Thursday, December 07, 2006

Friday December 8, 11:22 a.m.

Back at the grungy I-cafe again. I had to check on some things including the cost of an Internet cable for that offered laptop. Doesn't look too bad.

I got the word from Speedy that I can pick up my pay on Wednesday. Although I don't have any classes on that day, I will probably have some last-minute shopping to catch up on.

As it turned out, I had a day off yesterday. As I was doing some final checking of my e-mail during my 3-hour stint yesterday, I got an emergency note from B2 saying that she had to cancel due to a family emergency. Well, I was out of 5,000 yen but I did get a pleasant evening.

Gonna be getting some lunch and then I'm off to "teach" the juku boss (although I foresee it'll be more of the chitchat...hey, it's her 6,000) and then actually teach The UL before making the return trip for the Ace. Also got word from the kids' mother that the Elder will not be available for Sunday's lesson. Not a particularly bad development...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Thursday December 7, 3:03 p.m.

Back in the grungy Internet cafe in my neighbourhood. At least I got a bit less sullen service. It's another quiet day for me...only have B2 and B2B tonight. So I just had some lunch at Subway and then it's here. I decided to spare 1/8 of my day today in front of the screen so I could think about what to do about my financial future. Couldn't hope to know anything about investing so it was time to think about other ways to increase income. So I decided to just browse and see what was available. Writing was always a potential option for me and since this blog has been good practice for, I went through the search engines. Apparently, there's a book about self-publishing in Japan that's sold at Kinokuniya which costs only 1800 yen; don't think I'll be making those J.K. Rowling millions but heck, the investment of less than 2000 yen can't be that bad.

Radio announcing was also another option. I've...ahem...been told over the years that I'm in possession of a voice that is radio-friendly by students. Hmmm....I'm not so sure about that but I know that how one sounds to oneself and how one sounds to others can be remarkably different at times. In any case, my search on the engines turned up nothing.

As I've mentioned over the years, I'm a devout atheist...and even worse, a cynic. So, commiserating about my financial plight is just what comes naturally to me. And yet, over the past several days, I've been getting stuff from different sources that might signify that perhaps a higher force may be at work trying to cheer me up. First, it was the juku boss telling me about how lousy her 2006 was and in fact, some of the personal hardships that have plagued her. Then, it was The Madame with her fractious relationship with her parents because she won't get married or get a full-time job. If her folks only knew how deep into this spiritualism business she was in. And just a couple of days ago, it was Speedy's turn to let me know how much pressure he's been under trying to keep his school afloat at the risk of his frayed health. He's been burning the midnight oil a bit too much in my opinion. He's been hiring part-time assistants right left and centre when he should be thinking about getting a true right-hand person as a VP. I know...easier said than done. Still, I've got my own problems to think about.

CNN has been doing a low-key focus on Japan over the past week involving a series of "Talk Asia" interviews with various celebs here and perhaps one "Quest" segment with the avuncular Richard Quest. This is rather different from the Bill Hemmer Express that showed up at Roppongi Hills a few years ago. I caught the Kotooshu interview a couple of nights ago. It was a good revelation from one of the foreign sumo wrestlers (he hails from Bulgaria) who's managed to hit the top ranks; he's at the 2nd-highest rank of ozeki. One of the better points was on the motivation of sumotori to get ahead of the pack...if you don't practice and practice hard, you'll end up serving your higher-ups and probably getting bullied by them for the rest of your pathetic career in the stable. When the service involves cooking, cleaning, wiping sweat (and even butts...can you imagine seeing 250 kg Konishiki trying to clean himself in the toilet?...the laws of physics won't permit it), junior sumo would rather fight themselves to the top and actually get a salary.

The other one interview I'd like to see is the one coming up with J-Pop diva Ayumi Hamasaki this Friday. The J-Pop forums have been buzzing about this one. In the ads for this one-on-one, Hamasaki has shown some prowess with the English language. But I'm not sure if the entire chat will be in her adopted tongue...BoA, who had her CNN spotlight earlier this week, can speak some English, too, but most of her talk was in Korean with English dubbing. I'm not so sure if Hamasaki would be doing this interview if she hadn't been overshadowed this past year by the new reigning Queen of J-Pop, Kumi Koda. Koda is the Osakan pop idol who's given rise to one of the big buzzwords of 2006, ero-aidoru (erotic idol), for her distinctive lack of clothing during her performances. At last year's Kohaku Utagassen, the ratings showed a rather big spurt...heh...when she appeared for her number. What was probably not shown was that the cases of wife-on-husband assault probably also shot up during that hour.

