Saturday, June 05, 2004

Sunday June 6, 10:56 a.m.

On the 60th anniversary of D-Day, it seems rather timely that one of America's more colourful presidents passed away. I caught news of Ronald Reagan's death on NHK this morning at 7, just a couple of hours after he'd left this mortal coil. Once again, CNN has brought out the sweeping orchestral music, the sepia-toned graphics of Reagan in various scenes and the somber mellifluous tones from Larry, Aaron and Paula.

It's interesting to note that for the next month (since President Bush has announced a 30-day period of mourning), there will be tons of accolades from the regular Joe and Jane on the street to the upper echelons of government. Not an ill word be said about least not on camera. It's important to note that he wasn't a perfect President (noone is) and that it's important for his naysayers to keep their side of the bargain up. I get very jaded when all I hear is what a wonderful man or a powerful leader a head of state was. For example, I was slightly surprised about all the attention and lavish praise heaped on the late Richard Nixon, a man whom we've longed associated with paranoia and the highest government corruption. It was almost a relief when the media actually did allow a few of his critics to throw their barbs and remind everyone how flawed Nixon was.

For some reason, whenever things of this import occur, something unusual has usually happened to me at around the same time...certainly the same day. On 9/11, my flight back to Narita had been a nightmare thanks to a typhoon which had us try two aborted landings before we were finally successful. As I mentioned, I'm not a good flyer so I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the wheels finally touched down on the tarmac. Ironically, a few hours later, three planes Stateside couldn't share the same happy ending.Even more chilling was that my flight originated from the same New Jersey airport where one of the flying bombs was launched 24 hours later.

I woke up at an ungodly hour this morning to head to the washroom, something that I hardly ever do. President Reagan died at about the same time. Now, I'm not saying that I'm psychic or anything, but I just find it rather odd.

In other news, Shard gave me a rare call from Toronto. I hadn't heard from him in several weeks, even through e-mail, so the call was even more of a surprise. (In another parallel to the previous paragraph, Shard was the one who first called me hours after my nightmare flight to tell me to turn on the TV about an attack in New York). He needed help in tracking a business associate down; he lives somewhere in Kobe so I took 30 minutes to check out my sources on the Net, to no avail. Luckily in my second call with him, he told me that the guy had managed to contact him.

I was able to get some more housekeeping stuff done. I made my bimonthly appointment for my haircut this week since it looks like the upcoming days will be fairly quiet..the coordinator sent me a message stating that the school's students will be doing tests all week. Then, that huge package of omiyage got in. Plus, I tried to make my monthly call for home but it sounds like the parentals are not there.

Well, the weather isn't exactly great for BBQ but PH's party is still on apparently. I'll be heading out in little over a couple of hours from now.
Saturday June 5, 4:54 p.m.

Now that the Sapporo trip is now a fond memory, I can get back to the usual business at hand. Yesterday, I was back in action as a teacher once more. However, I was also a bit of the Santa as I was handing out the boxes of raisin butter cookies to all the good girls. I gave a box to the Teacher and then I met up with Ms. 77 and Arwen and gave them their packages.

Once our class was done, we went down to Shinagawa where 77 and I introduced Arwen to the wonders of the Outback. It was Arwen's first experience at the chain and she wasn't disappointed. We ordered the Bloomin' Onion as usual, and as usual, the three of us couldn't finish the entire dish. I think the fact that it is so heavily deep-fried and it comes with this goopy sauce fills us up quickly. We then got our steaks; I, for one, took it easy on myself and just ordered a 225-gram Outback Special. For that reason, we all had some room left to get dessert although we couldn't totally finish that either.

During dinner, the three of us once again spoke of the rumour mill at the school and then we got into more discussion about DTE's farewell party. I would be contributing my Sweet and Sour Chicken for the meal on the 20th.

I got home and checked my e-mail to find out that the Persian's buddy's sister replied to my invitation for that BBQ tomorrow at Party Hearty's place. So I'll probably be picking her up at Ebisu Station. I hope she can be comfortable at the party.

Today was another hot one as I taught my kids. I made my final deliveries of the butter cookies to them. The elder sister at the first house was even more dour than usual but I've gotten used to her attitude. Even my best kid in the afternoon was feeling pretty lazy in the heat so I took it easy with her.

