Friday, March 23, 2007

Saturday March 24, 3:56 p.m.

Just taught my very latest new student, The Manhattanite. Like The New Yorker, she's been to The Big Apple, loves it, and is very low in ability. However, this newest of students at Speedy's is somewhat more faster on the mark than my longtime student. It looks like she can only come out on Saturdays which means that Speedy and I will be dividing our time with her...which can bring some clash in teaching styles. The bossman is a bit more by-the-book while I'm somewhat more on the seat-of-my-pants. In Star Trek lingo, I'd be more of a Kirk while Speedy is a more congenial Picard.

As I type, Speedy is breaking in yet another new assistant for our revolving door of a school. Our fairly long-term assistant left us yesterday to start her real job from April.

One of the old gang from Toronto contacted me concerning meeting up with The Wild Thing sometime soon. I told her that probably sometime in the first week of April would be the likely time. She did ask me about his significant other...whether I had met her or not and whether she would be showing up. I politely replied that she'd have to ask the groom himself.

Well, I thought I was out of that Hong Kong loop but it looks like The Matron has been negotiating with The Lady. Looks like they've decided to go for a September flyout instead. Well, at least, I can still get the cheapest fare from the discount places. I've decided not to consult The Madame on this. Frankly, she seems to be going off on one of her long absences again.

Last night after teaching The Nurse for her first here, I went on out to Urayasu to open up the juku for The Ace. Getting there three hours before his class was to begin, I decided to have dinner at the family restaurant that I used to frequent after my gym outings. Folks, if you wanna be guaranteed a lot of peace and quiet and room at a restaurant, just go to one on Friday evening. Noone goes there...since TGIF, or hanakin, entails massive outings to the local watering holes and not a pseudo-Western eatery.

Anyways, I had the 180 g rump steak with rice. It'd been a while since I had any sort of steak (and that includes during the Xmas holiday back in Toronto). Now 180 g would probably only come out to 4 oz so for Westerners, this piece of meat could probably be inhaled rather than eaten but the size is just right for the Japanese. In fact, a lot of students I've come across over the years have complained that steaks in the States are just too darn big and tough for human consumption. I told them that folks back home love to chew on the steak for a while...that's where the satisfaction comes in. On the other hand, the Japanese love to have their steaks melt in their mouth since Matsuzaka-gyu and Kobe beef are just riddled with streaks of fat due to the famous techniques of massage and beer mash.

Another interesting thing about the Japanese approach to steak dining is the sizzle. Everyone talks of something "being all sizzle but no steak". Well, whereas the only place Americans can see or hear the sizzle of steak is by a BBQ grill, the Japanese seem to demand the sound of cooking steak right on their table. Last night, my rump steak was served on a very hot hotplate (basically if I had put my finger on it, my entire body would have probably carbonized...just like on those Warner Bros. cartoons). I poured the onion au jus onto the steak and the entire thing just exploded into a cacaphony of meat on metal, and I had to put up my napkin to protect myself from micro-spatters of vaporizing blood, juice and au jus. I guess the local diners here demand not only a culinary and visual experience but an aural one as well....and perhaps good cleaning service for their shirts. The only time folks can witness such a display at home is if they go to a Chinese restaurant and ask for the Black Pepper Beef Tenderloin (ahhh....memories of Chinatown during my U of T days)....and of course, there is Benihana with the Jedi approach to grilling. I kinda wonder if Lucas kinda lifted some of the lightsaber techniques from a Japanese teppanyaki eatery. I gotta admit, though, that although that first bite risks some 3rd-degree burns, eating still-sizzling steak does enhance the dining experience.

As for the juku itself, the fish surprisingly survived the three days without being fed, although the guys just went like piranhas on a dying elephant when I did throw the flakes into the water. I did get the definite impression that I will never live in a house as long as I stay single. There's something just not secure about living in a house alone. Luckily, the only predator that descended upon the place was a Yamato delivery guy with a package for the boss. Strangely enough, though, the boss and her family unexpectedly came home despite having said that they wouldn't be back before the weekend. The boss looked rather drawn and exhausted, but not so much from the mourning process. Actually, she was just worn out by the 4-day service...yet another reason for me to eschew religion. Well, after my lesson with The Ace, she was very kind to give us both some boxes of inari sushi...which we basically had to eat within a few hours (lucky the stuff digests very easily).

