Thursday, July 26, 2007

Friday July 27, 12:01 p.m.

Summer has definitely arrived. Other than a brief downpour yesterday afternoon here at Speedy's, it's been blazing hot and a Tokyo summer would be. I was quite aware that I must've smelled like any other noxious salaryman covered in sweat and infused with copious amounts of caffeine. Friday nights coming home on the subway will be olfactory nightmares from now til October.

Yesterday, the reason for the caffeine coming out of my pores was that I met up with The Sisters of State at the same Tully's but at vastly different times of the day. The New Yorker I met at 1 while The Carolinan was a 6:15. In between was a quick trip over here to teach The Nurse. The Carolinan kept me informed about the spiritually ailing BC; it looks like my message to her didn't end in a resentful backlash against me. However, The Carolinan said that BC was feeling quite tired at the moment. BC had asked about a trip to The Maple Leaf sometime in August, so I figured that maybe we could pick one of the Sundays next month for a trip there.

I've got The Chef, the quietly mercurial student of ours here in less than an hour. After that meltdown last month because of her sudden request, all of us here (Speedy, The Admin and me) are being just as quietly wary of her. True to form, The Chef finally sent me her latest menus for me to proofread via my personal fax yesterday...a big sheaf of it and asked me to get it done by today. I was slightly put out....felt like one of those resentful corporate underlings after getting slapped with a Herculean task by an unreasonable boss. However, I sent my acknowledgement of receipt fax over to her and then later an e-mail politely asking her to send it earlier. She did say that she'd only received the menus herself just yesterday, so I'm taking that into consideration. As the bossman said, The Chef has that slight Drama Queen quality to her and I think she doesn't quite do what she does maliciously...she's just a bit high strung.

Later on, I've got The Ace for his 9:00. So, I'll probably have another several hours of downtime between lessons. I don't particularly want to go on home since that would mean turning on the air conditioner and wasting some more electricity and therefore paying TEPCO more money that they don't really deserve since they screwed up that news on the radiation leak at the Kashiwazaki Nuclear Facility after the big quake on Marine Day....that facility just happens to be the largest facility of its kind on the planet. So, I'll just head over to the friendlier I-cafe for a few hours before dinner.

Before heading out to work, I did run to Daiei and picked up that clone of the Brita filter. I had thought about actually buying the real McCoy. And as it was, the BRITA filter tap only cost from 3,150 yen; not bad considering its solid reputation, but however I saw the cost of those replacement filters and saw that they cost almost as much as the main unit itself. With a 5-month cycle between replacements, I would've been paying close to 5,000 yen per year as compared to paying just less than 2,000 yen to replace the 498 yen cheapo filter four times a year. All this just to plug up a leak. But I just stuck the sucker onto the tap and turned it on and off...sure enough, I've saved myself some water.

Now that the dog days of summer have arrived in earnest, I've been hitting the cold udon or hiyashi chuuka noodles at the convenience stores now. I don't think I could really eat a hot plate of deep-fried chicken at this time. And a further sign that the dog days are here is that at a lot of the vending machines, there are a lot of Sold Out signs.

Well, Election Day for the Upper House is just around the corner, and the pundits are screaming that Shinzo Abe and the LDP are in for a Humpty Dumpty Great Fall. Mind you, it was never going to be easy for any replacement Prime Minister to follow the flamboyant Junichiro Koizumi especially when most Japanese pols come off as about as exciting as drying paint. However, the scorecard for Japan's Cigarstore Indian is looking pretty bleak: Cabinet Ministers with a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease, a dead Minister of Agriculture from suicide due to some rather shady dealings, the new Minister of Agriculture having to hem and haw his way out of some potential tax evasion, and last but not least, half the population of the country finding out that their pension records may be unrecoverable. Yup, I could see some pretty tense dinners between Shinzo and Akie. You know, I may just be glued to my TV Sunday night.

But the woes of the Abe administration must mean nothing compared to the meltdowns in the United States. A President who seems to be begging to become the most reviled Commander-in-Chief in history, a Congress which seems to want the same status, a potentially corrupt Attorney-General, two Presidential aides who merely snub a Congressional subpoena....and I haven't even mentioned Iraq yet. Then, there is an NFL star who seems to have a fetish for seeing dogs tear each other apart, a baseball star ready to hit the record books while battling allegations of steroid use, two young stars who feel that getting charged for DUI is a rite of passage to be savored and a former pop star-turned-basketcase traumatizing a photo shoot. Wow! The United States is truly a country where even the worst things come out like a Hollywood epic. Go fig.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wednesday July 25, 8:24 p.m.

