Saturday, September 25, 2004

Sunday September 26, 12:00 a.m.

Right on the stroke of midnight...

Another day to make me forget any good I did to my body at the gym this week. I went over to the welcome party where a couple of the higher students took over the hosting duties. Very good. I had a pretty fine time with the food and I met a new teacher who comes from the ol' hometown. The new kids seem fine and as is usually the case with the newbies, they were fairly subdued. However, everyone enjoyed themselves during the party games and the singalong. The coordinator seems to feel that renditions of "Do, Re, Mi" and "Edelweiss" are mandatory customs at the school parties. However, I was able to grit my way through it.

Everyone pretty much broke up afterwards which was a bit atypical when compared to welcome parties of the past. However, I just went up to the Tea Room and enjoyed what had to have been the very first time to just have tea there and not hold a lesson. Not that the staff particularly paid too much mind about that.

About an hour later, I headed out to Nakano where I was met by Movie Buddy's girl. We went shopping for the food for the grill. As usual, I ended up buying too much meat. However, MB and I were dutiful enough to devour everything though it took about 3 hours. During that time, we had a very pleasant evening chatting and eating while MB's brazier burned away. Curry Master did another quick cancellation...she really has a problem with going out; a bit of an extreme homebody, she is.

Earlier this morning, I watched the first bit of the Star Wars documentary, "EMPIRE OF DREAMS" on the DVD. It was quite enlightening despite the fact that I'd had read most of the stuff that came on screen on the unauthorized biography of George Lucas called SKYWALKING. Got to see some of the alternate choices for the characters trying out for Han Solo and Luke Skywalker such as a post-Disney Kurt Russell and William Katt. I'll probably slog through some more of it tomorrow before I head out to the third and final chapter in the saga of my weekend culinary binge.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Friday September 24, 11:22 p.m.

Smellin' of smoke and sweat once more after what seems to be becoming a monthly ritual with the Beauty Pair and Mr. Eccentric at the local SHIDAX karaoke box. It was fun again but I tried to make sure that everyone got their equal share in the spotlight. However, I kinda worried that Mr. Eccentric was getting a little downbeat over my facility with both English and Japanese songs. However, one of the BP assured me that everything was OK. I did my tribute to 80s singles by singing 66% of the hits of STARSHIP. To be honest, I was rather shocked by one of the music mags which labeled "We Built This City" as the 20th-century's shlockiest song but then again reporters of music magazines have become so jaded and snobbish.

Earlier in the day, I had The Teacher for her first lesson in 2 weeks. She was much better after her bout with asthma last Friday. And I got a surprise in the form of her lending me the Classic Star Wars trilogy DVDs. So I get a sneak peek at them after all before I get my own copy from my brother this Xmas. Then, I saw SR at the Tea Room. Apparently, she got a bit of a shock herself when there was a message from the Coordinator for some reason. There has been no contact between SR and her old school since she graduated over 18 months ago and suddenly she gets a message out of the blue. We gradually theorized that the Coordinator wanted her to come into the school on Saturdays to be the prodigal mouthpiece for potential students. SR was also somewhat put off that the Coordinator left another message inviting her to come to her chorus group's recital since the Coordinator shouldn't really be using alumni phone numbers on non-professional business.

Well, I contacted a travel agent acquaintance of Party Hearty's in Osaka to see if I can get that air ticket for home. When I got back from karaoke, there was a fax with all of the details. Air Canada is traditionally not one of those airline companies which gets on the discount ticket lists but for a direct flight from Narita back home, I guess the extra money is worth it. Anyways, I gotta get the info faxed back to him.

Also, Paddy's been taking some of his precious time to help me out of that snag with NTT concerning my attempts to get ADSL. Hopefully, he'll be able to do since I've got less than a week before my contract with my current provider runs out.

I've got a welcome party at the school tomorrow despite the fact that I'm no longer teaching the kids there. I'm gonna come in late so the Coordinator no longer takes it for granted that I will be always be the host for these parties especially when I'm no longer a presence in the regular classes. Stiil, it'll be nice to see the kids again.

Then, I'm headed over to see Movie Buddy, his girlfriend and Curry Master for dinner at his place. The wedding party for his buddy may be off but MB still wants to have a bit of dinner together.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Thursday September 23, 8:16 p.m.

