Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sunday October 28, 1:45 p.m.

Yesterday, Typhoon 20 made its presence known for several hours starting from the early afternoon to late evening. I had to send The Matron my regrets for not going to her daughter's orchestral event all the way up in Tsuchiura but considering the wind and rain plus the fact that the JR Joban Line is pretty dodgy in such weather, I just couldn't chance going up there and meeting up with MB and The Satyr for DVD night at my place.
As it was, bringing the guys back home was a small exercise in wind tunnel combat. Somehow, our umbrellas managed to stay intact. We did have to change into drier wear though when we got into my apartment, though.
It was the usual pizza-and-triple-DVD night. As a little shift, I went with the Domino's Deluxe instead of Giga Meat (I'll go back to Giga next time). As for the cinematic bill of fare, we started off with "Ghost Rider" with Nicholas Cage. Man, that was a lousy movie. It was basically Cage as Elvis again with a bit of Method tics such as Johnny Blaze's love for jellybeans and The Carpenters. The story and writing also seemed as if it'd been patterned after a badly-knitted quilt. And of course, Sam Elliott was there to provide his usual pitch as weathered cowboy. It's amazing to remember that he was a former "Mission: Impossible" spy.
Things got much better with "Sunshine". This was the sci-fi flick about a group of scientists on the way to re-start the sun. It had that "2001: A Space Odyssey"/"Alien" vibe about it; almost felt like calling "Hal" at some points. And I think that the lead guy, Cillian Murphy, can pretty much play anybody...may get an Oscar sometime in the future.
Finally, there was "Rocky Balboa". Just like the character, the movie was simple but wiser and good-hearted. There was no real attempt to put in some meaty irony into was just the other bookend for the 1976 debut. And people can still root for the big lug.
As usual, The Satyr headed back for home while Movie Buddy crashed overnight. It was an early start to the day, though, since I had to teach The Younger in the morning. But we still had time to grab breakfast at the local Skylark. We made some preliminary plans to catch "The Bourne Ultimatum" when it hits these shores in a couple of weeks.

As for the Younger, her mother landed a professional bombshell when she told me that her daughter failed her English midterm last week. Urk! I was grateful that she didn't mop up the walls with my guts (that probably would've covered the entire interior)...she was very gracious, but I still took it personally. I've been pretty kid-gloves with The Younger since I'd assumed that she was doing pretty well in the subject like her haughty older sister. But I was wrong. Well, I'm gonna have to dig myself out of this hole.
It didn't help that I was feeling pretty rundown since I only got 5 hours of sleep so a bit of that depression was threatening to seep in. However, as Rocky said last night, "'s about how much you get hit and still manage to keep going forward". And at least, I'm not affiliated with NOVA in any way.
Sunday October 28, 1:17 p.m.

"'ll never close's too big to close down."

Famous last words....or first words, actually, since those are the words I'd heard from an Area Manager on the first day of training for me at NOVA's Tokyo HQ in Harajuku almost 13 years ago. And at that time, it certainly seemed that Japan's largest English-language school chain could do no wrong: not only did it have its schools scattered and multiplying like rabbits, but it also had its tentacles in software, real estate, and travel. It was a conglomerate unto itself.

Man, how times change. I was heading down to Omotesando to pick up those pumpkins for carving with Chip N' Dale on Friday afternoon when I saw a headline on a red & white banner at a subway kiosk: in romaji and kanji, it read "NOVA...BANKRUPT". I'd had no doubts about the fate of my former employer but the end still registered surprise in me. After I bought the small gourds at the flower shop, I decided to go up to the 3rd floor of a building where Omotesando NOVA was located. Sure enough, there was a closed door and a closure notice pasted on it.
The NOVA implosion (much more accurate than the headline of "NOVA goes SUPERNOVA!") was the top news story on NHK that night. All of the branches have closed up shop, 400,000 students are now teacherless and 4,500 teachers are now without jobs. NOVA went into receivership and has court-appointed lawyers to handle its uncertain future. They have a month to find some sponsors. I'm not hopeful. The day before the Sword of Damocles came down on NOVA Usagi (the second-last and most popular mascot), the NOVA board of directors officially ousted the founder and president, Nozomu Sahashi. Students and teachers have been demanding an explanation from him, but hey, the board basically let him escape by firing him. Sahashi may have a moral obligation to face his accusers but not a legal one. And of course, as has been the case with many a disgraced CEO, he chose to flee. Even the lawyers can't seem to track him down.