Well, I'm feeling not unlike a heel right now. 001 was rather shellshocked today when she found out that I wouldn't be going to the semiregular Saturday dinner outing. Perhaps she thinks I may have betrayed her somewhat since I didn't say anything when Speedy came in a couple of weeks ago to put the spiel on her. I'd already made up my mind not to go by that point (for some financially psychotic reason, the bossman seems hellbent to have us pay 5,000 yen a shot for those dinners), but I couldn't say that in front of either of them for obvious reasons. And I hadn't thought that she would accept the invitation since she hadn't come to any of the other previous parties in the past so it was with some surprise to hear that she was planning to go. Now, she's not too sure. Knowing me, I'll probably be kicking myself all the way home tonight but I'll be OK in the morning.

Just have The Judge in less than an hour. Hopefully that class will go somewhat more swimmingly...
Wednesday July 25, 5:32 p.m.

Since I got that CNN/YouTube Debate rant off my chest, I forgot that I have some stuff locally here to relate. It looks like I've got another student to add onto my slate. She's one of Speedy' of the grandmothers that I'd taught during his absence. Apparently, she wants to have an hour of free talk with me first thing Friday morning while she does the technical stuff with the bossman on Wednesday. I guess I'll dub her Grandma Dynamite since she talks at about a parsec a, it comes from that guest character on "The Flintstones" all those years ago.

The Upper House Election campaigning has been relentlessly going on for the past several days now. We've got the cars with the megaphones crying out their candidates' names all over the streets. Yesterday, I witnessed the candidate from the Japanese Communist Party exhorting her need of support from her Toyota. I could never imagine something like that happening in the States. If anyone even uttered a hint about his/her allegiance to Communism in the good ol' U.S. of A., the FBI would just come sweeping down on his/her neighbourhood like a squad of TIE fighters. Mind you, the Japanese version is about as harmless as kittens. The big day is Sunday. Man, Fuji-TV will be one busy station this weekend. Not only will have they have to cover the elections, but they're having their annual 24-hour TV marathon.
The Upper House Elections, like their equivalents anywhere else, don't mean too much in the grand scheme of politics, but everyone will be looking whether Shinzo Abe will be able to grab a majority of the seats. If he doesn't, what could that mean for his fortunes? The Class Act made a good observation of him when they remarked that unlike the maverick Koizumi, this current guy has come off as being the goody-goody Crown Prince. Very courtly and gentlemanly but not exactly the gung-ho type to engender leadership.
Wednesday July 25, 4:18 p.m.

I guess Tokyo is starting to approach a more desert-like climate. Burning hot and humid in the day, but (relatively) cool in the evening. Still, my shirts have become sponges soaking up the perspiration.

Yesterday, it was the combination goodbye party for Mrs. Perth and final lunch for the Beehive before the annual summer hiatus. We held it at the Funabashi TOBU department store branch of Ume no Hana, a famous chain of Tokyo restaurants specializing in tofu. Mrs. Jade was nice enough to handle all the arrangements, so we got our own private tatami room. All of the regulars were there: Perth, Jade, Mrs Alp, Mrs Tee and Mrs Travel was back from her latest sojourn to Turkey. So, some part of the lunch was spent exchanging stories on Turkey and Alp's recent vacation in Switzerland. Also heard that Mrs Tulip and her family are moving further up in the condo chain...they're now nicely esconced in some penthouse suite in Toronto.
As for the fare, it was all different types of tofu dishes...and also yuba, which is actually the thin skin taken from tofu during processing. So, we started off with a large bowl of tofu sitting in cold soy milk which we ate with all sorts of yakumi (garnishes) such as grated ginger, sliced onion and the like. We also had shrimp siu mai wrapped up in a yuba skin, mamedofu (tofu made with green beans), deep-fried tofu, etc. It was all very good, and surprisingly even I was quite filled by the end of lunch (although I have to admit that a few hours later, I had to take in a Big Mac set before seeing 002...I guess the fare at Ume no Hana is the Japanese illustration of a Chinese dinner).
It was the end of Mrs. Perth's time with The Beehive as I gave my good wishes to her, and it was also a new beginning. From September, we may have some new permanent digs for us on the Keisei Line...there's some sort of facility which rents out classrooms at cheap rates. It's a drag in that I'll have to change twice but at least we're no longer nomadic. Also, Travel and Tee will be searching for a new classmate or classmates.

