Friday, May 27, 2011

Saturday May 28, 2:06 p.m.

Finished with The Intellectual. As was the case up to the end of last year, the lesson went very swimmingly with a lot of talk on the justice system in Japan and the current state of affairs concerning Fukushima.
As for Fukushima, The Intellectual has been concerned about the veracity of radiation levels in the Kanto region. Now, before any of you start waving Geiger counters over my site, the official readings have the levels well below harmful levels. However, The Intellectual informed me that those readings were taken from instruments on roofs several metres off the ground while ground level readings were up to as much as ten times the levels taken on the roof. I heard that it was something like three times. But again, these are rumours. And during these emergency times, rumours run like scared wildebeest as do conspiracy theories. Again, I'm not very trusting of TEPCO or Kan's government but then again I'm not gonna start telephoning for air tickets like a madman. Frankly, if the government were holding out on us, we would already be dead or fairly close to it by now. But I'm still using my bottled water for drinking and toothbrushing purposes.

I had a pretty nutso Monday schedule coming up. From 3 p.m. onwards, I would've been teaching 5 lessons pretty much back-to-back. But thankfully, Mrs Prissy called in to say that she was gonna re-schedule her lesson over to Wedneday, thereby giving me a bit of breathing room.

Saturday May 28, 11:40 a.m.

Just heard about the passing of Jeff Conaway. I'd heard about his problems with drugs over the years and that he even ended up on "Celebrity Rehab". And then I read just a few days ago that he was in a medically-induced coma in hospital after being found unconscious. At that time, I thought that this was not looking good. And sure enough, I read on the BBC News scroll that he died.

For me, he'll always be Kenickie from the movie version of "Grease" back in 1978. I actually saw the movie on the big screen as one of the activities for my brother's buddy's birthday party. He played the 2nd banana to John Travolta's Danny Zuko. Basically, his career seemed to have consisted of playing supporting roles in big shows. Of course, he was in "Taxi" behind the big stars of Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito and Andy Kaufman. And then, he even got status in the later seasons of "Babylon 5". From greaser to hack to space security. If only the drugs hadn't got him...
Saturday May 28, 11:11 a.m.

Misty out there...quite pleasant and yet I had my umbrella out and open like a good Japanese resident. A Canadian would be laughed at for even bringing a brolley for mere spitting weather. I guess I've been here a bit too long.

Forgive me for the rant...but I have to say that the juku boss is still managing to make me call her a scatterbrain under my breath. She sent me e-mail the other day stating that her real estate buddy knew some guarantor agency to help me out of my predicament...a predicament that the boss started herself when she told me that she'd have to pull out of our guarantor arrangement. I asked her if she could introduce me to said friend. This morning, she sent me word that her friend doesn't know all that much after all. But she then suggested asking the husband of The old Monday morning student whom I haven't seen in well over a year. Well, I'll contact him and see what he says. Worse comes to worse, at least it'll stall for more time before I have to try out the agencies.

Yesterday just had a couple of was at Arisugawa Park Library in Hiroo, the new venue for Swank and me. Our space is considerably less trendy and drink-filled than our old place at Roppongi Hills but it's much quieter. I tried to see if I could get some lunch at the 5th floor cafeteria. The doors were open so I went in and checked out the meal ticket machines when a brusque kitchen worker spat out that I was too early. I didn't even see the sign outside the door stating that opening time was 11:30 (I was there about 15 minutes early). Didn't particularly like his former-bike-gang-member tone so I decided not to wait and had lunch at the local McD's instead. As for Swank, I helped her out on some of her writing samples. Good student but will need some help in conciseness. When I finally pull up stakes here for good at the end of the year, I may see if there are any Japanese students back in Toronto who might need a good proofreader.

Then it was up to Shinjuku Starbucks to see The New Yorker. It was one of the sloggier lessons since we were going into the more complex lesson involving the concept of honesty. Let's say this...the fluency gap between her and Swank is about as big as the biggest fish in a tall tale story.