My own thoughts as a former NOVA teacher? Well, it was indeed the McDonalds of English Teaching. Students came in and out of the small glass cubicles while teachers taught so many of the same lessons that they'd memorized the entire text within 3 months. I and a lot of the other teachers even back in the glory days of the 90s knew that NOVA management was up to some dodginess. It always seemed to straddle the line of legality when it came to things such as following national holidays (one of NOVA's mantras was that it would stay open virtually every day of the year, except for New Year's), and the revolving door system was just as true for the teachers as they were for students. NOVA was basically seen as a stepping stone for most of the foreigners who were employed until that next big thing came along.
The actual schools ranged in size greatly. I had it made because I'd been assigned to a small school...great to cultivate a feeling of camaraderie and continuity amongst students, staff and teachers. Whilst the feeling was that an assignment to one of the honko, the base schools, such as Shinjuku or Ikebukuro with tons of students and teachers was akin to being punished.
There was a lot to criticize NOVA on, but it did provide one good thing to me. The training did instill a basic structure on how to conduct a class. My 1 year of TESL education back home has largely been forgotten but the NOVA training is still in my noggin.
I guess I made it out a good decade before the fall happened. I feel really sorry for the teachers who didn't, though. They've got to bear the brunt of living on no income in one of the most expensive cities on the planet. However, I can imagine that Sahashi and the directors that pulled off the coup d'etat are still quite well esconced in their million-yen manshons.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Friday October 26, 10:20 a.m.

Fairly gloomy, rainy day out there. Just the right kind of weather for an indirectly disgraced boxer to face the music. A little over an hour ago...Koki Kameda, the oldest brother of the battlin' Kameda family, was facing a barrage of camera flashes and some rather tough grilling/chewing out by one crusading journalist over that mauling his younger brother, Daiki, gave his opponent, champion Naito, a couple of weeks ago.
It was a fascinating image of Koki. His head was shaved, presumably in atonement, and he had a look that probably noone has ever seen before: shellshocked fear. A very different expression from the usual one he and his siblings always gave before the media: loud, brash and cocky. This new Koki was almost drowned out by the camera clicking during his apologies. He almost looked worthy of sympathy...but then a lot of us who never really cottoned on to his family's bling, bling antics are probably pumping that fist in triumph right now.
I also thought it was a good reminder about that although Japanese society may be emulating its Western counterparts in many ways...such as sports trash talk...over here, there are limits. In the United States, the mouthing off and cockiness are all a part of the game and all of the Muhammad Alis are very much celebrated as they are reviled. Over here, the Kamedas found out that they leapfrogged over that line and have now been whacked.

Now, as my sports commentary has now finished...

Yesterday, I had most of the day off so I enjoyed one of my lunches at the neighbourhood tonkatsu restaurant before heading off to Yurakucho in a bit of atonement of my own. I still felt rather guilty for giving those (so-called) jade bracelets with the wrong year-animals to the Sisters of State and BC, so I decided that I would take a chance and see if (ha, ha) Krispy Kreme No. 2 would be a bit more quicker in the lineups.
As Bugs Bunny would say..."What a maroon!" I got to the basement of the latest shopping mall to drop into Tokyo, Itocia, and saw the usual snake of people...1h40min wait to be exact...winding from the newest store. Uh-uh....not getting anywhere near there. However, I finally did get to see what the inside of a KK looks like. Not a whole lot of space there, but most of the customers don't hang around to enjoy their doughnuts anyways.
But I did look around the food floor. With a mix of an urban geography theory and the Krispy Kreme effect, a lot of the other eateries and shops were enjoying brisk business. There was a wine shop, a Vietnamese restaurant, a dim sum place and an traditional anmitsu shop for starters. I decided to get some cute little teas from a place called Kapek for the ladies in recompense.
Above, there was an opening ceremony for a pachinko parlour, complete with live trumpet and kodo drums. It was probably the first time in memory that it was noisier outside than inside a parlour. I took a quick look through the Marui department store which makes up the bulk of the aboveground part of Itocia. Meh....the usual stuff. Still, the neighbourhood looks a lot more modern now than before.

