Saturday, January 06, 2007

Sunday January 7, 2007

Well, I'm back after 3 weeks of holidaying in Canada. I would've done some blogging in The Great White North but with all of the e-mail I had to respond to and the limited time at my brother's place, I decided to hold off until I got back last night.

Some observations:

I'm starting to despise air travel. The Tokyo-Toronto leg of Air Canada is a Tarentinoesque exercise in excruciating endurance. I mention the gabby director as a reference since the round trip, like his movies, had long stints of sitting (just like that poor cop in "Reservoir Dogs") punctuated by brief intense spots of terrifying turbulence. The flight over to Toronto almost had me reaching for one of my own plastic bags to do something that I hadn't done since I was 8. Of course, airplane food is, at best, mediocre; so I just eat half of it so that I don't end up doing a "show and tell" to everyone else on the plane. As another reference, whatever fixed-wing aircraft the U.S. President is on is called Air Force's a call signal and not the plane itself. Well, I think any plane that I board should automatically be re-named The Vomit Comet.

My usual viewing of TV reruns consisted of mostly "CSI:Miami" and the last few episodes of "The West Wing". I can honestly say that David Caruso has now become the William Shatner of the 21st century. A drinking game can easily be whipped up centering around all of his stylized acting tics. If a person had to take a sip of Jack Daniels every time Horatio Caine said "Ok, this is what we're going to do..." or whipped off his sunglasses or cocked his head in quiet disbelief, the police would immediately demand his car keys before leaving the living room. However, sobriety can be maintained if a game were played in which a sip could be taken whenever Emily Procter's Calleigh Duquesne actually showed any real emotion. As for "The West Wing", the 7th-season eps left me rather intrigued since Japanese TV has only started Season 3. What I saw in the final season of Aaron Sorkin's magnum opus was a much different White which seemed to contain a much darker and tired feel: Jed Bartlett was grayer, hoarser and lonelier with most of his buddies having flown the coop; Leo McGarry ended up dead (along with the actor portraying him); Toby Ziegler was persona non grata due to a supposedly unforgivable offense; Sam Seaborn was nowhere to be found; and Josh Lyman got meaner while finally consummating things with Donna Moss. The West Wing only got its lights back on when the new President, Bail, I mean, Matt Santos, took his post.

I actually enjoyed some hilarious new shows (well, new to me). The double bill of "Robot Chicken/Aqua Teen Hunger Force" on Teletoon is classic stuff. The DVDs were indeed selling in HMV but space in my luggage just couldn't make it possible much to my disappointment. However, I did get my new discs of SCTV and "Lost" along with tapes of the 2nd season of the new and vastly improved "Doctor Who". It's a good sign for David Tennant when his take on the Doctor just immediately brightens up the proceedings after spending most of his inaugural ep in a coma.

Toronto is getting nastier. For decades, the powers-that-be were always getting quietly flattered whenever my hometown was referred to as "the cleaner, nicer New York of Canada". Well, you can take out the 2nd and 3rd words of that quote and add the phrase "...of the 70s and 80s". I was dismayed to hear and read about all those shootings that occur regularly overnight virtually anywhere in the city now. The capper was some poor 60-year-old woman who had nothing to do with crime and was about as close to the Apostles as anyone can get becoming the first murder victim of 2007 just hours into January 1. And a further kicker was that the killer was an acquaintance of the family who not only had access to a gun but was a diagnosed schizophrenic. Just what was a psycho doing with a gun? I rather expect this sort of thing in the States. I also had my own personal experience with violence this time around on New Year's Eve. I went out with The Engineer, his girl and one other fellow to a Chinese restaurant in Scarborough (supposedly not a good combination as you will soon read). We had just ordered our dinner when there was an explosion of sorts in the middle of the dining area. Teapots, bottles and cups flung out like gloves in the middle of the ice during a bench-clearing hockey brawl...and then, a mother with her baby ran out. Finally, we saw one of the combatants, a teenage Chinese boy with a hip-hop attitude fire one more bottle at his adversary, another punk who was bleeding from the neck. Well, there was a rather hushed silence for some minutes. The Engineer and his girl flew under the table while their buddy scrunched himself behind me (I really gotta lose a few kg) while I kinda witnessed things as if I had been watching things slo-mo and from in front of a TV screen. The strange thing was that with all of the cellphones that must've shared space with the people, noone called the police (which may point to fears of something gangland), and after a few minutes, the waitresses rushed out to clean up the blood on the floor. The four of us decided to quickly vacate and move things to a safer eatery. I did pay for my soy milk which was the only thing to reach our table before things went pear-shaped.