Today, in about an hour, I've got The Intellectual here at Speedy's for the first time in about 6 months. He's only a Saturday student and since I ducked out of Saturdays last year, I haven't been able to see the guy. According to the bossman, who's been his current teacher, he's pretty excited to see me. I've felt pretty bad about him since I basically told him about my departure from weekend classes here at Speedy's at our very last meeting due to some bad timing.

Yep, it's just me here today since Mrs. Speedy is working. Kinda nice having the whole place to myself while the bossman is off on his business trip. I'll probably stay here for a couple of hours after The Intellectual's lesson before I take off for Shinjuku to meet The Bohemian for dinner. He's got some place in Kabukicho which features Japanese-Italian cuisine in an izakaya. I think that is currently the foodie trend in Tokyo.

I also got a rare message via Facebook from GC who lives out all the way in Owase, Aichi-ken. He used to make semi-annual pilgrimages over here up until about 10 years ago when he abruptly stopped coming and even having contact with me. I'd sent him a birthday wish and he responded by saying that he might have a chance to drop by Tokyo. I told him that he'd better hurry since my months are now numbered in The Big Sushi.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thursday May 26, 7:04 p.m.

A bit of Japanese ingenuity when it comes to their ice cream desserts. This is an ice cream bar of sorts with the top half being the typical chocolate nuts-coated thingie but the handle is a chocolate sandwich. Something wonderful on the order of the making of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Still, when I look at it at this angle, I'm sure there will be some high school kids who'll start giggling uncontrollably.

The Carolinan came and went. She had to make a speech on the Kanto-Tohoku Earthquake; we were able to get a lot of good talk out of that and then did her exercise on Reported Speech. We also spoke on "Black Swan"; she actually takes ballet lessons on Tuesday nights so I was rather interested whether she would see it. She has heard from friends that they've either hated it or liked it which illustrates how polarizing it has been in Japan as well. She said that she'd see it when it came out on DVD.
I'm no longer alone here. Speedy's wife got back from work and I got a nice slice of pound cake and a cup of tea. She may be young but she's got that motherly instinct. It'll be another 50 minutes before Mrs. Thursday comes by.
Thursday May 26, 4:26 p.m.

Made the final confirmations with The Bohemian for Saturday's get-together. I'll be meeting him in Shinjuku's somewhat infamous Kabukicho district. However, our destination is quite benign. It's one of those trendy fusion restaurants called "Wa-I Baru Kabukicho"...the wa-i part representing Japan and Italy. It rather reminds me of last Thursday's Enkobo, that restaurant for La Fille's going-away party. The Bohemian managed to get some sort of coupon-based discount from Groupon so I'm supposedly "only" paying 2,500 yen for a course meal.

Bay left about an hour ago since she had a dentist's appointment. So it's just me in here until The Carolinan arrives in half an hour for her lesson. She may be rather surprised at the sparseness of the school but that's basically the new reality at Speedy's. However, the bossman's wife will be back from work by the time I start up with Mrs. Thursday.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thursday April 7, 12:58 p.m.

Met up with the majority of The Anime Court and Automan last night for our weekly dinner. This week's target was Olde York, an English pub in the small Leaside area of town. The King swore that the best fish and chips can be had here. When we went inside, the place certainly reminded me of something out of "Coronation Street"; and the clientele was kinda reminiscent of a V.A hospital for British soldiers. I was slightly afraid that our wholly Asian group could be targeted but we were treated fine by our Asian-Canadian waitress.

I had the Clam was quite good and rich. There was even that faint whiff of the sea that I don't get from the Campbell's variety. Then, it was the Halibut and Fries platter that The King swears by. It was a very generous portion with a big slab of deep-fried fish on the one side of a long dish and a huge heap of fries on the other. Though the halibut was a bit dry, it still beat most of the attempts at Fish N' Chips I'd come across in Tokyo. I was feeling quite full by the time I finished but I braved the Apple Crisp a la mode, and surprising for my advancing age, I could finish it. I was stuffed but not to the point of becoming the first victim in "Seven". I figure that The Anime King has one or two more restaurants to show me before I finally head back.

