowing liberally. The Rapper had already had his fill of drink with the school welcome party and subsequent karaoke so hewas already looking pretty ebulliant.

After dinner, the Madam and one other left for home while the rest of us decided to do some karaoke at the nearby SHIDAX box. Surprisingly, The Rapper decided to join his second karaoke party of the day. It didn't take him long to conk out. Meanwhile, AO was also getting rather tipsy, a revelation for me since her reputation had been that she could drink anyone under the table. A half-hour later, a couple of other alumni joined us, Gabby and The Kid. AO and Gabby were very close friends which made for some more interesting moments during the session.

By the time the night was over, The Rapper was nursing a pretty bad hangover, and AO was having trouble standing up. I gave the Rapper a Tylenol while Gabby and The Kid propped AO up. The cost wasn't too painful but it was a typical Saturday night outing in Shinjuku after all. Our two drunk members were getting a bit belligerent with each other so The Kid came in to break it up and gently escort The Rapper back on the right path while the other women escorted AO back to the train station. Aside from that brief moment of tension, the night came off without a hitch. MB and Scarecrow are even thinking of getting something going on the first day of Golden Week this Thursday...perhaps to catch Kill Bill Vol 2.

I've only got a few minutes to take a shower before I have to hit bed for just 6 hours and then head off back to Shinjuku to meet up with Arwen and DTE for that trip to 77's neck of the woods for strawberry picking. I received word from Arwen, profusely apologizing for having forgotten to give me my fee last night. The joke's on her...I didn't even notice.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Saturday April 24, 8:00 a.m.

Back in my high school and university days, I ravenously devoured anything and everything about this country where I now reside. I read authors such as Reischauer and Vogel about the people, the philosophies and attitudes. One thing that has remained with me from all that reading for all these years is that Japanese culture is one based on shame. A crime committed is, of course, a bad thing but what is worse supposedly is when one is caught for that crime and that person is exposed for all the country to see. The country is merciless in its berating, the perpetrator is humiliated like no other while in a DOGESA stance.

That scene is being played out right now writ large. The three Japanese hostages arrived home yesterday at Narita to a chorus of boos and verbal admonishments from protesters who feel that the three shamed themselves, their families and the nation by their brazen defiance of government warnings to not to travel to Iraq. Legitimate magazines and rags alike have put out critical articles of these three for putting the country through an emotional wringer a couple of weeks ago. What has caused even more anger is that even after their ordeal, the three reportedly cited their intentions to return to Iraq. It wasn't as if the three hadn't known about the hostile reaction; they streamed through the arrivals lounge of the airport with heads bowed, and the one kidnapped woman was filmed bent over like a paper clip with two of her family members supporting her.

I must admit that having been raised aware of two cultures, I saw the scenes on CNN with some shock. I haven't caught the footage on NHK. It is possible that the situation may not be nearly as bad as has been revealed on the world news network. However, to get back on topic, I was somewhat surprised to hear of this vitriol against the three, especially remembering the wild relief and celebrations shown on TV a week ago when news of their release had become known. A similar situation played out by Americans would have probably gotten a different response. Kidnapped Americans would have come home to yellow ribbons and a welcoming public, and perhaps there would have even been some calls of admiration and bravery if these people had declared their intention to return to Iraq to help out again despite the dangers.

Apparently not in Japan. The government has issued a strong rebuke, and has even suggested that the three pay their own flight back to Japan. The former hostages have gone into hiding.

Once again, we come to the issue of the shame culture. In Japanese eyes, the abductees' efforts to help out in Iraq and their subsequent capture forced the government to consider two options, both undesirable and embarrassing: to either pay the ransom of pulling out the troops or to let the three possibly die. Both options would have brought shame nationally.

Public opinion seems to be divided, though. So it can't be said that the three have been unanimously castigated into the Hall of Shame. However, the reaction is enough to show me that there can be a very big difference between my two cultures. My take on it is that I feel very sorry for the former hostages. They have been come from one Hell to face another one.
Friday April 23, 11:26 p.m.

