Friday, March 13, 2009

Saturday March 14, 1:20 p.m.

Ah, the wonders of Baum Kuchen. Yes, that picture is not one of grilling doner kebab from Turkey, but of the German iced roll cake. I took this shot back on Sunday where this thing was rolling in the show window of the Ginza department store, Matsuzakaya. I kinda think that some of the boys must be giving chunks of BK to their GF today on White Day.

Unfortunately, today should be rightly called Gray Day since that is the meterological tone outside. The rain and gale-force winds started just before The Ace showed up for his lesson last night...mostly the latter, thankfully. Didn't want to have to contribute to the various skeletal remains of busted umbrellas that littered the streets.

I guess the maxim is right that those who give will receive. After being Choco Claus for a week, I ended up getting stuff for a change from my two juku students last night. The Ace managed to smuggle some Columbia Supremo (I want to stress that this is coffee I'm talking about), two bags' worth of light and dark roast. And then, The Restauranteur, as promised, brought over a frozen box of these dumplings called jagabuta (literally translated as "tater pig"). Stuff that Homer Simpson would love. I'm gonna give it a shot tonight.

The gales continued onto this morning, which affected the Tozai Line schedule but luckily by the time I got outside, the winds largely subsided so that it was only rain. The sun is supposed to come out later today, but I'm not getting any indication of it all so far.

I heard from my two potential students over e-mail. MB's buddy was generous enough to let Thursday's meet-and-greet slide and so the Wednesday class will be going on as scheduled. Then, The Carolinan's friend, who will be laid off next week and will therefore have plenty of time for English lessons, has also contacted me for lessons. I'm glad for the business but I feel sorry for her.

Found out from Ichikawa TV that our cash handouts won't be headed our way until mid-May at the earliest. Not that I'm all that put out...12,000 yen isn't a huge amount. Of course, there were the warnings of being aware of the various conmen who'll try to grab the cash.

Speaking of The Ace, we both found out how small our world is. The Ace works at a food additives company nearby. The company used to be owned and operated by Grandma FON's late husband. I jokingly said that if I ever got those two together, The Ace would be the most powerful employee by association. He half-jokingly asked me not to go through with the plan.

Anyways, I've got just The Publicity Agent in about 45 minutes and then that's it for me. I still have to head on out to Kinokuniya to find a textbook for MB's friend.

Friday March 13, 7:25 p.m.

Apparently, there are gonna be some meterological fireworks going on later tonight; perhaps just after I get home. Perfectly appropriate considering the date today. Just wonder what it's gonna look like tomorrow. I've only got the one class tomorrow at Speedy's...The Publicity Assistant.

After my lone stint there with Prissy, I went down to Shinjuku, over to Mylord to see how the Platinum Buffet was for lunch. Yep, it was cheaper than the dinner but being the noon hour, it was packed to the gills and so were the other restaurants which occupied the three floors of the complex. So I quickly eschewed that thought and just went all the way down to the basement level where my beloved Foo Foo was and had my usual tan tan men. My point card was filled to the brim so I got 50% off my lunch. Afterwards, I checked out the Starbucks in the Maynds Building over the Oedo Line part of Shinjuku Station as a bit of recompense to MB's friend for perhaps not giving the best impression yesterday. I think for the time we're looking at, that branch of Howard Schultz's favourite coffeehouse should do OK. I'll have to let him know tomorrow...that is, if he hasn't already ditched me. By chance, I ran into Mrs Speedy since she works in the same building. Speaking of Schultz, I've been reading his book on how he took this little Seattle coffee distributor and made it into the global cafe that it is today. His account isn't nearly quite as creepily cultish as that other book I'd read a few weeks ago, but I sometimes think his agent must've advised him to embellish or adopt an "It's A Wonderful Life" tone to it. For a page or so, he even had his own evil Mr. Potter to go with his George Bailey. Kinda weird reading this Starbucks history inside an actual Starbucks.

Then I met The New Yorker in Ichigaya as usual and gave her the latest White Day box of chocolates. It was a good day for me in terms of having point cards. I not only got my 50% discount for filling up my point card at Foo Foo but I reached 20 stamps on my Tully's point card which got me a free Honey Milk Latte. The New Yorker wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders but she was excited about heading to The Big Apple in less than 2 weeks by herself. We're gonna squeeze in one more lesson before she takes off.