002 was her usual giddy self...she told me about her trip to that relay race in the mountains near Mt. Fuji right on the weekend of Typhoon Man-Yi's near arrival in Tokyo. Luckily, the organizers had the good sense to shorten it to just 6 hours, but the group still manage to get drenched.

The session at the juku last night was a bit bizarre. Of course, there was the fact that it was the first time for me to be there since the boss' mother died last Monday. When I got there, though, the boss was pretty much back to her cheerful, up-with-people self. However, she invited me into the the living room where a large picture of her late mother was situated with bowls of oranges and other food sitting in front. As per Japanese tradition, I knelt in front of the picture, lit an incense stick, waved out the flame so that the ember at the tip emitted its characteristic aroma, stuck it in a bowl of white sand, quietly rang a bell with a metal wand before praying for a few seconds.
At this point, I would've said that it was then back to business. However, there was very little business last night. I only ended up having Chip the boy and a few hours later, it was The Siberian. What happened? Well, Dale just plain didn't show up, Seven was off doing a concert for piano and Jolly did one of his occasional cancellations. However, the big surprise was that The Milds also no-showed. This struck both me and the boss as being rather strange for my oldest and most loyal students since I started at the juku 3 years ago. When the boss called their house up, their adult son informed her that apparently the couple is out of the country on vacation. I don't recall ever being told about that. The boss profusely apologized for the lack of students for which I reassured her. Sho ga nai.
Another interesting thing was that the juku boss actually went off to The Matron's husband's law office by herself on Monday to start the ball rolling on her mother's estate. She'd been asking me if I could accompany her, but it looks like she got the gumption to go on her own. Everything went well, apparently. I also got the customary O-chugen gift from The Matron today, so I killed two birds with one stone and sent a fax to her husband thanking both of them for the package of sweets and their assistance to the boss.

I just have 001 and The Judge tonight so the morning was spent doing household stuff. For one thing, I have a leaky faucet. For the 13 years I've been in my apartment, I'd had no problems with the kitchen tap until a few weeks ago when a persistent drip started. I finally unhoused what must've been the BRITA filter's prehistoric ancestor from the main tap, and the leak got worse. I headed out to Daiei...there were some cheap possibilities to stop it; BRITA was indeed well represented but the system looked tres cher so I decided to go for a cheaper alternative. But I haven't bought it just yet...I needed to check the dimensions of the tap before plunking down the yen. Also, I searched for a toilet seat. My current one has a rather nasty crack in it which, you could imagine, can wake me up better than a tall glass of OJ (mind you, I've got it taped up like Bobby Orr's knee). Nada on that front, but Yamada Denki had those newfangled seats with the bidet-like attachments....for the price of at least 40,000 yen. Ahhh...I'll stick with toilet paper (oooh, that was a nasty pun), thank you very much. As for the ongoing battle with the roaches, some new hotels are out there and the infestation has been brought down to a few stragglers. Still, I'll have to make sure that all of the bugs are out of here by the time MB comes on by on the 4th.

I watched CNN's much-anticipated (at least to the producers there) YouTube debates with the Democratic Presidential Nominees yesterday...or at least bits and pieces of it. The way Anderson Cooper and the other folks were flogging it for the past several weeks (months?), I'd thought the cable network had been promoting its own Deathly Hallows (complete with countdown clock).
And true to overhyped media events, the sizzle far outweighed the steak. Mind you, Cooper was savvy enough to verbalize some wiggle room at the beginning of the debate by saying that none of them really knew what the night was gonna be like. Well, the new format came off as being gimmicky with everyone in the audience and on the stage looking at the screen as various YouTubers did their own "Tiny Talent Time" while posing questions; the answers were all the same. This whole premise that the nominees wouldn't be able to roll off some heavily practiced spin response was pretty much nothing....I couldn't imagine that any of the pols' staffs didn't have Internet-savvy geeks doing their own screening of the 3,000+ videos from the completely open site. And if the pols didn't want to answer any particular question, neither Anderson nor a video could stop in point, John Edwards when asked by AC about Liz Edwards' verbal sparring with Hillary Clinton. Edwards just swatted that question like a Carolinan fly in summer. Basically, it was the usual thing that we've come to expect from the debates....Gravel was pissed, Biden was snarky, Richardson was earnest and Obama was noble. The only big difference was that we got to see the candidates get neck strain looking at the big screen.
Still, it was a laudable effort by the good folks at CNN and YouTube. They tried to bring a bit more immediacy and intimacy between the nominees and aw-shucks regular folk. And more importantly, perhaps the two media giants may have accomplished something that even MTV hasn't been able to do....draw in the 18-34 demographic.