Well, in any case, I've got a week left here before I take off...
Wednesday December 6, 9:14 p.m.

I've finished my last class with 001 for the year. As usual, she claimed to be sleepy but "full of energy"...ain't that just like a woman? In any case, we had a good finale. Also heard from Speedy that my tab for the annual Xmas party will be picked up (great!) although the boss did hint that a donation of sorts would always be appreciated. The party will be taking place at a spa near Toshima-en Station; before you get too confused about the venue....this place also has dining facilities fit for a ryokan. They offer various forms of massage; I am thinking of taking them up on their offer although it would mean some discharge of yen. However, I am feeling distinctly knot-like at this time.

Last Saturday, during dinner at the West Park Cafe in Akasaka, MB loaned me his copy of "Watchmen", that famed graphic novel which got all sorts of accolades including inclusion into TIME's "Best 100 Novels of the 20th-Century". I'd come across bit and pieces of it over the 20 years that it had been out but it was actually the first time that I could really read it from front to back. It was indeed a pageturner and a vastly interesting piece of fiction...and that I write considering that I had read "The Dark Knight" and "Kingdom Come"...similarly plotted and created graphic novels published after "Watchmen". I could imagine how these usually jaded critics dropped their jaws and raised their arms in literary orgasm on reading the very first revamping of the comic book superhero back in 1986. And then afterwards, basically any graphic novel featuring superheroes cannot help but pay homage to the book with the iconic Smiley face with the smear of blood running down it. I'm not sure how "Watchmen" compares to "The Little Prince" in terms of sophisticated layering of meaning and message but I was impressed at how this story changed from a superhero version of film noir to an apocalyptic sci-fi epic depicting an extreme example of Star Trek's "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few". All that angst and anti-heroism (with all due respect to Stan Lee's Spiderman) that have now become part and parcel of the contemporary superhero's emotional baggage...."Watchmen" was where it all started. All that happy, shiny heroism of Superman and Adam West's Batman goes out the window to be replaced with some of the most pathos-laden drawings and situations one can have. Perhaps my only gripe with "Watchmen" was that the denouement was a little too pat. But I'm just kvetching on one small thing. In any case, I'm not surprised that the Hollywood folks are treating a potential film adaptation like a flask of Polonium 210...I don't think it can be made successfully. Seeing how Alan Moore saw his other properties, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and perhaps "V for Vendetta" got ground up, he will never put his blessing on his magnum opus to even Steven Spielberg. People might counter that "The Lord of the Rings" finally got made and made well but Tolkien's epic was basically a bedroom story for his children. I'm not downplaying Tolkien's...or for that matter, Peter Jackson's...efforts, but Adam Moore put in a whole bunch of uncomfortable, morally debatable layers which are far closer to reality in this universe than the stark Good vs. Evil in Frodo's. Of course, that hasn't stopped the fantasy baseball in terms of casting any incarnation of "Watchmen". Arnold Schwarzenegger was once touted as Doctor Manhattan (he's huge, strong and he was naked in "Terminator" ) before politics came knocking. Maybe Maggie Gyllenhall could be Laurie Juspecyk (Silk Spectre II) and Robert Redford could even be Ozymandias (yeah, I know...I'm reaching). But as for the star of the series, Rorschach, y'got me on that one. Maybe Hugo Weaving could pull off another masked role again. Still, I'd say that leave well enough alone. "Watchmen" has already put itself into need to tarnish that gold.

And on that note, I bid you a good night...hurm
Wednesday December 6, 5:25 p.m.

It's been a fairly quiet past few days. On Monday night, I had The Part-Timer for her first lesson outside of the comfy confines of Speedy's at the nearby Doutor's by the subway station. It wasn't too bad although obviously the refreshments were no longer free.

I was actually able to get a decent night of sleep for the first time in a while since The Anime King's return to Canada. I finally got my futon back after almost a week on the lumpy sofa, and since The Beehive wasn't seeing me yesterday morning, I also got a full 9 hours. I had to sacrifice "The Untouchables" but seeing that that show was in its final throes, I could accept it. It looks like that pinch-hitting teacher on Saturday at the juku did pretty well. There were almost no surprises. The new guy had a good time with Seven and Jolly, and he had to turn on the TLC with Mrs. Mild, who's eternally underconfident. The surprise was with The Ace...notably my best student of the group, who had apparently been very nervous. The juku boss also presented me with an old Panasonic notebook computer which can be mine for a bargain-basement 20,000 yen. The only problem is that my bank account is probably a full two levels below that. It would seem, though, that the original owner, the boss' friend, doesn't take NO for an answer. The boss said that I could pay him anytime. Well, I tried it Internet cable so I couldn't log on but the internal software was running fine....even had a good couple of games of Hearts. Well, if the cable doesn't cost me an arm and a leg, then I'll take the note off his hands.

