Thursday, June 02, 2011

Thursday June 2, 7:21 p.m.

Since I ended up having a day off yesterday, I got back home and ended up watching that movie "Miracle" with Kurt Russell concerning Team USA's upset win over the Soviets in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. I just barely remember the real thing...basically, my memories of the game were seeing Herb Brooks exploding in joy and then Jim Craig with the American flag draped around his shoulders. I enjoyed it as a nice little timewaster before dinner, but was surprised that it had actually been released theatrically. I frankly found it to be better suited as a made-for-TV feature. Some good camera action during the game but the story was about as straight-arrow as a 1940s Knute Rockne feature.

Almost done for the night. I had that student of the bossman's. Really pleasant fellow and willing to speak out and ask questions. He and his colleagues will be heading out to Washington and New York late next week on a business trip so he's a bit nervous about interacting with the natives there. But he should be just fine.
Thursday June 2, 4:48 p.m.

Bay went home an hour ago, so I'm here by myself again at Speedy's until the bossman's student comes in an hour or so. I'm halfway through my day finishing with Grandma FON and The Shareholder. The two students are quite different in their demeanors. Grandma FON's lesson was 90 minutes but the class just flew by since she was just asking and answering away with abandon...the most ideal student. We didn't even have to touch the textbook...just talked on our respective trips, the quake and the non-confidence motion. As for the Shareholder, he was the usual 60 minutes but he is just so reticent to speak out that I was babbling at a couple of points in the lesson.

As for that non-confidence motion, Prime Minister Kan survived it much to a lot of people's relief. Now, those parliamentary vice-ministers and other officials who defied the governing party will have to face some measure of wrath from the DPJ. Not that they weren't expecting it; I figure that they will probably hightail it out with Kan's archenemy Ichiro Ozawa to form a new party. Still needless crisis averted.

Ms. Schmooze has just come in as the night shift. And she was kind enough to bring over some an-pan, sweet bean-filled buns. After having a rather large bento and this sweet, I will probably not need any dinner tonight.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Thursday June 2, 11:09 a.m.

A number of folks dread Rainy Season (known as tsuyu or bai-u in Japanese). It heralds the beginning of the energy-sapping mugginess, but at the same time, it's vital for the rice crops. But those folks now have an extra reason to fear puddles aside from them being breeding crowds for mosquitoes. Because of the radiation that's been pumped into the air and water from Fukushima, there are some fears that we may all have to be extra careful where we splash and expose ourselves to the elements. The Fuji-TV morning wide show even had a feature on how much radiation the average puddle could contain. Whether or not, the water is imminently dangerous is up to conjecture, but it's all about the perception. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of us ended up becoming shut-ins for the next month and a half.
Thursday June 2, 10:42 a.m.

Well, from a lessonless yesterday to a fairly full day today: I've got Grandma FON, The Shareholder, the bossman's student and Mrs. Thursday. I haven't gotten anything on the messages about my first student, so I think the ol' gal will be coming here on schedule after cancelling last week. I hope she's doing well.

The overall situtation in post-quake and mid-nuclear disaster Tokyo has been calm so far. A lot of the lights are still out in the subways and stores in the interests in energy conservation, but the escalators seem to have become exempt from the policy. For a while, I thought that I would be able to shed a few kilograms by being forced to use primitive stairs, but it looks like the government has decided to keep me portly. And apparently, the Cool Biz movement started up back in the Koizumi days has been upgraded to Super Cool Biz. For those not in the know, Cool Biz was started up by one of the ministers, Yuriko Koike, to actually encourage daily Casual Days during the summer so that there isn't as much stress on the air conditioning systems. So, folks came into work without ties and jackets....kinda like an Al Gore approach to casual wear. But with the current (no pun intended) electricity crisis, the national government decided to pull out all the stops and have employees everywhere come in stuff like Hawaiian shirts, Polos and....gasp....even jeans and sneakers. Everyone can look like the average Microsoft employee! But flip-flops and T-shirts are still verboten. That is, unless, things get really hot this summer and the government upgrades the sartorial version of the Homeland Security Alert to Mega Cool Biz....get those Speedos and bikinis ready. Then again, would the working class really enjoy seeing their middle-aged bosses in a thong?