Well, we've had hot and humid days followed by cold and windy ones. Now, we're getting both types of weather in the same day. This afternoon was warm and slightly muggy as I headed out to Tokyo without a jacket. Then, coming home, the temps decided to plummet to below 10 degrees. Being the resolute Canadian, I wasn't feeling too bad but the jacket would've helped.

The class with SR was pretty much a gabfest for 3/4 of the lesson. We went over her trip to Hawaii along with the trials and tribulations at her workplace. She's pretty much ready to leave the company come July.

Then, Arwen came by. 77 once again skipped ostensibly due to a possible cracked rib. Considering how often she's skipped, the fact that she lives far off in Kanagawa Prefecture, and she has just inherited a new boyfriend, I'm getting the sneaking suspicion that 77 won't be sticking around all that much with Arwen and myself.

Arwen and I once again fulfilled our Friday ritual of heading out for dinner. We once again headed over to the Saboten (Cactus) tonkatsu restaurant right by JR Shinjuku Station. Another crowded Friday night but we stayed there for a couple of hours gabbing about movies and our respective erstwhile love lives.

I made the confirmation call to the venue for The Ballerina's party tomorrow night. I got a call from Movie Buddy asking what I would be doing between my kid's class and the party, so we've made tentative plans to meet for coffee before the big event. I gather that I'm pretty much out of the loop in terms of the year-course classes. MB told me that there are only 4 classes now due to the reduced group, and I haven't received any word from the scheduler about doing any classes next week. However, I'm not gonna take any breaks. I've asked The Stylist to see if she would like me to teach her in the afternoon on Tuesday. I kept that slot open for any school classes but since none seem to be forthcoming, and since The Stylist had initially hoped that I could teach her on a Tuesday since she's off on that day, I may as well fill that up. I just hope that it's not too late.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Friday April 23, 1:13 p.m.

Just savoring a brief respite before I head out again. I had The Teacher for her regular 11 o'clock. Unfortunately, my allergies started attacking me again just as she walked in. It's an occupational hazard in my line of work. I used up all of my tissue and even a pack of hers that she'd kindly given me. I did take my medicine but it only kicked in just at the very end.

As has been the case since I started teaching her some weeks ago, most of the lesson was spent with her talking about her life. She's certainly had her share of trials and tribulations. Her stories are quite interesting; I taught her the adage "What doesn't kill us makes us grow stronger". It's a pity that she engendered a lot of resentment from a majority of the female students during her time at our school but I think she probably let that slide off her like water off a duck.

I'm not quite sure what her schedule will be like next week...or for that matter, how everyone's schedule will be like for the next couple of weeks due to Golden Week. And I think there's a possibility that some of my venues may be closed up for the holidays. I know that the Starbucks where I teach The Office Lady will be locked down.

My Hokkaido planning is coming along. My new contact at Japan Tours has started asking me about budget and hotel preference. It's rather nice to get personalized treatment.

Referring back to my mild rant about that elder sister dumping me once again for a volleyball match tomorrow, I guess that I can't be too su rprised about the tactic, if that's what it indeed is. I remember some decades back when I had come to Japan as a fledgling high school student over the summer. I spent a few days at my grandfather's place in the Kansai district. There was a young man there whom my grandparents had introduced me to. He took me out fishing in the bay once and had try to engage me in English conversation. One steamy afternoon (this was Japan in late July, y'know), I just didn't feel like going outside in the summer sun to broil, so I feigned a long-term nap when he came over to my grandfather's farm again. He waited a while before he gave up. I feel badly about it now on the point that it was just a rude thing to do although I never found out if the man had seen through the ruse. But I guess when one's a teen with about as much common sense or consideration as a flea, I just can't be that surprised if the sister did indeed try to avoid my lesson. I certainly can't go up on a soapbox and decry the rudeness of teens.

Friday April 23, 9:08 a.m.

Just checking over some e-mail...
Chip Guy sent in his last message before taking off for the GWN. It'll be a "See you later" more than a farewell.