The heat was affecting more than the kids as I surveyed the riders on the subway sleeping away. I really wasn't in the mood for cooking so I just bought a salad and shrimp tempura on rice.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Saturday June 5, 7:18 a.m.

Day 3

My final day in Sapporo started with another brazen misrepresentation of conjunctions when it came to the breakfast buffet. Then, I still bought a couple of more souvenirs before I brought down the whole kit and kaboodle for shipping by Yamato Delivery. I'm having it delivered here on Sunday morning. It didn't cost too much considering how much stuff I had and Yamato is as dependable as taxes in April. Great service.

I spent most of the morning watching the latest adventures of Big Matsui and company on NHK-BS and packing things up before I checked out at 11.

So with my black bag and the one bag of raisin butter cookies in tow, I decided to walk up the main street for Sapporo Station instead of taking the subway. Within 20 minutes, I reached the 8th floor of Daimaru and tried out that buffet restaurant. It was a pretty massive place inside; it resembled the Movenpick Marche in Toronto except that I only had to pay one price for everything. To be honest, I wasn't exactly ravenous when I entered the place since I did have that breakfast a few hours previously but I guess I was still mourning the loss of the Farm Grill and I wanted to relive past glories. As it were, the food there wasn't too bad. The fried chicken was worth a second visit. I was also quite impressed with the wait staff all hooked up with earpieces like a presidential guard. The gabby couple sitting across from me dropped a bowl of chow mein on the floor. Immediately, two women with fresh cloths dove in and cleaned up the mess within 10 seconds. Al Unser's pit crew would have been hard pressed to do better.

My final stop in Sapporo was the Sapporo Beer Factory northeast of the station. I first stored the butter cookies in a locker since I didn't want to risk the whole thing going rancid in the warm air and then I headed out. As I waited at the bus stop just outside of the north exit, two buses with the Nippon Ham Fighters baseball team logo emblazoned on the sides arrived. Sure enough, it was the team itself. A lot of the junior high school kids waiting along with me started getting excited. I took a couple of shots but I didn't catch former New York Met, Tsuyoshi Shinjo.

The bus ride out to the Beer Factory took just 7 minutes. When I got off, I just crossed the street where an old guard just quietly waved me in and then I saw this old brick brewery building with a tall smokestack made of the same red brick thrust up into the atmosphere. When I got inside the building, there were two uniformed women in beer-gold. One of them had me registered, taking down my name and prefecture of origin. I also informed her that I was actually a stealth gaijin from Canada so she calmly asked if I'd wanted an English tour. I accepted, noting with some surprise that the young lady didn't appear to be able to speak English. And sure enough, what I got was a well-used Walkman with earpiece and a tape inside. She then stored my bag and escorted me upstairs to the second floor where a small group had congregated. There were a few junior high school boys there with notebooks at the ready. Nice to get them started early on the wonders of alcohol.

Our guide, the same one who led me up, had that somewhat glazed look of a Stepford Wife but she was very efficient. She did a roll call of everyone who signed in. I upped for the 30-minute tour along with a couple of others. The rest went for the full tour which included a 20-minute beer tasting session. Since beer was never one of my favourite examples of booze, I went for the shorter tour.

The tour itself was quite informative. While I kept clicking the tape on and off as I tried to match the English recording with the guide's explanation in Japanese, I learned not only about the history of Sapporo Beer but also of the production process of beer in general. I even got to take a whiff of some hops which explained that pungent smell emananting from those drunken Friday drinkers on the train. When the tour wrapped up, the guide once again read out the names for the folks on the shorter tour and gave us bags of iced green tea and beer crackers which tasted remarkably like Ritz. I took a look at the souvenir shop before succumbing and buying a small barrel of white chocolate-covered freeze-dried strawberries, another one of those Hokkaido delicacies. When I got back into the main foyer, I was waiting to get my bag when the guide ran up toward me carrying my bag as if it weighed a ton. Geezus, get some weight training, girl! However, she was kind enough to take a picture of me in front of a map of Hokkaido made entirely of beer cans. It would be the only picture from the trip with my mug in there; too bad, I had been aiming to get a record.

Now that I got to see everything that I had wanted to see, I took the Factory Line Bus back to Sapporo Station. The ride was a bit more longer since the driver took us through a more circuitous route which included a ride along Odori Park. I then spent the last few hours of my time in the city looking through some more bookstores and CD shops before I spent an hour in a coffee shop in Daimaru. Then I picked up my express ticket for the JR train taking me over to Shin-Chitose Airport after getting my cookies from the locker.