As for Seven, once again she gave me some goodies for eating...this time, it was sable cookies from the tony district of Shirogane. What she was doing there was beyond me since she doesn't seem to make the money needed to shop there; Seven is definitely more of the Harajuku Girl set. I also gave her the dreaded test that I had warned her about almost a month in advance. Even so, I had to give her a very generous 89%....she was as slow as molasses for a majority of the oral test. I had to remind myself that the juku classes weren't for any particular goal....just a hobby. Plus, she did bring the cookies. Jolly couldn't make it due to work. The Milds were expected, Mrs. Mild curled up into a little ball when I asked her about the new teacher. I sighed internally. Mr. Mild showed up; he'd just come back from a business trip in Okinawa. So I got a souvenir in the form of kakuni, which is a very fatty slab of pork, the favoured meat of the southern islands. I should be getting a lot of collagen from that. As for The Siberian, he was as spaced out as usual.

I had my final buffet lunch with The Anime Chamberlain. As I said before, it was a nice way to finish things up with the month of otaku since our first meeting was also at a buffet restaurant. We ended up going to the U.N. Cafe in the Shiodome City Centre building....just around the corner from LAST, the first of our buffet restaurants. It certainly had a bit more cachet than LAST: the U.N. (not sure if it has any connections with the world organization) had a more atmospheric decor and softer music than the neighbourhood diner feel and 80's AM radio sounds of LAST. Foodwise, the fare was a bit more upscale and cosmopolitan. There were bowls of wonton soup, minestrone and mild curry to go with a lot of veggies. In fact, I'd initially thought that we arrived in a vegetarian restaurant, but once I saw the pasta, raw bonito and curried chicken, then all fears were allayed.

Afterwards, we took a short subway hop to Kokkai Gijidomae, which translates directly as "in front of the Diet" where The Chamberlain took some shots of the main Parliament building. The security was there which made me wonder if my companion would be approached by them about his intentions with his camera. I was reminded when my old Japanese language teacher had herself been given the 3rd degree by some overambitious guards when she tried to take some shots. Luckily, they left us alone although we were somewhat disappointed that there were no rightwing nutjobs ramming their cars into the main gates. However, we did see a number of protesters on the other side of Parliament yelling about North Korea, unions and the like. We took the train again to Shinjuku where I gave my final farewells to the lad before he himself took off for home tomorrow.

Well, back here at Speedy's to teach my sole lesson to 001. Speedy's breaking in another assistant in what has become the revolving door to help here at the school. It's almost become a running gag on the level of Murphy Brown's everchanging secretaries. Nice young lady...she even offered me some chocolate.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Monday December 4, 4:56 p.m.

Well, the final guest at Hotel Haruhiko for the year checked out this afternoon. The Anime King has finally left the building. In the past few days, he along with The Anime Chamberlain and The Anime Duke have touched their inner and outer otaku full tilt. Almost every night of their stay, they all went to their Mecca in Akihabara and scoured the area for anything new and anime/manga/character. Yesterday, their big conference reached its peak with their visit to a couple of shows in Tokyo. One was a character goods festa near Haneda Airport and then there was the cosplay party at Toshima-en Amusement Park. The boys took some pics and even a video. I was quite impressed by the fellow (who obviously wasn't lacking for money) who donned a Gundam suit of armour. That was just gun-damn impressive....ouch!

However, The King and I did take a little respite from his subcultural world by meeting up with an old friend of ours, The Prez from the Company. It'd been 2 years since I last met up with the old guy...right after finishing up with those somewhat futile English lessons for his staff. The three of us went to the Century Hyatt in Shinjuku and down in the basement was the branch of the famous Imahan, the sukiyaki restaurant. Of course, The Prez footed the bill. Being Imahan, we were served by a kimono-clad waitress with the gift of the gab; she was just going on about her travels throughout North America. Meanwhile, she cooked up the tender slices of meat in the sweet soy sauce mix. Needless to say, the sukiyaki was delicious. It had been a year since my own little sukiyaki home party that I tried Japan's second-most famous dish next to sushi. I could even take the raw egg that I dipped the meat into. But then again in Japan, it would seem that raw eggs don't have that inbuilt fear of salmonella that they have in the West.