I hit Urayasu a number of hours early before the juku lessons, so I ended up walking for over an hour down the main street where the Restauranteur's establishment was, and just walked straight towards where Tokyo Disneyland is supposed to be although things started getting rather deserted before I decided to turn back. I had my second dinner at the Italian place in the past month. This time, I did go for the hefty Sauteed Chicken, though not as massive as that pasta I had a couple of weeks earlier. The Restauranteur was more than happy to banter with me in English in front of her other customers. I remarked that my so-called curse as the ameotoko (Rain Man) was finally broken since I wasn't carrying an umbrella with me today, but she countered that she'd heard the news that rain was on the way at 11 tonight. I hadn't been aware that there was an non-presence clause in the contract. During dinner, I leafed through the latest TokyoWalker that was in the magazine rack and discouvered that Tokyo will not only be exploding with cherry blossoms in the next few weeks but there will also be a ton of new store and mall openings including a major underground facility in JR Ikebukuro and a huge glass tower where the original Kinokuniya Supermarket used to be in Omoteasando. Even Omotesando Hills, which couldn't have been built more than 3 years ago, is apparently undergoing a renewal of sorts. That's Tokyo for you...ever-changing. Maybe calling it The Big Sushi isn't quite the word for the world's largest metropolis...perhaps it should be known as the world's Doctor Who. I bet Skippy is just salivating at the possibilities right now. The Restauranteur, by the way, said that she would be bringing something called jaga buta or pork & potatoes, from a Hokkaido retailer.

Satisfyingly stuffed, I ambled to the juku where the boss told me about that kid she'd been teaching on Tuesday nights. Surprisingly enough, she told me that she had let him go. Apparently, the kid's just hasn't been getting with the program and has been giving my boss a bit of surliness. Usually, she would have brushed this off and given him some tough love, but she realized that since her serious operation back in December, she hasn't been quite at full power, hence the heave-ho. I listened to her since she needed someone to listen whether she'd done the right thing. I told her that she did since it was obvious that things weren't working out and there was no need for her to suffer physically because of a kid who was going through a phase that could last a few years at the very least. It sounds like he's gonna go through his teen angst and get out of it, or he'll end up stabbing people at a shopping mall. But he's no longer welcome here. In a way, it was somewhat reassuring to know that not even the juku boss can win everyone over.

I've gone through my fourth cup of caffeine and sugar today, thanks to Starbucks, Tully's, The Restauranteur's place and now the juku. It's definitely gotten my insides churning a bit (I had to take a brief respite from this entry for a much-needed washroom break).

I did get that payment from Cozy for those February translations. Quite a relief.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Friday March 13, 11:59 a.m.

Just about ready to go. I finished up with Prissy; also gave her her White Day present since she was kind enough to give me a Valentine's Day gift last month. And I gave the staff White Day contribution to Ray. It was a workout for Prissy since she got hung up on pronouncing liaisons.

I'll be heading off to see if I can try some lunch at the Platinum Buffet, although I know that the place will probably be packed to the gills with hungry folk. Still, if it doesn't work out, there's always Foo Foo. And I plan on trying to check out the Starbucks in the Maynds Building as a possible site for MB's friend; that is, if he still intends on using my services. I'm still stinging a bit about how that meet-and-greet went. But I kinda think now that perhaps our personalities may not mesh all that well...he's a hard-rock drummer, while I'm strictly a jazz/J-Pop man.

Friday March 13, 9:00 a.m.

Another early one here. Saw quite a few folks with the masks on...I've got mine on as well, and Speedy seems to be suffering mightily from hay fever. In fact, he sent a missive to everyone about asking students to hang their coats up in the outer office instead of in the classroom to minimize the pollen spread.

The Bostonian last night did quite well with her presentation. I'm hoping that all goes well with her in a few hours when she gives her magnum opus.

Figured out how to upload photos from the digital camera...gotta be careful about how big these photos get, though. I think the computer may have torn a muscle lugging one of my shots to Skippy. So as my test bed, I've uploaded Kripsy Kreme #1 in Shinjuku....even it is starting to feel the economic pinch...the lineup is just a measly 15 minutes, what times have befallen us.
Thursday March 12, 7:12 p.m.

