Saturday, September 24, 2005

Sunday September 25, 2:54 p.m.

Well, that typhoon seems to have decided to pass us by here in the Kanto. Thank the heavens! And it looks like Taipei will be merely partly cloudy tomorrow if somewhat hot. I've been spending about a couple of hours just browsing through the package info. I found out that we cannot exchange yen into yuan at Narita...probably for geopolitical reasons; we gotta do it in Taipei. I've been reading some more info on our hotel. Looks like we've got a winner here but it's hard to imagine a Japanese tourist agency getting us bum accomodations even on economy.

I've gotta head on out in another hour to pick up some supplies for the trip and of course, the cash. I'll be keeping my dinner fairly simple tonight so that I don't end up with any bad gastric problems before departure. And yet, I'm gonna try out those Libby beans. Wish me luck!
Sunday September 25, 12:55 a.m.

Well, so far we haven't heard much from this Typhoon 18 although the pavement has remained wet all day. I ended up holding The Manager's lesson at the juice bar across from the Starbucks since it was packed there. No particular problems despite some sudden gusts outside (I held the lesson al fresco) and a dead tape recorder. As for MK, the two of us tracked her down in a somewhat emptier Starbucks.

Met up with Movie Buddy and Sam in Shinjuku. The rain was merely spitting so life in Shinjuku was as bustling as ever. We had a small beerklastsch at a Pronto cafe close to the Shinjuku Bunka Theatre. Then it was off to see "The Fantastic Four". Unlike the horrified reaction, the guys gave "Revenge of the Sith" weeks ago, MB and Sam gave the flick a thumbs up which again went against conventional critical reaction. To be honest, my expectations for FF were scraping bottom due to the reviews I'd read, so I was also quite surprised at how entertained I was. Not to say that "The Fantastic Four" was a stupendous shoo-in for Oscar gold. Far from it. It reminded me of the first "X-Men" in that it came off as a warm-up act for the main feature which may or may not be FF 2. The story was as light as a feather and everything else followed suit. And perhaps that was also its strength. It didn't take itself too seriously, and as a former reader of the comic book there were times that it also took the piss out of itself. I think the ideal viewers would be casual comic book readers and people who just want to spend 90 minutes forgetting about the world (basically the fans of the very first "Star Wars" before the mythology buried it). Hardcore fans would probably have been mortified at the light touch it was given.

After having a few laughs about the film, the three of us went to the nearby Samrat for dinner. Of course, I didn't pass up the chance to have the big thali meal and a strawberry lassi. As usual, the talk was mostly on various movies.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Saturday September 24, 9:01 a.m.

You know that Hurricane Rita is one major storm when NHK provides more coverage on it than Typhoon 18 which is on our doorstep. As I was rousing out of REM sleep, I heard all this crashing of water on my balcony which kept coming in short intense bursts. It's calm now so I'm getting some laundry out of the way. Of course, it'll be drying inside my apartment today which will not help the humidity here.

Speaking of that other storm, it looks like a new word has entered the journalistic jargon, courtesy of CNN. It's "overtop", a verb denoting excess water coming over and overwhelming a levee. You can be sure that if any more of these hurricanes (or hypercanes) come to the Gulf Coast in the next decade, "overtop" will become a part of the Oxford Dictionary in no time. And CNN will be there. And Anderson Cooper is there...again...braving those winds in Texas, wearing that bright orange slicker. I even saw Carol Costello out there in her blue slicker. I wonder if the "plum" assignment is for that little shouting match on-air between her and "severe weather expert" Chad Myers. I'm sorry...I'm sure Myers is an expert in his field, but let's call him a meterologist or weatherman, please.

My uncle called me to acknowledge that he did get the application forms from me and to say that he'll be calling Immigration first thing on Monday to confirm some things on the form. Lucky I was already up for about half an hour. I'm very grateful.

