Saturday, March 12, 2005

Sunday March 13, 7:46 a.m.

Got through the dry run of the tax return last night without too much of a problem. I just have to fill out the real stuff and then I gotta take the whole package out on Tuesday. Despite the Tax Guy's reassurances, I'm not looking forward to the trip out to the tax office.

Hit the hay a bit early last night. Listened to one of my favourite CDs, The Dude by Quincy Jones. I think I can also say with confidence, it's just one of the best CDs, period. If anyone would like to hear what US R&B sounded like around the late 70s and early 80s, this is THE album. Almost a decade before hip-hop came to the fore in the genre, R&B had a lot of influences of funk and jazz and pop...truly fusion. And The Dude shows that along with a good mix of singers and musicians: Stevie Wonder, Patti Austin, James Ingram, jazz harmonicist Toots Thielsman. Plus, this album seems to have been the warmup for Jones and Company before they really hit it big with Michael Jackson's Thriller.

What got me hooked onto The Dude was the first track, Ai No Corrida. Strangely enough, though, it wasn't Quincy's version that I'd first heard. I actually heard and saw it performed at the 1981 Kohaku Utagassen by the leading pop idols of the time. At that time, the Red-&White Song Festivals usually had a segment in which all of the young singers took part in a mass dance and song might say it was a proto-Morning Musume formation. But in any case, I saw this number and, after having had my second trip to Japan several months earlier, I thought, man, this is a pretty damn uptempo funky song for something that has a Japanese title. You have to realize that the early 80s were the second boom of the idol singers: Seiko Matsuda, Naoko Kawai and the Tanokin Trio. Well all of them were jazz dancing and singing to Ai No Corrida...a title that I wouldn't realize was also the name of the infamous porn movie by Nagisa Oshima.

Well, after having heard this great song, I went through the process of finding this song. Remember this was years before the Internet, so I had to shuffle through the record bins at the neighbourhood Sam's, the leading record store in Toronto at the time. Eventually, I came across the 45 rpm single by Jones and Chaz Jankel and played it repeatedly on the old stereo. Not surprisingly, the original sounded even better. It would be years before I actually bought the whole album in its CD format but I think that was a good thing in terms of listening quality...yep, I think CDs sound better.

As I said, just about every track on The Dude is eminently listenable. The second and title track is a great mid-tempo funk-and-jazz mix devoted to Quincy himself. And the other standouts are the two James Ingram tracks, Just Once and One Hundred Ways, two ballads. Ingram became even more famous on the R & B charts a year or two later with his duet with Michael McDonald, Yah Mo B There, and then some years after that with his other duet with Linda Ronstadt, Somewhere Out There. All in all, The Dude is probably one of the few CDs that I would put on a repeat loop.
Saturday March 12, 6:05 p.m.

Well, that income receipt did come in...over a day late, mind you, but as long as it got in. I can finally finish up the paperwork for the tax return.

JJ was fine today. Just a bit of underconfidence about her ability. I should get there earlier so that I can find a warmer table. It would've been warmer outside if it hadn't been for the stiff gusts and the overcast sky. Got home to see half of my wash on the balcony floor absorbing the dirty water. Well, I guess we'll be doing another load tomorrow. Not too bad with the hay fever, though. I downed some more pills but didn't need to put on the mask.

The Barmaiden finally got to me about the dinner plans on St. Patrick's Day. Kinda wish she would tell me which Tony Roma's she's reserved for the dinner.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Saturday March 12, 9:55 a.m.

I was about to hit bed last night when I caught the events of that Atlanta courtroom shooting on CNN. Over here, noone could imagine anything like that happening in a courtroom. For one thing, about 1% of the population have access to any handguns...most of whom are either the cops/military or the Yakuza. And I'm not sure if a crazed psycho with a knife can achieve as much carnage even in a "naive" environment. And unlike in the US where court proceedings are now almost the 21st-century version of Roman Gladiator games (see Classic Trek episode "Bread and Circuses"), the Japanese version is very sober. The only televised image we are allowed is the scene before the trial starts...three judges staring blankly ahead, in fact, everyone in the courtroom is staring blankly ahead. After that, everything is up to the court sketch artist.

