Thursday, August 17, 2006

Friday August 18, 2:33 p.m.

I think I may have found a new hangout. I'm typing this from the Ai Cafe, a branch of this nationwide Internet cafe chain. Naturally, the lone Tokyo branch is in Akihabara. I got these coupons from one of these ubiquitious tissue guys in front of the station last week, so I decided to give it a shot. Well, the tissue pack had the coupons and a brochure on the place itself: private booths, booths for pairs (uh-huh), massage chairs, TV rooms, manga room, free drink bar, food menu, and even a shower room (not sure if the otaku will take the bait, though).

The place reminds me of a combination of a karaoke lounge and a manga cafe. I guess it's an idea whose time has come. I was a bit disappointed that my booth was indeed a booth, and not a separate room, but I'm being a bit choosy. The free coffee is a nice touch, though. I even got a shot of hazelnut in it. The only downside is that the booths are a bit tight to negotiate in. My "neighbours" have to do a lot of banging around before they get comfy. Anyways, I'm a member now so whenever I have some free time, I know where to go.

Last night, I met Skippy in Ebisu to try out this hambaagu steak place called "Ore no Hambaagu Yamamoto". We certainly earned our medals to get there, though. As soon as we got out of the station, the skies opened up and we made like Noah's Arks navigating the streets for almost 10 minutes to get there. Because of the diminuitive size of my portable umbrella, the left side of me got drenched while my right side stayed nice and dry....I'm sure there is a psychological explanation to this somehow.

Well, getting there certainly got some attention from the waitress, who immediately raced to get us some towels for me (half of me, anyways) and Skippy. "Yamamoto" is a cozy little eatery which seems to fit the bill for a lot of the restaurants in tony Ebisu. We were lucky enough to get the last table. We first tucked into an appetizer of fried squid in a dressing of basil and olive oil. Good start. Then, we got the main course which consisted of the famous Japanese version of Salisbury Steak bubbling on a hotplate and covered in the requisite demiglasse sauce. There were some interesting side veggies, too...a spot of roasted potato with mentaiko on it, and a long stalk of burdock root (gobo). But it was the hambaagu itself that merited a good rating from me. It actually did look like a regular burger in size and shape, but the trick was that the centre of it was occupied by a glob of melted Parmesan cheese. Nice. It wasn't exactly a bargain at 1500 yen but for an Ebisu eatery, it fit the bill quite well. It deserves a second visit...preferably in drier conditions.

I've got my opinions on the Jonbenet Ramsey case. I was surprised to see and hear how much coverage this notorious incident has been getting on this side of the Pacific. Even the subway kiosks were squishing Jonbenet's name in katakana on the banners. But then considering some of the kid murders that have happened over here, I'd gather that the Japanese would be interested in how the Americans handle one of their own pediatricides.

They may have finally got their man in this John Mark Carr (why do psychos always seem to have three names?), but now there may be some doubts to his story. As the CNN legal expert was saying, Carr may be a guilty psycho or an innocent wacko trying to get attention. Carr certainly seems to be playing the role to the hilt: blank expression (I guess being labeled as a deviant psychopath can do that to one) and ill-fitting clothes (including a Polo shirt buttoned right to the top...noone sane does that).

My thing is that I think the Ramseys (all respect to the late missus) actually do have some responsibility in this sordidness. I've seen the footage of little Jonbenet traipsing all over the place heavily dressed-up and heavily made-up....just what were her parents thinking having their daughter looking like an 18-year-old 6-year-old?! I know that her mother was once a Miss Virginia but I think entering a little girl into the beauty pageant circuit the way she was is just plain wrong. Considering that the family had earned a high profile in the circuit, Jonbenet probably lived her last days with a huge "Pedophiles! Come and Get Me!" sign around her neck. Noone wins here.

Anyways, I've got the UL and the OL to teach in a few hours. Then, I'm totally off for the weekend. JJ contacted me by fax to say that she couldn't see me tomorrow. Her explanation was rather cryptic which set off some alarm bells...I think she may be severing ties with me. But this time, I'm gonna give her some time to see if she will contact me again instead of me contacting her immediately. I'll contact her again in a couple of weeks and ask her if she would indeed prefer to stop things with me. I much prefer a direct reply instead of this so-called face-saving indirectness.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wednesday August 16, 9:33 p.m.

