Saturday, January 29, 2005

Sunday January 30, 9:03 a.m.

I'd been hoping to get my 8 hours of shuteye but...goshdarn it...Mother Nature was pretty cantankerous overnight. The winds were whistling by like Valkyries. I was awakened by the chorus around 4:30 a.m. and just couldn't get back my REM sleep since I was worried that my laundry poles would fly off with the winged stallions. So I ended up taking the plastic one in as best as I could as a half-drowsy man of my age could...which is not very. Then I brought back my Discman and played my Jane Monheit. It didn't get me back to REM but it almost succeeded in drowning out the gale. I hope I just don't fall over my sho ron po today.

How about that Jon Stewart? I hardly get to see THE DAILY SHOW since it bounces around the CNN schedule so bloody much but I hit the jackpot today at 8:30. Still biting...I see. He's kinda like the anti-Carson...he doesn't make people feel too comfy on that sofa. It always seems like his guests, most of whom seem to be well-starched real journos and congressmen, have this underlying look of terror. And well they should since Jon can eviscerate without leaving a scar..well, not a physical one anyways. Also, it doesn't help that a quick sense of humour isn't a requirement for public office or media. Hmmm...I wonder if he did manage to scare away Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson from CROSSFIRE. The last time I saw the opening credits of that program, the announcer only showed the other team of Bob Novak and the bald liberal guy.

Some of that wind is still whistling out there. Not a laundry day today. Mind you, I do have to dispose of some clothing that's long past its prime.
Saturday January 29, 9:13 p.m.

Forgot to add some other stuff. In other news, apparently a legendary 80s idol by the name of Kyoko Koizumi did a naughty thing and did a hit-and-run on an innocent delivery moped. I'm sure the driver was properly indignant. Of course, the gossip wags were on her like a first boyfriend for some comment. Talk about your non-news story.

I see that Movie Buddy has been developing his blog over the past few weeks. He said that he would do only weekly entries but he may have caught the bug I did 2 years ago since he's certainly logging in a bit more than once a week.

Of course, the big news tomorrow is that election in Iraq. I just hope that it is successful so some sort of hurdle can be passed. Still, I think the insurgents will just get crankier and hurt more people in vengeance attacks.

Saturday January 29, 9:00 p.m.

That older sister I teach finally grew some "balls" and actually told me what she wanted. She thought the textbook we've been using for the past several months is now too easy. Fair enough...I'll throw her the hardball. Hopefully that'll mean she's finally getting out of the shell of sullenness.

Otherwise, it was a quiet day today. That rain never came. Hard to believe, but I actually a package of sukiyaki beef and a very lean steak both from Australia for a mere pittance. Definitely no need for that 10,000-yen steak dinner unless one really wants that Kobe beef.

Boop's friend sent back a response. Looks like I've got her first lesson next Thursday at Kiba Station.

PN cancelled out on her trip here due to a rather bad cold. However, she may be suffering from something more than a cold. Looks like she left another job again due to "creative differences". I've known PN for several years now and know how her personality can grate on other people. She's usually said that it's the other way around and perhaps some of that has occurred but it's kinda hard for me to believe that she's been the suffering martyr all the time. In any case, she seems to be depressed as well as physically ill. I hope she gets out of it.

In any case, tomorrow is my first trip to that supposedly great restaurant in Daimon for sho ron po dumplings with Boop and the OL. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Friday January 28, 10:10 p.m.

Nice and easy day today. Just had The Teacher and then a workout at the gym. I have to admit that the Teacher goes into topics which none of my other students would ever approach. We actually got into the seedier side of Japanese pop culture such as love hotels and places of that ilk. Of course, there was no one else in the cafe at that time. And I would like to add that she brought it up first. Still, even I had to curb the discussion a bit when we almost went into the really nasty world of German porn videos.

Dinner was a simple fry-up of an entire can of SPAM with rice, salad and the remaining bowl of homemade veggie soup. Now, once again, I state that I didn't have the spam due to fiscal reasons...I actually dig the stuff. Movie Buddy would rather dig it underground. He's referred to it as one level up from dog food. I'm sure most people in the Western world would think the same thing, so I guess this reconstituted meat would be my own little "natto". Actually, spam is pretty popular in Okinawa. They actually sell spamburgers there, a practice that has made its way into the FREHSNESS BURGER chain here in Tokyo. I gather that spam made its way into the Japanese culinary scene because of the large US military presence in Okinawa, although I'm not too sure if spam is a huge thing amongst the soldiers either.

