Saturday, February 24, 2007

Sunday February 25, 12:11 p.m.

It all started last week when I woke up. My eyes started getting that sandpaper-gritty feeling. Then over the next couple of days, my nose started twitching like Samantha Stevens's cute little button. I realized that it was back...hay fever season.

So, I've loaded up on the meds and I picked up some tissue and that mask at the conbini today. As a result, I'm feeling slightly loopy now although the good thing is that my nose isn't running like a faucet. I think the guys would rather have a slightly loopy fellow than a friend covered in mucous.

Speaking of the guys, I'll be meeting up with Skippy, MB (and I assume The Sylph), The Satyr and even Sylph's buddy, Porcelain, for the latest stop in the massive Burger Tour in Ningyocho. I'm kinda wondering if Sylph's little matchmaking has borne fruit between Satyr and Porcelain. In any case, I've held off on the heavy carbs for breakfast today in anticipation of ingesting mass quantities.

I finally got to meet The Carolinan's friend for that initial meet-&-greet on Thursday night for lessons. I took her to the same Tully's shop that the Carolinan and I meet for our sessions. The lass quickly positioned herself into the high rankings of student ability...despite her wrongfully placed insecurities. She'd certainly give Mrs. Perth of the Beehive a run for her money. Unlike most of my students, though, she'd rather go into academic writing than surprise there. So, I'll be looking at some other stuff for her. As for her code name, well, since she's a huge Vancouver fan, she'll be heretofore known as BC.

Though I'm atheist, I would like to say "What the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away". I got the BC contract but I've lost The UL. Looks like she's been having a bit of a breakdown because of difficulties at work (interpersonal as well as the usual stuff) and illness; plus, she admitted that she was lazy. I asked her point blank if it had anything to do with any dissatisfaction with the lessons but she was quick to deny that; in fact, she added that she would've enjoyed having me twice a week but the current situation won't let her. I'd had a feeling some weeks back that something was up with her. So, the last class with her on Friday in Toranomon Starbucks was one of those counselling affairs. Luckily, though, her sister, The OL, has been kind enough to step in. The OL also said that her older sister had been a bit cranky recently.

Earlier on Friday, I called up that CEO of the school in Chiba about the part-time position I'd applied for. He said that he would call me but after waiting until 11:30 with no ring, I decided to get proactive. Hmmm... well, I've got an interview with him between The Beehive and the juku on Tuesday afternoon. I hope everything goes well although when I heard that most of the classes were kids' home tutoring, I kinda got a bit wary. He also asked me if I would teach a TOEIC class from Wednesday morning in the wee hours between 7 and 8. Of course, I had some hesitation about that but the CEO was kind enough to give me an out and suggested I think about it. I have and I will refuse it.

The Saturday classes were pretty steady on. The Elder behaved herself and the Younger did quite well on the review. The Polynesian also did well. Then I raced over to Ichigaya where I met that one M. I hadn't seen her since late November and her friend, the other M, was still busy studying for a major exam. Since our old haunt, The Tea Room, was dead and buried (a new restaurant has popped up in its place), we looked for a cafe that she'd found out about not too far away. As it turned out, that place only opened for lunch (no surprise since Ichigaya is a pretty dead place on weekends) so we ended up going to a health food restaurant on the 2nd floor of a building just few dozen metres away from the ol' Tea Room.

The set was pretty good as health food goes. I had the minced sardine-ball soup with veggies, unpolished boiled rice with sesame salt...and natto. Yes, you heard it. I finally came face-to-face with my culinary nemesis, my fermented bugbear. I didn't have much of a choice; the menu didn't have much else to recommend. I informed M about the moment in history she was about to witness, and she helped me out. When I dunked my chopsticks into the wet, sticky mass of undead beans and tried to pick some out, the lass immediately jumped in and suggested I actually pour a little soy and mix it about with the dab of mustard that traditionally came with it. I wasn't feeling too good as I was mixing this horror which was getting increasingly gelatinous. Then, M instructed me to pour the natto onto the rice which I dutifully did.