The ride back to the airport was uneventful and comfortable since I got a reserved seat. The sun was appropriately setting at that time and the landscape reverted to that flat green with the odd grouping of houses popping up.

I got my boarding pass at the tour counter. I would be taking JAL back home. I had one last meal at a restaurant up on the 3rd-level restaurant row. I went for the minced tuna on rice, the savory egg custard and zaru soba set. Pretty good for the price.

I noticed that the security was a bit more stringent. Along with the usual scan for metal, I also had to take off my shoes for examination. All I can say is that the guards who were pulling shoe duty must have had the short stick. Also, I noticed that I was the youngest fellow waiting in line. Everyone else was old and gabby. However, I did see a few whippersnappers on board.

Like the ANA flight which had taken me to Hokkaido, the JAL flight was smooth and efficient. Mind you, it seemed as if they backloaded most of the old folk. My area was pretty sparsely populated and in fact my entire row was empty. Having said that, I will never be a fan of air travel. Just the takeoff and the landing would get me on edge. Some bright bulb also decided to attach cameras on the outside fuselage so that we could actually get a view of us taking off and landing. That would be enough for the white-knuckle flyers to head screaming for the exits.

I finally got to Tokyo at about 10:30 p.m. Our flight was one of the last ones in so Haneda was fairly empty. However,the so-called express train back to Shinagawa was full. The trip back home, I looked outside the windows and saw the tall skyscrapers and the masses of people ebbing and flowing on the streets, quite a different scene from what I had witnessed back in Sapporo. In a way, I was happy to get back to a place where at least the veneer of economic success was apparent.

I finally entered my door at 15 minutes past midnight. Needing a shower desperately, I spared a half-hour starting this report. It would be nice to have some sort of record along with the usual photos for posterity.
Friday June 4, 11:22 p.m.

Sapporo Day 2

I woke up fairly early on Wednesday to take advantage of my breakfast coupon at the hotel. However, there was already a fair number of people there. The majority consisted of middle-aged folk but there were some kids led by a loud-mouthed Osakan kid, judging by her accent, who were occupying one table. The breakfast buffet was divided into Western (sausages, eggs, coffee, etc) and Japanese (miso soup, rice, salmon, etc.) dishes. I first went for the Western combo of sausages, very wet scrambled eggs with a roll. Then I went for the Japanese combo. When I tried to return to my table, not only were my dishes gone but there was already one geezer seated there. It looks like I was a victim of prepositional misrepresentation. I think the general rule was that people went for EITHER the Japanese OR Western breakfasts, not AND. Oh, dopey me. As a result, I ended up sitting next to the Riot Grrrls from Osaka.

After returning to my room, I just watched a bit of Major League Baseball with the Yankees (led least in Japanese eyes...Hideki Matsui) for about an hour before I made my first steps out. The day was a glorious one...not a cloud in the sky and the temps were ideal. My first stop, or walk-through to be more accurate, was Nijo Ichiba, the fish market near the hotel. It only spanned a short block but within that area, there were plenty of crabs and fish to make a seafood lover's mouth water.

Then, I went back into downtown once more and my next stop was the Clock Tower which was a 19th-century Western style house which basically showed the history behind the construction of the house and the clock contained inside it. No, it doesn't exactly make for scintillating reading for me, either, but that's what happened.

Next, I walked north and west into the Hokkaido Prefectural Government grounds which had some more examples of the architecture prevalent in the Meiji Era. In other words, British-style buildings of brick which reminded me of the Parliament Buildings back in T.O. I then walked east a couple of blocks and then up north again to reach JR Sapporo Station. Although Odori Park, a few blocks south, was the geographic centre of Sapporo, Sapporo Station had everyone's attention in terms of sheer size. The block contained the actual station in the centre which went up about 10 floors filled with stores and restaurants. It was then bracketed by JR Tower which had its own hotel and observation deck on one side, and then by a huge Daimaru department store on the other. I went up the elevator to the 8th floor of Daimaru to see a number of restaurants, including a huge buffet which was simply called BUFFET in big letters. Oh,'ll be mine, I thought to myself. But not today.

