Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thursday November 2, 3:01 p.m.

Back at the Ai Cafe in Akiba. This time, due to a full house, I've been placed in the so-called full flat booth. Instead of a chair, I've got something like a chaise lounge to sit on in front of the computer. I have to admit, it's pretty comfy. I had The Polynesian this morning. She was fine but there was one of those things that happen from time to time between me and students; forgetting to pay me. Before, I used to let that sort of thing go and just gently remind them via e-mail. But today I tried to leave some hints such as asking as innocently as possible, "Uh...did you pay me?" However, try as I might, she just couldn't pick up the hint so I sighed internally and let it go. It was lucky though that the two of us were headed for the same station on the Oedo Line, Tochomae, right in front of Tokyo City Hall. As I was heading up and out and she was heading for her train, I stopped at the top of the stairs to tie my shoes when she breathlessly rushed up and profusely apologized before handing me the fee. Well, better late than never.

I had lunch at the nearby Hansens since it'd been a while since I had hot dogs. I had my usual double dog lunch but also tried the Bacon n' Cheese Fries. Yup, certainly was cheesy...there was a lot of bright orange goo smothering the taters with some generously large squares of bacon instead of the usual burnt bacon bits. Kinda reminded me that it's also been a while since I last set foot in The Maple Leaf. Maybe it's almost been a year. There was a review of it in The Japan Times a while ago...I definitely agree with the reviewer's take on the chicken wings. Their Suicide Wings are the real deal. However, I do protest on charging almost 1,000 yen for Labatt's Blue.

I've got B2 and B2B later on tonight. And quite possibly, I may be heading down to Shibuya for the second party of the ol' school gang. But I got word from The Coffeemaker that they're still not sure whether or not there will be a nijikai. So I've got a feeling that I'll be heading home after the lesson. However, The Satyr will represent the teacher side there tonight. Ironically, the main restaurant will be the same place where the gang had come across that dead rat. Man, these guys are a forgiving lot.

I've been steadily watching Robert Stack's "The Untouchables" fairly religiously for the past several months. Super Drama TV is now showing the fourth and final season, and I am getting the impression that it had "jumped the shark" by that point. Eliot Ness, Lee Hobson, Rossi and the rest of the bunch seem to be heading into the background again and letting the crims have most of the scenery. However, I did get to see the Robert Redford episode, "Snowball". Lest I give the impression that it was a cute little show based on the title, the young unlined Redford plays a handsome sociopath who doesn't mind killing college kids with wood alky to get up in the criminal world. And there was an uncredited "blink-and-you'll-miss-him" appearance by Walter Koenig, aka Ensign Chekov of "Star Trek" and Alan Bester of "Babylon 5", as the buddy of one of the victims of Redford's James Parker. The show plays without commercials on Super Drama TV so at about the 45-minute mark, I was starting to scratch my head at the fact that the story still hadn't reached any big point until there was a very quick climax and denouement in about 3 minutes. A bit disappointing, that. It kinda reminded me of some of the dramatic arcs of the more mediocre eps of "Star Trek: The Next Generation". And it wasn't Ness who wrapped things up, but Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti. I think the show overall though has been a hoot to watch just to see all of the stars who have popped up on it: future Oscar winners Redford, Patricia O'Neal (who did a remarkable Captain Janeway impersonation), and Martin Landau. And there was Peter Falk, Steven Hill, Cloris Leachman, Michael ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding") Constantine, Jack Klugman, etc. But it won't be too long now before the end is nigh, and I'll be able to get an extra hour of sleep in the mornings.
Wednesday November 1, 9:27 p.m.

Finished off with my two classes: 001 and 007. 001's lesson was a pile of laughs as usual, and we had a nice bonus chatting about our favourite anime of yesteryear. Kinda felt like humming the old "Star Blazers" theme again after so long. 001 got quite a kick out of hearing what the characters' names were in the English-dubbed version of "Space Cruiser Yamato".

As for 007, I was left a bit iffy. He has just finished his latest cluster of four classes, and he seemed a little uncertain about his ability to come next week. And he wasn't so sure about the week after that, either. So I gave him an out and just said that he could contact us when he knew what his schedule would be like. Again, the old paranoia has set in and I'm just wondering if he's gonna be doing the ol' pullout. To be honest, he is also one of those folks who doesn't seem to particularly chime in with the programme; his ability is a lot higher than the text we're using to be sure, but his consistency and vocabulary are so all over the place that the text is needed to build a more stable foundation. In any case, I'm not gonna bother telling Speedy of my concerns since he's always Mr. Glass-Half-Full. But if 007 is indeed gonna be the ex-007, I wouldn't be particularly put out.

