Thursday, May 05, 2011

Friday May 6, 1:06 p.m.

OK, why do I have a picture of Glenn atypically furious the left of me here?

First, a bit of background....I am an unabashed fan of "Family Guy" and a lot of my 9 days in cocoon mode was spent watching my DVDs of Seth McFarlane's magnum opus. So far, I've collected the discs for the first 5 seasons of the show and have enjoyed the music and mayhem surrounding Quahog's First Family.

So it was a bit of a shock when I read in Wikipedia late last year that one of the newer episodes had pervert Quagmire give Brian Griffin one of the biggest verbal smackdowns ever seen on any TV show. But it was just yesterday when I was doing some scouring on YouTube that I finally heard the major-league chewout. There was no video accompanying it...just the audio itself, and I just thought it was the most uncomfortable thing I'd heard. I heard it out of context...especially since I have yet to see episodes from the last couple of seasons....apparently, Brian has become somewhat shriller in his political beliefs of late and may have become less likeable, but still to even hear the audio only came as a bit of a shocker. And since then, later episodes have seen the formerly happy-go-lucky Quagmire go on a verbal tear of Brian whenever the two meet, including one episode in which the former physically stomps the latter into near-oblivion.

The forums have talked about the feud right into the ground. As for my two yen, I'm kinda wondering if Seth McFarlane was having an internal battle of sorts with himself (he voices both characters), and just decided that his own liberal values were just getting too much into the way of the show. Or the feud could be Seth's re-enactment of his own true feud with "Entertainment Weekly" critic Ken Tucker, who has made no bones about his hate for "Family Guy". But it's interesting that I yet to come up with any direct quotes from the man himself about this feud.

Friday May 6, 12:19 p.m.

Back at Speedy's after 6 weeks away. It's a much reduced staff...basically down to three of us since Ms. Efficiency has gone the way of the dodo. La Fille is now the day person but she'll be leaving us in the next couple of weeks for her new start as a Japanese teacher in South Korea. So, by the end of May, it'll just be me and the bossman until a new staffer can be found. La Fille informed me that things have been awfully quiet over the past several weeks but the bossman himself has remained his infernally optimistic self. I would've been much more worried if he had become morose. I have told La Fille that I will be heading home permanently in December but I'll be waiting a bit before I unload the bombshell on Speedy himself.

Now, as for the picture....that is a shot of yukke...a Korean dish of raw beef strips mixed with various condiments such as sesame seeds and topped off with a raw egg yolk. Yup, I think it is rather well named considering I think it is yucky, but for a lot of folks here and in Korea, it is a must-have at yakiniku restaurants. Perhaps for some of you, the dish may come off as being somewhat suicidal for anyone brave enough to try the stuff, since it has two ingredients which have had reputations for being gastrically least in North America. Up to now, the fans of yukke have just laughed us off as being culinarily cowardly.

Well, now, noone is laughing at the moment. In this past week of royal weddings, terrorist mastermind killings and nuclear reactor repairs, the other big news in Japan has been fatal yukke poisonings in some restaurants out in the countryside. Tragically, four people (including 1 senior and 1 kid) have died from internal organ failure due to a strain of the 0-111 virus which came from the raw beef dish. The media has been all over this one for the past few days, and the owner of one restaurant chain that had served the killing dish prostrated himself (dogeza)in front of the cameras in deep apology and regret.

The scary thing, though, is that regulations on handling raw beef are legally non-binding. Basically, it's up to the restaurant staff handling the stuff. Geez...I can only imagine what raw liver must be like.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Monday March 28, 9:26 a.m.

Yesterday was a religious day of sorts. Rather fascinating, considering I'm a devout atheist. Can't be sure but I think my sister-in-law is still trying to convert me to the Christian cause. I remember almost 10 years ago when my ex begged me to ask my sister-in-law to stop trying to recruit her. Mind you, my ex tended to go off the deep end at times, kinda like the juku boss.

