Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sunday October 29th, 1:49 p.m.

It's been a case of seconds for the Japanese sporting world over the past few days. In the World Series, the Cardinals won so it is the 2nd year in a row that a Major League team with a Japanese player got the brass ring. This time, the lucky fellow is So Taguchi. Of course, the local media here focused all on him spritzing his mates with the champagne. Over here, the Japan Series got its champion from Hokkaido when the Nippon Ham Fighters won its first Series in 44 years in Sapporo over The Chunichi Dragons. The second connection comes with the fact the Fighters was the 2nd team in a row to win its do ring with an American manager, Trey Hillman.

But the bigger news was that it was Fighters centrefielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo's final game. After 14 years with the Hanshin Tigers, the New York Mets and then his current team, the man with a personality bigger than his talent finally hung up his mitt for good (supposedly). He didn't do much with the Mets but his outsized self certainly brought a cultural earthquake of sorts in staid Sapporo. And he's been hitting the commercial world in a big way, which ought to hint at what his post-baseball future may be like. He's been hawking a travel agency, iced coffee and underwear. Although some have disagreed with me, I think he'll probably hit the tarento circuit. In his last game, he was wearing his emotions literally on his sleeve. While wiping away the tears at his last at-bat, he took 3 mighty swings-turned-strikes before heading out to the field one last time. The man didn't stop crying for about half an hour. But it was a great way to end a career...getting a championship on his home turf.

In my own little life, I've had the usual ups and downs during the latter half of the week. My first true class with The Polynesian went very well...looks like the girl has actually turned another leaf. On the other hand, my lesson with The New Yorker was very nearly a crash n' burn. The girl just can't get it together. It also didn't help that there was a bigger-than-average crowd at The Tea Room because of its last days. All of my Tea Room students were with me on the last 3 days. The New Yorker suggested the Starbucks over the station although that place is one of the more crowded cafes in the neighbourhood. Then on Friday, The UL suggested a potential choice in Otemachi since it is the station for both our lines; however, we'll be meeting at the old Toranomon Starbucks the next time. Ironic...I thought once The OL went inactive, The Tea Room would remain one of my main bases and Toranomon would become a faint memory. Now it's the other way around. Finally, M+M came for their 2 hours with me; they actually decided to get some food with their tea in commemoration of the very last day yesterday. Then, followed The Carolinan. As they say, the joint was really jumping last night as old regular customers tried to get one more cuppa before the doors closed for good. Even I got a bit sentimental by ordering the scone set with my Earl Grey. As The Carolinan and I made our way to the cashier, we had one final chat with the ever-smiling manageress. Luckily, she has my name card so if anything comes up, she'll be the first to contact me.

During my 5 years at The Tea Room, my favourite sandwich was The Tuna Salad and Cheese. I finally asked the manageress about the recipe, thinking that I would have to combine a complex mix of ingredients such as the finest European cheese, some sort of expensive mayo or the freshest tuna from Tsukiji. Well, she sank my boat by just answering that the chef always used regular supermarket ingredients. At least, I know that I can put it all together by myself. The manageress is one class act...I'll miss her.

Earlier in the morning yesterday, I had my first class with The Coffeemaker and Tully. It went very well. Looks like my "Conversation Gambits" book has become the impact player of my texts. I may even use it with the text-shy Siberian on Tuesday night. Before the two came though, I had been sipping my coffee in the basement of the Tully's cafe near the station (my new Ichigaya touchstone since The Tea Room has closed up shop). There was a group of young me just huddled around three tables just talking very quietly...very unusual considering their age...I'd guess, their twenties. They looked the intellectual university type and were just talking in hushed voices. I could've sworn that they belonged to a bible study group...or an otaku terrorist cell. I wonder if they're regulars. In any case, The Coffeemaker and Tully are still planning their umpteenth reunion with their old mates this Thursday in Shibuya. The Satyr and I are planning to go but I do have that lesson with B2 so I'll be late.

I just had my kid, The Younger, and her mother today. The Elder is off at one of her frequent volleyball games today. Now after this, I'm heading on down to Aoyama to pick up a couple of pumpkins for carving with Seven at the juku on Tuesday and then at 002's party on Saturday (fully knowing that it'll be 4 days after Halloween). The Beehive will be having its own pumpkin carving on Tuesday morning but hopefully Mrs. Travel will have taken care of the details on her end.

I got word from Speedy that Farrah came in for one of her rare classes yesterday. Usually, I'd be teaching her but since I was already well engaged, Speedy had to take over. And it looks like Farrah will be a rather scarce student since her company is now entering the busy season. Speedy was ruefully saying that it would be May before any more time would open up for her. Well, that's the way it goes.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wednesday October 25, 10:04 p.m.