Well, I guess the weather gods have cooperated with the official coming of Fall. The temps were actually decent today with the high being a warm but not stifling 27 degrees. The good news is that the weathermen are saying that this is indeed the beginning of the end of the Hell that was Summer '04.

More good news in Japanese baseball. Looks like the strike for this weekend has been averted. The chairman of the Japanese Baseball Players' Association, Atsuya Furuta, has definitely been coming out as the hero in this struggle against the so-called greedy owners. It helps that he had always been pretty popular as the catcher of the Yakult Swallows since he comes across as the regular guy. It also helps that his wife is a popular freelance announcer on TV. His regular guy status was further enhanced by his wearing a suit during the negotiations. Some good touches included his most public refusal to shake hands with the other side since he felt that there was nothing to shake hands about, and the fact that he got rather teary-eyed when the first weekend strike had been announced. Over here, a manly man crying just adds to his appeal....something that I've never really cottoned to.

The other good news here in baseball is Ichiro's rampaging run to become the highest-scoring hitter in a season. If he's getting a lot of press over Stateside, you can only imagine the ink and bytes of data that are being spewed out in his honour over here. A week back, I didn't think even he could make it but after hearing that he got 9 hits in 2 games, maybe it's time to change that opinion.

Had my class with Jazz Buddy. She was pretty good today. I won't be seeing her for the next couple of weeks since she's off with a friend to Taiwan for a vacation. I met The Carolinan later on in the day for her second lesson. She's a definite straight-shooter was only her second time in the Tea Room and she made her order to the waitress without opening the menu. She's not like the OL in that she's absolutely ravenous about using and learning English. She's somewhat more subdued so it ended up that I did more of the talking. Her basics in grammar seem to be OK but she had some rather surprising difficulties with preps so it's still going to be a bit before I finally nail her down on a teaching rhythm.

Movie Buddy left a message on the ol' machine. Looks like he'll come out to the welcome party now that the other party has been cancelled but he asked me if I'm still game for a BBQ at his place anyways.

It'll be another 2-lesson day tomorrow with The Teacher and SR. Then I've got my second round of karaoke with the Beauty Pair and Mr. Eccentric.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Wednesday September 22, 11:15 p.m.

Summer is determined to be dragged away kicking and screaming before Fall gets here tomorrow. It was another hot one in the Big Sushi. I had another go at the gym this morning. Just went through the routine as shown by my trainer the day before. Did two rounds of each exercise which were bracketed by 10 minutes on the bike and 15 minutes on the treadmill. I got everything done within an hour which kinda felt a bit hollow, a bit too fast. So, the next time I go there I'll go farther and faster on the treadmill and maybe I'll even sneak in one of Paddy's more advanced exercises to bulk things up a bit. I did lose another several grams, though.

However, all that effort probably went down the drain since I met the oil company guys tonight at Shimbashi. They took me to a new Italian buffet place which reminded me, if not fully equaled, the late lamented Farm Grill. Filled myself up with pasta and other goodies from the shelves. It's been six months since our last encounter so there was a bit to catch up on as well as the usual juicy gossip of who wined and dined who.

In between that get-together and the earlier workout, it seems that my life is now solidly spent in cafes. Except for another trip to the new Maruzen to pick up a couple of texts, I went to see The Hawaiian at our usual cafe in her neighbourhood and then I spent over an hour in another cafe in Shiodome before meeting up with the oil guys and after the dinner, we stopped at yet one more cafe before calling it a night.

I told The Hawaiian about the cancellation of the party on Saturday. She kinda went into shock for a couple of minutes because I also told her the reason behind it...the bride's mother passed away suddenly. I gather that I should have been a bit more gentle about it since The Hawaiian's father had also passed away not too long ago but I found out that her family and the bride's family were fairly close. I'm just surprised that Movie Buddy didn't bother calling her about the news. I sent him an e-mail telling him what happened today so that perhaps I could get some sort of response from him.

On the way home tonight on the subway, I was standing over one rather smelly guy who obviously was trying to raise his own dandruff farm. He ambled off the train looking like a slovenly version of Charles Bronson.