Well, I'm just about ready to head on home while Speedy does his model lesson. I've got The Polynesian first thing at the neighbourhood branch of Cocos, a family restaurant. Then, it will be several hours before B2 and B2B. Not sure what I'll be doing in the meantime. Actually, I forgot to mention that The Hawaiian called up last week from Australia. She hasn't picked up that typical twang of Aussies but she's certainly gained in the fluency department. Looks like she's gonna be like me and gonna try for a Permanent Residency down under.
Wednesday November 1, 5:11 p.m.

Finished off my dinner of tofu...nothing more blander in taste and ambience.

Looks like there's a chance that there won't be any reunion party for me to go to tomorrow night. The Coffeemaker's shindig is from 7-9...which is about a half-hour longer than my time with B2 and B2B...not even sure if there's gonna be a second party. Well, at least I could save some money.

The Anime King will be heading over here at the end of November. I told him about taking The Egg to Kimu Katsu last month. Speaking of The Egg, I got some Swiss Chalet Debit Cards from him and his wife in thanks for my hospitality back in September. That should alleviate some of the cash flow during The Holidays. Swiss Chalet. For those not in the know, Swiss Chalet is a chain of roast chicken restaurants in Canada. My family's had a long relationship with and take-out. And now that I'm living long-term in Japan, my rare visits to the place have become more precious. The BBQ sauce has been a source of some controversy over the decades. Some (like me) just lick up every last drop while others compare it to well-seasoned dishwater, preferring SC's rival, Ste.-Hubert's Chicken. I've never been to Ste.-Hubert's. Over in the States, one way of finding out what a man is made of is by his stripe of politics: Republican or Democrat. Over in Toronto, it's probably about which chicken restaurant he goes for. I'm solidly Swiss.

However, I'm not crying for lack of good chicken dishes here....and I'm not talking about KFC, either. The Maple Leaf, the Canadian pub in Shibuya, has some really good wings which can actually burn orifices in your throat and stomach. And a more Japanese alternative, Toriyoshi, which is also in the same area, has a scrumptious menu which is totally devoted to the beloved fowl. But when I get back to Toronto next month, I still plan to hit Swiss, along with The Madison Ave. Pub for my wings. I may even hit The Colonel...if only to have my 10W40 gravy on my fries there.

Speaking of food, I'm reminded of a scene from a 1985 Japanese movie, "Tampopo", the first ramen western. The movie was released a good decade before the critical darling, "Shall We Dance?" which introduced cineasts to Koji Yakusho, and was notable for the Pythonesque scattershot comedy of how a struggling ramen owner tries to get back on her feet, and a risque scene combining food and sex (don't think too fruit or vegetables were harmed during the filming of this movie). However, I also remember a scene in which a homeless man sumptuously cooked a dish for a young boy. The old codger first sauteed some chicken and onions and then tossed in some cooked rice before adding ketchup. Then, he whipped up some eggs to a froth before putting the mixture into another pan, jolting it with his arms and hands into a softly cooked mound before landing the fluffy thing onto the red chicken rice. And for the piece de resistance, he took a sharp knife, carefully sliced through the pod of egg and the pod opened gently revealing a glistening yellow roof which slowly covered the rice.

It was a magnificent minute of cooking artistry displayed on film. The dish is called omu-raisu (rice omelette) and it belongs to that peculiar intra-Japan culinary genre called yo-shoku, or Western cuisine....but Western cuisine done through Japanese eyes. I know about Spanish omelettes in America and the ground beef-filled omelettes that my mother makes but I don't think omu-raisu has ever made its appearance in the West. And yo-shoku isn't just about eggs and rice. We also have hayashi raisu (Hayashi Rice), the beef stew-like concoction poured over cooked rice, our own version of rice curry (very mild...I don't think the Indians have ever quite forgiven us for making our own type of curry using honey and apples), and perhaps even sukiyaki could even be put into this august group...beef wasn't widely eaten until Commodore Peary decided to break Japan's isolationist policy and throw Japan into The Meiji Restoration.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Wednesday November 1, 3:26 p.m.