When I finally took that first historic mouthful of natto and rice, I was slightly surprised that it didn't have that taste of month-old socks I'd dreaded for so long. It was actually quite mild though the pungent smell lingered like a green assassin after his first kill. Natto didn't do anything to make me like it but I can finally say that I have eaten it. M continued her tutorial when she noticed that there was a mass of strings emanating from my mouth like web from a spider with leaky spinnerets so she showed me that little winding motion that all natto eaters do with their chopstick hands to cut the ito. That definitely cut down on the embarrassment factor.

As for M herself, she may finally have gotten a foot into the door for some employment opportunity. I had been wondering how she was able to stay solvent all these months without a job...especially in this city...when she admitted to me that she was living in sin with her very employed boyfriend. Ah, well, that does help. Living in a nice, spacious condo rent-free can also cut down on the unemployment blues.

Well, looks like my nose has dried up rather well. However, one lousy bit of trivia concerning hay fever...the rain of the last couple of days washed down a lot of the cedar pollen but unfortunately I found out that the first good day after a rain is a godsend for all that flower-sperm from Hell. Things just bloom all over. And I just happen to live in Gonad Central in Japan.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thursday February 22, 5:26 p.m.

I'm just less than a couple of hours away from meeting my potential new student in Ichigaya. Since I tend to blend in quite well with the native population...and at Ichigaya Station, there are tons of salarymen flooding the gates at night, I told my prospect that I'd be wearing a long black trenchcoat, holding a black bag and carrying an English-language newspaper under my arm. Sounds rather Mickey Spillane, doesn't it?

As for that company that contacted me the other day, one of the folks there will call me tomorrow morning. I checked out their website. Seems OK...they even have pics of themselves posted. It seems to focus on home tutoring but they also have cafe-based adult lessons along with small adult group classes as well. Kinda up my alley although I will discreetly ask not to have the kids. I tried to look beyond the propaganda and searched other sites which talk about the various schools. Of course, NOVA is the easy whipping boy. I found one guy's site which said that he really didn't have any problems with it; he even admitted that he's working at my ol' school with little dissension. As he said, there are all sorts of opinions...and a lot of crybabies. Well, I will agree with him part way. I really didn't have much of a problem with NOVA; it really depends on where you're posted....if you're at a new small school, there's a much better chance of a happier environment, but if you're at one of the base schools ( in Cylon basestar), it's a horrible zoo. As for the ol' school...I can only gather that the lad is usually far away from the HQ or he's a very new guy.

Since I've had the day off today, I did a dry run of doing my taxes. UGH! Even with the lower gross income last year and all of the deductions I could squeeze out (legally, of course), I still have to pay more than 20,000 yen. just can't win.

I've got another virtual day off tomorrow (hopefully that'll change if this new school pans out) but I've got The OL. Since The Ace is away, that'll be it for me. However, the weekend will be a little busier since I've got my kids, The Polynesian (who hopefully won't be screwing up her attendance again) and the one M. Sunday might be another stop on The Burger Tour...back at Brozzers in Ningyocho. Skippy, The Kid and I went there some months ago but this time, we wanna bring over MB and The Satyr.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wednesday February 21, 5:16 p.m.

Made my kilo's worth of curricula money right now...ready to hit home. Actually, during my plow through the texts, I got a reply (surprisingly) from this outfit in Chiba which would be interested in speaking with me about a position as a private English's basically the same I'm doing (or so they say)...teach in cafes or something. Well, I'm expecting a call on Friday morning. Every time that I get an offer, though, I can't help but remind myself of Groucho Marx's quote: "Any club which would accept me as a member isn't worth joining." Before you label me as a self-pitier, though, I would remind you that I have worked for beleaguered NOVA and the corrupt ol' school.

Just going through the front page of "The Japan Times"...looks like the government folks will be investigating instances of patient abuse at an old folks' home in my relative neighbourhood of Urayasu. It seems that the staff there have been accused of such cruelties as locking up one patient in a cage. As horrible as that sounds, I also have to say that on a recent NHK report, there have been instances of abuse heaped on the nurses and other care workers by very naughty old people.

Still on the page, I see that VP Dick Cheney is (or was) in town with a little talk with the humble government here. Things didn't quite get up to the level of the riots in Tokyo against Eisenhower's visit in 1960, but there were a few unhappy locals more than happy to welcome Darth Vader in their own special way.