Movie Buddy contacted me about the change in time for that big pizza eat-off tomorrow. I told him that "National Treasure" is in general release on the 19th, not today, so that movie is on hold for at least a week. He took it with his usual aplomb and said that perhaps we could go for another movie or let our stomachs rest a while before tackling the Foo Foo ramen. I remarked that after a double of pizza and ramen, we could be responsible for one of the worst gas leaks in Kanto history.
Friday March 11, 9:35 p.m.

Today's lesson with The Teacher was one of those "very special episodes". Instead of the usual laughfests with the underlying tone of raunchiness, she went into a long monologue about how some of her friends went into the medical profession because of some tragic screw-up or the cold attitudes of the doctors. She got a bit misty at one point. My general impression on doctors over here is that a lot of them have taken the title "sensei" a bit too close to heart and have become all high and mighty with an often cold attitude. But again, it all depends on the individual doctor; I'm sure that there are very decent humanistic healers in this country. The two doctors that I have seen in my 10 years here were fine enough. Once we got through that rather serious chapter, though, The Teacher was back to her smiling ways again.

My meeting with SR was good if tiring. We spent the whole second hour just going through the written exercises of the TOEIC book. She'll be here for next week but she'll be a scratch for the 25th which works out in both our favours since I'm catching Diana Krall with Jazz Buddy that day, and she'd like to see her Korean friend then as well.

Then I had dinner with my ex in Nishi-Kasai. She looked rather exhausted when she first got out of the ticket gates, and so I thought...uh,oh...she's in one of those moods. However, as soon as we sat down at El Torito and dug into the food, she was back to her normal self again. It certainly looks like she's back at the top of her game again. She said that she's happier, stronger and more confident; I half-expected Helen Reddy to show up and sing "IAM WOMAN!" I'm not sure if she were being her usual "tennen boke" self or if she were trying to take a few swipes at me in revenge for the 18 months of hell I may have put her through (I gather that it's the former), but she cheerfully boasted that she's hasn't felt this fine in the past few years, and that she's managed to get on her with her life. Geez, thanks. Well, anyways, she has her life and I have mine. We still enjoyed dinner and dessert.

Well, that Star Wars trailer is up and running now. I tried to download it but it looks like there are about 2 billion other people ahead of me so I'm gonna wait a while.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Thursday March 10, 10:18 p.m.

Met up with my tax consultant today at the Hilton. He'd initially gone to the Keio Plaza by accident and had to run probably a kilometre. With all of the hotels in such a tiny quarter of Nishi-Shinjuku, it's not too much of a surprise to get lost. Plus, he's said that he doesn't really frequent the area.

Well, he took me to a tonkatsu restaurant in the somewhat gaudy sliver of restaurants and electronics shops located between the hotel district and Shinjuku Station. His mother had once told me that it was a very good and popular restaurant, especially with the businessmen. Well, it certainly looked that way...there was a good lineup going up the narrow and steep stairs to the place. But the lineup quickly shrunk and we got in within five minutes. Still plenty packed inside. The atmosphere was typically boisterous and silent amongst the customers and staff in the cramped restaurant. The top guy was taking orders and barking them to his staff; at one point, he chewed out one of his underlings for an error. Groups of salarymen were huddled at tables and on tatami alternately eating their pork cutlets and sucking on cigarettes; it's a wonder that these guys can actually savor the lunch with all that smoking. The lone folks just quietly noshed on their bottomless bowls of rice and pork soup. We were rushed to a small table. No separate tables here...they just threw us to any empty spot which we shared with other folks lunching. And boy, I could understand the popularity of the place. We both ordered the tonkatsu lunch which included a very thick and juicy slab of deep-fried breaded pork, the aforementioned soup and rice and of course, the de rigueur shredded cabbage. Tax Guy informed me that the sweet sauce was the best point so I generously spooned on a heap of the stuff on the pork. He has yet to do me wrong. Great food and at 800 yen a pop, darn reasonable. If I can just remember the name, I'll definitely bring folks with me. However, it's enough for me to remember where it's located.