Movie Buddy confirmed that Sam is coming for "Fantastic Four" tonight. Still gonna be worried about this storm.
Friday September 22, 11:25 p.m.

The kids were better today. But I had worked harder than usual on the lesson plans the night before.

Afterwards, I went off to Kinokuniya to find some sort of Mandarin phrasebook for Taiwan. I bought a Berlitz book with accompanying tape for 2500 yen. Not exactly the most fitting resource for me; I think I prefer my language learning in a much more structured way instead of getting all sorts of phrases flung at me. However, at least the tape provides some audio context to the pronunciation. And again, being on a Japanese tour, I'll probably be very well insulated.

Then I headed over to Akihabara. For the first day of Fall, it was still a hot one today. As expected, the main strip there was closed off to traffic as it's usually done on a Sunday. Saw quite a few of the rucksack-toting, plaid shirt-wearing otaku walking the street. Nope, I didn't see any of them draped in Hermes-sporting woman a la "Densha Otoko". And for that matter, I didn't see any of those dancing costumed girls either. I guess the police have been making their rounds.

But I did see the new Akihabara sprouting beside the old one. It's just like seeing Roppongi Hills beside old Roppongi or the Shiodome complex beside the hoary Shinbashi. Just off several dozen metres from the main strip, there was the new humongous Yodobashi Camera. It's been open a week and I guess with the holiday, the customers and curiosity-seekers (of which I was one) just packed the place. There was a lineup for the escalators! So my voyage into the new flagship store was limited to just a quick look-see on the first floor. From the floor guide, I could see that the top of the place had some pretty fancy restaurants for an electronics shop. Just off the main entrance, there was an escalator descending into the new Tsukuba Express. So I went down the several metres underground to see a whole horde of commuters lining up in front of the ticket machines. I guess the interest for that place has also not worn off.

Well, feeling pretty ragged, I went home and decided to have dinner at the neighbourhood tonkatsu restaurant. I hadn't been there for a few months so it was due for a visit. I had one of their specials: two small medallions of deep-fried pork, fried chicken and fried fish (you can tell there is a pattern) along with all the rice, shredded cabbage and pork soup you can ask repeatedly for. All for 880 yen. Can't be beat. I guess Mrs. Tulip's cans of beans will have to wait until Sunday night. Why Sunday night? Well, Movie Buddy contacted me just now and confirmed for "Fantastic Four" tomorrow night. I'll be going although I'm a little worried about the weather since Typhoon 18 is gonna be approaching. There is rain in the forecast. But I'm still committed to those two lovebirds, The Manager and MK, for Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Friday September 22, 7:07 a.m.

The official first day of Fall but the temps should be up a bit. It was quite chilly last night...not that I'm complaining.

Looks like I'll be hitting home running after Taiwan. I've got a demo lesson at Speedy's the next day and then a couple of days later, I have to meet up with that former student to help her out on her interviews.

Just before I hit the hay last night, I caught the last 10 minutes of the drama "Densha Otoko" (Train Man), the Cinderella-like fantasy of an otaku who actually not only knows what a girl looks like but gets her heart (figuratively, not literally). Virtually all of those minutes were spent as the lead otaku and his fellow otaku who have helped him on his romantic journey bid a tearful farewell via e-mail as they all approached the maximum 1000-letter point of their string. I could have just stuck my two fingers down my throat and gotten the same reaction far sooner. In any case, this new urban legend from Channel 2-turned film-turned drama series has probably become one of the buzzwords for this year. Wouldn't it be absolutely sublime if this phenomenon actually got well-heeled girls to fall in love with the Akihabara nerds?
Thursday September 22, 10:08 p.m.

My gym outing was greatly truncated since I had this rather itching paranoid feeling that I may have had made an error in the time to meet The New Yorker. I was wondering if I had meant 4 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. With the exception of my usual 10 minutes on the stationary bike, I practically whizzed through some of the machines and skipped my 30 minutes on the treadmill altogether.