Tonight, it'll be dinner with Ol' Sam and a friend of his that I've met over the last few Xmases. It's actually the latter's birthday so I figure I should chip in. It'll most likely be a downtown restaurant but since today's Jays game is an afternoon event, I shouldn't have any trouble getting home tonight. The Blue Jays have been impressing the folks with a guaranteed winning series against the A's, and maybe even a sweep by the time I head out. As for The Leafs, they've just got one more game this Saturday before their 6th playoff-less season in a row comes to an end. It's against the Montreal Canadiens, so perhaps the game will be notable as a wistful echo of a once-vibrant rivalry.

I read an article in The Toronto Sun written by a reporter who openly cried askance at a seemingly celebratory mood within The Leafs Nation over another failed season. I guess my long years in Japan have given me a certain detachment when it comes to The Leafs, but I'm also scratching my head. Perhaps it would also explain the disdain from non-Leaf fans that a lot of Torontonians have continued to come out to watch and accept mediocrity. However, the most pathetic thing I've ever seen concerning my hometown team appeared a couple of decades ago, perhaps before the semi-heydays of the Pat Burns years. The Leafs of that time had been pretty miserable, and for the game that I'd witnessed on TV, they had been shellacked. Near the end of the game, the Leafs finally got their lone goal, the goaltender probably only let it in due to complacency more than anything else. In any case, the Leafs suddenly celebrated as if they'd just won The Stanley Cup. I can't remember the reaction of the paying spectators but it could've been shock. I can't think of a more pathetic scene in major league sports when a terrible team celebrates ruining the opposing team's shutout.

1:48 p.m.

There was another major aftershock off of Sendai a few hours ago. As usual, the Japanese are taking it calmly, although since March 11, any tremor now brings a self-inflicted level of fear. But the notable thing is that the news actually trumped anything coming out of Fukushima which can't be a totally bad thing.
America may also be facing a looming crisis of its own in the next 48 hours as a government shutdown appears likely. My only worry is whether Customs and Immigration officers won't be able to work. When I head back to Japan, I have to transfer via Minneapolis.

Thursday May 26, 3:21 p.m.

Whenver I've seen one of these pictures of a megaburger, I've usually tossed it off as some gag. However, Bay told me that such things do exist in....where else...the United States of America whose people seem to rate in 2nd place next to the Tongans in terms of obesity. The place is called The Heart Attack irony of any sort in the name. Apparently, the menu items are named after cardiac surgical procedures and for good reason. The product and the result are the same. For someone like me who thinks that the Whopper at Burger King is a mighty amount, this restaurant, with branches in California and Texas, would wallop the Whopper. There is also plenty of YouTube footage since the news networks like to have a "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" segment to finish off the newscasts. The Japanese would probably just gape in both the products and the customers. The Americans would do the same...and then place a burger in it.
Thursday May 26, 11:36 a.m.

I'm at Speedy's all by least for another 90 minutes or so. Not that the bossman made it easy for himself to finally get out of here for this business trip. He even called me earlier this morning for some last-minute instructions as he was scrambling to get things packed. He isn't what I would call the most organized of I can imagine some of the frustrations that former staffers like The Admin, Ray, Bay and La Fille had gone through interacting with him on a daily basis.

Speaking of former staffers, though, Bay will be joining me in our administration of the school for the next three Thursdays as a special guest staffer while she supposedly enjoys her holidays away from her home of Seattle. I'm grateful for the assistance...I'm not particularly good at juggling greeting, serving tea and starting a lesson.

We had one of the shorter reservations in Speedy history yesterday. The last Grandma standing, i.e. Grandma FON...the geriatric Force of Nature herself...had been scheduled to come in right now for her first lesson with us since early March, about a week before the quake, but just several hours after making the reservation, she called in to state that she wasn't feeling too well, so she's cancelled. Since she called in the day before, I don't get any payment for it unfortunately. It would've been nice to see her just for the fact of meeting her. She may have passed the octogenarian threshold, but she's got more energy and conversational ability than a number of younger students. Even a 90-minute lesson flies by with her in comman.