I spent my night watching CASABLANCA for a second time. This time, I listened to the second commentary by an unknown movie critic. Instead of Roger Ebert's "play-by-play" style, the other guy basically went through various episodes which occurred during the making of the movie. The movie is still great to look at.

I've been having a running commentary with the coordinator all day about the annual Pancake Day. Looks like I'll be making another run down to Kinokuniya on the 5th with the usual suspects. But I have to think about how to handle the logistics.

Once again, I'm hitting the hay early for another early pair of lessons with the sisters. However, unlike the past few Saturdays, this will be a Saturday spent totally home alone...knock on wood.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Thursday January 27, 10:57 p.m.

Long day. I met Jazz Buddy at the Andersens in Shinjuku. Or to be more accurate, she ran in and met me in the bakery after being 10 minutes late. The lesson was more focused on TOEIC and a chapter out of one of my texts which made for a nice surprise. However, her typical sleepy-eyed look prevailed. Luckily, our plans for the Diana Krall concert made for a nice animated diversion.

Had my first day on the job at Speedy's school. However, most of the four hours there was spent listening to a presentation to a nifty TOEIC online system. I did have enough time to get one lesson plan for the first chapter of the school's official textbook. But I was inwardly miffed when Speedy hinted that I would only be paid for the lesson plan work. I realize that it's a new school so funds aren't exactly too deep; still, I didn't exactly treat my attendance at the presentation as playtime either. At the same time, I was rather impressed at this new online system.

Rushed back to the Tea Room to teach the Carolinan. We were the only ones in the place which made for a nice lesson. We also laid the groundwork for her to introduce her sister to me...professionally, of course. If everything goes well, I'll be teaching my second set of sisters from the first Thursday of February.

Looks like I'm getting quite busy with the new students. My ex is muscling in on the Friday night slot which will mean my Friday will be quite long as well. And I had to start negotiations with Betty Boop's friend for a regular date for her lessons. She suggested Tuesday nights which is obviously not good for me since that's my time at the juku.

I actually got my first e-mail from the coordinator at the old school since this year began. She asked me how my holidays were; I didn't bother answering her. She did ask if I would pull off what will be my final Sugaring Off party at the school in a couple of weeks. I think I can fit it in.

PN contacted me again to say that's she's coming to town this weekend. I recall that she asked me once before in December if I were free for dinner but it was just before the trip back home so I had to take a rain check. Well, it's time to hand in that check. I should be able to see her sometime this weekend.

Hopefully, it'll be a fairly quiet day tomorrow with just The Teacher and then another outing at the gym.

In other news, well, BBC and CBS got nailed last year for some improprieties against the government. Now it's NHK's turn. Apparently, due to some embezzlement scandals, the NHK president has stepped down to take responsibility despite stating that he wouldn't. There are a lot of angry viewers out there who have now refused to pay up their monthly NHK fees since the scandals broke. It's rather ridiculous, actually, how NHK tries to get its funds. Back Stateside, PBS uses the annoying hard sell to get its members to cough up but it's, the gifts are pretty good.

Over here, NHK has an army of senior citizens going door-to-door monthly to pick up the dues. Basically, if anyone owns a TV, he/she has to pay up because after all, EVERYONE watches NHK (I say that with a thick coating of sarcasm). Aside from the flimsy reasoning behind the collection of dues, the really ridiculous part is this method of collection. It's just so outdated. Perhaps in a village where everyone knows each other, this aging army can get away with picking up that 3000 yen every month. Not in Tokyo. The majority of people, until recently at least, did pay up dutifully. However, there is that rather vocal minority which pulls off a number of gags to try to avoid the NHK Reaper: pretending not to have a TV, claiming not to watch NHK (which is very possible since a lot of the programming isn't universally loved) and feigning a lack of understanding of Japanese. This last tactic doesn't really work anymore since the NHK collector can just throw out an English-language brochure.