Religious Day consisted of two church visits. My brother's family drove me to their church up in Richmond Hill. It was a 90-minute service of which most consisted of a scholarly type giving a professorial talk on the mercy of God via the converted apostle Paul/Saul. My brother, who's not a full convert to the Lord, found the speaker quite illuminating, but for a non-believer like me, it was like suddenly entering midway into a class that I only had partial knowledge. Plus I found him frankly rather dry although the theme of his message was clear.

There was some focus by the regular pastor, whom I found to be far more eloquent, on the current crisis in Japan. My second church visit last night made the crisis the whole theme. It took place at the Japanese Gospel Church in Agincourt, the place that Ol' Sam took me to over the Holidays. My sister-in-law explained that it was a prayer meeting, something that as a non-religious type I really didn't know about. As far as I was concerned, it was a regular service.

And boy, was it a service! Unlike the empty facility that I'd seen in December, the church was packed to the rafters. Compared to the morning service, there was more of an atmosphere of restrained chaos. The main room was already filled so the overflow had to either sit outside in the lobby peering through the windows or, as my sis and I did, enter a smaller rom with a video hookup. Part of the chaos developed from the fact that the leaders of this enormous conglomeration had to juggle three languages: English, Japanese and Chinese. The interpretation wasn't perfect by any means but my respect went out to the leaders for this linguistic challenge.

In addition, during the long service there was one important point made by one of the speakers. He observed that in the early days of the disaster, there were (probably Internet) reports of mainland Chinese rubbing their hands in undisguised hatred and glee as descendants of their former Japanese overlords suffered from the worst disaster to strike Japan. However as the days passed, apparently the hatred by this supposed minority has been supplanted by "awe" from a larger group who witnessed the apparent calm and stoicism that the Japanese faced their ultimate trial. It was quite something to notice that Chinese and Japanese believers were praying in the same church under the same god but then again I've always thought any hatred between our two groups has been greatly blunted in this country.

Now that doesn't mean that I didn't have any criticisms about the service. I found out what a prayer meeting was. We all had to stand up for four straight songs. I didn't sing but I was respectful. Then there were the 10 minutes of self-prayer for the victims of the quake and tsunami...once again, standing up. Apparently, the Christian god safeguards its acolytes from thrombosis. But I finally had to draw the line when it came to joint prayer with someone I didn't know. As an atheist, I think it was uncomfortable and frankly for me, it would've been dishonest. So I politely but quickly turned to sis and said that I had to step outside. She was understanding and apologized that she hadn't given me a full explanation about what a prayer meeting entailed. I reassured her that I would've joined her regardless, simply because she asked.

The other, much smaller, niggling point was the main pastor whom Ol' Sam had introduced me to last year. At the beginning of the service he announced that there had just been another major quake in the Tohoku region with a possible tsunami on the way. Of course, a collective gasp and groan of sympathy emanated from the audience. My first thought was "Are you sure?" And as it turned out, it was one of the stronger aftershocks with no tsunami. This pastor was guilty of jumping the gun like so many 24-hour news networks.

I briefly got to meet Ol' Sam. He was operating the video equipment so he had his hands full. Plus, the fact that my sister-in-law and I had to leave while the meeting still continued meant that I only had time to just set up a lunch meeting with him for Thursday.

On the way home, my sister-in-law and I chatted amiably enough but when I thanked her for taking me to the church, she seemed to look rather disappointed. Y'know, I don't like to let anyone down, especially family, but I've got my small share of strong (non-) beliefs, and not even she will change them.

For some reason, my brother insisted on driving me home from his place (he and my niece didn't join the meeting). So when my sister-in-law passed the baton to my brother, he asked me how the meeting went; I kinda figured that the two of them wanted to get my read on the situation. Again I was polite. And I was being sincere when I told my sister-in-law that if she invited me to another Sunday session I would be happy to join. However, I won't ever volunteer to join...have to be honest about that.

2:19 p.m.

Had a talk with Shard this morning. We've tentatively planned lunch for Suday, so I'm guaranteed of no Religious Day at least for this weekend. Strangely enough, though, Shard and I got into the topic of religion for most of our 45-minute phone conversation. It got to the point where I thought this bilateral discussion was best meant for a face-to-face rather than idle chat over a phone so I tried to ease things off.