So, basically, I have The Shareholder followed by The Carolinan and Mrs. Thursday. The Carolinan is coming in a bit earlier than usual since she's off today. Mrs. Thursday is someone I haven't seen since my exodus to Toronto. I'm wondering how she's doing with her family; her husband runs the 7-11 just around the corner from us. The bossman was able to have one lesson with her during my absence. The two of them had a great time talking about professional wrestling...her family often goes to the States just for that event. When she's with me, though, we often talk on her 2nd-favorite pastime, talking about "NCIS". However, she's not a huge fan of "NCIS: LA". Noone can beat the Gibbs.

The juku boss sent me word yesterday that she spoke with a friend of hers who's in the real estate industry. And her friend reassured her that there were guarantor agencies out there who could take of my situation in 1 or 2 days. Well, whenever I get a message from the juku boss, she writes like she talks...all gloriously happy-happy. So, I have asked her to have her friend introduce one of these places to me. And then we'll see if I can still continue on til December.

I'm supposed to be meeting The Bohemian this Saturday for dinner in Shinjuku. Again, he's another fellow I haven't met since escaping to Toronto. Of all the folks I know, he's been the only one who's said that I would always have work here. I'm not sure if I can quite believe him now. And I may inform him that I will be heading back to The Great White North permanently when I see him.

The preparations for heading home have made their first baby steps. Last night, I started cleaning out my closets. I've chucked out my Playstation 1 games since I hadn't played them for many years (the Playstation itself went out with the trash last week), and I've sorted out the various English-language novels that I'd bought and received over the years so that I can give them to a bookstore with a buyback service. Not that I expect anything much more than an amount suitable for a Happy Meal or a small dinner. Good of the books is the novelization of "Revenge of the Sith". I think for that one, he may be charging me to take it off my hands. I'm also looking at those flyers I often get in the mail advertising recycling services. They usually go straight into the can, but nowadays they're getting a lot more respect.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wednesday May 25, 1:56 p.m.

It's another day off for me...and a day of good weather for the first time in a few days. Yesterday was mostly a cool, wet affair. Started off early....and slightly injured on Tuesday. Had Cozy in the morning since he couldn't make his usual Monday morning slot this week. I ended up stepping the wrong way outside of the Toyocho McDonalds and fell right on my knees...just the area that's been giving me pain for the last little while, so, quite a bit of staggered walking on the way to Cozy's office. Luckily, it was just a small scratch on the right knee and a small ripped hole in my trousers...was thinking of ditching that pair anyways.

It wasn't too awkward at Cozy's after I had asked him and got rejected for my apartment's guarantorship. We just acknowledged the conversation and gave mutual apologies for bothering with it. Still, I'm not sure what's gonna happen in the next several days or so.

The Beehive session had Mrs. Travel back. Despite Alp's concern about Travel's state of mind a couple of weeks ago, the head Bee seemed to be in good spirits. And the session itself went well; in these uncertain times, a good class is worth its weight in gold.

Then, I headed off to the business district in Tameike-Sanno...basically next door to swanky Akasaka to meet The Godfather for his second session. He's a good talker although he often struggles for the right words, and he loves his movies. We got into a lively conversation about the oeuvre of Christopher Nolan. I think I will lend him my novel of "Blade Runner".

During my time in Canada, the bossman at Speedy's has been having his own trials and tribulations since April. Of course, he has been working hard to keep the school afloat for the past 7 years and we've yet to really get into the black. Certainly, these past few months have guaranteed that we won't be doing that anytime soon. And then came this little crisis. The bossman fell into that trap that just about every president has done...took a customer for granted. In this case, it was The Patent Attorney. According to Speedy, he ended up cancelling the usually amiable PA not just on the day of his regular lesson, but apparently just left him hanging outside almost a couple of months ago. That definitely didn't sit well with The PA, who is one of our oldest students and also a client who has helped us out in various capacities, including buying a huge block of lessons. The bossman got a huge earful from The PA and then the silent treatment for several weeks. Well, yesterday, after a few exchange of calls, the bossman went over to The PA's office...hat-in-hand apologize. I got the call from the bossman this morning to hear that although The PA will continue on a much-reduced schedule to learn English, he did ask for money back equivalent to a year's worth of lessons. The bossman was babbling about how stupid he was about the whole situation. I won't disagree with him there, especially when things aren't too hot in this economy.

