Saturday, February 26, 2005

Sunday February 27, 1:05 a.m.

Another long day has come to an end. Had my kids in the morning, albeit at a much more decent hour than of late. Then, I went over to Speedy's school to help him out in his campaign to bring in students. I had a definite advantage in that I knew two of the prospective students from a previous party and that the other two were pretty decent folk. Pulled out my best comedic routine and hit one over the park. They actually learned something, too. I was a bit surprised when Speedy asked me if I wanted to download something or use any of his newfangled software to help teach. I'm definitely old school. Just the whiteboard and a marker. I have a lot to learn about 21st-century language teaching.

I was the last one to teach during the campaign so I was the cleanup hitter. Afterwards, a bunch of us including my students, Speedy and his wife and one other teacher had dinner inside the school's luxurious lounge. The pizza Speedy ordered was pretty gourmet. It comes from some pizza chain called SALVATORES. An Italian name more than six letters long...yup, that pretty much says gourmet pizza to me. And the pies failed to disappoint. These weren't the usual deep-dish pizzas with tons of cheese and tomato sauce. These were the original Italian thin-crust pies with a bit more subtlety in their flavours. Kinda wish they had branches in my neck of the woods, but they're pretty scarce even in Tokyo. And the designers of the pizza just happen to be WORLD experts in their field. A couple of them have even won competitions in Italy itself. That's some pedigree!

But that wasn't all of the good culinary stuff at the school today. One student's mother, a professional baker, whipped some tasty little apple pies and chestnut pies as an appetizer of sorts. Very scrumptious, and I was lucky to take home the leftovers for breakfast today.

I've programmed 7 hours of sleep starting in less than 30 minutes. Then later today I meet up with Speedy once more. However, this time isn't for business but for clothes shopping. Apparently, there's gonna be a major sale of some pretty prime brand name clothing with discounts of up to 70% in Ikebukuro. Well, I've gotta see what I can pick up in terms of shirts and ties. Maybe if I can swing it, I can even get a suit.

One last comment on Speedy's school now that I actually got to teach there. The setup and current status reminded me of what I'd heard about my old school when it got its start 30 years ago. It also started in a small room on a floor with just a couple of teachers. I wonder how Speedy's school will develop over the years...will it also end up become a richer, prosperous school with well-meaning students and teachers hampered with substandard materials and soulless staff? I wonder if the stone-faced president of the old school was once a fresh-faced idealist like my friend. I very much doubt that I'll be around nearly that long to find out, though.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Friday February 25, 11:00 p.m.

Do you know where YOUR children are?

Considerably easier day today compared to the rushing around I did yesterday. That rather intense flurry of snow at midnight last night gave way to just some very gray and cold weather. On the way to see The Teacher, I went to pick up some medicine at the pharmacy just across from the station. I usually pick that place amongst the plethora of drug stores in my neighbourhood since at that place, I can just pick a box of pills straight from the shelf instead of having to ask for it at the counter. The less said, the better. However, the pharmacist noticed me struggling to pick a bottle so he decided to help me out. When I told him I was looking for something to combat my hay fever, he showed me some bags of herbal medicine with the store name on it. Automatically, my spidey senses went on alert. Was he trying to scam me to buy the in-house product? Still, it was just the same price as the usual stuff I buy which is just for colds anyways. I took a few of the pills at the cafe. I have to admit that I did feel better by the end of my session with The Teacher.

As for The Teacher, it was one of the more mirth-filled sessions since she talked about having to run over to her younger son's Kumon class earlier in the week. Apparently, the poor kid had a stomachache and promptly vomited all over the classroom, taking out an unsuspecting family of zabuton and two carpets plus the front of his shirt. The Teacher went into supermother mode and had the offending chyme-soaked furnishings washed...on her coin...and got them back to the school within the hour. Man, imagine any mother in Canada going to THAT much trouble?