I did my usual trek through the CD shops, At HMV, I found the second part of Yuming's big opus for this year. Earlier, I'd bought a 2-disc compilation of her "Seasons, Colours" set which covered songs that hinted at Spring and Summer. Well, the Fall and Winter collection has now been released so there are a few Xmas tunes in there. I was kinda surprised that "Koibito wa Santa Claus" wasn't included, though.
I also came across the disc and DVD for Morning Musume's 10th-anniversary. Yep, strangely enough, they're still around although they've pretty much dropped off the pop culture radar. Well, that's not quite true...the former members have been popping up, but for some rather bad news. One of the earlier "graduates" has gotten divorced from the drummer of rock band Luna Sea; another one of the first members, Natsumi Abe, got herself involved in an auto accident; and the younger brother of breakout member Maki Goto, Yuki, has gotten himself in hot water by being the alleged ringleader of a group of cable thieves. Gotta admit, though, that the cover was inspired. The current members of the troupe have been photographed mimicking the poses of the original members from their first single and their most successful one, "Love Machine". Will just love to see how the online fans react to that.

I also visited Yamano Music and the other HMV in Yurakucho. Yep, quite a few discs I wanna get for Xmas. And sure enough, the Xmas music marketing machine has already gotten into full gear. Michael Buble has released his mini-album of Yuletide standards.

Headed back to Ichigaya to see The Carolinan and BC. I gave them their tea and mumbled again about how sorry I was for screwing up their ages, but they didn't pay any mind. Once again, as soon as we started gabbing in English, it was amazing to see how quickly the surrounding customers cleared out. I'm just hoping that there aren't any future consequences to this trend.
BC may not only be my student but she may even become my colleague at Speedy's. She's interested in using her English skills and helping out with study-abroad programmes, which is just up Speedy's alley. The interview may be in a couple of weeks.

I finally got through the Bond capers, "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball". Yep, "Goldfinger" was aptly named since it's become the gold standard for all of the Bond movies...and other spy follow. "Dr. No" may have been a relatively quiet start to the franchise, and "From Russia With Love" was a somewhat more standard suspense flick, but "Goldfinger" was the one to put it all together. The intelligent but mad villain, the seemingly invincible henchman, the great theme song...they're all there.

To wrap up the day, I listened to my recent purchase of Hiromi Iwasaki's remastered re-release of a 1985 disc called "Diamant". It's not something that I would ever proudly play at home parties but the songs do bring back the memories about how J-Pop was back in the day. Speaking of which, I got Soul'D Out's latest dirrrty tune, "Tonguede Tongue" running around in my head.
Strangely enough, in this day and age of J-R&B and J-Rock, there has been a resurgence in Group Sounds, which was the in-thing to listen to back in the 60s. Basically, a ton of bands consisting of mop-topped boys a la pre-Sgt. Pepper's Beatles, played similarly written tunes. There were The Tigers (led by future Japanese David Bowie, Kenji Sawada), The Four Leaves and The Spiders. A lot of these guys are now aging variety show veterans.

Still gotta find out whether the latest DVD night is a go for tomorrow. The mother of the Younger told me I've got her kid's lessons this and next Sunday, so the wake-up call for MB and I will be early. But I did dangle the possibility of the 11th.

Anyways, gotta get those pumpkins for Chip N' Dale today.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wednesday October 24, 8:29 p.m.

Another wild and woolly one with 001. Basically spent nearly the entire session fielding her questions on Hong Kong as she was scanning through the photos. It's always good coming back from trips. Looks like she's been hitting the makkori (Korean liquor) quite a bit. Much stronger liver than mine. She was also very envious when I told her that The Class Act and I had made a celebrity sighting at The Mandarin Oriental in the form of Lee Byeong Hong, that Korean actor.