One of the smaller news items here has been about that damaged whaler ship, the Nissin Maru, trapped in Antarctican waters. Greenpeace had offered to tow the ship away (which I'm sure had the whaler crew steaming and the Greenpeace folks giggling) but of course, the whaler would have none of that. And then New Zealand starting barking about the possibility of environmental damage caused by the leaky trawler. It looks like in a few days, though, there will be a resolution. Either the Nissin Maru will be able to get out of there under its own power or it will be towed out by one of its sister ships in the whaling fleet. Part of me is snickering at the whalers (although one engineer lost his life on the vessel) since I've never considered whale as a part of my food regimen and I've always been a bit irked at the transparent-as-glass rationalization of whaling-for-scientific-research that the Japanese have used to get out of anti-whaling legislation.

I guess the one other reason that I'm gonna miss LAST is that the buffet restaurant's BGM included a lot of oldie hits from the 70s and 80s. The place even played Anne Murray! Anne Murray...the Canadian singer? "Snowbird"? "You Believed In Me?" Ah...never mind...we'll now return you to Avril Lavigne and Alanis Morrisette.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Wednesday February 21, 2:21 p.m.

Well, that little strange ability I have has struck again. For about a couple of days, I had this urge to visit LAST (outside of the usual urges to go buffet) today for lunch. Then, as I was going through the basement of the Shiodome City Centre where the restaurant was located, I had this strange feeling that my main buffet joint's days were numbered. Sure enough, as soon as I paid my 1,000 yen to engorge myself and truly pay ode to The Year of The Pig, I saw the sign stating that the place was gonna shutter its doors on the 23rd. If the Force hadn't warned me, I would've come here the next week and been bitterly disappointed. Still, I didn't go hog wild with the stuff that was on the tables; just had the usual deep-fried chicken, fajitas, jambalaya, salad (had to eat something healthy) and little cakes. So, LAST has had its last. The place doesn't have the same stellar legendary quality that The Farm Grill did but it did its part in filling up the businessfolk population with ample, if not high-quality, grub.

I'm not shedding any major tears over the departure of LAST from my internal rolodex of restaurants to hit in Tokyo. There are quite a few choices in the Ginza, not too far away. I have the Thai place near the main strip and there is still the UN place just around the corner from LAST. 200 yen extra but hey, it's good food.

An interesting thing about buffets and something that should be food for though for any of those entrepreneurs who are thinking of setting up an all-you-can-eat eatery in the near future in The Big Sushi. Cheap American buffets are dead. There are buffets in the hotels that offer the same stuff along with roast beef or steak but they're tons more expensive and the quality is probably quite a bit better. The buffets that have lasting quality have been the ethnic stuff...Indian, Chinese and Thai, for example. That Thai place in the Ginza has been around for years and at least a good couple longer than LAST. The thing about American is that the food is generic. Considering that the good ol' US of A is responsible for the concept of fast food, that shouldn't be too surprising.

Speaking of entrepreneurs, I got the official announcement from The Entrepreneur that he and his girlfriend have gotten engaged. The Doctor and The Dancer have all chimed in with their congratulations as have I. Not sure if I'll be able to make the wedding, though.

Today is just curriculum day for me. Gonna be burning out some more lesson plans in the next couple of hours for dough. I'm starting to think my career is less a career than "I'll teach or make lesson plans for food". The money will not be in hand immediately but at least I know I'll get it eventually...good to know since The Siberian and Seven canned out last night.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Monday February 19, 10:10 p.m.

Just about ready to call it a night here. I taught The Part-Timer for her hour at Doutor's. It's always one of the advantages of teaching in cafes that people tend to vacate their tables soon after they discover their neighbours doing a lesson. Will never complain about that. Got back and have just been writing up lesson plans for one of the books while Speedy trained yet another new assistant. One of the running gags here has been that we seem to go through assistants like Doctor Who goes through assistants. However, this one seems like a keeper...she's my age, is a lot more seasoned than the assistants we've had, and lives close to the school.