It's been an interesting day...somewhat bipolar. From the high energy of the Grandmas, I've gone into a funk about what may have been a less-than-stellar sales job with MB's buddy, and then The Carolinan got into a slightly depressed state about her job future and some of the things she's had to do to save money. At one point, I thought she was going to burst into tears like BC. Still, she and I managed to hold on through. But yes, this economy here hasn't been too good to us this year. All I need is The Bostonian to show up to say that she got axed and this night's fate will be complete.
Thursday March 12, 4:37 p.m.

Came back from meeting up with MB's friend in Shinjuku. Not sure if I made that good an impression on him. I was feeling a bit weird after 5 hours of sleep plus a double espresso within me. It never occurred to me to take notes as I was talking to him; it would've at least given an impression that I was serious but frankly I didn't think I really needed to do so in any case. He's a fluent fellow who sounds natural (though not perfect) with only a few structural errors. He's probably one of those guys who's gonna be a challenge to keep motivated. In any case, I sent him an apology and a thank you for today.

I did pick up the White Day chocolates for the female staffers at Speedy's. The bossman was worried that the chocolates may not last til Monday. However, I think the ones that I bought should be ample; their best-by date is February 201o.

I guess I'm coming down from that double espresso high; I'm feeling pretty worn out now, and I still have The Carolinan and The Bostonian to teach.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thursday March 12, 12:45 p.m.

Both Grandmas were cooking with propane today. Grandma Dynamite has gotten her groove back, and Grandma FON was going off a mile a minute about her upcoming trip to Yakushima, a World Heritage Site which is a 10-hour ferry ride from Kobe. FON has got gumption...I'll give her that. She's gonna try to trek through the rugged terrain despite having to use a cane to get around in Tokyo.

Bay told me that she could see Mt. Fuji outside the kitchen window. I could second that observation. It's quite rare to see the most aesthetically beautiful mountain in the world from Tokyo usually due to the smog, but it's been exceedingly clear today. I quickly made a wish to get some money...most likely, it'll come in the form of the government handout.

Well, I'll be heading out in a few minutes for lunch and then to meet MB's friend for that initial meet-and-greet at JR Shinjuku.
Thursday March 12, 10:28 a.m.

My lack of sleep is starting to catch up with me. Have that feeling of droopiness. Still, it was nice to have Grandma Dynamite since she's gotten her mojo back. The review went quite well and she even gave a recipe of some sort of fruit jam for which she'll make a sample for me next week. And who says English teaching is a thankless job.

I've been hearing about these spree killings all over the globe over the past couple of days. Japan seemed to have cornered the market on that last year all on its own but we've been spared that bit of psychopathy this year so far.
Thursday March 12, 8:09 a.m.

An "unprecedented" 2nd sunny day in a row; may have to get that lottery ticket. However, that also means the pollen is probably flying out there today. Last night, The Fashion Designer was suffering mightily during the lesson with her hay fever. It's a wonder that she got through it at all.

I've got five in all today...the busiest day this week. I've got the Grandmas in the morning, then MB's buddy as a potential student, followed by The Carolinan and The Bostonian in the evening. I could be properly chuffed by the time I finish tonight. Thankfully, The Bostonian will be finished by 9 p.m.
Wednesday March 11, 5:49 p.m.

Well, the good news is that The Carolinan got back to me and said that her friend would be available during the daytime so that opens up a whole world of possibilities for us. The bad news is that Speedy received word that he won't be getting nearly as much as he had hoped for in his latest bank loan. I've been reading another book on the Starbucks phenomenon; this one written by the president himself, Howard Schultz, in which he states that trying to keep a company afloat on loans isn't the best way to go. Perhaps, the bossman may want to re-read his book again since it came from the school bookshelf.

I just tried to help Bay with some English description in terms of where Hackettstown, New Jersey is located. We had to download the Google Earth map of the area to get the best view. Never a dull moment in this job.

001 should be here pretty soon.
Wednesday March 11, 4:38 p.m.