After the voluminous lunch, the two of us went to a Renoir cafe around the corner. Renoir is one of the cafes that used to dominate the Tokyo scene before Starbucks and its clones attacked a few years ago. The decor in a Renoir is one of faded glory. The furnishings remind me of a prestige hotel of the 60s (see Tokyo Prince Hotel for a time warp), and the coffee is even more expensive that your usual caffe latte at Starbucks. Well, the two of us got there and got to work on the final touches for my tax return. He scanned through my results, gave me some advice of what and where to write figures down, advised me to get that income statement from my school ASAP and that was it. He predicted that I would probably have to shuck out 200,000 yen this year. Not exactly peanuts but I won't exactly collapse financially because of it. However, I'll have to really think about not spending so much this year. I'm doing OK so far, though. He also advised me that I should bring the entire package in person to the tax office just to make sure everything gets there in one piece. Plus, I have one more document which has to be deposited in person. It's gonna be a bit of a drag on Tuesday, the due date for the returns, but he assured me that the lineup there like the lineup at the restaurant will go quickly. As long as I get it out of the way.

The two of us parted ways and I headed back to the school. At Shinjuku Station, I spotted an officer brusquely reminding a couple of smokers to cease and desist since the new anti-smoking bylaws came into play. Tokyo is definitely turning a corner. I certainly admired the officer's diligence; usually it's the staff that gets abused whenever there is a screwup on the line.

I reached the school ostensibly to pick up the remnants from Pancake Day. I could overhear Bruno, The Head and Movie Buddy teaching the kids...literally, the kids since it's the season to teach those special teens who are planning to go across the Pacific to study at California universities. But there was also the matter of the income receipt. I wasn't looking forward to going hat in hand into the lion's den and ask the Accountant, a person with a crust so thick to put French bread to shame, for a tiny flimsy piece of paper. However, the coordinator was there and for some very cheerful reason, she was more than happy to ask for me. And some minutes later, she contacted me to say that it'll be coming over in the mail by tomorrow. Well, as those last words sound, I'll believe it when I see it.

Since Movie Buddy finished for the day, the two of us went to the local Excelsior's for a coffee and couple of hours of kaffeeklatsch. He had a story to weave about his future with the school involving the high school that he's been teaching at for the past several years. Let's say at this point that he may be hanging around a while longer. In other topics, the two of us, the Sylph, and some of my very first students at the school will be heading out for this pizza place in the Ginza on Sunday afternoon. Apparently, there's a popular all-you-can-eat buffet on Sundays that MB has been telling me about for the past year but that I've yet to visit. We are also thinking about catching the latest Nic Cage flick, National Treasure, but for some strange reason, all of the theatres are only showing it late at night. I never got the impression it was one of those movies. But we'll play it by ear.

Got over to the Tea Room where I had my salad and tea. The sisters, Carolinan and New Yorker, came by for their lessons. The New Yorker is starting to come out of her shell slowly; she was a bit more talkative with me. I'm not sure but the Carolinan seemed a bit touchy tonight.

Dragged home my bag plus two other bags filled with Pancake Day stuff on the train. Managed to survive that despite the rush hour crowds. Checked the e-mail; looks like the dinner with my ex is a go. We'll be doing Mexican a couple of stations away. And I get to see SR for the first time in a few weeks at the Tea Room.

It's been a long day...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Wednesday March 9, 9:25 p.m.

It was a regular March Wednesday in that I had both of my regulars and I had my protection against hay fever. The only extra was the morning shift at Speedy's. The Hawaiian was her usual genki self which certainly helped the lesson go smoothly. And the OL was also quite fine, although she was starting to get a little nervous about her upcoming trip to America for a very brief homestay.

My ex was asking about places to eat on Friday. Good luck without a reservation. Not much else happened but I do have some final stuff on my taxes to do before I see the tax guy tomorrow for lunch. Plus, I gotta get stuff planned for the sisters.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Wednesday March 9, 8:26 a.m.

Jazz Buddy contacted me about cancelling her lesson tomorrow which frankly suits me fine. She didn't give any details for the reason but it could be due to her ailing sister or she might be thinking about letting me down easy. If she cancels again next week, I'll have to start thinking about the future of her time with me. To be honest, last week's embarrassment and today's e-mail has gotten me thinking about whether it might be good to get proactive and drop the deadweight. At this point, JB is the only problem spot. The Beauty Pair is another problem but I can't really get rid of them since they're signed onto the juku and not me.

Still not sure if The Hawaiian will be a no-show or not today. However, I'll dutifully show up at the regular family restaurant.