Got home and promptly fell asleep on my couch for an hour. Then I tackled "April" and "May" for my bookkeeping since I couldn't do anything about it last night. Finally, I was able to get some long overdue cleaning done. Dinner consisted of a mess of wieners and cabbage with a side of daikon salad. Not fancy but costwise, it was a whole lot lower than the small fortune I shucked out for MB's birthday party last night. It was still good food, though.

KInda nice to have a quiet night at home just listening to my jazz. But tomorrow is another day. And I've got the kids back at the more civilized time of 11, and then I've got this model lesson to teach over at Speedy's in the evening.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Friday February 25, 1:22 a.m.

That little scratchy sound I hear on my windows is the arrival of millions of wet snowflakes. Yup, Winter is back after a short reprieve yesterday in which the temps hit 19 degrees!. When I put my street clothes into the washing machine out on the balcony, the snow was starting to accumulate. Uh-oh! Luckily, it'll get warm enough later today that all of the stuff will melt away by lunch time. I'll also only have The Teacher so I won't be doing any major traveling.

Unlike yesterday in which I met up with Jazz Buddy, went to Speedy's to work on lesson plans for a few hours, went to the Tea Room to teach the Carolinan and the New Yorker, then finally over to Ginza to celebrate Movie Buddy's birthday. I really made good use of the one-day pass.

Jazz Buddy and I had a bit of a breakthrough. We actually had a pretty meaningful lesson, and without any need for textbooks. We just gabbed and some new expressions were sifted through the verbal chaff. She applied them and she learned. Huzzah! Our latest new forum was The New York Muffin Factory in the basement of the Shinjuku I-Land restaurant complex near the Andersens where I usually meet her. It's certainly more cramped than the Andersens and the Starbucks where we used to hang out but the muffins can't be beat. I can only hope that future lessons will be as happy.

I did get that Foo Foo lunch that was sadly yanked from me and MB on Sunday. Great stuff that ramen on a cold day like today. Definitely one place I would regret seeing closed...knock on wood. I still have yet to totally recover from the loss of The Farm Grill.

Looks like my work so far on the lesson plans have bulked up my planning muscles. I was able to get quite a bit of work done which impressed the boss. He brought me up to speed on the upcoming model lesson on Saturday. The one faux pas was discovering that I managed to rip a couple of holes in those cheap socks I'd bought a couple of weeks back. I had to discreetly hide my big white toe during my time there. Showing one's piggies while at work is not exactly kosher in this nation although I'm sure Speedy would be cool with it. Still, it was enough for me to get my shoes on as soon as I finished my stint there and buy some equally cheap but sturdier white socks at the convenience store near the Tea Room. I did a quick change in the Room's bathroom.

My work with the sisters was OK. The New Yorker is pretty shy but she can catch on quickly. I'm sure with the right direction and speed, she'll be able to put together a rudimentary conversation in a few months' time if not sooner. I'm just a bit worried about her innate shyness though. As for her much more fluent sister, no problems whatsoever.

The rains started when I left with the Carolinan back to the subway station. At that point, the precip was still watery but it sure got cold. I took the line all the way down to Ginza and found the restaurant easily. It's a place called ISOLA. The only thing called ISOLA that I know was a J-Horror movie a few years back. Nothing horrifying about this place's cuisine, though. The Italian was just scrumptious...although the Bismarck pizza of prosciutto and raw egg is an acquired taste. Movie Buddy was wallowing in his b-day enjoyment. There were a few others there including The Sylph and one of my very first students at the school when I started teaching there over 7 years ago. She's the only one in my time there to have gone 2 years. The Sylph was also one of her classmates during that time and another one of my first victims at the school.

My knees and right leg were calling Uncle by the time I got home. My knees felt like Bobby Orr's before reconstructive surgery. It must be the cold weather...good heavens...all I need to hear is that I'm arthritic.

I got home to check my e-mail and find out that I got a couple of more letters from a new alumnus and my co-host from the grad party. Always nice to hear from the kids. Hopefully, we can arrange a bit of dinner one of these days.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Wednesday February 23, 9:34 p.m.