I got a message from the mother of those two kids I teach on Saturday morning. Once again, the elder sister has pulled out suddenly from her lesson to attend volleyball. Once again, I'm not particularly pained by it, since she's never been too enthused by English. However, my natural paranoia and the Japanese custom of indirectly sending cues have started to make me wonder if the elder sister is trying for a permanent pullout. To be honest, I wouldn't mind not teaching her anymore; she's a nice enough young girl but I've largely considered our lessons to be a bit of a chore more than a pleasure. Still, the fact that I have to lose a student this way sticks in my craw like an ulcer. I've still got the other sister who has a better attitude, but gradually, I have to wonder if my skills would be more appreciated by others that I've had to turn away.

On the other side, Arwen just sent in a message telling me about the scheduled strawberry picking on Sunday morning. I'll be meeting them in Shinjuku Station at 10.

It's quite a bit gloomier out there. But I've got work to do.
Thursday April 22, 7:37 p.m.

I found out early today from the Curry Master that neither she nor the SE would be available tonight for lessons so I had a day off. I just sent off a package to Shard and then got a rubdown at the quick massage clinic. It was pretty busy there in the morning but it had the atmosphere of an old tavern. A couple of the masseur/massagee tandems were enjoying a lively conversation. I'm not much of a talker at these things so I was happy that I had the clinic chief for my masseur. He knows who I am.

I didn't quite take a nap but I enjoyed a good 90 minutes of reading on my futon in the afternoon. And then I got to work researching for my trip to Hokkaido. I took a look at a few websites including one for Nihon Ryoko (Japan Tour). They had an English language page and an e-mail address so I sent off a request to them. Sure enough, within a few hours, I got a reply back. It looks promising.

I was thinking of making that final adjustment to the reservations for The Ballerina's party on Saturday since one has dropped out. But being a law-abiding citizen of Murphy, I will hold on one more day and make the call between classes tomorrow. The Ballerina should be coming in tonight.

I referred to an old Chinese cookbook so that I had an excuse to use that Hoisin Sauce that the Iconoclast had given me some weeks ago. He warned me that though the jar had never been opened, the sauce went past the expiry date. I opened up and spooned a dab into the pork and green pepper stir-fry I whipped up according to the recipe. I'm not bending over in pain so I think the sauce passes muster. But the dish was pretty light-tasting for Chinese.

The weather has been another scorcher. We hit a few records in various places in the Kanto. One inland city got hit with 30 C temps. Tokyo didn't reach those heights but we were still quite warm. My fan is back on again. However, the meterological roller-coaster will continue tomorrow as the temps fall down again to more seasonable levels.

Unlike today, it should be a full day tomorrow. I've got The Teacher, SR will be back in the afternoon and I've got Arwen and 77 after her. If past Fridays are any indication, the three of us will be heading out for dinner again.

In the meantime, I've gotta get prepped for those classes and then get Part 2 of ironing done before I hit the hay.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Wednesday April 21, 8:00 p.m.

It was another warm day today. Luckily, my fan is back up and working after it had stubbornly refused to do anything the last time I had tried to use it back last summer. If I hadn't given it a desperation shot, it would've been broken down into component pieces and thrown out piecemeal. Anything to avoid that pick-up fee to throw any appliances out. Highway robbery, I say.

Well, Betty Boop and the Office Lady picked me up at the beauty salon where I had been teaching The Stylist. Boop was her usual giddy self with the breathy voice. She actually took us on a leisurely walk over to her parents' place some 10-minutes' walk from the station. She lives in one of those neighbourhoods which seem to have houses cramped up against each other like commuters in a typical rush hour subway. There, her mother was generous enough to make a lunch of tuna salad and curry rice for us.

I first helped Boop with her upcoming English job interview on Monday. She wasn't too bad but she did have a lot of questions, just like when she was back at the school over 5 years ago. Then, I went upstairs to teach the OL for an hour. She had been taking an impromptu nap on Boop's bed so she looked a bit groggy when I came up. However, she got back into action. I was feeling pretty sweaty in her room although the OL actually remarked that she felt cold. She offered to turn on the air conditioner, but I was too polite to accede to my baser instincts.

Afterwards, we had strawberries downstairs and talked about possibly heading over to FUJIMAMAS, that trendy gaijin place in Omotesando which the Chip Guy had introduced me to several weeks ago. The two seemed rather game. Then, Boop took us back to the station.