Skippy contacted me about The Kid's goodbye party just now. So I'm seeing if everyone can make it out on the 3rd.

I see that another hoary old sci-fi franchise is getting the dusting off. Battlestar Galactica has made a triumphant comeback...which is saying a lot considering that the first incarnation was a rather hackneyed ripoff of Star Wars with repetitive SFX. Star Trek is finally going fallow...not a bad thing but the timing could have been better. But the next big franchise to come back is Doctor Who. I used to be a big fan of the series when I was smaller and less discriminating about the quality of SFX (imagine...using a golden spray-painted styrofoam ball to represent a spinning planet...genius!). It was more about the stories of manipulating time and the different characterizations...oop, sorry, I should regenerations...of the good Doctor that got me hooked to the extent that I even bought a ton of the novelizations for a good long while. Now there is a new far, the reviews have been unsurprisingly mixed. One guy says that he's willing to give it a shot after previewing the first episode; not a ringing endorsement by any means but hopeful. However, the Sci-Fi Channel in the States has treated the new series like a mysteriously powdered envelope. I took a look at the official website. The new Doc looks just like a bloke going off to see a soccer match at Wembley...during the pre-season. No, he doesn't look particularly flashy like the foppish Third Doctor or the Bohemian Fourth Doctor but then again, after 40 years, how much more creative can one get in a Doctor Who characterization nowadays? In any case, I doubt that I'll be able to see the series here. The only thing BBC in Japan is the news or the odd spate of Monty Python and Mr. Bean that pops up now and then on late night NHK.

Well, on with the mask and off to work....
Tuesday March 8, 11:39 p.m.

Well, managed to get through the gauntlet of 4 lessons at the juku. Actually, it was really just 3.5 hours. My first "lesson" with The New Kid was not much of one since I was still trying to get the feel about what he needs so it was basically half-chat. He was pretty good about it for the most part, although I kinda wonder if he did throw me some cheek by asking me the question in Japanese, "Atama ga ii desu ka". I'm not sure if he meant "Are you intelligent?" or "Is your head all right?" although either one doesn't bode well. But I can't say that I could blame him, though...I'm sure he was thinking about what I was trying to do at times. Well, the sacrifice of my pride and respect is a good one if it gets me to find out some more about him. I now have a plan.

My final lesson with the Siberian had a pretty interesting ending. I found out that he's quite the Kanji otaku. That is to say, he has had a passion for writing, and therefore having a great knowledge of, Kanji characters. He certainly impressed me with his ability to write some of the most intricate characters that I have never seen. But he floored me completely when he wrote a character that is probably not even known by 90% of the population. Basically, it's a family name, Taito, and the character looks like a colony of is THAT filled with strokes.

Luckily, the medicine for my hay fever decided to wear off way after my lessons concluded tonight. On the way back to the station, my eyes started tearing up someting awful although my nose was largely left alone. By the time I got inside, my eyes felt like they were on stalks. I hosed down the clothing on the line and my own person with the special Febreeze so hopefully, the pollen has been deactivated.

Got further word from Speedy. He tried to get me for another model lesson but I had to turn him down since I already have JJ on Saturday afternoon. In a way, I'm happy since it seems that he's been trying to push corporate lessons onto me. My history with corporate lessons at the old school was one of the reasons that I decided to leave. I posed him a question about the nature of the corporate lessons that would be taught by his school as well as tell him about the problems we teachers faced with our corporate clients at the old school. He never replied to that. I'm not alarmed yet, though.

I got word from The OL. She'll be back tomorrow but I have yet to hear from The Hawaiian. I hope she'll get back to me before I leave in the morning. And it looks like The Barmaiden has set up the time for this big reunion at Tony Roma's. Luckily, it'll be starting just when I finish with MK, so I should still make it good time.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Tuesday March 8, 7:53 a.m.

Apparently, the pollen is FLYING today in the Kanto. So, it'll be even worse than yesterday! Yippee! Well, the temps certainly reflect's going to be a warm 17 and sunny. Can't gripe about that aspect. Still gonna be putting on the mask. I've already taken the medicine and the air cleaner has been on since this morning.