But with the scandals coming to light, and especially because they involved NHK employees dipping too deeply into the coffers, the old collectors have been yelled at and even assaulted by irate residents. Kill the messenger! And so, the collectors have been raising hell with their employer. The whole system is just so atypically inefficient. NHK can save the labour costs by just withdrawing money straight from everyone's accounts but then I'm sure the locals would be crying foul at this Big Brotheresque collection. The craziest thing is that non-payers don't even get penalized. I think it's perhaps time for some heads to roll and overhaul the network. But NHK isn't the only culprit. The commercial networks have been in their own little doghouses as well.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Wednesday January 26, 8:25 p.m.

That snow quickly went away. It was much in the custom of Tokyo life: clean and efficient. It made for a pretty picture for that one hour, and then it quickly disappeared. By the time I got home from my lesson, the pavement was dry. There was none of that black sludge that forms after the snow just lays on the ground back in T.O.

Kinda strange this early in the year, but I've gotten requests from The Carolinan and Betty Boop about helping a few of their friends with their English. And even my ex has contacted me out of the blue for help with her conversation...up until April. Hmmmm...well, it's probable that she's just gonna get busy when the new fiscal year starts.

I was watching Larry King today. It was a bit of a sharp turn in topics after yesterday's tribute to Johnny Carson...LK was talking with the husband of a teacher who allegedly had sex with a 14-year-old. A pretty lurid case and at times, my jaw just dropped on hearing some of the recorded phone messages between the teacher and her paramour along with some of the modeling photos not too long ago. Obviously, it's not the first time this has happened as we all know from the LaTourneau case. Apparently, according to the hubby, 10% of all students Stateside are involved in some relationship with a teacher. And so far, the case that I saw on the show today along with the previous cases have been given full court press.

Over here, the same sort of thing happens but a typical case only merits a maximum of 30 seconds on the news shows here. I've even heard of a few via friends in Japan; in one talk, the teacher-student couple ended up getting married. There has even been a couple of comedies on that very topic without anyone batting an eye. Perhaps it's because Japan is a very secular country in name and practice without the feelings of cardinal sin that would erupt with the illicit couplings in the States. As a teacher myself, I'm not supporting the practice but I'm just stating an observation.

Because of the early night tonight, I was able to concoct some nice veggie soup and a main dish with lots of cabbage. Oh, my stomach will be happy. A perfect meal for a cold night.

Tomorrow should be a full day. I've got Jazz Buddy and The Carolinan bracketing my first stint helping out at Speedy's school. The money will be nice making lesson plans although my new boss has warned that the payment won't be as high as actual teaching.

I got a message from The Quarterback for the first time in a while. He just reminded us of the place and time for the wedding. That's coming up in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Wednesday January 26, 7:44 a.m.

A morning of wet snow...this has been pretty unprecedented this year in Tokyo. The fourth time we've had the white stuff this winter. And my students still say we have to go over the hurdle known as February. Speaking of seasonal events, it looks like hay fever is threatening again. One of the Beauty Pair last night seemed to be suffering from it so I graciously placed a box of tissue and a wastebasket next to her. The local media say that the pollen count could be 30 times as high as last year. Considering that Chiba is the prefecture with the largest number of cedar trees, I predict all of us here could be wearing masks this time next month.

Speaking of the juku classes, there was almost a chance that I could have a clean sweep of no students last night. The Beauty Pair was even later than usual, The Mild Ones totally cancelled, and the boss could have been saddled with a new kid to teach. However, the Pair did show up eventually and the boss was able to re-schedule. In the absence of The Mild Ones, the boss took her class in their slot so I could get home a bit earlier than usual and catch the Oscar nominations. It's often the case that unlike Stateside, a number of the Oscar-nominated movies have yet to appear here. The Aviator, Sideways and Million Dollar Baby are still not here and probably won't get here until the Oscars are already given out. At least, Ray will be hitting our shores this weekend, and Neverland is already out. However, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will arrive in theaters in Tokyo in March, a full year after its release in the States. I'm not even sure if it will get a full release considering its esoteric nature, but then again, it does star Jim and Kate, two well-known commodities in this country.