However, the Diet is looking far from happy today. The Opposition is ready to hand in their non-confidence motion as early as this afternoon during the session. A few days ago, pundits and reporters would've just scoffed at the idea that Tanigaki of the LDP and his co-conspirators would've been able to pass this legislation; now, all bets seem to be off although it still looks like the motion will be defeated. A number of officials in PM Kan's own party have handed in their resignations and sided with The LDP to protest their boss' bad handling of the triple whammy disaster. The magic number is 82 or 85...the number of parliamentarians left to push through the non-confidence motion and thereby forcing Kan to either have his Cabinet resign en masse or to dissolve The Diet and call an election. Not surprisingly, the public are dismayed about this state of affairs, complaining aloud about how backbiting politics could overtake the recovery of a nation.

On a personal note, I witnessed the return of my student to active duty. The Journo was back on his morning wide show. He didn't have a brace on his neck after his horrible auto accident back in early March; still, I'm not quite sure when he will be back to the juku. I'm happy that he's OK now.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wednesday June 1, 10:31 a.m.
Well, it's definitely been one of those days. I come all the way out to Speedy's early this morning to find out that my lone two lessons have summarily cancelled. Mrs. Prissy came down with a cold, and so the bossman had sent an e-mail over to me that I got when I came in at 9 a.m. Then, the bossman's wife and I were fretting over the audio for the DVD player for almost 20 minutes since I may have needed it for the bossman's student (who is a president of a company, and considering recent events, we are trying to keep the presidential students happy) who was coming in at 10 a.m. Sure enough, right at 9:59 a.m., the call comes in from that very student to dotakyan...I think a certain record was achieved. I could just feel the adrenaline plummet from my system. So, I now have bupkiss for work although I did make the easiest 5,000 yen of the week since the bossman's student's cancellation was a on-the-day thing.
In other good news, I just found out that The Atlanta Thrashers have now become The Winnipeg Jets. Canada is getting another franchise....I think the capital city of Manitoba is throwing a major-league party right at this moment. I'm just surprised that Atlanta managed to keep a hockey team for eight years. Still, I was a bit surprised at the announcement only for the fact that during my time in Toronto, The Phoenix Coyotes were the favorite to revert back to Canadian status. Perhaps, they can become the new Quebec Nordiques. In any case, I'm happy for all of us Canucks since hockey is the ultimate sport up in The Great White North.
Meanwhile, Japan basically seems to be falling apart at the seams, both economically and politically. Supposedly, a non-confidence motion may be presented in Parliament as early as today against the increasingly beleaguered and heart attack-prone Naoto Kan and his administration. The current PM is not looking too good these days, and I mean physically; you can park Toyotas in the bags under his eyes. My two yen? Those idiots of the Liberal Democratic Party who are spearheading the motion are just playing politics at a time when this sort of thing should be the least important thing during this crisis. And may I say that all of this TEPCO incompetence took place while the LDP was in power? Not to say that the Democratic Party of Japan has impressed anybody here with its handling of one of the worst disasters to happen to any country at any time. But I have to agree with PM Kan about one thing; for there to be yet another shift in power at this time would be irresponsible and virtually suicidal.

Tuesday May 30, 4:13 p.m.

Nice if a bit windy out there today. The Beehive was complaining that it was downright cold this morning. But when I activate my cultural temperature translator, it was refreshingly cool for a Canuck like myself (and speaking of Canucks, may I say that I'm rooting for the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup finals this week).

Anyways, getting back to the topic at hand, The Beehive ladies and I had our monthly lunch together at a restaurant in the Morisia complex just across from JR Tsudanuma Station in Chiba. It was a place called Nishi-ya, and I had the hamburg plate special which you see here. It was the typical huge hunk of minced beef surrounded by rice, pickles, savory egg custard (chawanmushi) and miso soup. Very filling for a thousand yen. Got my money's worth, and I'm still feeling plenty stuffed.

I'm off for the rest of the day. I have yet to have any lessons at the juku since my return to Japan over a month ago. And according to the boss, it still doesn't look too good for June. She also stated that she appreciates my attempts to find a new guarantor although I am trying to draw things out as much as I can since I'm not optimistic of my chances. Still, I did send a letter to The Matron's husband this morning.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Friday April 8, 11:16 a.m.

Yesterday, I had another dose of how embittered relations between TTC and riders have become. Riding on the Eglinton 34 to Eglinton Station, there was a large scrum of people amassed at one bus stop. A couple of folks tried to get on via the rear doors...and these idiots weren't scheming teens but older adults....with one looking distinctly geriatric. Anyways, the female bus driver screamed with the power of a menopausal harridan, "DO NOT COME IN THROUGH THE REAR DOORS!!" This sort of anger would never emanate from a Tokyo counterpart but if it did, there would be an instantaneously crystallizing silence amongst the passengers. What I was surprised at when the TTC driver screamed was that the errant passengers, and for that matter, the entire ridership, just sullenly acknowledged then ignored her. The other eyebrow-raising thing was that the driver simply gave up and just drove on ahead. In past years, I recalled drivers refusing to move the bus until the target of their wrath either paid up or cursed his way off the bus. Sad state of affairs on the TTC.