Fairly busy on the e-mail. Shard's been catching up on our correspondence, and I've been involved as the middleman in trying to set up a contact between Speedy and The Doll. Looks like Speedy's support staff has been conked out with the flu. Could be a long day today. Considering that I've got The New Kid at 6, I may just go straight from The Beehive to the gym today and have a longer prep period at the juku. I'll also let the boss know that four consecutive classes are my limit. She'll probably be disappointed since she can handle 8 straight but I simply don't have her energy.
Monday March 7, 9:27 p.m.

Well, the mask and the medicine worked like a charm. However, those first few minutes of the mask are pretty darn irritating...kinda like getting accustomed to crutches, but once the initial sensations of itchiness wear off, my mouth and nose have that warm moist womb feeling (as faintly disgusting as that may sound).

I was rather surprised that both of the Class Act showed up this morning after hearing that the father of one of them had passed away yesterday. But the lady took it all in stride; not to say that she was callous, though. I also missed a rather large bullet when the other lady asked me about SIL. For the past few weeks, I'd thought that she and I were kaput but thanks to not hearing a few vital words, there was a rather gross misunderstanding and nearly an embarrasing incident. Luckily, the lady had the presence of mind to call her up. Indeed, SIL was coming back. Well, I should more accurately say that she never left. To qualify my statement, it would seem that SIL in her so-called finale mentioned that she wouldn't be able to come FOR THE REST OF FEBRUARY. She's back in March. Ooops, my bad. I didn't have any materials for her but she's a talker so there was no harm done there.

I also heard the news from the lady of the house that she'd hired a part-time cook...a pretty darn distinguished one too, She was able to get him after he had quit a rather swanky Italian restaurant. Well, after the first lesson, I was graciously invited up to the kitchen and sample some of his wares. Man, did I hit the jackpot! He made us some deliciously arranged and just plain delicious squid-ink pasta and penne with porcini mushrooms. Good golly! Talk about eating the high life. And this was considering that I wasn't overly impressed with my first experience with squid-ink pasta years ago and that the cook told me that the squid ink had been combined with the guts of the squid to add richness. If he'd told me that before lunch was served, I would've been shaking in my boots. Instead, I've become one of the converted. The man himself struck me as rather soft-spoken but I could detect an underlayer of no-nonsense...not surprising when one has been in the oft-volatile restaurant business. Generally, it was a feast all day at the house. For the Class Act, we usually get served two orders: the first one is sweets and the second is one of fruits. Well that custom continued, and then came the wonderful lunch. Plus, the Lady of the House served me some scrumptious cake for dessert with coffee. And finally, when SIL bounded over, I got another plate of sweets with coffee. I practically rolled out of the gates. One other thing about The Class Act's lesson; the weirdness factor was still in session. After one week talking about homosexuality, then last week's chatfest on the daughter's underbust size, today we ended up talking about that same daughter's obsession with tweaking side flab. I told the ladies that I would probably the Motherlode.

The Company class was rather mild in comparison with just the one guy but everything worked out pretty well. Got back to the station and decided to hit the tonkatsu restaurant for the first time this year. All of the station restaurants were crowded with salaried types but I could get a seat at the local Tonki. Not the healthiest dinner by any means but the breaded chicken cutlet, ham cutlet and fried chicken with rice, soup, pickles and shredded cabbage certainly filled me up at the very low cost of 880 yen. Now, that's a starving student price if I ever heard one.

Checked the e-mail to get a rather long note from Speedy asking me about my availability. Once again, I had to tell him that my schedule was pretty fluid again since the mistake concerning SIL was corrected. I feel bad about doing that to him but he says he understands. He also asked me if I could get in touch with The Doll for a possible job. I tried contacting her at her Docomo address but, as I figured it, my provider seems to hate Docomo. The message keeps bouncing back like a boomerang.

Gonna have to contact the tax guy again. Tried a few minutes ago but noone answered.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Monday March 7, 7:38 a.m.

Pollen is a most insidious substance. I had the windows closed since last night but it apparently has managed to either seep in through the cracks or it activated in my blankets after taking them off the balcony yesterday afternoon once the temps started rising. In any case, my eyes started watering up along with my nose at the crack of dawn. In contrast to the snow on Friday, it's gonna be hitting a balmy 12 degrees today which means that Tokyo is on hay fever alert. I've already downed the medicine and I'll be putting on the mask.