Instead, I walked up further north and further west until I reached Hokkaido University. This place, of all the places that I visited in Sapporo, impressed me the most by its grand area. Most Tokyo universities, with the exception of institutions such as Aoyama Gakuin, were all contained within one drab building. Not Hokkaido University. As soon as I entered the gates, I was treated to a large roving park which allowed buildings such as a library and the various faculties to be built there. There was a poplar-lined avenue which just stretched forever. In fact, I think it took me a good 20 minutes to span the entire stretch. That might be even longer than walking from the south end of U of T to the north. In any case, during my walk through the campus, there were just so many young kids walking, running and bicycling around. I got kinda wistful for my salad days back in the 80s. Apparently, there is a statue of W.S. Clark, the professor who coined the immortal (at least in Japan) phrase, "Boys, be ambitious" somewhere in the grounds but I never saw it. However, there was a sign in Japanese warning that the land heading towards the statue was a bit treacherous so that was good enough for me to give up the chase for the great Professor Clark. My final touch of the campus was seeing the farms built at the north end. Then I headed east again and out of the campus area.

By that time, I was at 18 North. I was walking back down toward the station when I realized that the avenue was largely devoid of people. And this was during broad daylight at noon. It felt like Toronto in the 'burbs on a Sunday. Reaching Sapporo Station again, I decided to start my omiyage (souvenir) shopping in the Daimaru basement. I had a lot of boxes to buy for my students. I went for the most famous ones of Shiroi Koibito (White Lovers) chocolate-filled biscuits of which I got 14 of the little boxes and then 8 boxes of these raisin butter cookies. I found out a bit too late that the latter product had a much shorter shelf life of about 5 days and they had to be stored at less than 25 degrees C. It wasn't that much of a problem for me but still I could've done without the restrictions.

Well, after walking for 3 hours, I was pretty done in the hot sun so I ended up taking the subway back down for a couple of stations back to my hotel. The trains were older-looking than the Tokyo variety, less crowded and more expensive by 40 yen. I also noticed that a lot of the ticket vending machines were boarded up at my station and it was a rather long walk through a dank wide corridor to reach street level. Rather creeped me out a bit.

I hit the bed and took a nap for a few hours before heading out downstairs to the hotel souvenir shop to pick a couple of more boxes and then it would be another few hours before I decided to head out again, ostensibly to get some night shots of Susukino in all its neon-bathed glory.

But I decided to get a bit more omiyage shopping done so I walked to Mitsukoshi to the downstairs area to pick up a few more packages of Shiroi Koibito. By the time I got out, the sky was darkening quite nicely. But there wasn't too much activity out in the streets. In fact, when I took a look at a Virgin CD Megastore in the B1 of a nearby building, I was rather surprised at how sparsely populated it was. The B2 of Jazz/Classical was absolutely empty. Then, I took a look at the local chapter of the Maruzen Bookstore. Again, not too much going on there as well.

I walked back down to the Susukino side of things and actually braved a few minutes of walking south along the main drag. There were touts actively, even aggressively, scouring the male pedestrians for pigeons prepared to part with their money for a bit of "comfort". There were girls dressed up in high school uniforms doing much the same thing. One girl even thrust her...signboard at me but I just neatly spun myself away and then headed back out to the more seemly side of the neighbourhood.

I quickly made my way back to the Tanuki Koji arcade again where I ended up having my dinner at a McDonalds of all places. I come all the way up here for a Big Mac. But the corker was when the staff told me that they had run out of Big Macs for the day. Out of Big Macs?! No way! This is definitely not Tokyo! While I was eating my Cheeseburger Set, I filtered through my observations for the past couple of days. Except for Susukino and probably Sapporo Station, the rest of downtown seemed underutilized. On my way back through the arcade back to my hotel, I noticed a completely empty ramen restaurant and the end of the arcade just had two hip-hop folk lounging around in lawn chairs outside a hip-hop clothing store. That was it. I'd heard that Hokkaido was going through some tough economic times. I guess that has been reflected in Sapporo as well when I think about the empty stores and streets. It was pretty sad, actually.

I just hit the bed again. One more day to go.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Friday June 4, 8:16 a.m.


Day 1 (June 1): I was internally cursing all the way to Haneda Airport thanks to the rain bringing traffic to a crawl. It took me almost 2 (expletive) hours to get from my place to the city airport. However, I still got there in plenty of time and hopped on my ANA flight to New Chitose Airport.

I was quite lucky...I had a window seat and the two adjoining seats were empty. I was a bit worried with the low cloud ceiling and steady rain, but once we were above the clouds, it was smooth sailing up north.