I've finished up my classes with 001 and 007. Everything was as usual: 001 and I were bandying about the dollops of humour during her lesson, while I've discovered that 007 is not just slightly otaku-ish but he's also quite the intellectual. We were playing Desert Island Discs, Movies, etc, and he was throwing me some rather highbrow suggestions. I'm still wondering if he's still a bit too high for the text since his listening comprehension and grammar are rather high; it's just that his fluency isn't too great. Well, Speedy told me that his fourth and final lesson of his current batch will be next week, so we'll see if he'll continue on with me.

I've also updated my Mixi account with a couple of articles on my Permanent Residency and on the death of The Tea Room. I haven't really gotten any replies from anyone...not too surprising since Mixi is a Japanese community forum, and I've stubbornly continued to write in English. I'm just not willing to spend two hours on line constructing Japanese sentences with the help of dictionaries. Still, there may be someone who will dare to read what I've got.

Well, gotta go on home. I've got The Polynesian for her official first lesson tomorrow and then The New Yorker for her final lesson at The Tea Room. I kinda wonder if The New Yorker will be continuing on with me. She's been slow in progress over the past couple of years, and I wonder if the end of her presence at my base of operations will cue her to stop with me, period. I've recently decided not to go haywire whenever a student decides to cease his/her time with me. I will now just treat it as her time to go away for a while. With the return of The Polynesian and The Coffeemaker after a few years, I think my life is just one bus stop with a lot of arrivals and departures.
Wednesday October 25, 5:07 p.m.

Two months before Xmas...what will I be doing then...aside from devouring fowl, that is?

In any case, I've changed the flight for The Great White North. I've gone back to the robber barons at Air Canada since I decided that paying more for a direct non-stop flight was better than risking missing a connector via the US. The damage won't hurt too bad...just another 14,000 yen extra.

Well, after two straight days of rain and cooler weather reminiscent of mid-November instead of late October, things are pretty peachy today. But I'm still drying out the sneakers. I headed on out to City Hall to register the fact that I'm now a Permanent Resident on my gaijin card. It just took 5 minutes. While I was thinking about lunch before heading over to 002's place, I came across the sign stating the existence of a cafeteria inside Ichikawa City Hall in the basement. And I saw that the lunch sets were at a low, low 400 yen. So I checked it out. And I should've checked it off. It was like going into a time warp into those old company shokudo of yesteryear: dingy walls and flourescent lights with a staff of old ladies. I had the saraudon, a dish of dry chow mein noodles smothered in a cornstarch sauce of veggies and bits of meat. Well, I tell you, the adage "You get what you pay for" loomed large in my mind (and stomach) after eating that one. I actually tasted gristle. Just like the processing of my information upstairs, my digestive tract only needed 5 minutes to return its verdict. Of course, I used the proper facilities.

Yesterday, during the unstable weather, I had most of the day off since The Beehive was having my rarely seen teaching partner and 002 was having her class today. So I trotted off to the nearest department store to see if I could pick up a new fax/phone to replace my ailing one. Well, a comparable one comes to about 23,000 yen...and on my current budget, I don't think I'll be purchasing one this year. I came home when I kinda ran into that weirdo neighbour on the stairs. We didn't say anything to each other...well, I mumbled a konnichiwa but most likely he didn't hear...he looked pretty raggedy in his undershirt, shorts and flip-flops. I kinda wonder how much of a hikikomori (shut-in/recluse) he is. One thing, for sure...he's a morning person..a very early morning person. He was already banging on the walls at the crack of dawn. He still has his penchant of slamming doors. But then again, he isn't alone. My other neighbours at the end of the hall are a group of Filipinos who often have the same habit.

The juku guys were fine last night. Seven was her usual giddy self. I'll be getting her that pumpking for carving next Tuesday. Jolly finally came back after a 3-week absence, and The Milds were their usual happy selves.

During that idle afternoon, I caught a rare rerun of one of the last Japanese dramas I'd seen before giving up on them several years ago. It's called Shin O-Mizu no Hanamichi (The New Golden Road of the Water Trade). The water trade in Japan refers to the somewhat sleazy businesses catering to the salarymen such as hostess clubs and the more risque establishments like soaplands and the like which breed in Tokyo's entertainment districts of Kabukicho and Roppongi. Lest you think that this show is a hardcore expose with vile characters, I have to remind you that it was a Fuji-TV drama...very fluffy and all that. The original O-Mizu no Hanamichi was shown in the late 90s and was a moderate hit since it was a comic take on life in a ritzy hostess club called Club Paradise. When I mean "comic", each episode seemed to have a similar structure to an average show of "Sailor Moon". There were the kooky characters, the slapstick situations and the breaking of the 4th wall. However, the original got so maudlin in its final eps (the romantic lead gets offed in a car accident) that the new version wasn't a bona fide sequel. It was made so that the original show was a manga read gleefully by the characters in Club Paradise in the first ep. How's that for a "Dallas" dream sequence? In any case, one of the third-stringers in the show is now an A-lister actress, Mizuki Ito.

In any case, I've got 001 and 007 starting in about 20 minutes.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Monday October 23, 5:26 p.m.

