Friday, April 11, 2008

Saturday April 12, 10:27 a.m.

Here to teach just The Bostonian, and it looks like it'll be the only class of the day. Although the lass is a nice lass, it's a bit of a pity to spend the electricity on just one student.

I met the Ace for the first time in a few weeks last night. He's doing as well as usual. He had his O-hanami in Sumida Park right by the river of the same name in Asakusa. He and his buddies had to suffer as would be the case for a cherry blossom viewing on the weekend. That is, to say, the organizer had to grab a spot along the river in the wee hours of the morning. As it turned out, the park didn't really get crowded until the afternoon, but that is more an aberration than usual reality. Afterwards, they went to a famed ramen restaurant called Jiro which a 30-minute wait in line. The Japanese are very patient people when it comes to good food...or at least famous food.
We also talked about his trip over to the local branch of Kua'Aina, the Hawaiian hamburger chain that pretty much launched the era of big hamburger shops in Tokyo. This branch was in Expery, the mall right across from Tokyo Disneyland. He said his girlfriend could only finish 2/3 of her burger, which means that she wouldn't pass muster (or mustard) with us in our 2-year-old Burger Tour. She would probably have a heart attack on seeing the Chianti Burger next door to us. If I ate many more of those, I would have a heart attack regardless.
Speaking of that place, it's been closed for well over a month despite a sign saying that the staff is taking a hiatus until April to re-jigger the menu. Speedy and I think that the Chianti Burger will probably be taken off. No mere mortal can handle that much beer in this country...with the exception of me and Gyaru Sone.
Friday April 11, 7:26 p.m.

Back from one school over to another one. I'm at the juku now. The Nurse was fine. I told her about my somewhat disappointing trip for The Mega McMuffin. She was rather surprised that I would be so. However, afterwards, the appetite suppressing ability of my breakfast wore off with some grumblies from my stomach so I had a small dinner at the nearby China Quick. 500 yen got me a bowl of ma bo do fu...more satisfying. But I haven't been getting my veggies over the last couple of days, so I just downed a salad from the conbini. It was the juku boss' turn to be surprised at that sight. She said that I would probably be begging for something by midnight. I'm afraid that she might be right. Still finances and a nagging sense of guilt may help prop up my sagging willpower.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Friday April 11, 2:06 p.m.

Back to Spring-like weather after the storminess of midweek....which means I'm back on the hay fever meds and mask-wearing.

Man, I guess I really missed out on a commuter's worst nightmare yesterday. That little problem at Kokubunji Station screwed over half a million riders on the JR, or about 5% of daytime population of Tokyo. And I found out that this was the third time this year that such a thing has happened. So, once again, one of the higher-ups at JR East had to go to the Ministry of Transportation to bow his head...televised, of course. The Chuo Line, one of the major crosstown trunks for the Big Sushi, was shut down for 7 hours. Folks were trapped in rush hour conditions for some of that, and one trainload had to get off between stations and walk back to the station. I think Tokyo is getting that dress rehearsal for the big quake now. These things seem to be happening on the west side so I've been grateful that I live in relatively uneventful Chiba.

Unlike the last time, The Carolinan and I weren't seated next to a potential spree killer. In fact, the table next to us had another foreigner-Japanese pairing. She and her sister, The New Yorker, did do that O-hanami in Yasukuni Shrine last week after The New Yorker's lesson with me. It went well with idea if they had a running conversation with any ultra-right wingers...but The Yogist and a friend had a similar event at Ueno Park last week. She wasn't too thrilled with that walk since the park smelled of beer and things.

I'd almost gotten my schedule wrong this morning. I'd thought that I would have The Nurse's lesson at the usual time of 10. Luckily, both BC and Speedy corrected me to say that I would have her in about 45 minutes instead. I had been looking forward to trying out that Mega McMuffin at the Golden Arches since the coupon season is in full swing. So, even with the late start, I decided to make my way out over to my neighbourhood McDonalds at the hour of 8 this morning to try out the third member of the Mega Triumvirate which consists of the Mega Mac, the Mega Teriyaki Mac and now the Mega McMuffin.

All I can say is that 8 is the perfect time to hit my neighbourhood McDonalds. Since it's located in the residential area, the place is deserted. As I was walking up there, I witnessed the biggest daily mass movement of humanity. The working masses walked and ran toward the station like water toward a drain. At the same time, fleets of yellow-capped elementary school students and pristinely-uniformed junior high school kids were migrating toward their respective schools. The latter group is looking slick now since this is the first week of classes. Give them a few months; they'll be looking pretty shabby with undone ties and shirt flaps out.