11:28 a.m.
I met up with Ol' Sam and Ed at City Hall for dinner last night. After a bit of walking downtown, we ended up at Dunn's, a Montreal-style deli. What was notable was that despite its prime location near Roy Thomson Hall and The Royal Alexandria Theatre, the place was virtually empty. Ol' Sam appreciated the fact that we could stretch our legs a bit but I was a bit mystified that there was such a lack of attendance so close to the dinner hour. I could only assume (and hope for the restaurant's sake) that a hefty pre-show or post-show crowd regularly floods it. But the food was good. I had a typically thick Smoked Meat sandwich with fries, cole slaw and a pickle, followed by a slice of Black Forest Cake for dessert. It had been many years since I had that dessert so I wasn't about to let that opportunity go to waste.
The talk amongst Ol' Sam, Ed and me was far less otaku-ish than the night before with The Anime Court. It was more down-to-earth. Ol' Sam, like me, has gotten more cynical over the years, and he didn't hesitate to scoff at any opinion he didn't agree with. After dinner, the three of us walked over from the Theatre District all the way to Ed's condo by The Lakeshore which took about half an hour. I regretted not bringing my camera because I immediately saw some great opportunities for shots. We walked along King St. West and when we passed Spadina, I noticed a mix of grungy downtown and appealing gentrification amongst the architecture. I'd never walked along that stretch of road before since my impression of that part of downtown had never been all that positive. But a lot of those old edifices along the south side of King, including one that dated back to 1903, got a very nice sprucing up.
We turned south of Bathurst, and my regrets on not bringing my camera deepened as we went over the steel bridge spanning over the railways. The sun was setting and as I looked east, there was a gorgeous view of the huge agglomeration of skyscrapers with the CN Tower leading the chorus. A rather thick fog formed, and looking west, the combination of it, the sunset and the spanking-new condos thrusting out in the distance provided an eerie scene right out of "Blade Runner". I don't think I'll get that chance again.
Ed's condo was still undergoing cosmetic construction, so it was rather strange walking in a dusty, plastered corridor with bare unadorned light fixtures. But the suite itself was very nice and lived-in with a great view of downtown Toronto. His rent, though, was nosebleed territory. If I do decide to move back here permanently, I just can't see The Lakeshore as an option.
While Ol' Sam and Ed tried to figure out a mechanical problem with the former's gadget (and thereby introducing an element of otaku into the proceedings after all), I was able to check my e-mail. No alerts from anyone in Japan although I'd seen that there had been a major aftershock in the Tohoku area earlier in the day.
I also discovered that Ed has started making his own beer via microbrewery kit. Sam and I had a sample of his ale. Not bad but it was just a tad too bitter for me to down completely. Sam could drink his but the look on his face made it abundantly clear that Ed's pet project was a work in progress.
At about 9:30, Ed drove me to the nearest streetcar stop which was almost immediately across from the underground garage door. Luckily, within a minute a streetcar arrived to take me to Bathurst Station; it was a leisurely trip but I got to look at nighttime downtown. The streetcar got progressively more and more crowded as it went up Bathurst unitl it was basically at rush-hour levels by the time it reached the station. There were the usual yahoos walking along Queen West. I was grateful that the ride wasn't marred by any driver-commuter fights. Of course, I passed by the legendary Honest Ed's with its thousands of light bulbs strobing on and off, a scene that has now become rare in Tokyo.
Despite riding a streetcar, two subways and a bus back home, the entire trip took just an hour, a good 10 minutes less than my usual commute from Speedy's back to home. Gave me more perspective on the distances.