Just have The Hawaiian today. So it'll be the gym, her and then heading straight back here for dinner. No idea what I'm gonna have. May even stop by the kaiten sushi place instead but the place doesn't seem to be jumping lately. Kinda wonder if it'll be gone by April.
Tuesday January 25, 10:30 p.m.

Y'know, as a Japanese-Canadian growing up, I was occasionally a target for racism by bullies, future sociopaths and generally unthinking kids. Names will never hurt me? Sure, they did. Nip, Jap, even Chink. It wasn't even as if the times happened during or immediately after WWII. They attacked me because I looked different and I was in the minority at my school. I've since grown up with a seething hatred of any sort of racism anywhere anytime.

So you could imagine how I felt when I came across an article in today's Japan Times which talked about the harassment that North Korean immigrants have been getting from native Japanese, especially since Kim Jong Il admitted that he and his government had kidnapped several Japanese decades ago for their own nefarious purposes. The Korean school in Tokyo has reported that it'd received death threats but the one thing that got my ire up was reading that a young girl with North Korean ancestry, probably born and raised in Japan, was spat upon by a middle-aged racist on a bus and told to go back to her "own country". Noone came to her defense which doesn't surprise me since most Japanese naturally have the "don't-get-involved" mechanism, although I'm grateful that a sudden mob mentality didn't arise. No, it was the act that got my viscera boiling. As a victim myself, I can imagine how she felt...humiliated and very vulnerable.

The aforementioned school is pro-Pyongyang and therefore teaches the Kim philosophy of juche that has made North Korea into the feared, hated and impoverished country that it is today. It can then be said that the school is an extended organ of North Korean policy in Tokyo. There has been no love from the Japanese (and I cannot blame them) over the months toward North Korea because of the kidnappings and also because the NK government tried to flimflam its Japanese counterpart with alleged remains of deceased abductees that turned out to be faked. The North Koreans have stonewalled, evaded and lied when it comes to the possibility of even more abductees who may still be alive in their country.

But we're back to the case of the spat-upon girl. Yes, her family is North Korean...yes, she's being schooled in juche...yes, she could even head back to North Korea. But the bottom line is that she isn't the one who kidnapped those people; she's just a girl living and going to school in Japan. And she's one of many targets of opportunity for a lot of pent-up anger here. What troubles me even more is that unlike me, who had been victimized by fellow kids (and as we all know, kids can be cruel), the girl and others like her could become targets of hate by an entire swath of society. I'm not saying that every native Japanese wants to tear apart a North Korean immigrant, and certainly I think something has to be done about Japan's most dangerous neighbour, but what I read was just wrong. Absolutely wrong. I hate to go on the soapbox, but....

Monday, January 24, 2005

Monday January 24, 9:20 p.m.

Been a pretty good day. The Class Act was using a bit more English than usual. One of them relayed to me about how good the jazz entertainment at the New York Grill up in the Grand Hyatt is. Apparently, one doesn't have to sacrifice a 10,000-yen dinner bill to get to listen to the music; there's the dinner area and then the bar area where the band is located. And this area doesn't even require a reservation made years in advance which would be a very pleasant surprise. Would have asked Jazz Buddy if she were interested but she hadn't been too impressed with the place when she and her Mom went there.

SIL went to that concert yesterday to hear that K-Pop group, Shinfa. She and her sister were surrounded by screaming girls which must've made for an entertaining sight. And they actually got tickets for both the afternoon and evening shows. Both times they were situated high up in the balcony so they had a heck of a time trying to see her heroes. All the kids were on their feet from start to finish with their penlights so SIL couldn't sit down for even one minute. Kinda makes that 8000 yen she paid for a seat irrelevant. Reminds me of my own sole visit to a concert a decade ago. It was for J-Pop singer Misato Watanabe at the Yokohama Arena. The four of us were thrown back way back, and the jumbotron screens would only show computer graphics so our view of the singer was limited to an ant-like presence. At least, SIL and her sister bought opera glasses during the intermission.