Just finished the official first class with my newest student at Speedy's, 007 (I've decided to transfer the number from that other long-absent president). He's an amiable button-down type; just a perfect match for his occupation as an accountant. He also happens to share the same birth year, blood type, and mother's birth year with me. And certainly from the first class, I think we may have the same sort of personality. Could be interesting. Quite a bit different from the happy-go-lucky 001.

Before the Speedy classes, I had lunch with MB and The Sylph in Omotesando. I finally fulfilled my long promise to take him to Hansen's...that hot dog place which sponsors those eating contests in which the skinny Japanese kid usually wins. I was surprised by The Sylph's arrival but she told me that she's now between jobs. In any case, the couple enjoyed their time noshing although they decided to go for the cheeseburgers instead. Afterwards, we took a quick look at Omotesando Hills. They also agreed that it really wasn't worth a second visit although The Sylph may be interested in getting a pair from Jimmy Choo's someday. We took a bend into a side street and ended up having dessert in a Royal Host (or Roi Ho as the young like to name it) for about an hour. The service was pretty substandard by our slacker waiter...he handed a cup of coffee which hadn't been particularly washed....even took a look at the offending thing before deciding that it actually passed muster. All I can say is that we'd been a trio of Osakans, he would've been fired on the spot.

It looks like Skippy and I will be having dinner in Ebisu tomorrow night at some hamburg steak restaurant that she knows. So I'll have to be hurrying to clean up the place between that and 002's regular lesson since I'll probably be out all day on Friday. I still haven't heard from JJ about the Saturday morning lesson, though. Speaking of Ebisu, I've made that appointment with Creambath Ebisu, that head massage place. I got a discount ticket from them to celebrate their 10th anniversary. It's still gonna cost me a pretty yen but I figure those guys are worth it. And speaking of Skippy, she's been going on the foodie bandwagon; she's already come up with restaurants to try over the next couple of Sundays.
Wednesday August 16, 5:07 p.m.

Well, the media dragged out the President and other flunky of that construction company whose crane barge was responsible for that blackout a couple of days ago. The two looked evasive (and terrified) when trying to explain the situation. Of course, before you could say "Shark!", the blood was in the water and the reporters went into a feeding frenzy, berating the saps about the situation. The worst thing (for the saps, that is) is that it wasn't the first time this had happened. More to follow, I'm sure.

That story almost eclipsed the one about Prime Minister Koizumi visiting Yasukuni Shrine yesterday...right on the anniversary of the end of the Second World War. 5 years ago, he had made a promise during his first campaign that he would very happily go to the shrine where several A-class war criminals had been buried on the 15th. Well, he did fulfill that promise...5 years later after annual hedging. Of course, there was a full court press surrounding the shrine along with the protestors. And of course, the Chinese and Korean governments launched their complaints with the respective (if not respected) Japanese ambassadors. But the furor was strangely muted, despite the fact that Koizumi finally got his date right....the thinking is that China and Korea are taking a wait-and-see attitude since Mr. Lionhead is leaving in less than a month and because they wanna know what the next guy is gonna do. But I think it's just the usual thing around the 15th: PM visits Yasukuni, people complain. Next....

Ah, next is that Princess Kiko has headed into the hospital to have her baby...well, actually, she's just getting ready to get ready to have her baby. The doctors aren't taking any chances despite the fact that she really isn't due for another couple of weeks. I've got a feeling that the Imperial Household Agency and the conservative elements are gonna breathe a sigh of will be a boy. I'm sure Kiko got her ultrasound results with a very positive sign for those who feel that the next Symbol of State should be an Emperor, and not an Empress. Otherwise, the media would've picked up more blood in the water, and once again all of those charts of Imperial succession would've been up on the newsdesks already.

Yesterday, since I had a full day off, I decided to finally take a look at Makuhari Messe, that convention complex in Chiba for myself. Actually, I've been to the area a few times over the years with The Beehive whenever we had our occasional celebratory lunches but have never explored the area in depth. Well, all I can say is that it's not the most easily accessible area by least, not for me. It took me The Tozai, The Sobu and a bus ride to the centre of the area.

