Friday, July 29, 2011

Saturday July 30, 3:50 p.m.

It's approaching 5 months since the big quake and 4 since I came back from my escape to Toronto. Students have come and gone, and I've been keeping an eye on my finances. Not exactly sailing on Easy Street. Sometimes, I just shake my head at what I've come to since arriving in Japan nearly 17 years ago. Sometimes, I get shaken by that feeling of despair and depression that for all of my admittedly not supremely hard efforts over the past decade-and-a-half, I will most likely be heading home with less than what I started with financially. I see a lot of my friends and students over the years getting married and settling down with the kids and mortgages while I've basically stayed constant and I wonder was it all worth it. Certainly, I had never expected a quake as big as this one to hit us this way, and The Big One has been partially responsible for my change in thought about my future in this country. At this point, I still feel that my days are now numbered here in Japan, and I will be heading home with my tail between my legs. I'm not sure if I'll survive the next few months financially especially with the shortfall in income and all the expenses that I'm responsible for. It'll be fairly humiliating to have to be forced to ask my parents for money, especially since they're now both retired.
I'll be telling The Jyuppies tomorrow that I will be going home and most likely in the next few days I'll be telling Speedy himself as well. In a few minutes, I'll have to inform the juku boss that I couldn't find anyone even to be my emergency contact in my (half-hearted) efforts since the application form demands that I have to put down their annual income, and for just such a request, I think demanding to put down an annual income is heavy-handed. If you recall, she's been exhorting me to cut her guarantorship for the past few months since she's planning to get divorced. Again, I'm not keen on this especially since the very basis of being an apartment guarantor in this country is just in case the tenant decides to flee. I've told her that I don't plan on fleeing unless things get VERY bad here and I don't see that happening, but her latent paranoia won't let her agree with me. Well, it's been almost 3 weeks since our last meeting for that monjayaki dinner, and I don't think it's fair on her for me to hold back any longer. She won't like what I will say but I'm not going to ask anyone else for help. It looks like it's everyone for himself/herself now.

Saturday July 30, 11:45 a.m.

It was a bit of a surprise when the news came in yesterday about the untimely death of former Yankees pitcher, Hideki Irabu, despite some of the turmoil that had surrounded him.

His name was plastered in big letters on the tabloid papers such as "Tokyo Sports" all yesterday, and the television also covered his suicide to a certain extent. However, he didn't get the huge attention that perhaps some of his fellow Japanese players would've gotten if they had gone off the mortal coil. Ichiro Suzuki is the genius eccentric, Tsuyoshi Shinjo of The Mets was the cartoonish fop and Hideki Matsui was the jovial lovable slugger.

But unlike his far more popular namesake former teammate on the Yankees, Irabu really didn't amount to much in the biggies although he had made a good name for himself in Japan before making the crossover. Unfortunately, the nickname that I'll always associate with him is "the big fat pussy toad", given by the late and irate George Steinnbrenner when Irabu missed a tag out. My former student, The Lady, whose family had for some reason often consorted with baseball players (including Hideki Matsui), had also met Irabu and found him and his personal reputation riddled with arrogance. And there were some of those stories of him getting into fights and stuff. I also had to laugh somewhat at CNN's description of him "...helping the Yankees to 2 World Series championships". According to Wikipedia, he only pitched in one post-season game with little effect on the outcome. I never got the impression that he did much in his time overseas.

Saturday July 30, 11:36 a.m.

Allow me to show you my dinner from last night. The one on the left here is my famed Open Kim Chi Chicken Sandwich. It's an original...being a bachelor does bring out the culinary creativity in me. I've been concocting this one for years. And as bachelor food, it's a breeze to make. Get some chicken fillets, season them up, dredge them in some cornstarch and fry them in oil for a few minutes on one side. Once you flip them over, dunk the store-bought container of kim chi on them and cover the pan for a few more minutes. Just dump the stuff on two slices of bread. Can't be beat.