As for the Mega McMuffin...I guess there is really a concept of having too much of a good thing. It was kinda like when I had that Mega Mac all the way back in February of 2007; I was able to somehow devour but it wasn't too satisfying. And in fact, I paid for it some more with a longer trip than usual to the can. The Mega McMuffin consists of two sausages bracketing a slice of cheddar and that egg on top. Then there is even a slice of floppy bacon on top of that with ketchup. The muffins were added as an afterthought. It was OK but just a bit on the overwhelming listening to a favourite song at way too high a volume. I'll stick with the unmutated version from now on.

Well, as I said, I've got The Nurse in about 30 minutes. And then, I have The Ace for the first time in 3 weeks later tonight. One thing about the makes for an excellent appetite suppressant. Not hungry at all and it's been 6 hours since the devouring.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Thursday April 10, 11:43 a.m.

I seem to have the envy of Speedy since I now have the sleekest computer in the compared when I had the pokiest one which crashed at the most inopportune times.

The Diver last night seemed to be feeling a little more buoyant in her post-test phase. I'm not exactly comparing her to the rarefied heights of The Beehive, but she's come a good way since her first class.

The rains have come back and apparently the Tokyo rail transport system has shown its fragility once again. One little flaming cable near Kokubunji Station has wrecked up the schedules for just about all of the major lines. I seemed to have avoided the worst of the problems since I got in mid-morning.

I got a reply to my message to the old gang back home about the Great Butter Shock of 08. The Doctor got somewhat preachy about the state of a post-capitalist nation that cannot supply its people with the necessities of good hotcakes. Again, I may not have the churn but I have a blender and the ingredients to go for some homemade butter. The elimination of butter may have some interesting effects, though. Tomorrow, I go for the Mega McMuffin at McDonalds; the normal Sausage McMuffin has the distinctive taste of butter on the bread. Will that taste be gone forever? Inquiring minds wanna know.

Just got the Yogist and the Carolinan tonight. Hopefully, there won't be any Bickersons or psycho sales agents sitting beside us.
Wednesday April 9, 5:16 p.m.

Ah, yes....did forget to mention one thing. Japan has no butter. Not anymore. Due to the prevailing economic conditions, all the milk produced in this country has now gone into making yogurt instead. All we have is edible plastic...i.e. margarine. I can just see those talking Parkay containers giggling in glee now. I kinda wonder how the bakeries are gonna cope. As for the individual consumer, there is hope. A number of shows have been giving out recipes on how to produce your own butter through a mix of cream, milk and a good food processor. The juku boss told me about a recipe that she got last night, and so with my usual scientific curiosity, I just downloaded a couple of recipes.
I told Speedy and BC, and the latter showed genuine shock....almost as if Xmas were cancelled.
Wednesday April 9, 4:40 p.m.

The cancellation parade continues. I just got word that The Dentist has cancelled her lesson (I don't think I've seen her since this year started) for Saturday. So it's just the solo with The Bostonian in the morning. Then, later in the evening, I've got Automan's gig. He sent me word that he would like to have the venue in Akiba for some reason. Even with the trendiness pervading Otakuville for the past couple of years, Akihabara has still not struck me as being an area for wining and dining. He has gotten me the usual tribute of Reese's Pieces, though.

I've been reading the 2003 edition of "The Best American Travel Writing" by Ian Frazier for the past several days on the commutes to and from work. In the foreword, Frazier says that despite some of the stories' bleakness (bits of bodies in Afghanistan, hostility against a female canoeist in Africa trying to free two slaves), there is hope to be found. I guess I need stronger existential lenses...didn't see anything remotely looking like hope in those stories. Some interesting stuff on Ambrose Bierce and squid-rigging in Seattle, however. Then, there is the latest story about a day in the life of Puff Daddy...which kinda shows a different type of hopelessness from the other end. Mrs. Travel on Tuesday saw the book and asked if there were anything on Croatia. There was nothing on the country but probably something in one of the other editions.

I guess that storm yesterday really did a number on us in the Kanto. It was an experience for commuters in Chiba, but I saw a CNN report which showed that it was really one for the record books in Tokyo.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Tuesday April 8, 5:21 p.m.