Called up the tax guy last night. Found out that his timing might be a bit iffy this week; apparently his grandfather just passed away yesterday....I'm a bit surprised that the Class Act didn't call to cancel since I'd think that the guy's Mom would be rather busy with funeral arrangements. In any case, if she does come today, I'll give my condolences. Basically, all I really need is just one question answered and then I can probably do the rest of the return myself and hand it in this weekend.

Had my breakfast watching an old beloved anime: Gattchaman, or as it was called back in the West, Battle of the Planets. As far as I know, this was the very first of the anime that went over to the Americas although I heard that old B&W anime like Speed Racer and Astroboy had come out a bit earlier in a much smaller market. As a young lad, I remember watching the manga version in those cheap thick comic books that my parents would buy me occasionally. So it was quite the surprise while I was watching WKBW Buffalo one night and the commercial came on showing G-Force in the Phoenix. As I watch it now, the anime comes off a lot rougher than the stuff that comes out nowadays ( I actually caught Gundam Seed Destiny Saturday night), but Gattchaman had a lot of heart. Of course since the times of Battle of the Planets, anime has slowly crept (and some folks probably mean that in the most negative way) into the Western pop culture ethos until its current status as a legit genre.

Speaking of Japanese pop cultural phenomena, that living anime of girls, Morning Musume, has had a bit of a reset. Their weekly show (their only show, outside of a few late night programs, now that the MM boom passed a few years ago; at one time, the group had two or three other prime-time programs) started off in its regular time slot but with a new set and new segments (or "corners" as they are said in Japanese, something I'm sure that comparative geometrists would love to discuss). The newly-retired tall stringbean Kaori Iida emerged with her long hair shorn off and formerly disgraced Natsumi Abe was back in the fold with a quick, and hopefully, final apology for her crime of plagiarism. Took a look at the relevant bulletin board at JPop; sure enough, a few hours after the airing of the episode, the fans feverishly passed info, reviews and even uploads to each other. Frankly, I'd given up on the music side of things years ago after the group's peak in 2000 with their hit, Love Machine, the most-played song of the year at the year-end parties. Now it seems like MM is aiming their stuff at the under-5's; a pity.
Sunday March 6, 8:12 p.m.

Quiet Sunday today. Tried to call Mom for our monthly touch-base. Couldn't reach her but that's no surprise since she usually doesn't pick up. She gets the sign from her call display that I called and then she calls me back at a much more reduced rate. However, she never contacted me. Ah, well, maybe that will change later tonight.

Decided to hit Tokyo today since I spent the last couple of days in the neighbourhood. Wanted to check Maruzen for any potential material for my two newest students. Saw something promising for JJ but it's not anything that I needed to buy immediately. I'll go through my own supplies before making a commitment. As for the newest student at the juku, I'll have to play it by ear as to his attitude but I've got something ready.

Then I grabbed my gift certificates and hit the Ginza to see if there were anything worth getting. There were some good shirts and socks there but nothing really struck my eye. I'll hold onto them and bring them over to the Class Act tomorrow morning just to have them look the gc's over. There is the Daiei in my neighbourhood which will also honour them. I may get more stuff for the amount, too.

Speaking of the Class Act, I've gotta call up the tax consultant in an hour and let him know that I've done my homework. I need to have him check things over to make sure everything's OK. Hopefully, we'll have some time to meet this week.

Currently watching BEFORE/AFTER, a regular Sunday night program concerning the remodeling of some person's home. It's a good deal more sober than its more glamourous American counterparts. No particularly handsome or beautiful craftsmen gabbing their way through the process of tearing down and rebuilding. Every episode has a different architect walking in from the horizon to some bombastic synth music (not like Vangelis, though) after the first five minutes are devoted to how the owners were suffering in their dilapidated surroundings. The first 30-40 minutes are devoted to the various tasks to rebuild the home while a female voiceover provides the commentary. Then the final 10 minutes are devoted to showing the new and vastly improved home (and I mean, to a staggering degree) and the family's reaction. No suspense here...everybody's always satisfied. It's just to see if there will be tears or not. Sometimes, though, I think there's a little too much contrast between a couple in their eighties living in a house that would even make those living in Aoyama swoon.