Friday, November 30, 2007

Saturday December 1, 3:20 p.m.

Currently in a holding pattern at Speedy's. Finished up with The Manhattanite an hour ago, and had lunch consisting of two rice balls and a cake donut via Speedy's wife; looks like Tokyo has gotten itself another donut shop. Plus, the bossman told me that Krispy Kreme #3 is ready to go in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture...basically out in the boonies. Well, once KK3 opens up, it'll be one of the busiest little villages in the country. At least, KK has finally opened up outside of Tokyo. Just fiddling time on the Net before it's time to head out to the annual Xmas party, the first of three that I'll be having for the Yuletide. So, I'm in my dress blues...which usually just means wearing a jacket with my tie and shirt. Not sweating, though, despite the fact that it's actually quite Spring-like outside at 16 C.

I had Tully & The Coffeemaker this morning at the usual location. The Coffeemaker looked quite exhausted but she's been putting in several hours a day, 6 days a week for the last little while. As for The Manhattanite, I can only hope that she does well on the take-home test. Man, she was stumbling during the review. Well, I'll find out on Thursday night when she has her next lesson. I'll be having The Yoga Instructor for her first lesson that afternoon, and then I'll have to wait several hours before The Manhattanite shows up. I'm not complaining too much since it looks like I may have my first Wednesday and Friday nights off in a little while

Last night seemed to be the night of apologetic press conferences. First, disgraced sumo yokozuna Asashoryu came back into Japan yesterday after a few months in his native Mongolia. Just about every station, including NHK, covered the supposed homecoming of the guy who had openly and stupidly kicked around a soccer ball in his home country with Japanese soccer hero, Hidetoshi Nakata...despite having begged off a domestic goodwill tour due to a back problem. After that, came a period of dealing with depression over being suspended by the Japan Sumo Federation for the malfeasance. Well, he came back to a full court press where he duly apologized. The reviews were mixed...some welcomed and encouraged him, while others felt that he didn't seem humble enough. We'll have to see what the next several weeks will bring, especially when the first tournament of the year starts in January.
Then there was Daiki Kameda, the cocky boxer involved in that mauling of his opponent back in October. He did his own press conference to apologize for his bizarre behaviour. He seemed somewhat more sincere although the typical Kameda cockiness was still on full display. Again, wait and see.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Friday November 30, 9:26 a.m.

We're definitely going into the winter months. I actually put on the gloves for the first time. Just rain but the sky has that look of Toronto snow.

Yesterday had that "road trip" type of feel to it. I had the entire day off from classes but I still had a full slate. First off, I headed off to Tsudanuma JUSCO...JUSCO being that huge supermarket chain. That was the closest place to my apartment where I could get some of those special DIY candies that my sister-in-law had requested. No problems in tracking them down.

Then I hopped on the Sobu Line from Tsudanuma and headed over to the traditional Asakusa area. A half-hour later, I got off at Asakusabashi....thinking that Asakusabashi and Asakusa were hand-in-glove in terms of location. Apparently, a lot of commuters have thought that, too, since the station staff put up a sign saying that, in fact, the two places were separated by half an hour's worth of walking and that commuters heading over to Asakusa should hop on the subway 200 m away.
Well, I was in a walking mood so I decided to beat feet on the street and made my way through Asakusabashi and Kuramae to get to Asakusa. It was the first time that I'd actually gotten off in Asakusabashi. The neighbourhood had that typical inner-city, shitamachi feel to it. Along the crowded sidewalks were various small mom & pop shops and chic cafes and old-style restaurants.
The hike did take 30 minutes but I managed to get to the landmark of Kaminarimon intact. For a Thursday afternoon, the place was bustling with tourist groups, domestic and otherwise, as rickshaw drivers were shilling for willing customers. I also got there some 45 minutes before I was to meet The Lens, so I walked through Shin-Nakamise Dori, one of the famous old-fashioned covered shopping streets of Tokyo. Having worked in Asakusa a decade ago, there was that feel of nostalgia...especially with the cloud and chill in the air. Like the open-air Asakusabashi, Shin-Nakamise was lined with old-style shops with faded awnings. There were a lot of yukata and kimono stores nestled next to toy stores and wafu restaurants. I trekked down the street all the way to Asakusa ROX, one of the original shopping complexes before this current boom of megamalls that has taken Tokyo by storm in the last few years. It was nice to see that the same ol' bookstore and CD shop were still there, and there was still that top-floor eatery which had that corporate cafeteria interior design.