Feeling pretty full from the buffet, I tried to walk some of it off by heading eastward toward the Yaesu Bookstore near Tokyo Station. I realized that at the intersection just before the bookstore, I saw the 100% Chocolate Cafe just down the street. After doing a quick browse at Yaesu, I decided to get the goodies for The Sisters of State and for The Bostonian there. Instead of the smaller pieces I got on Sunday, I went for a slightly larger package for each of them. The Carolinan, by the way, had asked me if I would be willing to teach one of her colleagues. I responded that my weeknights were all filled up but if she were interested in a Saturday night, I could oblige her.

I walked down the main street over into Ginza once more and went into Yamano Music. When I got into the basement where all of the Western CDs were sold, I heard what sounded like one of my favourite J-Pop bands, Sing Like Talking, but it was actually a new unit called Wagner Love. It was uncanny how similar the band and lead singer sounded like SLT and Chikuzen Sato; so much so that I made the impulse buy of their disc from a lady with a pretty face but a terrible manicure (she was a nailbiter, to be sure).

I listened to the first couple of tracks from that Dip In The Pool CD I got from bargain basement Recomints. It was one of their later efforts, "KM 93.11". Yup, Miyako Koda has an ethereal but earthy voice, and the tunes sound somewhat European, perhaps in a Shibuya-kei way. From what I've gleaned from the Net, it seems like a lot of their albums are now out of print so I'll have to rely on stuff I can find at places like Recomints, Otokichi and Liberty.

When I got into Speedy's, Ray told me that one of our old staffers, Marcie, will be coming into the fold after a few months in Europe taking care of the affairs of her recently departed mother-in-law. That should ease things for the bossman and Ray since both AK and Bay will be off on holidays.

Heard from one of my old buddies at the ol' school, The Captain. He's just gotten onto the Facebook bandwagon so we've had that usual Facebook welcome chat.
Wednesday March 11, 4:30 p.m.

Choco Claus was back in action this morning. I gave The Admin her present this morning. Afterwards, I went down to Ginza to see if I could gain access to Pierre Marcolini, the famed chocolatier. It's on Miyuki Avenue between the main 4-chome intersection of Ginza and Yurakucho. Well, there was a rope line to handle the lineup and I could barely make out a counter behind the stained glass. There didn't seem to be any price list outside which probably means a very hefty one once you enter, and I didn't want to be forced into a decision so I gave it a pass.

Ended up having lunch at that Chinese buffet place in Ginza Inzs across from Yurakucho Mullion. For the regular price of 1480 yen, the restaurant has added a small shabu-shabu option. It is small and you only get two strips of fatty beef to swish for a few seconds in some heavily anise-d stock, but for vegetarians, it's a godsend since you can have access to all of the nappa, pumpkin and tofu; just glad that they didn't add to the price.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday March 10, 4:06 p.m.

We've been having a sunny day so far, but I did feel a few rogue raindrops on the way to the juku. I can only hope that they stay that way but knowing this month so far, we may be heading back to rain again.

Had a minimal crew for The Beehive this morning. It was just Travel, Alp and Jade. Mrs. Alp was walking and sitting in pain throughout the lesson. Apparently, she may have stretched a rib muscle or even broke a rib after a bit of overexertion in some sort of exercise with her mother. I think she may have been better served by heading straight to a hospital.

Had another 3-hour stint at the I-Cafe. As usual, cruised through some YouTube, and came across Dip in the Pool, that eclectic 80s-90s duo whose CD I picked up at Recomints yesterday in Nakano Broadway. Quickly scanned through a few of their videos; very laidback to have brunch by and the lead, Miyako Koda, has a fairly good hold on English pronounciation since she seems to sing all of her tunes in that language. She's also a former magazine model and certainly looked it in the videos; quite different from some of those models-turned-singers who came after her like Yu Yamada who's more into the hi-techno stuff. I'd say DITP is far more ethereal. At the other end, I caught an old Art of Noise video for the "Dragnet" movie. Pretty lousy visuals and lousy version of the song considering the remixes have been very toe-tappingly danceable (remember...I was in a cubicle watching this; not much space in there). I think a contemporary elementary school student and a decent software program could make a far more accomplished video.