Well, before I log off, I toast Paula Zahn...the bell has finally tolled. She just resigned.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Monday July 23, 7:34 p.m.

Just had The Full-Timer. Looks like she had another good time in Thailand. She tried a bit of the Muy Thai kickboxing style. She usually comes off as a rather unassuming young lady but she does like to try the martial arts. With her brother doing Tae Kwon Do, her house ought to be the safest one in the neighbourhood. I got a box of spicy Pritz as a souvenir.

I've got Mr. TOEIC and that'll be my Monday. It looks like this week will be a busier, more normal type. I had my usual Monday classes with The Class Act and SIL. The Lady and her hubby had just come back from Singapore...first-class, all the way of course. Then, I've got The Beehive for the final class before the usual summer hiatus. It'll also be a goodbye party of sorts as well for Mrs. Perth, so we're gonna hold it at Ume no Hana, a restaurant that specializes in tofu. The juku classes are back in session as of tomorrow after last week's period of mourning for the boss' mother.

The Harry Potter mania has also struck Japan, albeit to a far less manic degree than it has in New York or London. Japan has its Pottermaniacs but when the book came out a couple of days ago, there weren't the huge lineups that Krispy Kreme gathers every single day. In fact, when I went to Tower yesterday, I just nonchalantly ambled up to the display on the 7th floor and picked one book up...and of course, read the ending immediately. Glad to see that all of the main characters live well into parenthood (I think it was a foregone conclusion that Ron and Hermione would shack up). A pity about Dumbledore and Snape, though. In any case, the main reason that there hasn't been the crazed run for the books is that with the book being written in English, I don't think there are too many folks here who would be willing to survive the 800-page challenge. Most of the locals will wait the 12-14 months to get the Japanese translation.

I should be expecting Mr. TOEIC very soon...
Monday July 23, 5:37 p.m.

Well, it certainly feels like the Rainy Season has come to an end. It has felt like an ocean of sweat out there for the past couple of days.

I had the day off yesterday so the only thing I did was head over to Tower Records to ostensibly just browse around, but I ended up picking up one more book on the ancient game of I-go. It's another book by American specialist Shotwell; my first book was also by him but yesterday's purchase seems to be the more comprehensive of the two.

Then I met up with The Bohemian for the first time in a few months. He was looking somewhat paunchier than the last time I'd seen him...which was drunk as a skunk trying to cross the street in Shibuya. He luckily survived. I met him in front of Hachiko, the first time in a number of months I'd done that. Yep, it was pretty darn humid there with all of those other folks piling in front of the famed meeting place. The usual colourful types were there....Shibuya ko-gals, regular folk and one crazed homeless man screaming obscenities to anyone who dared to make eye contact.
As usual, the two of us ended up at En, our usual haunt. The Bohemian was quite happy to find out that there was a half-price campaign on beer. And getting there at 4 always guaranteed us the first table; the place really didn't start to fill up until about 6. The conversation didn't touch back on that rather awkward meeting a few months was just as if nothing had happened. Mind you, it helped that we were served mostly by male wait staff and one somewhat older woman so there was none of that embarrasingly bad flirting that I berated him on last time.
However, also as usual and true to The Bohemian's nature, some of the talk necessitated me tellling to keep the volume down since he liked to talk about his trips to the fuzoku houses (fuzoku, by the way, basically means sexhouses like the ones in Kabukicho)....of course, I'm apparently the only one who knows about this. He says that he only goes for 20-30 minutes....I won't imagine too long what he accomplishes in that short period of time. He also referred back to his perverted acquaintance who has a rather unhealthy interest in S&M and scatology. I was doing quite a bit of verbal misdirection to get him back to more acceptable conversation.
Luckily, when I showed him my I-go book, his curiosity perked up and we ended up heading back to Towers so that he could pick up a book of his own. Yep, in English, since he figured it would be good language practice for him.

Will continue later but I gotta head out for The Full-Timer...