Well, I gotta get ready for the lessons for Jazz Buddy and then the Carolinan tomorrow despite the fact that it's a national holiday. But I'll be glad for the income since I've managed to fritter away a good bit of money since last week.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Tuesday September 21, 11:28 p.m.

It was another hot one today so we did break that record. The Weather Office says that by the end of the 21st-century, Japan should easily have double the plus 30-degree days that we have now. Oh, joy! Mind you, I don't think I'll be around quite that long unless there are some truly mindblowing advances in medicine and cybernetics.

My first session with the Tsudanuma gang in 2 months was unsurprisingly a big long chat about everyone's summer events. However, we did get into politics which kinda tuned out a couple of the ladies. Well, live and learn. They got quite a kick when I told them about my new life as a fitness nut.

And so later on in the afternoon, I made my way to the sports club to begin my long odyssey to a better me. Well, I quickly found out that I have to use a lot of lockers: the first one to store my valuables, another to store my sneakers which I can't use on the gym floor and yet one more in the men's changeroom to store the rest of my stuff and the keys for the first two lockers. I then rented a couple of shoes as if I were at a bowling alley and then my first steps onto the gym floor.

The staff there are very happy happy, joy joy. My trainer showed me the ropes by first having me checked out for blood pressure and weight. My weight was a bit of a shocker...I underestimated it by a good 10 kg or 20 lb. Yikes! Well, there's nowhere to go but down.

Then, my guy got me started on the process. First he had me do 10 minutes on the bike to check my heart rate. I skewed right in the middle; I wasn't breathing too hard but I did work up a good sweat which is a good start. Next, he had me do stretches to a video with a very well endowed young lady. And then he gave me the tour and test run of some of the machines. As a teacher, I'd give him full marks on his presentation: he was very patient and explained things very clearly in Japanese in a way that I could understand without having to guess too much at the details. Finally, we gave the treadmill a test run.

Finally, he wrote me up the programme which is a whole lot lighter than the one Paddy wrote up for me on Saturday. But then again, seeing that I am a beginner it's probably better for me to start out slowly. I did one more round by myself before calling it a day. The entire process took about an hour and 15 minutes. Not too bad and I even lost a good portion of a kilogram. I'll be giving things another go tomorrow morning before I see The Hawaiian. I'll probably hit the treadmill for a longer session. Kinda too bad that I faltered and did hit the burger shop after the first session though.

I got to the juku a full 90 minutes earlier than usual which surprised the boss. She also kinda gave me a surprise when she requested me to call up a cancer institute in Boston for her hubby's friend. I said that I would try my best although I wasn't too confident since all of the information about the friend was pretty much third-hand. However, I missed a bullet when the boss agreed that it would be a bit of a challenge so she had the friend call overseas instead.

They said that one has a lot more energy after a good workout. All I felt was some dull aches and pains. However, I did have a good couple of classes. The Beauty Pair just confirmed our second karaoke night for Friday. My juku boss once again took things way off the tangent once she heard my time at the gym. And in fact, the last 5 minutes had her jabbering in Japanese about advice concerning my dietary needs. I've been getting all sorts of diverging info on that topic that I just wonder if any of it really means anything.

Meanwhile at home, I'm facing perhaps a couple of weeks of scaffolding all around my balcony due to some work that's needed on the veranda side wall. I'm not too put out since the last time any outfit was doing that, Clinton had barely started his second term as President.

I got word from Movie Buddy that the big party this Saturday has been called off due to a tragedy in the family of one of the happy pair. Really too bad about that. Also, I got a message from the folks at my potentially new Internet pretty voluminous Japanese. I could glean barely that there will be a snag due to something concerning my NTT line. I forwarded the calligraphy over to Paddy who should get back within the next couple of days. I hope he can work things out. Otherwise, I may have to have hat in hand for my old provider.

According to the local news last night, there was an incident at a junior high school which ought to belong to one of those newspaper columns devoted to the bizarre and truly boneheaded. Apparently, a principal who just wanted to improve relationships between him and his students went up to a girl and felt that she looked better with shorter hair. Therefore as a "favour" to the young lass, he promptly produced a pair of scissors and snipped some locks off much to the shock of the girl. The girl immediately ran to her homeroom teacher who promptly went over his boss' head (which was pretty amazing in itself) and reported him to the Board of Education. I wonder if the principal (if he still has the title) had snipped a couple of nerves before he went on his tonsorial rampage.