Looks like the new beginning for "Star Trek" has got its cast altogether. The roles of Kirk and McCoy have been filled. Kinda interesting about seeing Karl Urban as the new Bones. Can't imagine the guy who fought the Orc horde in "The Two Towers" will be grousing at Spock in the new movie. But then again, I'm sure all eyes will be on Chris Pine (sounds awfully close to Chris Pike) to see what his rendition of Starfleet's hammiest captain will be like.

And then I see the picture of Doctor Who No. 5...otherwise known as the celery-pinning, cricket-playing, nice Doctor....up with current Doctor, David Tennant. Peter Davison isn't exactly fat but he probably needed to let out those cricket pants out a bit in the 2 decades since he left the role.

Not sure but I may just stop by at China Quick for a bite to eat before heading home. Then, it's time to get some sleep. Luckily, I just have The Carolinan and BC tomorrow night.
Wed. October 24, 4:45 p.m.

The waiting game continues. Since it is the boss' b-day, I treated him to a takeout McD's Big Mac Set. Yup, not exactly the most exquisite of presents but he appreciated the gesture. In any case, his wife will proably take him somewhere more fitting.

"Heroes" has been playing its first three eps on SuperDrama TV! on heavy rotation for the past few weeks now. I haven't particularly become rapt with the series but if I have some time, I try to catch it. As for the two characters, Hiro and, they really gotta get some authentically speaking Japanese actors. I can take Masi Oka but the guy who plays Ando has a cringeworthy accent. Well, at least, they're bringing in a true aidoru from the late 80s to play a new addition...possibly Hiro's love interest. Her name is Eriko Tamura, and apparently she can not only speak her native language but does a pretty good job with English and German.
She's probably in her early 30s now but almost 20 years back, she caused quite a bit of "hot and bothered" in her calendar when one of her photos had her pose for a shot in a flimsy bathing suit which basically showed a bit too much of her butt....just a crack (ahem...pun). And this was a couple of years before Rie Miyazawa's "Santa Fe" came out, a pictorial that launched that whole craze of Japanese actresses/singers baring all for the camera in the 90s.
So, it looks like "Heroes" has become quite the pop cultural cauldron. We have a former J-Pop singer, a former Doctor Who and Mr. Sulu. Now, if Mark Hamill isn't too busy...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wednesday October 22, 12:36 p.m.

It was another early start to my Wednesday since I had The Nurse for her usual 10 a.m. Despite the Hong Kong trip, my shoulders are still feeling mighty tight. I may have to consider hitting some sort of clinic to get them unwrenched. As for The Nurse, she introduced all of us to a website which featured fortune telling via the ingredients and utensils of custard pudding. Yep, you heard me. Your entire future can be mapped out for you through your identification with spoons, lids, sugar and eggs. Uh...yeah...well, I figure that any society which has wrapped itself up with fortune telling via animals, blood types and derivation of names would probably jump on the purin bandwagon sometime during its lifetime.
By inputting my name and age into the dedicated search engine, I found out I was a lid...with all of the mirth that's implied. There was some gibberish in Japanese about my personality which I didn't pay too much heed to. But if you can read the stuff, you can give it a try. It's at Through this, I found out that Speedy is celebrating his 38th today. He's an egg, by the way.

Yesterday, I met up with The Beehive for the first time since they all got back from their Canadian odyssey last Thursday. Looks like, kilo for kilo, they had a better time than I did on their respective tour. Not to say that I didn't like Hong Kong but I think they appreciated their time through The Great White North more. They said everyone was friendly and considerate...all except, tellingly, one member of the TTC in Toronto (no surprise there...staff on the Toronto Transit Commission basically have lived in a siege mentality for years and years now). Like me, they liked taking pictures of their meals. Yep, the Toronto fare is still bigger than the portions here. I got quite a few souvenirs from them, too.