I got back to Kaminarimon and The Lens did show up on time. We ended up having lunch in one of the local ramen restaurants. It was definitely a family-run operation. The father/owner/cook was busy admonishing his little daughter for bothering him while he was cooking up the noodles. The Lens remarked at how unlike the interior was for a ramen restaurant...he was still used to the grungy shops. This place was kinda like what some of the 21st-century versions were....smooth wood paneling with other earth tones while Western ballads were playing over the speakers. Would love to take him to Foo Foo in Shinjuku someday. I guess the place was really new...when I paid for the both of us, I noticed that there was no cash register but just a tupperware container for the yen.

For the next hour, The Lens and I walked through the original Nakamise Dori which is perpendicular to Shin-Nakamise and spans from Kaminarimon Gate to Sensoji, the huge local temple. We basically emulated Brad Pitt's character from "Ocean's 11" and just kept buying manju from the vendors to nosh on. One vendor used that tried n' true marketing technique of showing how manju is made to get his customers to buy. It certainly worked on The Lens. One of the bean-filled pastries was age manju (deep-fried manju)...something that would seemingly appeal to Homer Simpson but the batter was pretty crisp and not heavy. We made it to Sensoji where the temple was doing volume business according to the folks coming up to it taking pictures and flipping coins into the wooden collection stations.
The Lens' mission in Asakusa was to get a yukata for a friend of his, so we found quite a few stalls to peruse. Now, this was the purely touristy yukata...not the ones with ridiculous kanji printed on it, mind you...the ones that didn't cost an arm, a leg and several internal organs. The Lens decided on one place. It was obvious that the vendors were accustomed to the foreign crowd...the two young ladies selling the wares under the eyes of their boss were very fluent in English. My old friend ended up getting a blue-and-white yukata with a bamboo pattern.
The noshing continued but in a more liquid sense. I picked up a couple of cups of amazake (sweet sake) for 100 yen each. Amazake isn't anything like the stuff that could knock you over. As the translation says, it's a very sweet drink created as a by-product from the brewing process. It is cloudy with remnants of rice and is served hot. I always had the impression that amazake was a love-hate affair with people. Some people adore it, some people despise it. However, The Lens was fortunately in the former category. And on a cold November day, amazake does hit the spot.

After walking through the old quarter for an hour or so, we hopped on the Ginza Line and went down to the fancier area of Ginza itself. I nodded off....something that I do with alarming regularity now. Apparently, The Lens had to pick up a new suitcase at Ginza Matsuya. One of the higher-ups there is a kendo acquaintance. The man had that air of sophistication which is natural in a Ginza department store but he is also a veteran kendo-ka who just barely missed getting promoted to 7-dan.

Then, it was a quick walk over to Printemps, another department store closer to Yurakucho, where The Lens bought a small necklace as a surprise Xmas gift for his wife. The lady there could also speak in English, although not as well as the Asakusa yukata vendors. She was a nice young woman although her makeup bespoke a bit of Shibuya gyaru influences.

Finally, it was another hop on the subway...this time on the Marunouchi get over to The Lens' hotel, the Tokyo Dome Hotel. We got off at Korakuen. It was obvious that the entire amusement area, which includes Tokyo Dome and the L'Aqua spa complex, was all geared up for Xmas...a lot of Yuletide illumination and music was filling up the area.
We went straight for The Coffee Machine, a Starbucks-like cafe and cooled our heels for about 90 minutes while we gabbed about old times. The Attorney finally did get back to the suite so we made our way there as well. Looks like she's been enjoying her relatively new position as a chief legal representative for her company, although she wonders how her minders have been reacting to her status as the first non-Japanese person in her position.
As usual, I got my Reese's products (peanut butter cups, pieces) which seem to be the default tribute omiyage whenever my friends come to town. Then, the three of us went down to the lobby to meet Automan's sister, Autolady, a good friend of theirs. I actually had first met Autolady in university some years before meeting her brother for the first time, but hadn't seen her in many years since she's now one of those jetsetting hard-working execs.