Well, I put on my mask and swallowed the remaining medicine. No problems with hay fever. There were quite a few people out with their masks on as well. It was pretty windy so the pollen could fly up people's noses unabated. However, it turned out OK for me anyways. When I got home, I shot all of my clothing with that pollen-catching Febreeze.

The classes went OK as usual. I was lucky enough to find the Doner Kebab truck in front of Towers open for business so I helped myself to a nice chili kebab. Very reasonably priced for what I get. I picked up my text for the New Yorker for her class tomorrow. Gotta plan for that one plus the others. I'm gonna be pretty busy, and I'm quite tired now as it is. And I have to tackle "March" in my race for my tax return.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Wednesday February 23, 7:18 a.m.

We're gonna get a taste of Spring today. It'll be hitting around 17 degrees in the Kanto but with the warmth comes the pollen count. I may have to swallow the pills and even put on the surgical mask. I'm definitely gonna have to spray me down with the anti-pollen Febreeze when I get home tonight.

In those New York sitcoms, the characters often complain that their water initially comes out brown. Strange thing about my Ichikawa water. I poured some into my mug to make coffee and I got a froth. Not a head on a good beer or latte level but it did look like somewhat spat out some soap bubbles.

I'm already starting to dread going through my fiscal past. It was rather depressing reading through those dark early days of 2004. However, the fact that I'm still here in a relatively warm apartment does give me hope.

I picked up my weekly METROPOLIS magazine at Maruzen. METROPOLIS is the free English-language magazine detailing events, want ads and articles on life in the Big Sushi. Well, this week's editorial was from someone who seems to be a cheerleader for NOVA, the oft-slagged English conversation school which happens to be the largest chain in Japan, and my former employer from many moons ago. He certainly made a very impassioned case for his company although he made sure in his writing that he was speaking for himself; there were a lot of "to me" and "it's not for everyone". However, I still couldn't shake the feeling that he came off sounding like one of the party hacks. He certainly isn't just one of the teaching drones; he mentioned late in his piece that he was on the management level. Obviously he is quite happy with his lot in life.

Allow me to provide my sort-of counterpoint to the writer's story. I come here not to praise Caesar but not to bury him, either. My first gig in my current life here was at the Golden Arches of English Teaching for a couple of years. I even had 18 months of being the top dog at my branch. It was educational in that I realized I had no real love for administration which gradually to my departure. To be honest, I didn't have a bad time at all at my former employer. A good part of that reason was that I'd been assigned to a newly-born branch in a traditional area of Tokyo. Over the past several months, our school was lucky enough to attract a mostly nice group of students and a mostly decent group of dedicated teachers. The atmosphere created was one of a friendly, family type....something that certainly wasn't true of some of the other branches I heard.

I certainly can agree with the writer about the salary and training aspect. I was somewhat gobsmacked when he wrote down that salaries START at the mid 280.000 level. I'm not sure if NOVA is trying to account for the rise in inflation; I certainly hadn't started at that level. But I digress. It is a good salary to have. And if one stays at the firm for a good long time and does a good job, that salary will eventually creep up to a goodly monthly salary. And training is comprehensive. You could be a total neophyte when you come into the company and within a few months, you would be an absolute veteran. Frankly speaking, you would have to be a total idiot to fail at NOVA. In addition, there are always periodic observations by the head teachers on the regular teachers with comments. I certainly didn't get that with my previous school. My snaky manager just laughed cynically when I asked about observations and feedback during my first contract review. It's all about the money with him and his staff. It is with NOVA as well, but at least the company tries to ensure product quality.