90 minutes later, I was off the plane and heading toward the Chuo Bus for another 70-minute ride into Sapporo. The first impression I got of Japan's northernmost prefecture was when I looked out the window coming in and saw a whole lot of flatland cookie-cut into farm areas interspersed with roving lines of tall deciduous trees (sounds like the Discovery Channel?...I digress). I thought I was landing in Aurora, Ontario.

The bus ride took 820 yen. It didn't take long for us to pass through the Sapporo city limits. But boy, I was wondering when we would be getting from the suburbs into the main city when I found out that I WAS in the city. The wider streets, the shorter buildings and the slower pace outside reminded me of being in Scarborough. In fact, I got off in an area which looked somewhat derelict. I only had to cross the street to reach my hotel, The Tobu. It wasn't a real fancy-schmancy place but the staff were friendly and there was the right amount of decorum to make me feel comfortable. I didn't think I was going to be given that much attention or respect since I came in on the cheapo plan. However, my room was a twin instead of a single so there was quite a lot of room, a small settee and a table. Plus, the toilet had one of those washlet literally can't go wrong there.

I settled in for a couple of hours before heading out in the late afternoon. I only needed to walk a few minutes on South 4 to reach the dividing line between the gaudy, slightly seedy Susukino area and the regular downtown area. The sun was still out (it tends to set an hour later than in Tokyo) so none of the neon was on. However, looking at the signs, it was obvious that this was the area which sucked up most of the electricity.

I almost missed catching the kanji saying "Ramen Yokocho" or Ramen Row. But my double take was enough to catch the eye of the owner of the first ramen shop underneath the sign. Never saying NO to ramen, I entered an empty shop...which, for a longtime Tokyo resident like me, was a surprise at 5 o' I started getting suspicious. And in fact, I would get further observations of this surprisingly laconic downtown the next night. However, I saw the placards with various signatures so I thought the place was fine enough. Also, I was intrigued by the 1000-yen bowl of Chashu (BBQ Pork) Ramen. Intrigued because there were five huge slabs of the pork covering the bowl like a lid. Well, I ordered it and sure enough, I got the bowl with this "flower" of humoungous pork on top of the bowl. Well, I just had to take a pic which automatically got the owner's laugh and my cover as a local was blown. I had a short talk with the guy about the various reactions to this ramen and I managed to finish everything off within about 10 minutes.

After my first successful tackle with the native fare, I walked up West 2. Sapporo is definitely different from the capital in that the downtown is arranged in a very stable grid. Unlike the chaos of Tokyo streets, it would be difficult to get lost in downtown Sapporo. Unless your sense of direction is absolutely hopeless, you can orient yourself within a few seconds. Anyways, the clouds were starting to gum up the sky as I arrived at Odori (Boulevard) Park, a huge wide strip of greenland, benches and fountains which cut through the downtown through the East-West axis. It's the scene of Sapporo that the NHK guys show when the news signs off. It is also the area where the Sapporo Ice Festival is held. To my right was the TV Tower, a mere 100 metres compared to Tokyo Tower's 333 metres. It was still plenty big enough for me, though.

I went up to the third floor of TV Tower and searched for the ticket counter to head up to the observation deck at the 90-m. level only to find out there wasn't one. One of the young uniformed staffers had to show me the ticket vending machine..just out of my left eye's peripheral vision. Duh! I got up another elevator. I have to admit that the smaller car, the glass walls and the more languid speed brought a bit of vertigo but I was OK once I hit the deck. I took some pics of bird's-eye Sapporo before I got back down to the ground.

It started spitting rain which automatically brought out the umbrellas. I guess some customs are nationwide. Being a Canadian, it would take more than a few drops to bring out the umbrella. Plus, I had left my foldable back in my room. I crossed the street to check out the Kinokuniya. Nah, not quite like the huge one we've got in Tokyo.

Well, despite my better endurance to rain, I decided not to tempt fate and headed back toward my hotel. This time, I went back south and then cut across a block north of South 4 to a multi-block arcade mall called Tanuki Dori. It wasn't any different from the other arcade street malls I've been to in Tokyo such as Shin-Nakamise in Asakusa or the mall in Nakano. I just dropped by the Lawsons and picked up a small packet of milk and a cake. So much for the big spender. I got back to my room and spent the rest of my night there. So much for the big adventurer. Thus that was Day One.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Tuesday June 1, 6:41 a.m.