Well, my umbrella became the latest casualty of the storm...and to add insult to injury, the storm was pretty much over when the fall came. I was walking over to the juku and the rain was pretty much gone. Just as I was about to close it, a sneak attack by a gust of wind assassinated my cheap brolley....broke a few ribs...not mine, its. This sort of thing would've called for a teary farewell speech but instead I've just dumped it by the front door.

Came in to see the newest student of the juku boss...a tow-headed little urchin with the largest eyes this side of anime. I could just imagine some of the women I know seeing her and getting this extreme urge to pinch her cheeks and squeal "Kawaii!" I didn't debase myself like that but I did offer the kid some chocolate that Mrs. Perth had given me from Hokkaido.

No surprise here....the boss told me that Jolly had sent her an e-mail yesterday to say that he wouldn't be coming in tonight nor next Tuesday as well due to the stresses of work. And apparently, he is stressing out. Well, lose 3,200 yen but at least I don't need to put on my psychologist's cap. So, it'll just be Suzanne and The Milds tonight (almost sounds like a 60s band).

Speaking of 60s bands...I've got yet another soundtrack song pounding away at my brain. I went over to YouTube and listened meself to that catchy tune by April March called "Chick Habit" which ran over the credits of "Death Proof". A lot of the comments on the site were saying that it was just the weirdest and the wackiest. I guess they were too young to hear typical French pop of that era. And I also listened to the whole 9 minutes of the "Cloverfield" opus.

Before the I-cafe, I did have a tonkatsu lunch at my local Tonki. Yes, I realize that I did have the same dish at Hirata Bokujo...that's the name of the tonkatsu restaurant that Skippy had taken us to on Sunday after "Cloverfield". However, I thought it was the cheapest way to get more protein, carbs and veggies at the same time. For dinner, it was just a half-can of Pringles. Remember, it's a pretty quiet week this not a whole lot of income.

Well, gotta contact Automan. He's got that party on Saturday which I have to find out about.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Tuesday April 8, 1:00 p.m.

The rains continue unabated. In fact, the winds were just blowing everyone around this morning, although things are much steadier now. However, I'm seeing a lot of umbrella graveyards on the JR platforms. The bad weather should continue on for the rest of the day...better luck tomorrow. Over here, umbrellas are just like tissue...most people either have the cheap foldables or the cheap full-size ones made of transparent plastic. I couldn't see anyone in their right mind having, much less owning, one of those luxury brands here.

Mrs. Perth, ex of the Beehive, came down from her perch in Hokkaido to visit us at The Beehive this morning in Tsudanuma. Still smiling and inquisitive as always. She even made up an organized itinerary of the upcoming Croatia trip. She didn't bat an eyelash at the fact that none of the ladies gave me my usual envelope of payment; either she hasn't been told or, the more likely situation, she has been told and has kindly stayed quiet about it. In any case, my Debtor's Prison sentence will last two more weeks. Basically, we all talked about the English names for fish...not surprisingly, Mrs. Tee was more excited about this topic (although I recall that we'd gone over this topic months or even years ago) since this is her area of expertise. They were impressed about the different types of salmon and trout I introduced to them. As a person who was weaned on Clover Leaf Sockeye Salmon Sandwiches, I would consider myself an expert.
The surprise with the ladies today was seeing Mrs. Travel with a hugely bandaged middle finger. I had initially assumed that her grandson decided to test his chompers, but it turned out that Mrs. Travel had gotten herself accidentally impaled on a spiny fin of a fish that she had been eviscerating for dinner last night. Only in Japan.

Since 002 cancelled her lesson for today, I've got another lopsided Donut Day....a big hole between The Beehive and the juku classes. And even tonight has got its own hole...Mild Jr. won't be making it because of his new posting at Tokyo Disneyland. Not sure if Jolly is gonna make it either. He's been AWOL for the past week. Usually I would be commiserating over the fact that I have to work until late tonight and then wake up pretty darn early on Wednesday morning due to The Nurse's class, but tomorrow is looking like one very empty day for me. The Nurse switched her class over to Friday morning this week, and 001 has to pull the night shift at her lab tomorrow night. So it's just The Diver. Hopefully with her good score on the test last week, she'll be coming brimming with confidence from now on.

Speaking of "Death Proof" yesterday, I gotta admit that Kurt Russell has come a long way. From his debut on "Gilligan's Island" back in 1964 as a marooned jungle boy, through all of the 70s Disney movies, and Snake Plissken and his harder-edged roles, all the way to his role as a hit-and-run psycho in the Tarentino flick, this guy has done just about everything.