After several minutes of discussion about where to eat...and that included some talk with the concierge (man, it did feel like old times), we just ended up hitting the streets again. We thought we would have to brave the cold and walk all the way to Iidabashi, but as soon as we crossed the street, we came across this Korean BBQ place. Well, the cold outside and the welcoming warmth inside helped make up our minds pretty quickly.
It was initially a tight fit but we did OK at our table. As usual for such an eatery, we had our fill of garlicky yakiniku and chijimi. Autolady's husband, The Romantic (another friend from the old days), was also on his way. It was interesting...last week, I met up with folks like Automan and Shrek, people whom I associated with in the early 90s; yesterday it was with folks from even earlier in my U of T days...and in The Lens' case, back to Japanese Language School and childhood. When The Romantic finally arrived, he remarked it was the first time that he, The Attorney and I had been together in the same place in 20 years. The hair on the back of my neck stood up...and probably grayed.

Later into dinner...Autolady, who is a good deal verbally sharper than her little brother, started grilling me a bit about why I never carried such things like a cellphone, a SUICA commuting card or even bothered looking into investing in an apartment. I've been getting hammered with this question for years, so I rolled my eyes in spirit and gave the usual token jesting response that I was a Luddite. The fact is that though I don't consider myself an extremist technophobe like the Unabomber, I just don't consider buying a cellphone worthy of my money and effort. As for actually buying an apartment...well, I am an English high salary, no bonuses, no help financially...I almost laughed when I heard that question. Basically, one would have to be part of Japan Inc or married to someone who is to have a chance of buying real estate in this country. Basically, my answers to her were in a joking way since the truth would've cooled the temperature in the room considerably. The Autolady and I live in different worlds.

My long day finally came to an end when we saw off The Lens and his wife, and Autolady & her hubby drove me to Iidabashi Station. The two couples will be off to Thailand for their Xmas vacation. As I said, we live in different worlds now.

My day ended up not being totally work-free. When I hit home past eleven, I found a thick envelope in my mailbox. It turned out to be another shipment from The Chef to have me proofread her newest menus. So, I took an hour to red-ink any grammatical errors before bedtime since she needed them back by December 3rd. She actually sent e-mail to me about seeing me for a real lesson sometime next month.

To further emphasize the fact that I run in far different circles than folks like Autolady, The Lens and even Automan himself, I recently watched that special scene of the new "Doctor Who" on YouTube where David Tennant's Doctor meets Peter Davison's Doctor in the TARDIS. When I'd first heard that the meeting of Time Lords would be restricted to just a one-scene, 7-minute ep called "Time Crash", I kinda groaned at the lost opportunity. But after seeing it, I've come to the conclusion that it was probably the best example out of all of the special Doctor-meeting-Doctor eps. For one thing, it was short and sweet. My remembrances of eps like "The Three Doctors" were that the shows had pretty flimsy stories complicated and overwhelmed by all these different ego-aspects of The Doctor bickering with each other/himself. The 7 minutes of Davison and Tennant kept things quick and pretty happy by the end.

Well, I just have The Ace tonight for a lesson. But tomorrow will be another one of those "road trips", albeit a more familiar one. I've got Tully & The Coffeemaker, then The Manhattanite before Speedy's party at the end. Ah, BTW, Skippy informed me that she got the job at Phillip Morris without making any reference to the possible position at Speedy's. Now, there's one cat who has always landed on her feet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wednesday November 28, 5:21 p.m.

Back at the office after heading out to teach The New Yorker in Ichigaya. Had lunch at Sozaiya, the healthy bento place near the station. It is tasty fare...I'll need convincing, though, that the fried chicken I had was actually healthy. I also had the bowl of spicy tan tan noodles and one rice ball with salmon flakes.

The New Yorker still remains as one of my lower students but at least I can take off the adverb "hopelessly". I'm starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. She's conversing a bit more confidently now although the pauses are still there. She had a good time in Okinawa a couple of weeks ago and I got a box of chinsuko biscuits as a souvenir.

Stopped off in Shinjuku to head over to Tokyu Hands. I was able to pick up a box of Arm & Hammer rug deodorizer although it is the tatami that I plan to use it on. Ever since I washed out the filter in my vacuum, it's been giving off a horrible moldy smell. I'm hoping the miraculous powers of baking soda does wonders to the inside of my ancient machine.
I passed by Krispy Kreme #1 on the way to the station. I was almost gobsmacked when I saw that there was no line coming down the bridge overpass between Takashimaya Times Square and the Southern Tower. However, there was still a snake curling in front of the store itself. The sign said just an hour's wait...which is saying something.