I haven't quite finished the first text since Speedy went on one of his usual little talks with me but I'll come in on Wednesday for a few hours to make some more curriculum income. I'm fairly busy tomorrow with The Beehive, 002 (will be looking forward to her report on The Tokyo Marathon as a literal insider) and then all of the students at the juku. Gonna need the extra joe.

I was talking about that new riot grrrl/media sensation, Anna Tsuchiya, the half-Russian/half-Japanese model/singer/actress some time ago. Well, 2007's It Girl of Japan is currently providing the rock background music for Camellia Diamonds with an assist from "Kill Bill"'s Tomoyasu Hotei, has the starring role in "Sakuran"...a flick that seems to be the geisha equivalent of "Women In Chains"...of course, Anna plays the nihilistic maiko who kicks royal ketsu...and therefore she's, as we speak, popping up as a guest in Bistro SMAP, the segment on the long-running SMAP X SMAP variety show starring the SMAP boys themselves. Kinda wonder how far she will push her star...last year's It Girl seemed to be indie pixie Kaela Kimura but I would better compare Anna with Rie Miyazawa in terms of media sensation. Miyazawa, who seems to be cornering the niche market role of frail wives of samurai, used to be the fresh-faced, fresh-mouthed hellion of almost 2 decades ago with her cheeky "Fuzakkenayo!" (Don't give me that crap!)...not exactly the scariest exclamation these days; she was also the one who wore a sumo thong and not much else in an advertisement, and then she set the publishing world ablaze when she released her "Santa Fe" pictorial of nude shots back in 1991. I'm not saying that Anna will necessarily mellow out like Rie (who, incidentally, is also half-Japanese...the other half being Dutch) but it should be an interesting career to watch.

Well, I'm outta here...
Monday February 19, 5:31 p.m.

A better day than the past weekend's deluge and drear. I had all of the morning off so I was able to lounge a bit. Caught some of the post-event report on The Tokyo Marathon on TV. Looks like it was a success but they'll need to boost a couple of things next year: food and porta-potties. A bit of a circular logic about that. The lineup for the toilets was especially daunting...could have even rivaled that for Krispy Kreme.

So, after lunch at The Golden Arches, I just went up to see SIL for the first time in a couple of weeks. I brought her something a bit more academic than the usual newspaper articles since she had said that she had been wondering if she were improving in her English. The idioms and expressions did help. Now, I'm just biding some time before I meet The Part-Timer at the station again to have our lesson at the neighbourhood Doutor's. Speedy actually said that the school is empty tonight but I decided to just go ahead with the original plan since this would be the norm and not the exception.

I'm coming back to the school though afterwards since I'm helping out on making the curriculum. Since The Class Act was a scratch, I would like to make up for the shortfall. Luckily, I may be getting a new student, thanks to The Carolinan's referral. I'll be meeting her on Thursday for a prelim talk.

For SIL's lesson, I usually bring over a copy of METROPOLIS, that free weekly English-language magazine on all the goings-on in Tokyo. We don't actually do any articles in the lesson; it's really just for her own edification. However, the main article of the week was pretty interesting. It dealt with the current comatose state that Japanese radio is in. Yup, J-radio is dead. To be honest, I lost interest in North American radio years ago but at least the format over there is still thriving. When I was listening to stations like CFTR, CHUM and CKNY back in Toronto during the 80s of my high-school and university years, I had to be very strategic with my dial turns since if I had even breathed on the knob, I would've gotten two or three stations fighting for my ears. It's quite the opposite over here. If the North American airwaves are a traffic jam, Japanese airwaves are like driving through the Sahara....after Armageddon.
Even in the world's largest city, I often have to make three full turns of the knob before I hit the next station. And basically, stations like BAY FM and J-WAVE just play very similar stuff. But the big rub is that even when they play songs, they don't play the whole thing....just snippets up to and including the first chorus and then it's back to talk. I guess local producers want us to buy the CD. I don't know about the locals, but that would and has turned me off pretty quickly. There is InterFM, the multicultural station that launched a decade ago, but Ichikawa happens to be that cursed area of areas in which radio reception is absolutely the least for my stereo. I'm hoping that this vaunted re-birth of aural media actually does come true as the DJs in the article are claiming. In this era of IPods and freely downloadable tunes, I'm not all that optimistic.