I got my latest translation pay in the account this morning. That will go a little way in balancing things after last week's culinary debauchery. Paddy's friend sent word about it.

Looks like I'm not the only one who was impressed with the closing credits of "Cloverfield". I found out from the Net that quite a few people enjoyed listening to the bombast of Michael Giacchino's "ROAR!" Doesn't look like it'll be coming out anytime soon, though.

I was surprised to see as the top story on the CNN webpage about those male Japanese hosts. I guess it must've been a very slow news least to CNN. I would've thought that attacking the Olympic flame instead of cheering it would've superseded that puff piece. My two yen? Power to the protestors. I was watching "The Situation Room" and Jeff Toobin hit it on the head...the Olympics should've never been given to China. But then again, 8 years ago, who knew that this would happen? Still, it is disgraceful.
Monday April 7, 8:48 p.m.

Well, the Tippler came in and gave another lively performance. Her listening comprehension isn't as top-notch as I thought it would be, though. But she's definitely a keeper. Too bad she won't be coming in next week.

Looks like my schedule continues to evolve. BC just contacted me to say that she wanted to re-schedule her lesson for the next Thursday.

It's raining pets out there. The Amazon told me that she and her umbrella were fighting a losing battle with the winds. Lucky I hung up my laundry inside.
Monday April 7, 6:27 p.m.

Well, Charlton Heston died yesterday. I guess you can take his gun now. I've never seen "Ben Hur", so my image of him will always be of him as Moses parting The Red Sea. Now, that is using The Force.

On Sunday morning, MB and I had a late breakfast at the neighbourhood Skylark family we usually do on the morning after DVD Night. I have to admit that I was doing some quadruple takes on the latest menu item. It's a large hamburger steak (hambaagu, instead of hambaaga, which is the American classic) which contains a cheese and raisin sauce. Raisins?! Ugh! No...I love cakes and other pastries, but in meat?! Then I noticed that the menu was also flaunting its raisin parfait. Although that is much more palatable, I can say that I had never heard of a raisin parfait before. Only in Japan, the place that has introduced the potato-and-mayo pizza.

As I was talking with SIL today, she remarked that there have been some pretty strong jolts in the Tokyo area over the past few days. I felt one as I was up in my room at the juku on Friday night; it was strong enough so that the boss asked me if I were OK from downstairs. And then when I got home last night, I noticed that a number of my CDs and an alarm clock had fallen off the shelves. May need to look out for jishin gumo (earthquake clouds). SIL asked me cheekily if a thief invaded instead. Well, unless the thief had a thing for Hiromi Iwasaki, I'd say that it was a temblor.
Monday April 7, 4:28 p.m.

Ahhh....the almost ethereal feeling of getting a freshly working computer and typing on a new keyboard...the keystrokes are fast and crisp. There's a certain giddiness about using a minted computer since I don't have to worry about sudden crashes and slow-as-molasses operating speed like I did on the old one.

Now, before I sound too otaku-ish...back to more mundane affairs.

I saw The Manhattanite for the first time in well over a month. She couldn't believe it had been that long but I've got the records to show for it. And being a beginning-level student, the month off hasn't been kind to her fluency. She was flaking rust all over. While she was peeking through her fingers at the verbal carnage, she did say that she would try to be come more often. But that all depends on her work schedule.

Afterwards, it was off back home to see MB and have our DVD Night. It was just Movie Buddy. The Satyr was occupied with other things...such as a reunion with sleep. The weekend turned out to be mini-film festival of watching the bolder Hollywood directors putting a fresh spin on old genres. So, with Domino's Pizza and Canada Dry on hand, we were off.