As the Peanuts gang annually say, "Christmas time is here..." At least for the department stores in Tokyo, it has. Not more than 12 hours since the last Jack O' Lantern was thrown out with the rest of the garbage, the Xmas trees went up. As I was coming down the huge escalator at the Mark City Mall in Shibuya this morning, there was a huge trimmed tree in gold, and one of the main thoroughfares in the Teen Mecca was already sporting a distinctly Noel look.

However, yesterday was indeed Linus Van Pelt's favourite time of the year and thus, it was Haruhiko's annual pumpkin carving day. It all started with The Beehive. Mrs. Travel came through with one medium-sized pumpkin. Instead of the usual lesson, the Hive and I set up shop at Mrs. Perth's apartment where the ladies couldn't help but already put out all the fixins for another amazing lunch spread with plenty of alcohol. I was feeling quite gregarious by the end of lunch. Mrs. Perth had a great time traveling through Europe with her husband and buddies and had the pics to prove it although she couldn't quite handle the quantities characteristic of a German meal (I think that's more my domain). As for the pumpkin carving, the ladies pulled off the job within 20 minutes which is a record in my history of pumpkin carvings.

Then, later that night, it was the same activity with Seven at the juku. However, there I was more of the navigator since I was given a rather faulty knife and I couldn't really have the lass take the chance of slicing off her hand. However, her pumpkin did look like a proper Jack by the end of our 60 minutes. She gleefully took it home. Once again, she carried on the tradition of giving me some confectionaries; this time, it was a bag of marshmallows which I managed to devour in about 2 hours...i.e. the time that I was at the juku. I also got a nice box of cookies from her. But I also gave her the complementary Halloween waffle from a package that I'd bought at the local Mini Stop. My time was really just half a stint: Jolly no-showed and once again, The Siberian cancelled. So, in my little corner of my world, I had a nicely quiet Halloween as compared to the raucous goings-on at the dance parties in Roppongi and Shibuya.

My Wednesday has been remade into my usual Monday schedule since I saw The Class Act this morning. The Lady has fallen for the "24" trap. Yup, she rented out the first half of Season 1 from the nearby Tsutaya, and now she can't get enough of Jack Bauer. I accidentally let it slip out that Dennis Haysbert's Senator survives to become President but other than that I kinda tortured her about the traitor within CTU.

To continue with that Charlie Brown analogy from the beginning, I actually did buy the latest Peanuts book (1961-1962). The Peanuts gang has finally taken that most familiar shape, and there was a nice intro by Diana Krall.

The foreign celeb sightings continue. I was talking about Scarlett Johannsen hawking Mt. Rainier Iced Coffee. Now, Cameron Diaz is back...this time, she's selling Softbank cellphones. She's made her money and this time, she doesn't have to spout out any of those nonsensical non-sequiturs that other stars have to spit out. She's just gabbing silently away to some music. Plus, Madonna made her way onto the "Smap X Smap" programme starring the SMAP boys; it was as the guest on the Bistro SMAP segment where she has the boys whip up some sort of magnificent dinner. Just glad that she didn't have to do the duet segment where she actually has to sing with them. Mind you, The Black-Eyed Peas weren't so fortunate several weeks ago. Speaking of them, though, Fergie did a surprise appearance on the Fuji-TV noontime variety show, "Waratte Ii Tomo" yesterday to promote her new album. Not sure if she pulled off one of her "London Bridge" dancing gyrations on Tamori.

Lifting a paraphrased quote from an actor from a recent article of "Premiere" magazine, paying the bills is like vomiting: I dread it but when I get it done, I feel somewhat better. I unloaded a lot of yen last night for National Health Insurance, Citizen's Tax (I keep telling myself that I enjoy having my garbage picked up to justify the cost) and my rent (I also appreciate my apartment).

Monday, October 30, 2006

Monday October 30, 9:51 p.m.

Still a bit early to make my way home, so....

Also still wondering when that first Krispy Kreme franchise will be landing here in Tokyo. I've been reading the announcements about it but so far there has been no sighting of those succulent icing-drenched haloes of heart-stopping cholesterol yet. I kinda wonder if KK will make a splash (or a splat, if I'm gonna be onomatopoeically accurate) in the megalopolis. KK donuts are a pretty sweet deal and I'm not sure if the Japanese are quite ready for that level of fat. However, I figure if they've weaned themselves on McDonalds, Hansons and even The Doughnut Plant, they may be ready for the ultimate in guilty culinary pleasures.