Had one of those up-and-down weekends. On Saturday, I had The Ramen Lady for a total of 45 minutes...she only got the half treatment since she'd been late due to a hangover from an all-night binge with a buddy of hers. Speedy himself kinda tailored that schedule for her since he was a bit antsy about getting to the theatre in time to see "World Trade Center"; not that he was being selfish or anything but he kinda cut things a bit too close and the movie outing was an official school event. However, I think he almost threw out The Ramen Lady a bit too hastily once I got done.

So, while he raced off to his movie, I made my more leisurely way up to Kichijoji, a subcentre of Tokyo in the northwest. Speedy had mentiond that it was "a happening area". When I got there, I just thought it was just like any other minor commercial hub around a station...kinda like Jiyugaoka, where MB now resides. There was the requisite department store, a couple of fast food places and the like. However, I had to dig a bit deeper to realize that there was a bit more going on. Kichijoji seems to take in the character of a few other subcentres. There is a long shopping arcade a la Nakano, a number of tastefully done restaurants and boutiques a la Omotesando, and Inokashira Park. In fact, I think the whole area has this labyrinth type of feel to it...turn a corner and you end up in a small zone of differing atmosphere. I did this for about 90 minutes before meeting up with The Satyr, MB and The Sylph.

Of course, it was another stop on the Grand Burger Tour. This time, it was The Village Vanguard about 10 minutes' walk from the station. It had that rather intimate pub vibe to it. Surprisingly, we actually had a choice of seating in it despite its small size, considering it was a Saturday night. I have to admit that the burgers there were the best I've eaten so far in the tour; the patties weren't quite as big as the monsters in that Double Burger at Baker Bounce in Setagaya but they were better seasoned. I had the largest sucker amongst a goodly variety of burgers there: the W Cheeseburger. Downed that beauty with a Corona and then a Bailey's Irish Cream. MB was so impressed that we decided to try out the Fish n' Chips. They were OK but the burgers were really the thing. The only downside, and admittedly it's a very small thing, was that the staff was a little overly friendly. Like, the staff had their smiles on full wattage and spoke in very airy-fairy voices (these guys were dressed like dorm students on campus...they had to be at least baritones) explaining how to eat hamburgers. I mean, didn't the guys take a good look at me?! I'm no freakin' vegetarian...I know what a hamburger is. The Satyr remarked that if we'd been in Canada, he would've sworn that our waiters were really going for that tip. Of course, Japan doesn't allow tipping. Still, I'll take too much nice over too much indifference.

After our engorging, the four of us decided to attempt to walk off some of our added calories by going through the commercial maze and then cutting through Inokashira Park. Very pleasant stroll although we didn't come up against any amourous canoodling or ambitious muggers. On the way, MB mentioned that The Polynesian had actually contacted him the day after my meeting with her; looks like our trip down Memory Lane on Thursday prompted her to make some old contacts. We actually made our dessert stop at some sort of French patisserie. Pretty good fixins there...I had a sesame-cream cheese tart concoction. Of course, the four of us all have had our histories with the ol' we regaled one another with various stories of the nefarious staff and the casanova teachers. Probably the next outing for burgers might be in Akasaka-Mitsuke or The Firehouse near Ueno. In any case, Village Vanguard gets my enthusiastic vote for a repeat visit.

The next day was the trip out to Hikarigaoka at the very end of the Oedo Line. The Satyr was helping out at this annual Speech Day festival organized by his former colleague and one other somewhat boho lady. The students were all kids of varying ages...never a target that I would approach willingly; however, The Satyr asked us some weeks ago if any of us would be willing to help out in the main post-event: an English lesson version of Battleship (as in "you sank my.."). Skippy, being the kids' teacher and all around happy lady, naturally put up her hand. I volunteered because I was his friend and I could understand how any teacher could put up an SOS taking care of several younglings. As it turned out, I was the large fifth wheel of the outfit. The Satyr, Skippy and I were assigned to the littlest kids who may not have had the ability to speak out readily. Satyr's and Skippy's young charges did need some guidance but aside from a perfunctory greeting between me and my kid, the kid proceeded to destroy quite a few fleets without any help from me. I just sat there. And then, one of the organizers asked me about some further activities for the kids since there was some time left over. To be honest, I'd already thought up of some stuff for Charades and Hangman but since Skippy had brought over some stuff for her game and since she was the more experienced kids' teacher, I had Skip talk it over. My decision wasn't wrong. Skippy took care of the kids, even the teens, like a pro with her games. I would've had a major case of flop sweat; it would've been like bleeding in shark-infested waters. However, both Skippy and I received some nice cake and wine (a Cabernet Sauvignon) for our efforts. I felt rather badly about that....I did bupkiss and I get a pretty nice swag pack...I felt pretty awkward for the rest of the night. I think I'll have to think harder before accepting things like these.

As it were, Hikarigaoka the neighbourhood, was a very nice residential area. Skippy used to work there and she said that the rents weren't too bad. Food for thought...