Having said that, NOVA won't ever shake off its McDonalds image ("Do you want your fries with your Present Continuous?"). All the branches basically have the same appearance: creamy decor, cubicles or free tables, and Voice Room. The lesson format is very strictly structured. The writer mentioned that the lessons are "plug and play". Well, my PlayStation has been gathering dust in my closet for a few years now. For a teacher who wants to push the envelope and bring in a lot of creativity to lessons, NOVA is just a bit too constricting...physically, as well as figuratively, if one is assigned to a "cubicle" school. NOVA is great for the teacher getting his/her feet wet in Japan and the person who is only here for a lark and wants some good quick cash. Certainly, the career opportunities are there but they are in administration, not teaching, and you already know my feelings about the former. Basically, for most teachers, NOVA is the revolving door while for the students, it's the fast food outlet. And for the Japanese sales staff, it's a quick road to ulcers and nervous breakdown. Their salaries, as far as I know, are pretty minimal, and their jobs are very stressful as they always try to reach an ever-increasing quota of new students to recruit.

Also, I have to wonder about another couple of points the writer mentions. He says that the infamous nickname of the company as "NO VAcation" is a myth and that he has been able to swap shifts so that he can enjoy good lengthy trips all over Asia and back home. He must have been a wizard in his teaching days, and one with a lot of stamina. When you swap shifts, you can actually get those Saturdays AND Sundays off (a very rare situation for teachers in NOVA) but you have to pay for that with extended workweeks; there are tradeoffs. Also, NOVA doesn't recognize national holidays which is a selling point. Great for students who'd be hard pressed to find time to come to a school; perhaps a bit depressing for teachers although if one, such as me, starts out at NOVA, one doesn't feel it as such. Having been at a school where those holidays are recognized, it would be awfully hard for me to return to NOVA. The second point is about the famous non-fraternization rule between students and teachers. He proudly boasted that he doesn't particularly need the company of students. He's got other Japanese to become friends with. Well, let me say that NOVA's Prime Directive is just legal underwear. NOVA teachers DO go out with students, platonically or otherwise. And rumour has it that even the higher echelons also do the same although I'm not sure if the Directive applies to them. For me, I would have liked to have gotten to known my students better during my time there, and I think I could handle myself with aplomb offschool as well as onschool. Apparently, the writer isn't THAT confident about his abilities. As it is, once I left NOVA, I did spend more recreational time with my old students.

To finish up, I can only say that I will be very interested in seeing what the rebuttals (and boy, will there be rebuttals) will be like in future issues of the magazine.
Tuesday February 22, 11:24 p.m.

Had that long wakeup call since the Beehive wasn't having me today. However, I still have yet to start on "February" of my bookkeeping. I'll have to get that done straightaway although I still want to get some sort of sleep in.

I got back to the gym. I tried out some more new machines such as the bench press and the pectoral press. In the meantime, there was the aerobics class going on the in the transparent room ahead of me. The teacher just sounded like a DJ at Velfarre and dragging a lot of rather rotund women into the woodwork. They managed to crawl out. Since I got back from Maruzen rather early in the afternoon, I was able to get through my workout a full 2 hours before my usual arrival at the juku. So I decided to have dinner at the downstairs family restaurant. I will have to be more conscientious about what I eat before lessons. I had the hamburg steak in demiglace sauce with some pretty raw onions. I was rather self-aware of my breath that night. The Siberian seems to enjoy the lessons but still not a bit blocky in his delivery.

Got word from the Sylph, MB's girl. Looks like she's planning another B-day party for him in Ginza on Thursday and I got the invite. I'm not sure if I can make it out since I've got the Carolinan and the New Yorker on that night but if it's still going on at 9, then it should be OK. I've only got The Teacher on Friday. My ex cancelled out on me for the night.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Monday February 21, 11:46 p.m.

I finally got the second guy for The Company for the first time this year. Boy, was he rusty. He was pretty much the lower of the two after having been the ace of a low group all last year. However, he soon got with the program. Hopefully, he won't be doing too much more of those long absences.

Afterwards, I met up with PN at the Hyatt. Maybe I should have thought of somewhere more cheaper. As soon as we sat down and got our menus at what I thought was one of the more reasonable restaurants there, she had a mild hissy fit about the prices and suggested fairly strongly about moving out to another place. Well, I answered very civilly that we were in the hotel area of Shinjuku so prices wouldn't be too much different withn a 1 km radius; she acquiesced to that and ordered an ice cream sundae. One thing I won't do is change restaurants after we've already committed ourselves by stepping inside. She saw the menu outside and she made the decision to go in. As far as I'm concerned that means we stay in.