The Prez must've mellowed in the past couple of years...he didn't mention The Iconoclast without giving a snide comment about his problems in the office. Afterwards, The Prez took us back to the office...another trip down memory lane. The office looked pretty much the same but without the staff; apparently, it was a pretty quiet weekend. Afterwards, we all parted in our own directions...I had to run off to teach that final EIC lesson at Speedy's. It was pretty harmless for her but just not sure what her retention rate will be.

The sukiyaki was only the beginning of what would be an all-beef weekend for me. After Speedy's, I went down to Akasaka-Mitsuke for the next chapter in the nearly year-long Burger Tour with MB and the guys. Unlike the duo of me and Skippy a couple of weeks ago at Brozzers in Ningyocho, we would be joined by MB, The Satyr and The Sylph. The next place turned out to be The West Side Park Cafe, a chain whose branches I'd come across several times in the past in different areas...most notably, the Maru Building across from Tokyo Station. I'd always wondered what eating there would be like. Well, this Akasaka branch was very quiet on a Saturday problems about where to be seated. I was sorely tempted to get the Roast Chicken with Garlic Mashed Potatoes but since it was indeed a Burger Tour, I toed the line and got a Bacon-Cheese Burger. Yep, it was pretty good but I think Brozzers is still the one to beat. We even made a pit stop at Anna Miller's down the street. Anna Millers is the notorious cafe franchise with the waitresses in the short skirts. But before any of you Hooters perverts start hoofing it there, the cafe is more maid then wet T-shirt. And I'll be polite and say that the wait staff doesn't exactly reach the standard of leggy supermodel. Our waitress had a distinctly anime way of delivering her spiel. However, I did go for the Dutch, I mean...Apple Pie with bottomless cups of coffee.

While Skippy and I decided to make an early night of it, the rest of the guys decided to head on down to Shibuya to catch 007's latest. MB, being the resident Bond fan, had been waiting for years to see how Bond redux would do in his estimation. Both he and Skippy had gone to some concerts in the last little while. MB caught his other heroes, U2, up at the huge Saitama soccer arena. Skippy saw The Piano Man at Tokyo Dome back on Tuesday.

Sunday was relatively less hectic. While The Anime King and his group were out in Haneda, I had some time to get some laundry and vacuuming done before heading out to Ikebukuro to meet The Madame. She took me to Din Dai Fon, the famed sho ron po restaurant whose mother ship we'd visited in Taipei last year. Strangely enough, with all of the news about long lineups, we were able to get in pretty quickly. I noticed the difference in cultures between Taiwan and Japan when we sat down. The original Din Dai Fon was notable for its utilitarian and grimy interior decor...just like lots of places in Chinatown back in T.O. This Japanese branch was sparkling clean and its interior had lots of that fake wood. The dumplings were still the same good juicy pouches of meat and liquid, though. The Madame is gradually getting deeper into her thrall of spiritualism. She claims that she'd actually met her future self...who comes from an extrasolar planet, by the way. Not surprisingly, her relationship with her parents has been strained of late. We went to Cafe Du Monde for some coffee and...beignets. I was kinda wondering where these pouches of dough came from. Well, I got my answer from the coffee which was The New Orleans Cafe Du Lait.

My all-beef weekend culminated with the meeting of the otaku and their representative here in Tokyo, the Anime Attache. We somehow managed to find each other in the nutso environment by JR Shinjuku East Exit. As for venue, we ended going to one of the branches of Mo Mo Paradise, a franchise which specializes in sukiyaki (yet again) and shabu-shabu. Our first branch met with failure since there was an hour's wait there but just a few hundred more metres and we came across a more spacious version. It was a bit of the blind leading the blind during the ordering phase since everyone had their own opinions of what to order; however, we all went for the all-you-can-eat sukiyaki/shabu-shabu course for 2,100 yen each. We definitely got our money's worth over the next 90 minutes. We were already heading for balloonhood by the 60-minute mark. We were basically just eating machines by the end. After dinner followed 2 hours of walking (it was needed) around Shinjuku browsing the anime stores before we finally broke up at 9. To neatly complete the epic monthlong circle of social interaction with my otaku friends, I'll be meeting The Anime Chamberlain one last time on Wednesday for yet another buffet. He was the first and he'll be the last.

My dark O. Henryesque year is still throwing curves at me. I had to fork over another ton of cash to the government in the form of advance taxes...and The Class Act along with 008 cancelled their classes today so my money flow has again tightened. Well, I'll be heading out to teach The Part-Timer in a few minutes.