About time that I mosey on home. Speedy offered me full Saturdays. Tempting to take for financial reasons but I also have to wonder about my sanity having to work a guaranteed extra day. Plus, I've got the kids, M+M and The Polynesian to think about as well.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Friday March 23, 3:14 p.m.

Got through the gauntlet of my 3-pack of students last night without having the new staff of the Tully's give me the evil eye of hogging up the corner table. Mind you, I did buy a couple of meals there in tribute. But boy, I gotta go easy on The New Yorker on the Present Perfect.

Stayed up pretty late last night to catch the last episode of "Nodame Cantabile" for a while. The anime is going on hiatus for a few weeks while Fuji-TV gets all that skating and swimming stuff out of its system. In fact, due to some volleyball championship action, "Nodame" got bumped later an extra hour. But it was well worth it...I don't too many anime episodes in which the first several minutes were solely devoted to a Rachmaninoff performance by the main characters.

Thankfully, I could get up extra late since I don't have my first lesson for another 40 minutes. An interesting comparison of the international news headlines. Over in the States and UK, it was all bad: CNN was giving full court press to Elizabeth Edwards' relapse into Type 4 cancer, while BBC was covering the fact that Pakistan's cricket coach had actually been murdered. Over here in Japan? What trumped Iraq, the 6-party talks with North Korea, the sentencing of some more Livedoor cronies and even Dice-K Matsuzaka? Well, it was the return of Peko-chan, that girl with the lazy tongue who represents Fujiya. Yep, Fujiya the confectionary monolith which had been laid low several weeks ago due to scandal came back...well, at least, some of the main shops have opened up with a fraction of their wares in its slow bid to corporate rehabilitation. The branch in my neighbourhood is still closed up but will be back in business from April 1st. May just buy one of those strawberry shortcakes then.

Well, The Lady was pretty laidback about me declining her invitation to Hong Kong. I'm sure that he and The Matron were quite relieved that they no longer have to worry about lugging nearly 100 kg.

Got that newest student, The Nurse, in half an hour. Then, I gotta rush off to the juku since it's been deserted for most of this week. I wonder if the fish in the aquarium are still alive.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Thursday March 22, 12:41 p.m.

Just waiting for that EIC student to arrive for her last of 3. Speedy hopes that it won't be the last, though, since it would be nice if I can convert her into a regular student. Hmm...we shall see.

I received a brief message from The Matron concerning this Hong Kong trip. I'm not sure if she'd already been relayed the bad news that I'd sent The Lady last night concerning my unavailability. However, I did my good deed and looked for some air fares there. Of course, I looked up No. 1 Travel for the fares since they can be often even cheaper than HIS, the discount travel agency known to the natives here.

Looks like the government finally got themselves into gear and declared that that Tamiflu virus medicine should be given to adults only. Over the past several months, there have been apparently no less than 22 cases in which kids who took the medicine showed bizarre behavioural side effects such as jumping off of balconies and getting run over by cars. Unfortunately, a couple of those children are now residing in graveyards.

Nice to hear that although Rinko Kikuchi missed out on her Oscar, another more veteran star did get some acting accolades in the very first Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong. Miki Nakatani got her Best Actress for her role as a tragic figure in the musical, "Memories of Matsuko". Nice to see in a brief clip that she can speak some fairly good English, too...I'm forever doing level checks.

Anyways, off to the salt mines...
Wednesday March 21, 5:12 p.m.

Well, it was truly a first day of spring today...the weather has been sunny and fairly balmy. But my sinuses have been acting up as well so had to buy another box of pills.

Yesterday was a busy one. I had the Beehive. It looks like that earlier observation of Mrs. London and Mrs. Jade not getting along may have been premature. The ladies were together in the same class and chatting away cordially. It was also one of the rare times that Mrs. Travel wasn't in the class and not traveling somewhere.