Back on Sunday, during the burger stop in Gaienmae, MB lent me another Dan Simmons opus. Simmons is that sci-fi author responsible for the Hyperion-Endymion series that I'd read a couple of years ago. This time, the two tomes (they're way too thick to be called merely novels) are "Ilium" and "Olympios". As with the previous series, these two books also pay tribute to a literary classic, Homer's "Iliad". And like the other books, Simmons also plays around with the concepts of reincarnation, religion, horny humans and profane artificial intelligences. At first, I wasn't too impressed with "Ilium" but it's starting to grow on me now. I figure that I should be finished with the two books perhaps by the end of the year.

I haven't heard anything from Skippy about my suggestion to her to try out for the soon-to-be-vacated day manager's job at Speedy's. And at this point, I don't think she'll respond; it's her usual way...if she doesn't seem interested in something that is not related to any event, she'll just skirt around the issue. Silence speaks volumes. Speedy didn't really have much hope anyways, especially since he can't pay anything near what she was getting at IBM.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wednesday November 28, 11:55 a.m.

Managed to get through the juku gauntlet none too worse for wear although I did get pinged from a source that I hadn't expected. I had Mild Jr. for this very first lesson with me. He'd been the one I was worried about since he seemed rather noncommital during his model lesson with me last month. But he was pretty intense and willling to work hard on his hotel conversations so the hour managed to fly by pretty quickly for him.
Nope, actually the problem came with Jolly. It'd been a couple of weeks since he came. But it wasn't the rust that stopped him. Unfortunately I used a copy of a text which was obviously too high for him so he was looking rather shellshocked by the end. So, I've gotta improvise for his next class. Didn't feel too good about that but as the saying goes, "No pain, no gain".
Looks like the venue for the juku year-end party has been nailed down. I'm looking at the Urayasu SHIDAX, that monumental karaoke complex near Tokyo Disneyland. And I've been telling the folks that the rule is for the first hour to be completely devoted to English-language songs.

Just had The Nurse for her Wednesday morning regular. We were both in gabby mode which helped make this hour fly as well. Fairly busy slate today with The New Yorker coming up and then 001 and Mr. TOEIC later on tonight. It'll be the first time seeing 001 in a few weeks. It'll be interesting to see how she's been doing. As expected, neither she nor 002 will be coming to the Xmas party on the 1st. They're not really into the large parties.

I've been making plans with the old friend of the family, The Lens, for tomorrow. Will probably be seeing him and The Attorney, his wife, in Asakusa before we head back to the Tokyo Dome Hotel where they're staying for dinner. Automan's sister and brother-in-law, also old friends, will be joining us. Looks like L'Aqua by the Dome will be the dinner spot.

Well, that mystery disappearance of that woman and her two granddaughters has sadly been solved. Last night, the woman's brother-in-law was arrested on suspicion of stabbing his relatives to death. Apparently, the man deeply resented the grandmother for continually borrowing money from his wife, her sister. The two girls just saw too much and so they had to go, too. Money is indeed the root of all evil.
Tuesday November 27, 5:24 p.m.

Just about to go into the meat n' potatoes of my schedule tonight. It'll probably be the hardest chunk of work for this week since I've got the juku slate of Chip N' Dale, the new kid on the block Mild Jr. for his first and only lesson this year, The Milds themselves and I'm assuming The Siberian and Jolly.

Mind you, this morning was pretty good. We had that reunion of the Beehive at Mrs. Travel's house. So, Mrs. Perth came in from Sapporo and Mrs. Potter arrived from Okayama (although in her case, she had a better priority in that her son got married a couple of days ago). It was the usual wonderful spread of potluck dishes which included Mrs. Tee's great sandwiches, Mrs. Jade's intriguing but delish salad of kiwi, persimmon, apple and yurine (a native tiny potato) all covered in a mixture of Philadelphia cream cheese and mango puree, and some other stuff along with Canadian icewine and tomato-infused sake. Always love the reunions...maybe the only ones I've ever liked.
Mrs. Travel's grandson, a little tyke who has stayed rather mum in front of strangers, finally babbled something to me while I was playing with him. That was a feat since his grandmother told me that he usually doesn't like men.
The reason for the reunion though was to go through the huge numbers of photos from their Canada trip. Mrs. Perth alone took 1,000 pics! We managed to get through the first CD of photos before I had to make my way out to 002's place.