In any case, I got to the Tea Room at 4:15. My paranoid feeling was just that...paranoid. There was no sign of my trendily manicured student anywhere. However, I've always had these feelings for a reason. Perhaps, it was to get me out of the gym ASAP. Perhaps, minutes after I got out, there was an incident of some sort at the gym. Who knows?

The New Yorker did show her originally scheduled 6 p.m. She did pick up her game a notch. Her listening comprehension was quite good and she was more willing to answer in English, albeit fractured. I think the fact that she now has to commute considerably longer from her parents' home instead of her former boyfriend's place may have put a little more incentive into her.

Well, gotta get some final touch-ups done on the sisters' lesson plans before I hit bed. Tomorrow is another national holiday but I have to see them at 10. At least, the subways shouldn't be all that busy unless there's a massive vistitation to Tokyo Disneyland. Movie Buddy asked whether anyone was game for "Fantastic Four" this weekend. I made a counter-proposal of Saturday evening.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Thursday September 22, 11:34 a.m.

Looking pretty gray and dark with some spitting rain out there. I checked the long-range forecast in Taiwan on the Net. Apparently, there may be the odd thunderstorm over Taipei on Monday but the next couple of days were symbolized by a black cloud. That doesn't look good but then again we will already be on the ground so at least the tour can continue...unless that black cloud means typhoons. Just hope that The Madame and I don't suffer a bad surprise when we hit Narita.

Quite the news night in the States. The third-most powerful hurricane in recorded history bearing down on Galveston, a tornado touching down near Minneapolis and a plane scare (thankfully safely resolved) over LAX.

I managed to get the lesson plans done for not just The New Yorker and the Carolinan tonight but also for the other pair of sisters I teach tomorrow. I'll have to get a bit of shopping done for some cheap cue cards.

I've been hearing all about this Kate Moss scandale with these pics of her snorting drugs. The only thing that surprises me is that this is actually news. Kate Moss? Cocaine? Quel horreur! It rather reminds me of Captain Renault yelling in mock indignation that Rick's Cafe Americain holds gambling while the corrupt man himself collects his winnings. Well, it looks like the fashion houses are dropping her like a used syringe only because of the media spotlight which only now just decided to shine on her. It does send a message but that won't be enough, of course. One model who was being preened when the reporter shoved a mike in her face just wondered aloud why the attention was being shone on Moss now. This is old news, folks.
Wednesday September 21, 11:10 p.m.

Another long day comes to an end. I had my usual Monday morning and afternoon students, The Class Act and SIL, this morning due to the national holiday a couple of days ago. Literally the classes at The Lady's house were back-to-back since they were scrunched up next to my lessons at Speedy's. Thankfully, the whole kit and kaboodle was liberally peppered with good humour so the time went pretty quickly. The Class Act went well and The Matron kindly took copies of all the immigration stuff I had collected to show to her hubby. If everything works out, I'll be meeting the man in a couple of weeks. Speaking of immigration, Paddy will be giving that town hall a call and see if his power of attorney will loosen the red tape.

SIL suffered a bit of an accident over the weekend. She had the misfortune of slipping on a zabuton on bare flooring which resulted in a cracked tailbone. OUCH! Fortunately or unfortunately, my own cracks...jokes, that is...were breaking her up at the cost of causing some pain for her tailbone.

001 and 002 were fine as usual. Speedy hopes that 002 will give up her other school, a nationally famous institution that isn't NOVA, to come over to our motley operation. The way I've been keeping her in stitches while educating her at the same time bodes well. Speedy also told me of this party on the holiday Friday at the Foreign Correspondents' Club for English teachers and students. His mission is mainly to go fishing for new students. He wanted me to come along since going alone is no fun but after looking at the website, I thought the whole affair was more of another human swap meet. And since he didn't seem all that enthused to go otherwise, I'm pretty much of a no-thanks. As it turns out, The OL cancelled her lesson for Friday, but I'll just be happy to get home after my lessons with the kids in the morning.