Have the day off today since 001 is not coming in. So, just staying in the neighbourhood in my T-shirt and jeans. I heard that the closest conbini to my apartment is closing down at the end of the month....which is a bit of a bummer. Now, it's just the two supermarkets 5 minutes away.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday May 23, 6:36 p.m.

I mentioned earlier today about that restaurant we'd gone to for La Fille's going-away party. Well, here are some shots from Enkobo, that little hole-in-a-wall izakaya just a stone's throw away from Higashi-Nakano Station. Definitely worth another visit but because of its size, reservations are highly recommended.

Above of course is the plate of sashimi but since this is an izakaya with a twist, there was also the takenoko gratin...bamboo shoots instead of potato or macaroni. Probably the surprise hit of the night.
Wednesday April 6, 10:29 a.m.

A hello and goodbye in local sports last night all at Harbourfront. The Blue Jays showed some true grit without their best hitter and good starting pitching by coming from behind and stealing a win from the A's. The worrying thing was that despite full houses over the opening weekend, Skydome looked virtually empty. I realize that it was a Tuesday night but that type of attendance can't be good for a major league team.

Perhaps a lot of those empty seats at Skydome could be explained by the Leafs game next door at Air Canada Centre. In what must be considered to be one of the most inexplicably bizarre rituals in organized sports, the perenially losing Leafs still get a loyal following via The Leafs Nation. This probably explains the visceral hatred that the rest of Canada have for this team....and Toronto in general. In any case, the team officially said goodbye to their playoff hopes when they lost to the Caps and when Buffalo won. It'll be another summer of wondering for The Leafs Nation.

In Fukushima, a light seems to exist at the end of the very long tunnel. One of the leaks has been effectively plugged in one reactor of the Dai-Ichi plant. As with any trauma, large or small, the initial shock and fright have now been supplanted by anger. Farmers and fishermen have started venting at TEPCO for losing their livelihood. The TEPCO brass could only gaze at their shoes and sheepishly intone apologies. I'm sure the suicide rate will spike this year, and a small fraction will probably consist of TEPCO management. However, the grunts who've had to enter the nuclear lions' den will probably become heroes at the risk of a lowered life expectancy.

As for me, I'm spending my 3rd Wednesday in a row in Toronto. Again that feeling of here being my reality while Japan is a fantasy has taken hold. I'm not sure what the extra week here will mean to me. It will feel strange not scary since it looks like the nuclear disaster has finally started to stabilize.
Tuesday April 5, 1:11 p.m.

I may have caught a small cold. My throat has been phlegming up on me since last night which got Mom making the Neo Citran and ordering me to gargle with salt this morning. I've never been convinced of the efficacy of this Japanese custom of the saltwater gargle.
The past couple of days have seen me keep things solidly at home, which isn't bad after a weekend of going out with friends. Plus, with this cold, I'd rather stay comfortable in my PJs. I only got one call from The Wild Guy confirming things up for the 16th but we may also get one lunch in before that. Tomorrow night will be the next outing with The Anime Court...I think it's fish n' chips.
I've only just passed the halfway point of my exile here but I still have this week, all of next week and half of the week beyond that before taking off. It's been a strange feeling cooling my heels all this time in Toronto although I've been happy to be with family and friends. However, this trip has forced me to think how much longer I can really stay in Japan.
As for the situation in Fukushima, it's settled down to become a plot out of "Apollo 13". TEPCO, along with international help, has been trying anything and everything to plug up the leaks. The Russians have sent a decontamination ship; I'm sure they've gotten a lot of hard-earned insight from their own nuclear disaster 25 years ago.
There's been an unusually happy confluence of organized sports in Toronto over the past ten days. The Blue Jays have gotten off to a great start, the local FC soccer team has been racking them in, and even the Toronto Maple Leafs may be ending their season on a high note although the chances of making the playoffs are virtually nil.
Monday May 23, 4:44 p.m.