I was able to take care of The Part-Timer and 008 tonight. 008 came in some 15 minutes late due to the rigors of work but she was good to go as usual. I even gave a little spiel about Halloween. Speaking of which, I've got my first pumpkin carvings tomorrow morning and night. I hope that Mrs. Travel of the Beehive was able to procure a couple of gourds for carving up; I haven't heard anything from them in the last couple of weeks. And then I've got Seven for hers.

In the D'oh! (as in Homer Simpson's favourite expletive) department, the Japanese education system must be yelling "Oh, how the mighty have fallen!" while knocking their brains to the wall repeatedly. Apparently, almost 200 high schools across the nation are guilty of not teaching the required core courses for their seniors to graduate next March. The teachers and principals basically lied to Monbusho (Ministry of Education...or Propaganda) about what their young charges have learned in the misguided notion of helping them pass their entrance exams for university. After all, there is only so much time in a semester to cram as much info into their brains before the exam hell comes upon them so something had to be jettisoned....and that something was the basics. And now the schools' so-called assistance may ensure that the students will have to cram even more hours of schooling just to be eligible to get out with a diploma. I'm kinda surprised that the students didn't just lynch the faculty right then and there during cho-rei (morning assembly).

As if the government weren't screwing the kids, the incidence of violence toward kids has become front and centre in the news (I knew it...all that media outrage about drinking n' driving has been shoved aside like week-old leftovers). A father beats his two kids to a pulp after they accidentally deleted his notes from his computer...a 4-year-old boy is found dead in a drainage ditch in some suspicious circumstances...a 64-year-old guy goes berserk and uses his car as a ramrod against some elementary school kids for some perceived bullying against his daughter...and two kids hang themselves in separate schools last week due to bullying itself. What's this about Japan having the safest society? Apparently, that fact only kicks in if one survives childhood.
Monday October 30, 7:28 p.m.

I've got a bit of an unexpected respite between students since 008 is running a bit late.

Can't believe how much Halloween has grabbed hold of Tokyo. If the holiday has taken hold of the rest of Japan like it has here in the past several years, then the country should be considered the third official nation to celebrate October 31 after America and Canada. The decorations of Jack O'Lanterns and witches were up in many store windows as early as late September, and I'm sure there was the gamut of Halloween parties over the past weekend. Not sure if the custom of foreigners hijacking one car on the Yamanote Line for one hour still reigns though. The annual Omotesando Halloween Parade was in full stride, though. I saw a lot of children running around in costumes with their ragged parents.

I should be in for an ass-kicking. Here I was yesterday trying to grab a couple of pumpkins down in the tony district of Omotesando/Aoyama. I checked the usual flower shop next to Kinokuniya Supermarket for some of the medium-sized orange gourds and they were fresh out. I even checked the supermarket itself, despite the considerable cost, and found out that even they were sold out. So I walked down to one last chance at another flower shop down the street across from Aoyama Gakuin University. I did get one, the last one...for the price of 2,000 yen...the going rate in the tony area. Then I get back home lugging this behemoth and decide go into my own little supermarket for dinner supplies when lo and behold, I see these large orange pumpkins on the shelf. My neighbourhood supermarket had never sold pumpkins before now, and there they were selling for the tiny price of 298 yen each....almost a tenth the price of the pumpkin I got in Aoyama. Oy vey! Well, at least I've got the two I needed for Seven and 002.
Monday October 30, 5:35 p.m.

Gabbing with Speedy while I'm typing this...he's doing a major gripe about PH's latest Thanksgiving party. I didn't bother going since I decided that large parties are no longer my thing and I just don't have anything in common with most of the Quarterback's gang. Apparently, the QB's group, according to Speedy, is taking the massive annual PH Thanksgiving party for granted. PH, ever the ball of energy, was slaving away over the hot stove while virtually no one lifted a finger or offered to pitch in financially. In a very cynical way, it made me feel a little better but I do feel sorry for PH. On the other hand, knowing that PH is a take-no-crap type, she'll probably grab QB's ear and give him a good talking-to.

Mom called me last night....after Uncle had called me asking me whether I was gonna go to Osaka when the parentals arrive there later this week. One of the small things that drives me up the wall about my mother is that for months and years, she's discouraged me from visiting my Kansai relations so that I'm not guilty of meiwaku (burdening)...although part of me thinks the real reason is that there is no risk of me embarrassing the family name. When she called me last night, she kinda asked me questioningly if I would be willing to go to Osaka after all. I sighed (internally)....I already have plans for the long weekend. Now I've got some guilt trip coursing around in me, although I'm glad that I'm not going for purely financial reasons. A Bullet Train ticket is not cheap.