Actually, I'd initially planned to go visit the St. Lawrence Market and the Hockey Hall of Fame this morning but after going out all day yesterday, I preferred to keep in my pyjamas. My brother lent me his Samsung laptop for the duration of my time here. I can't access the Net from home but I could upload my photos and will have a chance to get on the Net tomorrow at a Starbucks after lunch with Egg.

The situation in Fukushima Prefecture hasn't quite reached catastrophe levels yet but it seems that every day the road to recovery gets steeper. Now, it's apparently contaminated water in an open trench. The TEPCO people have started admitting that the skirmish against dying reactors is changing into a drawn-out war although they keep protesting that they aren't holding back from the public. Still, I'm assuming that I will head back on the 20th.

6:51 p.m.

Had tonkatsu for dinner. It could be construed as somewhat sad for a man in his mid-40s to be lounging all day in his PJs while staying with his parents. But back in Japan, I was in a tie and shirt close to 18 hours a day teaching English before I had to fly back here. So I think I can absorb some of this humiliation.

Thursday May 5, 1:38 p.m.

And once again, may I introduce excerpts from Canada? Beside me is Robarts Library at the University of Toronto. It looks like a gigantic stone turkey from one angle. Well, if you can't laugh at your own alma mater...? Ah, by the way, PM Harper got his majority government on Monday. So, the Liberals and the NDP must be smacking their heads a la Homer Simpson. Wouldn't be surprised if there were some major changes in their party leadership in the coming weeks.

Saturday March 26, 6:55 p.m.

Woke up this morning to see Canada Election 2011 kick off in feisty form. I don't think I've ever seen a campaign even Stateside where politicians openly accused each other of being out-and-out liars. But there you are.

Went down to U of T this afternoon just to see if JCSA was still going on. I checked the International Student Centre and Hart House but there was no sign of any Japanese anywhere so I just used my trip downtown to take a generous round of pictures.

Today is apparently Earth Day so we've been all encouraged to power down between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. tonight. Well, as I figure it, I went through an hour and 45 minutes of blackout last Friday so I think I'm already ahead.

Thursday May 5, 1:25 p.m.

The final day of the Golden Week holidays. We're definitely into the Spring now. Temps into the high teens and low twenties with a lot of sun. Can't beat that.

It's been the quietest GW that I've ever encountered in my 16 years here. And sort of record-breaking as well. I've spent 9 days in a row just within my neighbourhood. Usually, I would be going somewhere in Tokyo for a bit of shopping and eating, but with the new reality in finances now, I just can't go anywhere and I've been keeping a strong eye on my account. The last couple of months really had an effect on me.

Mind you, the past weekend has been a banner period for news organizations all over the planet. 2011 will absolutely go down as one of the more historically significant ones this half-century. We've already had the Arab Spring and one of the largest quakes in recent history hit this country, but this past weekend saw not only the Royal Wedding, but also the express beatification of Pope John Paul II. And who can forget the long-awaited comeuppance for America's Enemy No. 1 for the past decade, Osama Bin Laden? I was able to see the first two events in real time, but unfortunately I only first caught the last one some several hours after President Obama had already given his address to the nation. Still, it's just been today that all of the euphoria and analysis on the killing has finally started to calm down. But I will definitely be getting that TIME magazine issue.

All that above stuff has pretty much buried what was once the No. 1 story on the planet a little over a month ago....the big quake up north. But I don't see that as necessarily a bad thing. It looks like TEPCO and the government may finally be getting a hold on the leaky reactors up in Fukushima, and the dreaded rolling blackouts have become a quirky memory....for now. Still wondering what the summer is gonna be like.

From tomorrow, I've got The Shareholder and then The New Yorker for my first two students since the long holiday. Strangely enough, I'll be having The New Yorker in the Shinjuku Starbucks for the first time since March 11th. It should be an eerie feeling.