The DVD Night was "Grindhouse"...that failed, at least financially, lovechild of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarentino. We saw the double bill of "Planet Terror" and "Death Proof" with the trailer of "Machete". The two definitely were definitely a labour of love for the two directors. But both MB and I agreed that "Planet Terror" was the better of the two...which apparently is opposite to what the critics said about it. It's been a year of contrarian reviews from us...see "Sweeney Todd". Still, we had to laud both efforts for trying to recapture that griminess of Grindhouse movies, right down to the missing reel and bad conditions.
"Planet Terror" was just over-the-top zombie hilarity starring a number of genre stars such as Michael (Martyr) Biehn and Jeff Fahey. I can finally say that I actually caught a Rose McGowan movie. All of the stereotypes were there...the town in the middle of nowhere (which seems to be always Texas), the rednecks, the tough no-nonsense sheriff with hapless deputies, the tough women and that doomed military unit led by Bruce Willis. And of course, zombies...lots of them. The usual plot structure was there as well...the relatively quiet start of characters being introduced with their problems before the zombies start attacking, lovebirds separated and coming back for a sax-induced sex session and finally the regrouping and last an army base, of course.
"Death Proof", by QT, was apparently the more critically lauded of the two. And I could see why. Critics love to have lots of witty dialogue...which is what this movie overabundance. So in a way it was an extremist version of a Tarentino movie. Basically, I could analogize Tarentino's and Rodriguez's structures in this way:

Rodriguez: Shoot, talk, talk, shoot, maim, slash, talk, shoot, slash, burn, shoot, shoot
Tarentino: Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, sudden violence, talk, talk, talk, talk, sudden violence

And so it was with "Death Proof". Really, it was a talky movie about girlie relationships punctuated by a couple of instances of wacko Stuntman Mike steamrollering one car of women and getting steamrollered by a second car of women. Mind you, the first example of carnage was magnificently done...I don't think I'd ever seen destruction like that done in "Rashomon" style. But when it came to pure entertainment, "Planet Terror" won the battle.

Then, the third movie was the much-talked about "Cloverfield" with the added subtitle here in Japan of "Hakkaisha" (destroyer). We caught it at Roppongi Hills...just the type of place to catch a monster movie of epic proportions. It was basically a 90-minute roller-coaster ride which didn't overstay its welcome. It brought together "Godzilla", "The Blair Witch Project" and CNN's i-Reports all together as a really nifty approach to the monster flick.
What I liked about it was that it was done straight as cinema verite and that there was none of that tortured misunderstood monster subplot with one of the female characters suddenly developing a psychic rapport with it. In fact, the monster itself (the weakest point of the really didn't look all that amazing...but that wasn't the point) was basically the 5-ton MacGuffin. It was a tragedy, pure and simple. And the doomed lovebirds...along with most of the other characters...don't die nobly...they die in agony and terror. Of course, since J.J. Abrams made it as an i-Report, there was no music but his go-to guy for such things, Michael Giacchino, came up with a brilliant overture paying homage to monster movie soundtracks, "ROAR!" That song can beat any of "Sweeney Todd"'s crud anyday in my estimation. There was even a wailing voice reminiscent of the old "Star Trek" theme...maybe she's practicing for the next movie?

For "Cloverfield", it was Skippy handling all of the she usually does. But a couple of ol' school students joined us: The Kid and The Wedding Planner. I hadn't seen either of them in some time...for the latter, it must've been 3 or 4 years. The Kid was now made over into a typical salaryman of just one week, and The Wedding Planner was working as a sales agent for a small advertising agency. Quite some changes...The Wedding Planner, who was a bit of a shy type back at the school, was a lot more mature now.
After the flick, Skippy took care of the dinner as well. She hadn't made reservations but she took us to a tonkatsu restaurant in Tokyo Midtown which had caught her eye on the telly. It definitely attracted a lineup but it was only about 15 minutes' wait. Skippy certainly has the talent for picking them well. The cutlets were naturally more expensive than usual but they were delish. Then, the five of us went around the corner into a gourmet food corner which looked a lot like the Movenpick's Marche complex in Toronto in atmosphere. Not cheap there, either, but definitely worth a second visit. Ended up having a Soy Milk Smoothie with a slice of strawberry cake for almost 1,000 yen.

The last week has seen me blow a good amount of yen on food. Spyros last Thursday, the usual DVD night pizza and then Tokyo Midtown over the weekend. Well, in penance, I just spent only 350 yen on a cold hash brown, a croquette sandwich (forgetting the two are kissing cousins in terms of ingredients) and an oolong tea. And I've got a karaage bento in the fridge. So, a little under 1,000 yen today.

I just had SIL so far. The Class Act is off today and The Full-Timer cancelled again today since she had to be shipped to Narita for training. So, I've got just The Tippler and Medicine Man to clean up. This week may end up being a bit quiet. I just found out that 002 has to cancel her lesson tomorrow due to a cold. Hump Day may end up being Pimple Day since I've only got The Diver that night.