Well, just gotta make the student reports and then head off to bed.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Monday September 20, 9:27 p.m.

Another hot day today. We'll be breaking the record for most number of days over 30 C in a single summer tomorrow. Not a record that I'd like to see broken next year.

Took advantage of a deal at the neighbourhood kaiten sushi place and had my usual plates of sushi with 20% off and a free drink. As expected, the place was hopping.

Then I went down to Daiei and picked up a really cheap pair of gym shorts for the ridiculous price of 695 yen. After paying all that money for joining the club, it's about time that I got a deal there as well.

I ended up planning most of this week's lessons. I'm all set for the juku, the Tsudanuma group for their first session in 2 months, and even for the Carolinan. I also got that pronunciation tape done for the Hawaiian. As I was doing this planning, I listened to one of my CDs during that spending binge last week. It was Jane Monheit's latest. She's appparently tied with Diana Krall as jazz chanteuse of the moment, and it shows. Very nice set of pipes and a heartwarming cover of "Over The Rainbow". Then I listened to the big band swing of Count Basie.

I was wondering whether to make Spaghetti Bolognese or Pork Kimchi for dinner tonight. I ended doing neither. I just bought some cuts of roast chicken with some supermarket spaghetti.

E-mail and phone were keeping me busy tonight. I got a call from Movie Buddy. It'd been about 2 weeks since I last spoke with him. Looks like he has to make his own pilgrimage down to Immigration tomorrow so I told him the ropes. Hopefully, he'll get through with his bureaucracy like I did. He also told me about the machinations at the ol' school. Apparently, there was something close to revolt last week when the new 3-class system started. The top class evidently had 11 students crammed into the room. Several angry complaints later, the coordinator will be going back to a 4-class system. Smart belated move, sister.

And then a couple of hours later, Arwen called me up. She sounded like she never left. However, she is still wondering about whether to accept that offer from my chiseling manager and take a job at the school. I told her what I thought of that in no uncertain terms. Anyways, she'll be joining us for that rib outing next Sunday.

On the e-mail front, my brother told me that as a birthday/Xmas present, he's gotten me the DVD set of the Classic Star Wars trilogy. Good on him. I'll be looking forward to seeing January 2005 since my parents don't have a DVD player. Also, one of the oil boys contacted me to confirm the Wednesday night dinner. The Wild Thing has followed my lead to give weekly reports of his time in his new land. The MBA programme there is already grinding sweat and blood from him.

Well, I figure it's time to clean up a bit, have a cup of coffee and then start the ironing before I retire. Big long day coming up.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Sunday September 19, 6:08 p.m.

Just came back after my trip out to the great backwoods of Nagano Prefecture with a bried detour through Tokyo Dome.

After my morning lesson, I headed out down to Tokyo Station and got my tickets for Karuizawa. There were some sizable lineups for each of the doors of the cars but I managed to get a seat with no problem in the non-reserveds. However, I made a slight mistake by going into the smoking car. My nose behaved itself but my clothes picked up the distinct smell of tobacco.

The trip up to Sakudaira Station took about an hour and 15 minutes. As we gradually left the Kanto, things started to cloud up so by the time we reached Karuizawa it was overcast. Mt. Asama loomed in the background but it didn't do too much during the weekend. However, what it did do was basically obscure the sky at night with the tons of ash in the atmosphere. We couldn't see any stars, and since my friends' area was pretty devoid of nightlamps and noise, it made for an eerie effect.

Paddy and his buddy picked me up from the station and we made a pit stop at the baby goods' store since they're still in the phase of acquiring stuff for their new arrival. This time, it was a baby buggy. If there were anything in this country that proves how pricey it is to live here, the baby buggy was it. There were the really cheapo ones for 3000 yen. However, most of them were going for between 20000 and 50000 yen. Ugh!