Chip Guy finally popped in the e-mail after an absence of several months. Looks like he had his own experience in Taiwan just the other day. Although his business trip was pretty much trains, planes and automobiles, he had enough time to go up the Taipei 101 Building and laud it. 002 also told me that she envied my upcoming trip since she enjoyed her two trips there herself. Looks promising.

I also got e-mail from that former student-turned-airline crew member. Looks like she wants some help in interviews since she's interested in moving onto another airline. I proposed October 2nd.

Now that I finally got replies from The Matron and my brother, the only other AWOL correspondent is SR. I'm not sure what's happened with her after the news that her company, an American airline, went bankrupt.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Wednesday September 21, 8:22 p.m.

The traditional first day of Fall. Not quite sure though what the temps are or will be out there. My room has a tendency to show season lag since I still need at least a fan to keep cool.

It was a mixed bag at the juku. The boss is still praying that I will be able to stay with the juku. The New Kid was alright although it was plainly obvious that he needed a shower. He's still a kid so it'll be a few years yet before he's vain enough to need cologne or deodorant. The Beauty Pair was OK although Kei seemed a bit bored. I only had Mrs. Mild since Mr. Mild was too busy at work and McGirl had some other teenage plan. As for The Siberian, things were a bit smoother since we were able to lock onto a topic that he showed some interest in...the wonderful world of fortune telling.

I finally got word from my brother. He's been strangely unresponsive to my e-mail for a while so there was a little worry whether I'd offended him or not, but he's usually very straight with me. Looks like everything is OK but he didn't show any reaction about my visa plans.

I just got a call from my mother's town hall concerning that request for the documentation. The lady is very polite but it was another example of red tape. I'm gonna have to let Paddy know. I don't think he will be able to sweet talk her into doing anything about it...even with his skills as a lawyer. And I'm hoping that The Matron has some good news for me today. She never responded to my e-mail about her initial proposal.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Tuesday September 19, 1:23 p.m.

Pretty unsettled out there right now. Just overcast with bits of sun peeking through. Despite the forecast temperature of 26, it still feels humid out there.

Just had The Beehive. The usual chattiness. Got a couple of tins of baked beans from Mrs. Tulip. They're the Libby's variety, apparently from California or Texas according to the double label of English and Spanish. I'll have them but it won't be today. It just won't do getting gas during the juku classes tonight.

Also sent out a couple of envelopes. One was to my uncle with my request for his help in my immigration matter. The other was to Shard; he'd requested me to send over a local pamphlet of Pizza Hut since he got a kick from seeing these rather bizarre pizzas such as Potato and Mayonnaise. Yup, I can see where he would be intrigued by our choices in pizza.
Monday September 19, 10:58 p.m.

It's been a quiet day. Pretty warm, though. However, the temps will be falling by quite a bit tomorrow. Only up to 26 C. Made up some dinner and then proceeded to write a letter in Japanese to my uncle in respect with my immigration plans. It took me the better of an hour to write up three-quarters of a page of kanji and hiragana when I combined the actual pigeon prints along with looks through the dictionaries. I'm proud to say that I got the task done.

During this time, there was a lallapalooza of a special on TBS tonight called "Doors". I guess we're in that transition time between the Summer and Fall dramas once again. This four-hour extravaganza was basically the Japanese version of "Battle of the Network Stars" (remember that old chestnut from America?). However, all of the battlers were from shows within the TBS family. One thing I have to admire about the Japanese when it comes to these epic game shows is the elaborate games they come up with. They really come up with some big-ass obstacle courses which take up the room of an entire warehouse. I can't even describe some of these games which wouldn't look out of place in a typical Tim Burton movie. The preliminary course had celebs slide down a ramp via a sled and across a small pool; if they were lucky enough to cross over successfully, then they had to face 3 huge falling doors with holes in them. If they managed to stand in the right spot so that the holes fell over them, then they had to negotiate through three rotating spindles over another pond before trying to shoot a ball through five swinging axes to a target. And that was the easiest one to describe. The very final course which only had group left was trying to ride a bicycle across a very teetery footbridge. Noone made it across without falling off (of course, everyone was tethered to a bungee cord) so in effect, there was no winner this year.