Like a lot of pop cultural artefacts in this country, Makuhari Messe is this Westernized patch of land given a distinctly Japanese twist. Sorry to disappoint all those cyberpunks but this part of Chiba has a very utopian, not dystopian, veneer. There is, of course, a large convention centre amidst a grand area of US-like sprawling shopping malls, gas stations, restaurants and branches of the big companies such as Sharp and NTT, and hotels such as The New Otani. But this Americanized neighbourhood was populated by a large number of families of distinctly Japanese descent and there were the flashes of very Japanese udon restaurants and the like. There was even a park as designed by the most average of urban planners and across this bit of green was a huge tract of apartment buildings and condos.

The first big place I took a look-see was Carrefour, the French supermarket. Actually, it's technically no longer Carrefour but an Aeon supermarket since last year. The French couldn't break the code of marketing success in this country and had to bail out. Still, there was a whiff of Gallic in the form of faux-French accordion muzak to go with one's purchases of corn chips and industrial-sized salsa. The supermarket itself took up the majority of the 2nd floor while the 1st floor had various little shops and a food court.

I guess in a way Makuhari Messe was truly designed for the international conventioneers although it's hard to imagine Shriners walking through this mini-technopolis. All the comforts of (an American) home were there. There was a Tony Roma's and an Outback Steakhouse if the hotel fare weren't up to scratch. I took a look through the various food areas and just decided to have my lunch at the Beckers burger shop in the JR station. I finally tried the poutine with my Chicken Burger. As poutines go, it wasn't too bad...the fries were nicely soggy in the meaty gravy (I could even see the fibres) and cheese sauce.The cheese and gravy balance was a bit off, though.

Heading home was again a bit of a trial. I didn't need to get a bus this time. There was JR and subway access directly back home but it was just that the trains in this part of Chiba had a very countryside per half-hour...not very convenient. So I'm happy that I finally took a look at the area but I won't be going back for another second try anytime soon unless The Beehive decides to do another lunch there.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Monday August 14, 10:00 p.m.

Well, the Part-Timer got back from Vancouver all safe and sound...and very much in love with the city. In fact, she wondered why Speedy and I would prefer to live in this metropolis. Too complicated to say right now. Anyways, she's rarin' for a second look-see at Yokohama's Canadian sister city. I got some chocolate-covered blueberries for a souvenir which are quite delectable.

I was set up for a double model lesson tonight. I was getting rather tense having to set up for 2 business model lessons, not a particularly strong part of my repetoire. But as it turned out, my 2nd ML student had to cancel due to illness, and my 1st one was a decent sort...still not sure if she'll take the bait, though.

Anyways, I've got the day off tomorrow since even the juku is on holiday. I actually managed to survive not having to go to the bank for some fund replenishment. I was able to get some cash from The Part-Timer...not sure if that'll last me for a trip to Makuhari Messe.
Monday August 14, 5:43 p.m.

It's been an interesting few days. We had a teeth-chattering thunderstorm on Saturday which made my EIC lesson a little harder to hear than usual. And then today, we had a massive power outage across three prefectures including my Chiba, Tokyo and Kanagawa. And it was because some stupid barge with a crane slammed into some high-tension wires on the Edo River. Luckily, I'd already had my breakfast when the power went out between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m. although I missed out on the conclusion to another thrilling episode of "The Untouchables". But I was back up and running by 8 a.m. so "Mission: Impossible" was no problem. However, a lot of commuters were out of luck for as much as 3 hours since it seemed to have been a little more difficult to get things back up to speed in the big city.

Movie Buddy contacted me last night by phone to confirm his semi-annual pilgrimage to my home this weekend for another round of DVD viewing. He also hinted at getting together for lunch sometime this week since he's been off for a month (due to his cushy job at a junior high school) and is therefore going somewhat stir crazy. I think it might be time to introduce him to the wonder of the American hot dog at Nathan's.

Skippy also sent word that she's got another restaurant lined up for us in the next couple of weeks; some sort of brunch place out in Setagaya.