1:33 p.m.
I can make a lot of statements starting with the phrase "It's the first time in 16 years that...." when it comes to this trip. My first Canadian Spring, the end of the hockey season, the beginning of the baseball season, and now I can add my first haircut in Toronto.
This morning, I walked a mere 100 m from my door to a Chinese barbershop across the street. My mother was, of course, the one to suggest that I get a trim since my hair was getting rather scraggly. And the price couldn't be beat at $8 (700 yen in Tokyo, even cheaper than the vacuum-assisted discount barber chains there) which would make it a seventh as expensive as my usual haircut iin Ichikawa.
In a way, I felt badly about pulling the trigger and opting for the cut in Toronto. It's kinda like betraying the place that I've frequented for the past decade.
However, comparing this barber shop with my Ichikawa salon, aside from the price, was like comparing apples and armadilloes. I pay through the nose for my bimonthly tonsorial in Japan but the service is exemplary: friendly stylists, shampoo and scalp massage, and with free tea/coffee. When I went to this neighbourhood shop, the one fellow was nonchalantly slurping a cup of ramen. He was polite enough but there was no banter (not that I minded too much....I like my quiet time in the chair). The cut was very bare bones; no vacuum but no shampoo to wash the bits of hair. However, that is de rigueur in North America and as a kid, many was the time as I ran home from the barber shop while those bits of hair fell down my back and chest irritating me to no end.
I had asked for a trim...and I got a Marine buzzcut. A twentieth of me resembles Agent Gibbs from "NCIS". At least, it'll make for a conversation piece here and back in Japan.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Monday May 30, 2:01 p.m.

The effects of Typhoon No. 2 left this weekend a literal washout. The rains left the equivalent of a humane society's stock in dogs and cats; I didn't even bothering stepping out at all on Sunday, and just ordered in a Domino's Deluxe pizza. A Medium here with a salad and with a 500 yen discount coupon still set me back nearly $20. Such is the way of takeout food here.

Well, I was happy to come out of the subway station near Speedy's today and see sun and white puffy clouds for the first time in a few days, especially when the forecast called for clouds for the next few days. Beforehand, I went over to my favorite cheapo Chinese lunch eatery, Jukeifu, underneath the Maynds Tower in Shinjuku. I had the miso pork and cabbage with all of the gyoza and salad I could stuff into myself. All this for just 900 yen, or almost half the price of last night's Dominos. That might be one strategy to save money but get maximum culinary pleasure....hit the buffets.

My hump day today has been downgraded just like the typhoon. Cozy has cancelled his lesson today and Mrs. Prissy has re-scheduled her lesson to Wednesday. So, I've got The German, the bossman's student while he's away, Miss Genki and Kirk. Not exactly a free day but certainly manageable.

Monday May 30, 1:39 p.m.
Met up with The Bohemian on Saturday night in Kabukicho. Despite the notices on energy conservation in these uncertain times, the infamous red-light district has lived up to its defiant self and has continued to flash everyone. The Bohemian and I went to this basement izakaya called Wai Baru with the first two kanji hinting at a Japanese-Italian fusion cuisine.
The place itself was safe although I kinda froze for a tenth of a second when I witnessed a somewhat slinky young lady at the bar....what other services were they offering? And the fact that Wai Baru was located underneath a Thai massage place and a love hotel didn't help matters. But as it turned out, everything was kosher. The Bohemian surprisingly had gone through a discount coupon service known as Groupon some months ago to get us a dinner course at 54% off. Still, it cost us 2,480 yen a person. I mention

this since there was a worthiness gap between even this price and the fare that came out. Probably the biggest offender was the corkscrew pasta in the tomato and onion sauce...the picture that you see. Well, I don't think it was that offensive...just a little undercooked. It didn't exactly crunch when I bit into it, but I guess that al in al dente must've meant Al as in Aluminium. The rest of the dishes, which included the appetizer plate of stuff like liverwurst on toast, was OK and perhaps that all-you-can-drink option was well taken advantage of by the two of us, but in the end I thought

that the price was quite worth what we actually got. Of course, I didn't mention that to The Bohemian.

As for The Bohemian, the two of us spent our 2.5 hours there catching up since it had been almost 3 months since our last meeting. At one point, we got onto the topic of the recent spate of celebrity deaths in Japan, including the suicide of that young tarento, Miyu Uehara. The Bohemian made a very interesting comment as he shook his head in bemusement. This 24-year-old hung herself possibly because of her disillusionment over love; meanwhile, The Bohemian openly stated that he's pretty much a loser in life: no job in several years, still lives at home with his parents, no wife and kids, ane well into his 40s, and yet he's still plugging away at it. Not quite sure if I did discover a newfound maturity in him. A bit of pop psychology here, but I had come to the conclusion recently that my old friend is child-like, not childish. In a way, he reminds me of Thomas Jane, the Mentalist, in the way that he can be very abrupt in his questions and comments but without any intention of rudeness. Strangely enough, he didn't unintentionally waylay me at all during dinner but just when I thought I was actually gonna escape one of his stupid little barbs, he gets me on our way back to Shinjuku Station by remarking that I looked like I gained a ton during the past few months, and to add insult to injury, he asked me whether I could find clothes anywhere in my size. And I actually wondered why he couldn't find a girlfriend.