Since this is the first round with the students since my return from vacation, it's been a fairly easy round with all of the souvenir giving and photo-showing. 002 basically just had a chat session about my trip and I marked her test. No problems...she was virtually perfect.
I also gave out magnets to Chip n' Dale at the juku last night, along with the deactivated key cards from The Mandarin Oriental. Next week will be the pumpking carving for Halloween which saves me a lot from prepping the usual stuff. I think they're getting a bit bored so I'll have to go back to the fun n' games from November.
Then, it was 2.5 hours of nothing between the kids and The Siberian. There were the 90 minutes vacated by Seven and then we got word that Mr. Mild was still stuck in the wilds of Chiba on business. Mrs. Mild was off on an excursion of her own so that was another hour shot. The juku boss noticed I looked rather tired by the time The Siberian ambled in. I went through 20 crossword puzzles in those 150 minutes. As usual, The Siberian was all about the gab; we got onto one of his favourite topics, name etymology. I'll have to research Icelandic Naming Conventions via Wikipedia for him....I remembered that Bjork and her fellow Icelandians have some rather different approaches to naming themselves. As for Jolly, we also spent half the hour on the Hong Kong trip.

Well, I finished with The Nurse. Now it's just only 001 tonight. The Judge cancelled once more so I won't have to lounge around until his usual slot of 9:30 p.m. I could use the extra sleep.

I actually received a letter from the General Manager of the Hong Kong Mandarin Oriental thanking me for my comments on the accomodations there last week. It was a textbook response addressing on each of my comments (good food and bed, not-so-good Internet) so I was quite impressed. Not that I'll be hitting that hotel anytime soon....unless I win the lottery or The Class Act decide to bring me again.

I also sent a thank-you e-mail to the Butler for all his help last week. It's kinda nice to keep connections although I know that The Cap and The Iconoclast are also there as well.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Monday October 22, 4:57 p.m.

It's that time again...when I end up kicking myself repeatedly for some faux pas I've committed. Last night, I met up with The Sisters of State and BC in front of the police box nearest the West Gate of JR Shinjuku. I was giving them their souvenirs from Hong Kong; at first I asked them about their birth years since I got them the bracelets from the Jade Market in Kowloon. I took the chance back then of guessing their years so I could get the appropriate jade animal (e.g. 1965 was the year of the snake). I was so completely off the mark..I ended up giving them animal bracelets that were totally different; and the ladies looked rather nonplussed. Erk! It was only then that I realized how thoughtless I was.
Still, they did appreciate the trip to Mo-Yan. They were impressed at how much they could get in terms of salad and curry for such a cheap price. Plus, the coffee and the other condiments are free there. I played it very safe by ordering merely the large size of curry instead of the Megaton from the last visit. Of course, the trip home guaranteed me a good seat since my clothing smelled of spices and sweat.

Today, I met The Class Act for the first time since the return from Hong Kong. Not surprisingly, much of the talk was on our lasting impressions of the place. I definitely called for a return there; not immediately, since I would like to have some lead time before I get on a plane again.

Pretty busy day today. I also had SIL; I was sworn to silence by The Lady not to tell her sister-in-law about the trip there. But I still gave her a memo pad from Dynocks. I'm currently at Speedy's. I've got The Full-Timer and Mr. TOEIC tonight. But squeezed in between, I've got the latest English-in-Cooking atypical customer since her TOEIC score in the 900s; basically, she could teach me English. But by joining the prep EIC, she saves some money when it comes to her debut this Saturday.

Well, I did put those HMV certificates to good use. I went to the local branch in Takashimaya Times Square yesterday and bought a couple of 007 DVDs: "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball". Of course, they are the Sean Connery Bonds. Accept no substitute. I used to remember ABC showing the latter movie almost once a season on Sunday nights but ironically, I haven't seen a scene of it in the last 20 years. It was a good time to get re-acquainted with it.
I've also been going through MB's present to me...the novel of "From Russia With Love". It has been a pageturner. I've been learning a lot more about the clockwork within all of the major characters such as Bond, Klebb, Red Grant, Tania and Kerim. But also the Bond depicted in the novel isn't quite the ultrasuave and cool-as-a-cucumber spy that Connery depicted. This Bond does get nervous and loses his temper on quite a few occasions. This is actually more reminiscent of the Daniel Craig Bond.

Well, a quick dinner...