Perhaps I should start calling myself Chocola Claus. I've given out my third box of chocolates to the juku boss for White Day, after The Publicity Agent and The Full-Timer. Bought a couple of more boxes at Seiyu for The Admin and 001 tomorrow. It will keep on continuing from there. I had a late powwow with Speedy last night about what to do with the female staffers (AK, Ray and Bay), and basically we decided to go halfsies on a nice box of chocolates from either Godiva, Leonidas or Pierre Marcolini. Most likely, I'll only be able to pick it up on Sunday, the day after White Day due to scheduling, but the bossman feels that the ladies aren't all that enthused about the day itself; Ak, for example, has had an engagement cut off so I'm not sure if she's been feeling particularly all that romantic.. BAy is de facto married to her American guy so she's most certainly not feeling romantic and I think Ray has always been hiding a 50-year-old cranky guy in her. On second thought, perhaps I shouldn't bring any chocolates for them.

So far, it'll be the usual Tuesday night crew at the juku: Suzanne, The Traveler and The Milds. Got their chocolates right here.

Those Paramount Studios marketers must be doing triple duty on the new "Star Trek" movie. They just put out their 5th trailer (or perhaps that should really be 4.1 since one just has the additional scene of ancient Spock). This may be a Shock & Awe attempt to soften all of us (not just the Trekkies) and get us accustomed to the new Classic Trek crew 2.0 before the movie comes out in May. Either that or Paramount is just showing us the whole movie over several months.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Monday March 9, 7:40 p.m.

My first class with The Full-Timer went well as usual. I gave her the White Day chocolate (I hope she likes marshmallows) and she gave me some cookies from Hawaii. She and her family only spent a couple of nights on the island but made the most of their time there. In actuality, her grandparents are...or were...Hawaiian. Despite the brevity of their time there, The Full-Timer felt refreshed...also, I think the fact that she only has another couple of weeks at her company and lousy boss (I know a bit about lousy bosses) before she finally flies the coop has also given her some impetus to get through the month.

The Full-Timer is also heavy into kickboxing, and she reacted with some surprise to find out that one of her favourite boxers may have a training gym right in my neck of the woods. I just told her that a gym had been started up recently nearby by the name of Kohiruimaki. She quickly remarked that there was a famed kickboxer by that name. Now, Kohiruimaki isn't exactly a common Japanese name like a Saito or Tanaka. The only other Kohirumaki I know of is an old J-Pop singer from 20 years back. So the two of us are assuming that this gym's owner is the guy himself. I pass by the place almost everyday and it's been doing a good job of marketing by having the entire front of the gym decked out in glass so walkers-by can see the young turks working out via skiprope or kickboxing gear. I have a feeling that The Full-Timer may actually make the trip out to my neighbourhood sometime to see her hero.

I learned that the government has passed that cash handout bill. So, all Japanese citizens and permanent residents (that would be me) are eligible to get 12,000 yen transferred into their accounts. May make up a bit for all the tax I've just paid, I've still got Cozy's fee coming in. Not too bad at all.

Well, waiting for The Bostonian to come in worrying like a Nervous Nell about her presentation.
Monday March 9, 5:02 p.m.

Spent the majority of Sunday just traipsing around Ginza. First, I went over to The 100% Chocolate Cafe in Kyobashi. The place is half-Starbucks, half- Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Since White Day is just around the corner, I went out to get some goodies for the juku students. I'd been wondering how the little place was gonna handle the overflow of White Day customers and their regular cocoa-sipping guests, but luckily, management had the good sense to set up the White Day wares outside, although the staff must've been pretty chilly out there. I managed to buy four cute little boxes of White Day Chocolates for the occasion for 2,000 yen altogether. I remembered from my first visit there a few years ago that we'd went to a Subways for lunch so I repeated history.

Walking from there to Ginza only took a couple of minutes. As usual, from around noon, the powers-that-be closed down the main road to vehicular traffic. A number of the bakeries and chocolatiers were also in the White Day mood. I also caught a bit of Akiba hokoten in the incongruous environment of Ginza. There was a young lady wearing something very frilly lying down on the pavement like a dead body while a grungy photographer was taking shots of her. Certainly attracted the cellphone cameras.