Not sure if it was the heat or the fact that I haven't gotten a lot of sleep the last couple of nights, but I was drowsing on the Yamanote and the subway line on the way home. I'm kinda happy that I only have a night class tomorrow....possibly a night class since I've yet to hear from The Curry Master about my offer.

It's been a while since I got home while the sun was still in the sky, albeit a setting one. Still, I'm waiting for my rice to cook before dinner. I'll definitely be getting that rubdown tomorrow. I think my neck and shoulders are crying out for their biweekly treatment. Also, I will probably try to get things going on that Hokkaido trip. The Stylist was kind enough to give me some numbers for a couple of tour operators that have pretty cheap rates. Still, I wonder if it wouldn't be better to plan this by myself.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Tuesday April 20, 11:54 p.m.

I had my Tsudanuma ladies for the first time in a while. The leader was off in America still but the other four were in good spirits although the 2nd in command per se first regaled us with a chilling tale of her friend's husband's untimely death.

That fun class was counterbalanced by an exercise in frusrtration and useless energy in the afternoon. I showed up at the company to once again mediate between The Iconoclast and the President. I spent 2 hours trying to interpret the conversation but it was like watching two walls. The Iconoclast just couldn't seem to get any of his project off the ground which has aggravated the boss no end. I realize that communication gaps are a natural thing within an intercultural situation but even I had to wonder along with the Prez about how a technologically talented person could drag something out so long. But the Prez wasn't too much help either. For him, he only needed me to translate his mostly rhetorical onslaught of anger and disappointment; there were actually only a few questions that the Iconoclast could really answer. And once again, I just felt like I was spinning my wheels in this maelstrom of angst and lost opportunities. A real waste of time. And to add insult to injury, I probably will have to go through the same thing on Monday night after my regular class. If the Iconoclast doesn't show any signs of improvmenet in the project, I'm gonna see about pulling out.

With the tirade going overtime, I just had time to grab a couple of rice balls for dinner at the local convenience store near my juku before the classes began. Luckily, they were much more sedate and cooperative. It looks like my Thursday night juku guy has once again cancelled out, so I've just offered The Curry Master an opening for her and The SE.

And I got word from Betty Boop. It looks like I'll be having my entire slate of students in Oimachi tomorrow.

It certainly was warm today but the night got pretty gusty and cool. I may even have to take down the clothesline, lest it get blown off.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Monday April 19, 11:58 p.m.

It's raining steadily now. I didn't bother putting up my umbrella on the way home from the station but I didn't get too wet. Tomorrow may be a scorcher at 28 C. I'll be using the short sleeves for classes.

My spam filter caught a whole bunch of potential virus traps today. All of them contained 39K each and warned of some sort of systems failure to addresses that I'd never heard of. Although I'm safe, it's a bit aggravating having to filter out that type of junk.

My Monday morning students were informed about my interest in traveling up to Hokkaido and they told me that it would be a waste of time and money to go on the sleeper cars. They suggested that it would be cheaper and better if I planned my own schedule or checked with the Japan Travel Bureau. I did just that just now. However, the JTB requires at least two people to hook up with their tours and they aren't that cheap. But undaunted, I also checked out the sites for ANA and then cheap hotels in Sapporo. It could be doable so I'll hold off on any trips to the JR Hokkaido office for now. If I keep my travel just to Sapporo, I can just hang out there for a couple of days and save some yen that way. Plus, I would be in control of my own destiny up there instead of being at the mercy of some tour guide. Well, I'll ask my Tsudanuma ladies tomorrow for some more opinions since they're all seasoned travelers.

As it turned out, my middle student canned out again, so I had a few hours of time on my hands. I checked out Tokyu Hands for a carp kite that my friend in Toronto had asked for. Strangely enough, I couldn't find one. I'm wondering if I should head over to Asakusa instead. Then, I had some lunch at the Volks Steak Restaurant. I loaded myself up on a large hamburg steak and the soup & salad bar.