We're back to cool and drizzly again. We won't be getting over 20 C today. In fact, even Sapporo will be warmer than us. And this is considering that we were setting heat records yesterday. I think this year will be entering the books as one of the wackier times for weather.

Automan sent his thanks...and his regrets about what happened in Akihabara last Friday. He gave some sort of excuse that he'd had other committments beforehand. Well, he did say to meet him at 5:30, not me. So that doesn't totally wash. And I still think that 77's rather convenient excuse for not showing up on Sunday had something to do with Friday's goof. But as a friend, I will obviously not mention any of my misgivings to either of them.

I received e-mail from my good friend, The Entrepreneur, just now. He had dinner with Chip Guy and family over the weekend. They went to one of our old hangouts for some after-dinner noshing, JUST DESSERTS. Their crumble-top apple pie is simply the best there is. Several years ago, though, the main branch that we went to was held up by a few sociopaths who proceeded to shoot a few hostages dead in a robbery. It rather seared the opinion in my head that one can leave this mortal coil anywhere, anytime and in any fashion.

And I finally got word from Jazz Buddy concerning lessons. The prelims are coming along as they should. I just need to find out when and where she'd like to meet.

With all of the work and other stuff, I have failed to mention that it's been one year and two weeks since I'd started this bohemian workstyle of mine. A couple of dips but it's really been all gravy for me this past year. I've been able to teach the people that I have wanted to teach, along with meeting some good new faces, and I can still teach some of my favourite classes at the school. Can't ask for anything more.

Monday May 31, 9:29 p.m.

Another scorcher today but tempered with some rain just now. Still, my apartment felt like a blast furnace so it was on with the air conditioner. I'll definitely have to put on the fan for tonight.

Not a great class with the ladies this morning. My articles were just too tough for them. However, I recompensed by getting "Heidi". When I came back to the house to teach the sister-in-law, I gave the book to the student so that she could make some photocopies for next week. Ironically, the sister-in-law called in to cancel just a couple of minutes after I had left on lunch break so I received a very vociferous apology from the maid...true Japanese culture; it wasn't anywhere near her fault and yet as a representative of the family, she was very sorry. I sure wasn't. I was able to spend an extra hour in the room in air-conditioned comfort, received some nice snacks and coffee and even received my fee from my absentee student since she canceled too close to the start time. The owner of the house told me that I could stay until I had to go to my next class in Shinjuku, but I felt that would just take advantage of their kindness so I left about an hour earlier with a message thanking her.

The class at the company wasn't too bad. There were a lot of hooks in the material for me to use. I had the low guy back but he wasn't too bad. Plus, he is pretty gung-ho about the lessons unlike the more capable but more easily bored fellow who actually was out sick today.

That hostage-taking incident in Khobar luckily had no Japanese casualties despite what the Al Qaeda leader had been boasting on the Web. The Chief Cabinet Secretary officially denied any deaths, and the media was very quiet.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Monday May 31, 7:32 a.m.

Good heavens. It was 32 degrees yesterday in Tokyo. No wonder I was doing a slow broil. In fact, the weather forecasters (who should be hanging their heads in shame for screwing up) said that all May records were broken for temps. We'll be getting more of the same today. It's already 25 degrees right now. We'll be sunny most of the day but then some rain is slated to fall in the evening, despite the fact that the POP shows 0%. Some guy's head at the Weather Office is gonna roll.

It's almost kinda too bad that I have to work today, especially the company class tonight considering the weather. That final class has been such a slog in the past couple of weeks. Well, there's a chance that my middle student may cancel. She's had that habit since her parents need quite a bit of care.

I got a response from Jazz Buddy about her potential lessons. I'm already seeing some problems with scheduling. My June Sundays are already starting to fill up. I've got a BBQ with Party Hearty on the 6th and then Arwen has asked me to keep the 20th open for DTE's farewell party. Speaking of Arwen, it looks like we'll be set for the Outback Steakhouse after her lesson on Friday.

I've noticed that I seem to be obsessing over time. Despite the fact that I have nearly 2 hours before taking off for my first class, I'm already getting pretty stressed about getting everything ready. But life in the largest city on Earth will have that effect. I am ready for my vacation.
Sunday May 30, 4:46 p.m.