I had 002 for her usual mid-afternoon session and then it was off to the juku. I had the house all to myself last night. The boss had called me up last night to say that her ailing aunt had indeed left this mighty coil which necessitated the entire family going off to her funeral out of town. Chip N' Dale were fun again although I was pretty much running on fumes afterwards. Luckily, I am so much in Seven's good graces that I could coast somewhat (although I did get through a couple of pages of textbook and some review for next week's test). Also, it did help that Jolly once again cancelled via phone and of course, The Siberian was still away in Korea. The Milds were at their studious best.

Today was a national holiday but I still had that lone lesson with The Polynesian. It was a small pity that I had to take the show back on the road just for that lesson but the lass is a good student and at this point, I will take all the money that I can scrape together. I did have lunch at the local Subway...looks like Friday is an anniversary of sorts for the world-famous franchise so sandwiches will be at a low 290 yen. I'll contribute to the celebrations.

I also took a pit stop at Ichigaya to see how that Tully's was doing. When I had my last lesson with The Coffeemaker and Tully the other day, the branch was undergoing some renovations which necessitated a quick change of venue. Since I have the three-pack of The New Yorker, The Carolinan and BC tomorrow there tomorrow, I had to check things out. Well, the place is back open and perhaps with some new management since I did see some flowers and those wooden boards with congratulatory messages. I hope the folks there will be welcoming to cafe-teaching English teachers. If I remember correctly, one of the old staffers there had given me a slightly evil eye for teaching there 3 hours straight with only one purchase of the cheapest coffee.

Things may be heading for a bit of a crisis for freelancers like me who often use the coffeehouse as a classroom. Recently some of the family restaurants like Skylark and Denny's have been putting up signs stating that long meetings and anything that would hint at a longer-than-welcome stay in their establishments would now be strictly verboten. When informing Mrs. Jade yesterday about The Beehive's eviction from our classroom of many years, she remarked that the cafes would be a bit leery about having us over there. To be honest, I can understand to a certain extent the coffeehouses' plight. Over the past couple of years, there has been an increase (probably) of us teachers via freelancing or established schools plying our trade in Starbucks or Tully's which could be perceived as plugging up tables which could be used for other normal customers. Still, teacher or not...student or not...we buy their coffee and other stuff so why can't we have our lessons there? Perhaps the second point may be a bit more tougher. I've noticed that at times once student and I get down to town with the lesson, some customers sitting next to us tend to vacate their tables a bit quickly. But this might be a bit more of the paranoid on my part. The important thing is what the management in the cafe think. For me, I certainly don't want to believe that I'm scaring off fellow coffeedrinkers with my explanations of a grammar point in my native language. However, I will be buying two coffees tomorrow night at Tully's to hedge my bets.

Well, I got that reply from the Madame about the Hong Kong trip. Not surprisingly, she turned me down since The Lady was spearheading it. Either she or her family still believe The Lady's clan to be a somewhat suspicious sort. That pretty much decided it for me. Since Speedy needs me around on those dates to mind the farm, I sent my message of regrets over to The Lady. Not sure what she'll do but I think it'll be a tad difficult to re-schedule around me since The Class Act have other plans and since they would like to visit HK before the rainy season sets in.

Anyways, gotta get home and get some dinner on the stove.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Monday March 19, 10:14 p.m. The Part-Timer down pat and as for my newest student, The Ant....weeellll, as his nom de blog would attest, he's a plugger that one. But boy, is he low and slow...and wants to do well on TOEIC. Ay-ah! I made my money tonight.