I searched through all of the music shops like HMV and Yamano Music for that elusive "Best of The Art of Noise" disc but just couldn't find it. But I did get a good walk out of it. Outside of Fukaya Books, a bookstore on the main Ginza drag famous for having celeb book signings, there was a rather large crowd amassed outside. Apparently, local young haafu tarento, Becky, was inside doing the honours. I did have the digital camera with me but decided that waiting for several minutes for her to come out wasn't worth it so I just went over to Shimbashi where the Shiodome City Centre was. I found out to my disappointment, although not surprise, that the NTV Plaza branch of my favourite hot dog place from Coney Island, Nathan's, was gone. Now, there might only be the one in Shinagawa Station. I ended up sitting sipping coffee and having a couple of snacks in the nearby branch of La Vie De France. It was pretty chilly outside and gloomy, much like the weather that has been characteristic of the past several weeks.

Took the Oedo Line to Shinjuku and waited for MB, The Satyr and their significant others to show up in Wald 9. We saw "U23D"...nope it ain't a tax form; it was the live concert coverage of the famed band with those 3D glasses. Even though I was never a fan of Bono, I had to admit that the band gave a great concert and the 3D effect was impressive. Thankfully, Bono, The Edge and the others didn't fall into the usual cheap 3D manipulations and start pressing their faces up at the special cameras like Dr. Tongue. MB liked it immensely while his wife, The Sylph, ended up sleeping (!) through most of the concert, despite all the raucousness of the Brazilian audience. When The Sylph isn't impressed, she doesn't hesitate to nod off. I also had to admit it was a surreal feeling being silent witnesses to one wild concert in 3D. The movie was surprisingly quick-paced; it didn't seem all that long before the end credits started rolling up.

We met Skippy in the lobby afterwards (guess she's not a huge U2 fan either). Her choice of restaurant for us last night was a buffet place up on the 9th floor of the Mylord complex in JR Shinjuku. The place was called Platinum Buffet and had all the trimmings for a 21st-century all-you-can-eat place including chocolate fountain. I had never had the privilege of trying one of those. As buffet dinners went, 2,100 yen was a bargain and the menu was good although it will never reach the decadent heights of the late, lamented Farm Grill. Still, I wouldn't mind giving the Platinum Buffet another shot in the near future.

Looks like the next meeting of the movie group will be when "Watchmen" comes around later this month. We're looking forward to catching it. However, it seems as if the film will be nowhere near its graphic novel ancestor in terms of classic status. Apparently, even the audiences have come away feeling decidedly mixed and there has been a massive dropoff in viewers since it got started a couple of days ago. I'm sure Alan Moore is cackling his "I told you so"s.

Well, today was Tax Day for me. I checked my numbers and then brought the completed return along with my hefty payment to the tax office. I was very glad that I had collected the paperwork when I did since there was a mammoth lineup to get the returns whereas the line to hand them in zipped by quickly. I was in and out of there within 10 minutes...noticeably lighter in the wallet, mind you.

Took the Sobu over to Akihabara to the Tower Records over there. I finally succumbed and just got The Art of Noise's first effort, "Who's Afraid of The Art of Noise" since it had "Beat Box" and "Close to the Edit". It didn't stop me from combing over the other CD outlets. I had forgotten that there were a couple of Doner Kebab places in Akiba...if I'd remembered, I would've gone for one of those instead of doing The Colonel again. Even though it was a Monday, the maids were out there in force giving out the flyers. I had quite a bit of time, so I was perusing the various disc shops such as Ishimaru, Liberty and Sale. The last place had Season 4 of "Doctor Who", the one with Donna Noble. I would've loved to have gotten my hands on that one, but at 14,000 yen, that's just a little too rich for my blood....especially after my taxes.

Hit the Sobu once more to head over to Nakano, that other otaku haven. Checked out Otokichi but couldn't find the Naoko Kawai discs I wanted and so I headed upstairs through Broadway. The three different branches of Recomints, another one of those discounted CD shops had a lot of their wares outside in wagons for the perusing. Ended up getting 5 CDs for 500 yen...the cheapest you can get in The Big of which was an old Jody Watley album. I also got a release by an old eclectic group called Dip in the Pool. I'll be doing a lot of listening over the next few days.

I've got all my three in the next few hours. The Full-Timer ought to be back from her trip in Hawaii; I've got her White Day treat ready for her. And then I have The Bostonian for another round of presentation practice before Medicine Man is back in the saddle.