We made it over to the apartment. My good friend was cooking up some really delectable BBQ chicken while the newest addition to the family was quietly laying on a cushion just gurgling away. For the next several hours, we just gabbed, Paddy advised me on his sports program for my visit to the sports club, and we tried to get through the DVD of the pilot episode of FRIENDS (we failed)...all while we just continued to munch down the chicken wings and some other wonderful sushi rice with toppings wrapped in a leaf. It turned out to be a several-hour wait since we were waiting for another ol' buddy of Paddy's who was supposed to head out here with his new family the night before. Apparently, he's had the reputation as a procrastinator according to the talk bandied about. In the interim, we also decided to go the nearest supermarket to pick up some ice cream. During the ride there, we noticed a shopping street all boarded up like a ghost town. The recent appearances of megamalls and outlets have dried up customers for the old little retail places. It's a pity.

Finally at around 9:30, earlier than anticipated, the other family came with their little kid in tow. She was about a year older than my friends' daughter but she was a bundle of energy. She was in that new phase of touchy-feely-walky. She just couldn't stay still for a single minute. However, it was nice to be the uncle of the family and play around with the kids.

A couple of hours later, we said our goodbyes to our hosts and then headed out to the cottage where we would be staying for the night. It was Paddy, me and the procrastinator's family (don't get me wrong, he is a nice guy...the name is just a handle). A half-hour later, the car rambled through some thoroughly darkened woods (I was reminded of Blair Witch) before coming to a stop in front of a pretty large wooden cottage. Entering the rustic lodgings, I realized through the musty air that this was the first time I'd ever stayed in a cottage. The closest I ever got to that was perhaps during my childhood days at camp.

The cottage was a mix of old and new. The structure itself was over 40 years old with that mustiness but it also had a modern flush toilet with the heated seat and bidet functions plus a TV with surprisingly good reception. We hit the hay within the next couple of hours. On the TV, we found out that there was a hostage-taking in progress in Ichihara City, not too far from where I live. Another wonderful crime for the talking heads to gab about on Monday morning.

I woke up around 8 this morning and had instant ramen and coffee for breakfast; I think that would be my version of roughing it in the woods. The air was comfortably cool but the mosquitoes were out in force. I managed to swat most of them away but a few still got through the defences. A couple of hours later, the Procrastinator drove all of us to the station. I was the only one to drop out though. The others decided to stay another day to partake in the hot springs.

It was already getting quite warm even in Karuizawa before the duck-billed Nagano Shinkansen arrived to pick up the passengers for the trip back to Tokyo. During the ride down, I continued to dig through the 9/11 Commission's Report. Parts of it just read like a Tom Clancy novel and therefore it was very difficult to put down.

I hit Tokyo a little after noon and quickly made my way up to Tokyo Dome. Considering that baseball is on strike, the surrounding area was still remarkably crowded. But now that there is a huge mall and amusement park, the area doesn't really need baseball to perk up its population. There I met my old Tea Room Ladies for what I realize has been the first time in over a year.

We found the News Deli as our place to eat. It was once again another baby session as the most talkative of the group brought her 7-month-old daughter along. The most talkative one has been living in Buenos Aires with her hubby for the past year and a half due to work, and although she wouldn't admit it, I think she's settled down there pretty well. Her English was getting mixed up with her Spanish at times and her delivery did have a tinge of Spanish. We gabbed about the usual things: certain students, teachers and the old days.

After about 2 hours, we split up. I don't think I'll see them again for a while.

Back home, I received some further surprises. On my message machine, I received no less than 3 calls from The Bohemian. He's back in town and probably wanted to see if I were available for dinner tonight but frankly I just wanted to get home. However, I'll call him and see if he's up for something tomorrow afternoon. DTE contacted me telling me that she ran into a current student in Tokyo. Apparently, the school now only has 3 classes under the coordinator. No wonder I won't get any classes. Geez, how bad is it gonna get?

But the biggest bombshell of the day was a message from, lo and behold, Arwen. Apparently, that new job was indeed the job from Hell. She almost became a victim of "death by overwork" and had to quit prematurely. She basically spent most of August and September trying to recuperate. And now that she has, she took a small trip to London and saw the Ballerina by coincidence.

My response to her was frankly quite muted. Despite her ordeal at the company, I'm still not particularly all that thrilled that she disappeared on me like that without so much as a word. And I still have no idea about what has happened to 77. But I invited her to the rib pigout next Sunday being planned by Skippy.

Well, time for me to pick some supplies for the fridge and then I'll have a bit of leftovers for dinner.