Back to Mo Yan, that curry place that Kazuyoshi "Tamori" Morita loves. Skippy rooted that one out of her vast information network like a pig digging out a truffle. We made our way through the cold winds of Shinjuku to this small rustic place. Once we got seated, the waitress took our orders. I went for the "works" curry....a huge plate of rice sided with chukara (medium hot) curry loaded with cheese, chicken, shrimp and large hunks of beef. It was darn good but I didn't think it was spicy at all. Mild but tasty. Skippy went something a little smaller so I invited her to partake in some of my loaded stuff. Also, we had unlimited access to free boiled and jacketed new potatoes. I was a bit leery at first but actually the potatoes were good to ingest; lightly salted and tender as all get out. Unbelievably so, we even went for a bit of dessert which was yuzu-infused vanilla ice cream on top of annin dofu. Quite refreshing and took the edge off of the heavily-flavoured curry. Yup, another successful dinner out thanks to Skip...and Tamori.

This morning, The Lady of the Class Act was on traveling mode again. After our little swing through Seoul about a year ago, she wants me and The Matron to join her for a trip through Hong Kong. Well, ordinarily, I would have leapt at the opportunity to partake in the exciting and culinarily-edenic trip except for a couple of factors: 1) I still feel mightily guilty about what a fifth wheel I was during Korea...for which I think I'm being still punished subtly by The Lady...I haven't had any free lunches at the house in a year, and 2) this trip may need to be partially financed by me for the flight to and from....and financially speaking, I'm still not all that happy. I said that I would ask my friend (aka The Madame, since she's been hawking about us going over least until she got that new job and pulled the disappearing act once more). But I may have an ace in the hole via Speedy. It looks like the dates that The Lady was thinking about just happens to coincide with his own business trip abroad; the bossman was hoping that I would mind the store. He's been generous enough to let me make the final call but I figure if The Madame doesn't respond favourably (or at all), I'll break the "bad" news to the ladies and let them enjoy their own trip there.

Anyways, it's time for me to shut up the shop. I'm feeling pretty done in after The Ant's "as slow as you go" approach.
Monday March 19, 5:38 p.m.

A couple of reviews to hit you cinematic, the other culinary.

Skippy and I did catch "Happy Feet" yesterday at a spanking new theatre multiplex in Shinjuku called "Wald 9" (no idea where that name comes from...although the way it is pronounced in Japanese, it sounds like the sumo name for that Estonian wrestler).

Well, after watching this dance of the penguins, I was kinda wondering about that Best Animated Feature Oscar it got a a couple of weeks ago. Hmm...maybe the Academy should've just announced no winner. It was oooooooookay, I guess. But as the 2 hours passed by, I was progressively itchy. I wasn't sure why I wasn't enjoying this latest CG flick as much as the others like "The Incredibles" or "Toy Story" but it really didn't hit me until Skip and I finally made our way out of the multiplex. "Happy Feet", despite its title, was basically devoid of any humour. And this wasn't only a movie with Robin Williams but this was a movie with the aforementioned Williams in two roles. And there was nothing really laugh-out-loud funny at all. The few jokes that were seemingly thrown out didn't work. What did work was the amazing CG (that roller coaster-like sequence of Mumble and his new compadres was just so nuts!) but as the latest Star Wars trilogy illustrated most sadly, only CG doesn't a good movie make. Also, I was impressed with Brittany Murphy's set of pipes. I'd known about Nic's and Hugh's vocal talents but man, Brittany could start scaring Xtina with some of the stuff she was belting out. However, I was starting to get a bit tired of the "Moulin Rouge" approach to the singing, dancing and segueing. And since I was only able to withstand a few minutes of "Moulin Rouge" before I desperately clicked the remote...well, there you go. And finally, the big message of environmental damage seemed to have replaced the humour like a sledgehammer on a fly. I was half-expecting Al Gore to pop out of that helicopter at the end of the movie. Nope, "Happy Feet" was a noble effort but no classic.

As for the culinary review, we went out to "Mo Yan", a curry place out in West Shinjuku. Skippy, the resident scout for all things foodie in our group, found out about this restaurant which, according to Tamori, has the best curry in the city. So, of course, we just had to try it out. It looked like quite a few people must've found out from Tamori, too, since there was a small lineup outside. Luckily, that dissipated within a few minutes.

Well, I'd continue but I've gotta run out and teach The Part-Timer. More on Mo Yan later.