The news was pretty good internationally for Japan. The 6-nation talks concerning North Korea's nuclear capability finally came off successfully. North Korea promises to scrap its nuclear program in return for a promise from the United States not to attack or invade the country and some material stuff. So I gather that the Kim-dom will play nice...for now.

Also, the founder of the large Daiei department store chain, Mr. Nakauchi, passed away today.

Time to take a shower and then watch one more game show before bedtime.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Monday September 19, 12:13 p.m.

Got to wake up much later than usual...even in comparison to a regular Sunday. It's the beginning of a strange week in which the Monday and Friday are national holidays bracketing a 3-day work week. Well, it won't really work out that way for me since I'll be teaching the kids and The OL on Friday. For your information, today is Respect-For-The-Aged Day. I can certainly use some of that respect since I'm aching all over. Perhaps those massages were more of a workout than a relaxation session.

I'd forgotten to mention that before "Cinderella Man" came on, there was a trailer for "Sayuri". Well, "Sayuri" is the Japanese title for the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha", the best-selling book about how a poor country girl became the most sought-after professional lady in Kyoto. The transition from book to movie took quite a while with the project being batted around all the major directors.

It was interesting to see all these Japanese actors, people who I've seen all the time on the telly in various dramas and commercials such as Koji Yakusho from "Shall We Dance?", Momoi Kaori and Ken Watanabe from "Batman Begins" rattling off their lines in English. But the big thing was watching Ziyi Zhang as the titular character. Now I have nothing against her being cast as a Japanese woman...when it comes to the business of casting a major motion picture, things such as ability, fame and the all important quality of putting butts in seats will always take financial precedence over nationalistic accuracy (can anyone name a Japanese actress right now who has the worldwide fame of Zhang? No, thought not.). In this movie, Zhang is the star. And boy, does she stand out....and speak English.

Still, after watching this trailer, I couldn't help but get that feeling of "Bugsy Malone" about this movie. For all those who don't know what I'm talking about, "Bugsy Malone" was this bizarro flick from the mid-70s starring just kids dressed up as gangsters and molls from the 20s while mouthing obviously lip-synched songs. The most notable thing was that Scott Baio and Jodie Foster were the two leads. With all of these Japanese folks spouting English and a Chinese actress playing a geisha, there's a part of me afraid that the gimmick will just stick out a bit too much. I hope the story does hold up but frankly I'm always a bit skeptical of any Hollywood project that comes to Japan. And that still includes "The Last Samurai".

Well, time to clean out the apartment.
Sunday September 18, 8:50 p.m.

Aaaaah....The Beauty Pair and I underwent a very relaxing experience at Riraku no Mori, the new massage emporium in Namjatown. Yep, the entire town was busy as expected for a middle day of a long weekend. However, we were able to get appointments with a couple of places: one was a Asian massage salon and the other was for a place specializing in Indian head massage. Both places were already packed to the gills so the appointments were for later in the day. In the meantime, I took the Pair, who had never visited the wonders of the various food museums, to the Gyoza Museum. Quite a few lineups to endure this time around. My past visits there were on very slow days like Thursdays. Not this time. However, all of us managed to sample most of the various kinds of gyoza for sale. That's a good ton of garlice, minced meat and cabbage in us today.

As for the massages, Yuri and I went to the Asian massage place while Kei visited another place. The salon had that atmosphere of Southeast Asia in its scents and decor. I had a young man for my masseur. The massage was for half an hour. It was basically a softer and longer version of what I usually get at my neighbourhood clinic so I wasn't duly impressed although I thought it was quite good. And the last 5 minutes, he had flip over on my back so he could give a brisk rubdown of my scalp which was the highlight. Yuri enjoyed her rubdown. Kei was already at the meeting point of the table area in the Gyoza Museum with a new sample of gyoza; she related that her experience was fine if a bit painful.