As for 002, it was the usual laugh-filled lesson. However, she'll be away for the next 3 weeks since she's heading back to Hawaii to run in the annual Honolulu Marathon. I gave her a piece of homework which will entail her writing up a report on her experiences there.

Weatherwise, it hasn't been too bad over the last couple of days. Pretty cool and comfortable but we've got some rainy weather coming in the next couple of days.

I've finally gotten onto the path of getting those Meiji candies for my sister-in-law. Half of the load could be found in the Seiyu Department Store near Urayasu Station. I figure I'm gonna have to head over to the Tsudanuma JUSCO for the rest. But things seem to be working out for me in terms of getting presents out this week. I hope I can get the greeting cards out before the major Xmas mail jam.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday November 26, 8:53 p.m.

Got through the model lesson with that crackerjack of a student. She's already studying with another teacher here on Tuesdays but wanted to play the field, so to speak. Yep, she's not only very avid about speaking English, but she's even got her own TESOL certificate for kids. She's one of us. Well, I pulled out my miracle lesson on Presentations which was another hit. Not sure what will happen, though.

Mr. TOEIC is again gonna be late but he has magnanimously offered to make sure that we end the lesson at 9:30 although the bossman hinted for the purposes of good business to extend it an extra 10 minutes. I've got no problems with that.

It'll be another latecoming tonight but luckily I've got that party with The Beehive tomorrow morning. They said that I didn't have to bring anything to the party since I'm already teaching them but I hate to go to anything emptyhanded. So, I've decided to bring a bit of a novelty item in the form of turtle jelly. Yep, The Lady and her hubby went to Hong Kong again over the weekend and met up with their faithful butler there. They managed to get me some pretty premium XO Sauce and a jar of turtle jelly. Should make for quite the conversation piece at the party tomorrow.

Since SIL was off today, I decided to take the bus going from Shibuya Station to Nakano to get up to Speedy's. Unfortunately, I almost ended up on the wrong bus; there are two buses headed for Nakano but only one goes by the school. So I ended up giving a 200-yen donation to the wronged bus. I would've asked for a refund but the driver didn't look too kindly. It was a nice ride up through Shibuya past NHK HQ and Opera City before I finally reached the school.

Actually before hitting the bus, I did some quick shopping at Tokyu Hands, the hardware store. I got myself an I-go board for something less than 2,000 yen. Not a true board but it's better than the cardboard thing I got from that guide book on how to play I-go. So I hope I can indulge myself over the Holidays.
MOnday November 26, 5:32 p.m.

In a month from now, I'll be eating my KFC leftovers...

Yesterday after my lesson with Tully & The Coffeemaker, I met up with Skippy since it was the annual appearance of me at her student's house. The kid proudly showed his Junior Eiken Bronze Award. Looks like Skippy's been earning her keep....unlike me with The Younger. Skippy just has the knack with kids. Her secret...just ensuring that he wins the games. Like all men, he's a sore loser.

Afterward, we met up with MB whom I hadn't seen in nearly a month in Gaienmae for yet another round of burgers. The target this time was Goro's Burger which is down the street from the Belle Commons fashion building. The place was pretty cramped but the burgers were good although my trousers paid a price in oil stains (unfortunately, the burger bag didn't do a good job at holding the grease in). And we had some floor entertainment in the form of the two kids of Goro and his wife....the 2-year-old boy was just yelling and prancing up and down; either he's gonna be a Johnny's Jimusho recruit in about 8 years or he'll be one of the most obnoxious drunken barfly salarymen in about 20. The burgers were good but the place needs to work a bit more on the fish n' chips. Still looking for some good versions of those in Tokyo.
We took one more stop at the local Starbucks. Interesting configuration. The counter was on the 2nd floor while a lot of the tables were on the 1st. Xmas has descended upon this franchise. The Yuletide music and the supersweet Xmas coffees were on the menu. We gabbed for a little while until Skippy was starting to clue out underneath the weight of all the movie talk that MB and I were generating.

Speaking of Skippy, she's hitting the bricks looking for a new job since her IBM office is moving over to Shanghai. And just found out that The Admin will probably be leaving by the end of the year, so I put 2 and 2 together. Not sure if Skippy will appreciate the decrease in salary but I sent her a heads-up e-mail in any case.

In any case, time to teach The Full-Timer.