No Psycho Woman sightings in Shinjuku today. My Company class was another solo with the same guy from last week. We were both pretty spent by the end but at least it was because I really worked him over with the drills. Will he remember what we did today? Probably not.

Looks like the trip with OL and Betty Boop is an official go for Sunday. We're heading out for that Chinese dumpling place in Daimon so I'll be looking forward to that. Also did a moderate chat with Movie Buddy. Hadn't spoken with him for 2 weeks. He and the missus are trying to organize things now that he's officially moved in with her. Will be challenging to say the least since they live in a tiny 1K.

I don't have the Beehive tomorrow so basically I'm off til the juku. Mulling about heading to the massage clinic in the morning but I'm a bit gun-shy after getting that last rubdown. I think I ended up with some thumb bruises on my neck.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Monday January 24, 8:49 a.m.

Heeeeere's Johnny! That's one of American TV's most famous quotations. It left the airwaves almost 13 years ago, and now the man himself has left. I turned on CNN to find out that Johnny Carson passed away earlier today from emphysema. I'd known that he was a chain smoker so I can't be surprised from his cause of death, but I didn't know that he had been ailing that badly.

I got to know him regularly virtually halfway through his stint as the host of The Tonight Show when I was actually allowed to stay up past 11 p.m. He was indeed a master of timing and the perfect look, on a par with Jack Benny or Bob Hope. Some of my favourite memories happened whenever Joan Embry and her animals came on board, and whenever a particularly funny guest such as Robin Williams or Jim Carrey showed. Of course, there was the famous Indian hatchet incident, but that probably occurred a year or so before I was born.

What still amazes me about the man is that a guy that powerful and famous in Hollywood was able to remain almost reclusive when it came to his private life. He won't even any public memorial. However, I'm sure the rest of Hollywood won't let that least not without a fight.
Sunday January 21, 11:15 p.m.

Just finished watching my umpteenth viewing of CASABLANCA, but this time with the added advantage of Roger Ebert's commentary. It was a very well-informed lesson in the trivia surrounding the movie, but also he gave me a good grounding in film techniques such as how Michael Curtiz filmed Ingrid Bergman with a combination of precisely placed lights to maximize the beauty of her face. The one big trivial point for me, though, was finding out that Bergman was a good couple of inches taller than Bogey which necessitated the ol' boxes for the lead and some slouching for the actress. Ebert wasn't nearly as kind to the Other Man, Paul Henreid, whom he described as so goody-goody that he was typecast as a stiff.

In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed Ebert's commentary though it's been several years since I've seen him and Siskel jousting on TV. I can only hope that he's lent his insights to the CITIZEN KANE commentary. But back to the movie itself...Ebert defined a classic as a movie that can still move a viewer despite multiple viewings. CASABLANCA certainly fulfills that definition for me, as well. Probably only two other movies can do that for me: STAR WARS and ROMAN HOLIDAY. Perhaps it's no surprise that all three show the main character going through and surviving successfully a major test of character.
Sunday January 23, 8:17 p.m.

Actually had a bit of light snow falling down this afternoon. Not a chance of accumulation but it was nice to see. Didn't realize it was quite that cold but the high today only went to 5 C. That rates as bitterly cold in Tokyo. Still nothing compared to the massive storms in North America.

Still waiting for JB to get back to me whether or not she went ahead and got the tickets for Diana Krall. If she hasn't, then I'll go send the postal money order over to the ticket agency. I don't want to keep harping about it but I've just experienced too many logistical slipups over the years to take anything for granted.

I've been watching the CASABLANCA DVD specials. Nothing particularly revealing that I didn't already know about the making of the movie. But it was nice to see some of the outtakes from this legend although it's hard to imagine something as mundane as bloopers from a movie like this one. However, there is a priceless one with Bogart reacting rather strongly after sipping a drink at the bar...a definitely un-suave look. I'll be looking forward to commentary by Roger Ebert later tonight if I get a chance to do so after the prep work for tomorrow's lessons.

Speaking of movies, how about that Samuel Jackson? He's become quite the multi-tasking pop cultural icon. The guy has not only made his footprint in cinematic history with his role in PULP FICTION, but he's become a Jedi and now he's made his mark as that superhero Frozone in THE INCREDIBLES.