All that was just part of her dislike for Tokyo, and Japan in general. We had a good chat on the good and bad of life in Japan; most of what she said was on the bad of Tokyo. She asked me why I liked living here since she's rather hellbent on getting out of Dodge. I simply replied that I've been very comfortable for the past decade; certainly, the largest megalopolis in the world has its obvious drawbacks but I've learned to avoid most of them or live comfortably enough with them. I think that is what PN found appealing about life in Toronto...she could handle life there. However, again, I know that she's also found a way to complain about every city she's been in, including her former home of T.O., so I'm still not sure if she'd be absolutely content about returning once she's there.

On the way home, I realized that I've yet to buy the texts for The Siberian for his lesson tomorrow, so now I have to rush out to Maruzen to buy that. Plus, there's the text for The New Yorker on Thursday night. I'm not too miffed although it will mean a trip out to Tokyo. I think I can still get that lesson plan out there to Speedy and even tackle "February" for my tax return...knock on wood.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Monday February 21, 2:24 p.m.

I actually got a decent 8 hours of sleep last night thanks to The Class Act shifting times this week over to Wednesday morning. So, I got my first massage in over a month; thank heavens that the director of the clinic was the one who kneaded my worries away and not the woman with the jackhammers-for-thumbs. Afterwards, I got my two free Subway sandwiches since I filled up my point card. But those days are now over since the franchise has gone to a new system of a much smaller point card with only a modest discount the reward. Drat!

Also picked up a new photo album to fill with the grad photos. Got a few good ones of the young filly with the gams. And I picked up a notebook to start the long arduous trek to prep for my tax return. It's not too difficult weeding out the expenses and categorizing them but, boy, is it time-consuming. I just completed January. My tax advisor told me to go at it one month a day. Good advice. I'd go mad tackling the entire year in a day.

I was also able to air out the mattresses for the first time in 2 weeks due to my schedule and some of the inclement weather that had been plaguing us for a while. Today is pretty sunny if chilly. I've got my lone class at The Company, and then I meet PN at the Hyatt afterwards. I'm not sure where we'll go for dinner...maybe we'll try Foo Foo since I was vastly disappointed yesterday.
Sunday February 20, 9:57 p.m.

Well, MB and I caught ALEXANDER at the Picadilly today. Before that, we had our first disappointment in that Foo Foo wasn't open. In fact, the entire underground mall was closed down due to electrical rewiring. Not too happy about that. However, we did have a good consolation lunch at Samrat, the Indian restaurant near the theater. It was a pleasant time to chat about movies and yesterday's grad party. MB is starting to get that itch that I did a couple of years ago when I decided to go freelance. He's also worried about the status of the school since it seems like the classes there just keep on getting smaller and smaller.

As for ALEXANDER, it wasn't the bomb that the critics back Stateside were crowing about. I think that the dogpile mentality is alive and well in the media. In fact, not being able to go to Foo Foo was the far bigger disappointment. As usual, MB enjoyed it more than I did. I didn't think the movie was all that much to call home about but it did make for a serviceable docudrama with some A-list talent. Colin Farrell did fine with the eponymous character as he rose into the world's leader and fell into madness and death. Angelina Jolie's lips blabbered their best emulation of Lady MacBeth. As for Rosario Dawson...holy cow. I think Morgana the Stripper should look out behind her back. She may have competition now.

Generally, I felt that this wasn't a TROY action piece, and I think that's partly why the movie got the drubbing it did. There were only two major battles while the rest of it centered on Alexander's rise and fall and all the melodrama it contained. Certainly, the beginning was rather slow but when Alex started his conquests, things did pick up some more. I knew right off the bat that it was Vangelis who was behind the score. I almost expected those CHARIOTS OF FIRE joggers to come running by. Still, it was an OK movie done in by bad marketing and some media who've had their knives out for Oliver Stone for years.