My class with the company was another relative slog although it ended up pretty happily unlike last week. The Iconoclast was back. It looks like I'll have another powwow between him and the President tomorrow afternoon between classes. The Iconoclast mentioned that it would be better if he did the long overdue project back in Toronto, but I'm not sure if the Prez would go for that. After class, he and I went out to this restaurant called Eikoku-en, which translates as "English Garden". True to its name, the place was all decked out in wood paneling and incandescent light. The two of us just had some club sandwiches and tea. They fit the bill for me since I did have that rather large lunch. We spent about 2 hours there gabbing about our futures and the situation in Iraq. We even postulated about where a terrorist could possibly attack in Tokyo.

It looks like my Wednesday schedule could be all bunched together since it looks like The Office Lady and the woman who had introduced the two of us to each other, Betty Boop, have the day off. Betty Boop, who has aborted long-term lessons with me twice, wants me to help her with her job interview which is slated for next week. And it seems like The OL has been pretty exhausted as of late which explains her taking the day off. However, if I were her, I would just stay at home and relax. In any case, if I can everyone all cleared up, it'll mean a rare early night for me.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Sunday April 18, 10:57 p.m.

Well, one party down, one party to go. I went off to that farewell BBQ for Chip Guy at Party Hearty's place. Her new pad is located close to Ebisu, a fairly trendy area next to the teen Mecca of Shibuya on the Yamanote Line...that is, until Roppongi Hills superceded it about a year ago.

Her apartment is off on the side streets, and because of its location on a slope, her 3rd floor pad comes off looking like a basement apartment. Basically, the new home looks similar to her old place but she lost a bit of space in the kitchen area only to be generously compensated in the balcony. There is no view for the reason already mentioned...there is a just a large wall with a submarine ladder acting as fire escape up to the outdoor parking lot. However, the balcony is large enough to fit in a table with chairs and a western BBQ setup with lots of walking space to spare.

I was the first one there so I helped out in making some potato salad before the first guests started arriving almost an hour later. One of them, HS, is planning to launch his own English conversation school in the Fall, so he was asking me about texts and stuff related to my field. He even offered me some work provided that I have the time to help him out. Both he and I got the BBQ started and then helped out with the first round of grilling chicken, Korean beef and sausages. There is something about BBQs that bring out the pyromania in men. Today was no different.

Chip Guy and the family finally showed up almost a couple of hours after my arrival. He related that for the past couple of weeks, he had been busy with all sorts of farewell parties so his liver was starting to appraoch a pate-like consistency. There was one other couple who had brought their baby along so the two families tried to get the kids together. For a number of hours, there was a lot of parental cooing which bordered on the nauseating. But it was a revelation to see how much CG has transformed since when I'd first met him as a callow high school senior 13 years ago.

As night fell, a few more stragglers showed up since they were busy at a wedding party for another of the group's friends. They managed to devour the rest of the meat that I ended up charcoaling, and then PH put on this succulent salmon for the piece de resistance. We watched some homemade videos of CG's wedding before we cracked open a bottle of Dom Perignon 1993 that CG himself had so kindly contributed and being the oldest geezer there, I gave the toast. Despite the fact that our long friendship was now transforming into a long-distance one, we all managed to keep it dry-eyed.

Back home again, I've got that yakiniku smell lingering around me so I've got a shower to take before I hit bed. Earlier this morning, I received a blast from the long past in the form of an e-mail from The Persian. The Persian was the resident of my apartment and he was the one who offered it to me just before I started this long odyssey in Japan. Although I've been here for 10 years, The Persian's tenure in my little apartment amounted to little less than a year. In any case, he contacted me to inform that a Taiwanese friend of his was in town up in Saitama. I assume that she'll be in the Kanto for a while since his request was if she could contact me and introduce her to all the gang. Well, my days as the hub of the gang are long gone...I'm pretty much on the outside now but I guess that The Persian only remembers my 90s days. In any case, he must have gotten the word out to her pretty quickly since I had her message on my machine when I got home.

Also in my messages, The Iconoclast let me know that he's back in town which means we'll probably be hitching up for dinner tomorrow night like in the old days. He's also got some BBQ pork for me as well.

At the same time that I was finishing one era of a relationship with Chip Guy, I was finishing up the 3rd book in the Hyperion series. Man, what a good book. I'll be keenly interested if this series ever gets picked up for a movie treatment. However, I shouldn't be getting too eager. Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION has yet to be given a similar treatment and that series was written decades ago.