There's a bigger chance that the employees of The Toronto Transit Commission will demand to secede from Confederation than the province of Quebec. The TTC is a potentially very sad and embittered group of folks: verbally and physically assaulted operators, grubbier stations and overcrowded vehicles. "The Better Way" is sounding more and more ironic everyday. And then in the last few days of my stay, GO Transit (a truncated, more provincial version of Japan Railways) was falling apart due to lack of drivers. All I can say is that I'm glad that most of my family can drive or can be driven.

And despite all of the nonsense from above, it was good to see friends and family. I finally got to see my niece for the first time...she's a winner, that one. She's got the family brow and eyes. That supermodel contract should be coming in any time now. It looks like my friends are individually going through some positive personal flux. The Entrepreneur and his girl are looking pretty serious...dem wedding bells should be pealing soon. The Dancer and her family will be uprooting for England this year for the next few years. Chip Guy will be having another mouth to feed by the summer. Plus, wedding bells may also be in the offing for The Wild Guy. I got to do some 5-pin bowling (a Canadian invention, BTW) with Chip Guy, Egg and their clans; have dinner with The Dancer and The Entrepreneur at The Dancer's house for the last time; and even go to Toronto's first (and probably only) Maid Cafe with The Anime King and his court. I must say that our waitress would've been quite at home at any of the Maid Cafes in Akiba.

As for my family...well, I guess the bittersweetness of this trip culminated with them. On New Year's Day, all of us had just enjoyed the typical New Year's dinner of oshizushi and osechi ryori and were enjoying dessert on the sofas when my parents basically ambushed me with the accusatory question of why I wouldn't come home for good and get a real job. Well, the social temperature in the room plummeted (an amazing feat considering that this winter has been an un-winter in Toronto) and I refused to talk to my parents for the rest of the evening. Luckily, my brother and his newly-minted family left a few minutes after that implosion. My brother and I touched upon the situation a few days later and he sided with me. Y' would think that my yearlong wait for Permanent Residency and 12 years residing in Ichikawa would've given a very big hint about where my home is. Frankly, I was offended that after nearly 2 decades of teaching, my parents would still even think that I was doing this as a lark. Well, the days following were back-to-normal ones but I have returned feeling somewhat troubled. I realize that the years of coming home to my parents are numbered now and that part of their ambush is based on perhaps some sort of longing for the entire family to be together. There's nothing like parents to lay on the guilt trip. And perhaps even my sister-in-law...she gave me a book titled "The Prodigal Son". Y'know...I would like all of us to be together but the practicalities of life make that nearly impossible for me. And so, just like a typical season finale of "24", there is a sense of good and bad for the coming year.

Ah, the P.S. For all of my Canadian trip, I did see the annual Red N' White Song Festival on NHK. Last year, it was the appearance of ero-aidoru Kumi Koda that had the media and J-Pop forum folks lollygagging. This year, the culprit was disco geek DJ Ozma and his harem of seemingly nude dancers. Of course, NHK would never let anyone go au naturel (the dancers were in bodysuits) on any of its variety shows, but even the emulation was enough to have the female host, actress Yukie Nakama, fumbling over her lines, and the male announcer sheepishly apologizing to everyone on air after hundreds of complaints struck the NHK switchboard. I say that the Kohaku Utagassen needs more of this to survive. Otherwise, the show is done like dinner.