Back over at Speedy's. Looks like The Godfather is good to go for tomorrow's re-scheduling. And I've got my two lessons in about a couple of hours. Since Ms. Schmooze is, at least for the meantime, the remaining administrative assistant we have here at the school, she's been struggling with all of the tech stuff that La Fille is a wiz at. For example, she cut off a student on the phone twice. Still the bossman's patience is approaching legendary levels.

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, Cozy declined my request to be my guarantor for the last 7 months of my stay in my apartment. He didn't give a particular reason for it although I'm sure we will discuss this tomorrow. He was also rather disappointed that I've decided to leave for good at the end of the year. However, he did invite me to talk about some sort of solution to my problem, but I'm starting to look at guarantor companies. Basically if they reject me, then I'll be leaving Japan a lot earlier than expected. There is no one else I can ask.

Ol' Sam contacted me. He and his family will be coming over on vacation from next week, but he did ask me whether he can crash over at my place in the middle of June. He's more than welcome, provided that I still have an apartment.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Monday May 23, 11:03 a.m.

The past weekend involved another DVD Night sleepover at MB's. Our movies de nuit were "Gamer", "Zombieland" and "Machete"....pretty much B-movies with an A-list cast. All of them had another thing in common in that they had fun premises but lost steam by the end. Still, I can say that I got to see Lindsay Lohan naked in the last movie.

Last night, TV Asahi showed the 2nd of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise. "Dead Man's Chest" still had some good flavor to be extracted but "At World's End" was an overrated disappointment, and the 4th movie hasn't gotten any good reviews. Still, MB would still like to catch it although The Satyr is a bit iffy.
Monday May 23, 10:51 p.m.

Back on Thursday night, Speedy had the farewell dinner for La Fille at a place near the school called Enkobo right by Higashi-Nakano Station. It was just the five of us: the bossman, me, Ms. Schmooze, AK and the girl of honour herself. It was a pleasant neighbourhood izakaya on a side street although the fare was a bit more upclass. For example, the appetizer was not the usual pickled o-shinko but some crusty French bread with cheese covered in herbs and honey. Definitely not wa-fu. I'd say that the food was a bit of fusion and juxtaposition of Japanese and Italian dishes. The best dish was the takenoko (bamboo shoots) gratin. Who'da thunk that cooked bamboo would make an outstanding combination with white sauce and grated cheese?

The conversation inevitably turned to the not-exactly-lamented departure of Ms. Efficiency. Basically, with an all-you-can-drink option for 2 hours at Enkobo, the venting would have a lot of steam behind it, but in retrospect, everyone was pretty civil toward her although it was agreed that the lass has some complicated mental/emotional issues. I can only wonder if she has already picked some fights at her new job. Apparently, the bossman has hinted that a new person will be coming to help us at the school in July during the summer holidays hinting that she's a university student. The bossman remarked that she's a bit of a La Fille Jr.

The next day I heard from the bossman that the group had been young enough and strong enough to hop over to another bar. Plus, it helped that everyone there except me lived nearby. I decided that 11 p.m. was good enough for me and gave my good luck to La Fille, who will be much more dearly missed than Ms. Efficiency.
Monday May 23, 10:45 a.m.

Found out that The Godfather had sent me mail cancelling his lesson today and asking if it could be postponed to tomorrow. No problems with me; I'd been hoping that either he or Miss Genki would be cancelling since the hour's commute between Tameike-Sanno and Nakano-Sakaue between their lessons could be difficult to pull off during rush hour. So, at this point, I won't be having any classes until tonight.

It's looking like another light week as it has been since I got back. I've just got Miss Genki and Kirk tonight over at Speedy's, the Beehive and The Godfather tomorrow, and nothing on Wednesday since it looks like 001 is my sole customer and she won't be here this week. From Thursday, the bossman will be off on his annual 2-week business trip overseas so I'm virtually alone during the daytime. I've only got The Shareholder and The Carolinan there. And Friday will just be Swank and The New Yorker. However, this coming Saturday I'll be teaching one of Speedy's students and meet up with The Intellectual for the first time in almost 6 months since I opted out of Saturdays.