I'm back from the culinary odyssey in Omotesando. Boy, is it hot today! The weathercasters pulled off another wrong prediction. They had said that it would be cloudy and a bit cooler. Reality was far more feels like over 30 C and sunny. Just like a dog day in August, and in Tokyo, that dog is a Great Dane.

True to Murphy's Law, although I don't consider what happened a major (or even minor) incident, 77 was a scratch so we were back to 7 people so my adjustment last night on the phone wasn't necessary after all. I kinda figured that something like that would happen. I'm still not totally convinced of the veracity of her reason for her absence since the Japanese treat the white lie as an art form unto itself. Plus, I'm kinda wondering if 77 is ticked off at me for that Automan boner the other night.

In any case, it was myself, the Scarecrow, Skippy, Jazz Buddy, Arwen and later on, OA and her good buddy. The latter two were fairly late since the good buddy had to wait in the hot sun for 30 minutes while OA got lost and had forgotten her cellphone at home. I'm not sure how OA's friend felt but I know that I wouldn't be too thrilled in a similar situation. Poor OA was almost on the verge of tears in her contrition which is an interesting observation since she has shown herself to be a steel dragon when haggling with karaoke box operators.

Jazz Buddy, Arwen and OA bravely ordered "The Plate" with me, but only JB managed to finish everything off, even the biscuits with that gravy. To be honest, I think I'm starting to get used to that white sauce. We even got a special guest cameo from the Ballerina by Skippy's cellphone. Now that she finally got her security clearance from the UK government, she called us from Narita after her first shift on the London-Tokyo run. She finally got that wish to be a flight attendant.

By the time we got out of Fujimamas over 2 hours later, there was a pretty sizable lineup outside. I remembered seeing that caveat on the restaurant's website that dinner reservations had to be made at least a week in advance. I'm sure the staff was quite happy to see us go to accomodate those sweaty folk. I'll definitely have to try Fujimamas for dinner sometime, perhaps if there is a farewell party outside for DTE or OA's buddy when they take off for places abroad.

During the brunch, I received another potential client in the form of JB. She said that her only possible days are Sunday and Monday. Well, Monday is definitely out, and Sunday is (or was) my sole day off. I normally wouldn't take any customers on a Sunday but since it is Jazz Buddy, I will make an exception for her.

Skippy, Arwen and OA had to take off which left the rest of us walking to the Aoyama end of Omotesando in the search for a cafe. We ended up going to the Comme Ca Cafe. The last time we went there was when a bunch of us went on that Halloween run 8 months ago. The cakes were still very impressive artistic works of humongous hunks of fruit precariously balanced on a flan base filled with custard. The topics of discussion ranged from the works of Mel Brooks to nudist beaches in Florida. I was surprised to hear that Jazz Buddy enjoyed Spaceballs, Brooks' weakest movie parody although the opening shot of the longest starship in history was hilarious. The Scarecrow and I set her straight by recommending some of Brooks' best stuff like Young Frankenstein.

Well, after another hour, we all broke up and I headed out of Aoyama. However, my day trip wasn't finished. I checked out the soon-to-be out-of-action Maruzen bookstore in Nihombashi (it's undergoing renovations for the next 3 years) before checking out the newest ultramodern shopping and dining complex in Tokyo. It's called COREDO and in a nutshell, it's just four floors and a basement of eclectic shops such as Sony Plaza and restaurants. The long drop between the second floor and the basement reminded me of the engine room from the movie version of the starship Enterprise if a 21st-century Frank Lloyd Wright got his hands on the specs. I checked out the 4th floor of restaurants for any future places to have dinners with today's gang. Typically trendy looking.

I finally got home and I've got both my fan and air conditioner on right now. Feeling much better and cooler. I only bought a salad plus a bottle of blueberry juice. I figure that the salad and the veggie soup I concocted last night will be good enough for me after the smorgsabord of today. I'm not sure if the next event will be catching "The Day After Tomorrow". I would volunteer to go see that on the 6th but then it would the 3rd straight Sunday to meet up with the old school gang, and although it would be fine by me, I'm uncertain if the other folks would want to get together all that often. I'll probably just leave it up to Skippy since she's the one other ringleader of these social events. I would probably opt for the 13th instead.

It's clouded up considerably since I started writing this entry. Perhaps I spoke too soon. I can't believe that in less than 48 hours, I'll be in Japan's northernmost metropolis.