There were 3 hours until the next appointment so we just did Phase 2 of our scourging of the Museum. And then we waddled our way up to Ice Cream City. It was also crowded but not nearly as bad as the earlier reconnaisance effort during the O-Bon holiday. There, we gave two parlours a shot. One was a place whose claim to fame was a rose-flavoured ice cream sundae, I kid you not. And the other was a place which has become quite famous on the variety shows here. The staff work their magic "kneading" plain vanilla ice cream with paddles on a frigid metal platter while mixing it with plenty of fresh fruits and chocolate items such as Snickers bars or Smarties. The three of us shared a concoction called "Strawberry Fields" which mixed in fresh berries, some shaved almonds and Special K (that stuff which always helps a Japanese sundae).

We also took a tour of the Puff Pastry Exhibit but didn't bother getting anything there since we were all pretty stuffed. After a brief respite on a bench, the three hours managed to fly by. And thus we headed for our last stop, Dhora Vilas, the Indian head massage parlor. That was most definitely the highlight of our day. That salon was even dimmer than the other place. Luckily the seats where we were to get rubbed down were so light-coloured. The masseuses were all dressed up in saris. My masseuse asked me to take off my glasses and watch. She put on some rather warm pads on my shoulders and then scrubbed my head with a damp towel. She then asked me if I had any particular problems today. So I answered that my eyes were feeling quite tired. She replied that she would mix up a concoction of oils that would help alleviate my eyestrain.

I was sitting in the near-dark faced away from the masseuse (in fact, I didn't see her for the entire session) but I could hear some clattering of bowls which presumably was the mixing of oils. At first, I thought I was going to get an Ayurvedic treatment (getting the oil dripped slowly onto your forehead). Instead I had the oil massaged into my scalp rather briskly. And then I got a pretty hectic shoulder massage. There wasn't any of the shiatsu that I was familiar with but the first part was fairly intense in that that the masseuse was smacking my body pretty hard and then doing a lot of picking up of my shoulder muscles. But after that storm came some blissful arm kneading and the slow descent into slumberland began. Once she started to rub my earlobes, I was hers. I could actually understand how a Ferengi felt. I barely remember getting the back of my neck and scalp rubbed before my pilot light went out. When I did regain consciousness, the massage was over. I only remember 6 of the massage! Now that's one relaxing session. It's definitely worth another visit but I will truly try to stay awake if it means ingesting a couple of Cokes. Yuri also mentioned that she went into La-La Land and was afraid that she started snoring. All of us were buzzing about Dhora Vilas. The two half-hour sessions came to a grand total of 6000, not cheap but occasionally worth the visit. However, I'll come for another Indian head massage.

After that wonderful time, we all decided to head on home since we were all feeling quite contemplative and peaceful. I was quite content to let The Pair gab between themselves. And I was glad that the two enjoyed themselves eating and getting rubbed down.

However, my culinary feast wasn't over. For some reason (massage? long weekend?), I got this craving for ramen so I stopped off at the station ramen shop for a big bowl of chashu men before heading home. Yep, I think I topped off my garlic quota for the month. And I'm gonna have to load up on plenty of veggies and fruits tomorrow to compensate for all of the meat and grease that I devoured today.

That lunch with The Madame is now off the schedule. Although she denied it, I think I did push her into it...gahhh, when will I ever learn? Well, at least I'll meet her at the airport. The Anime King also called up to confirm that I shouldn't drink one drop of tap water in Taipei. Besides, he says, why would I ever want to drink polluted tap water when I could have glorious bubble tea anytime and anywhere? Also, the engagement parade continues around me taunting me. He just announced his engagement.

That glorious massage also did more than generate a craving for ramen. Now, I want to actually take a bath.