The other dish above is some takoyaki from the supermarket. Basically they're squid balls (OK, I sense you out there....stop snickering). Originating from Osaka, they're just orbs of fried dough containing a piece of squid at the centre. They're topped off with some savory-and-sweet sauce, mayo, dried seaweed, pickled ginger and bonito flakes. The fun thing about the flakes is that they take on a seeming sentience when they wave due to the heat emanating from the takoyaki. Nope, not exactly the healthiest dinner in the world (with the possible exception of the kim chi) but hey, it was a Friday night.

Saturday July 30, 11:23 a.m.

I guess this would count as just part of life in this country. This long winding crack is now part of the apartment building across from my place. When I get back home, perhaps I should check out my apartment's exterior, lest one day my building decides to hatch open like a maturing cicada.

In any case, speaking of cracked things, it seems that for the past week, the top 3 economic powers on the planet have been toiling very publicly on their own problems. The US is currently fighting within itself over this supposed debt crisis...D-day is apparently on August 2nd. And The People's Republic of China is battling an increasingly angry population (one doesn't piss off 1 billion people lightly...even in a Communist country) over its handling of the Bullet Train accident. If it weren't so tragic, it would be so laughable...the government was actually trying to literally bury the evidence in front of the mass media's eyes. Then, it went "Oops!" and dug the train back up. I'm just amazed that both the media and the public have been allowed to vent their anger so openly....but I am worried that there may be a Tiannemmen (can't be sure of the spelling) moment and the government will crack down on the dissent like it did in June 1989. Of course, here in Japan, we're still battling a lack of electricity, irradiated beef and petty political battles. Heck, I even saw a government minister cry last night on TV...either he will become a hero in front of the public's eyes or he will end up cast off like a piece of snakeskin.

Yesterday was a day of private students and cafes once again. Mind you, it was just The Godfather and The OL. I had my second lesson this week with The Godfather; it's ironic that he's been enjoying his lessons (he did indeed tell me) considering that after our first meet-and-greet all the way back in January, I'd been under the impression that he was a write-off. As for The OL, we were in a better vantage point for our lesson since we had our own booth, and luckily there was a pair of foreigners nattering away so I was not worried about our voices annoying anyone.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thursday July 28, 7:41 p.m.

Still not in the heat wave range of things temperature-wise but still warm enough to make me reminisce about the gloriously cool days of last week during the reign of Typhoon Ma-On.
Pretty busy for a post-quake day. I've had three lessons nearly back-to-back and just have one more in about 15 minutes...that being the one for Mrs. Thursday. I had The Sisters of State and then a model lesson with a student who will become one of my flock starting officially from next Thursday. She'll be the Bossa Novan. She reminds me of my old student, The Businesswoman, in that she has an interest in bossa nova and plays the guitar. She definitely loves her music since she has frequented a couple of Brazilian places in Nishi-Ogikubo.
Lunch today was up at my favorite Chinese eatery in the basement of the Maynds Tower in Shinjuku.
I saw the Journo doing a spot on his wide show this morning on a murder case involving a young woman with anger issues who had killed another woman whom she had mistakenly assumed dissed her. Definitely haven't gotten any word from him about whether he'll ever come back for my lessons. But then again, the juku is dead and buried.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday July 27, 6:58 p.m.

Don't panic! That's not an infestatation of flatworms in my apartment. It's just a plate of store-bought yakiudon. A very simple concoction of udon noodles pan-fried with veggies and pork...I've been trying to save up on the cash by buying plastic boxes of stuff like this. I guess I could've arranged the dish a bit better, though.

It's another 001-less Wednesday night here at Speedy's although she'll be back next week. I've only got Kirk coming up in a little over an hour from now. The weather is back to warm again with some stickiness in the air but it still hasn't gotten back to the heat wave conditions of a couple of weeks ago. I can stand this stuff and if another typhoon comes up the Pacific coast, that's just plain gravy for me.

Yesterday was all private for me. I had Cozy for a rare Tuesday morning before I headed over to Tsudanuma for The Beehive session. For the first time in about a month, we were back at the community centre instead of Cafe Nard in Funabashi. And for the first time in a while, we had a pretty full turnout. Not only did Travel, Jade and Alp show up but Mrs. Perth dropped in from Hokkaido and Mrs. Tee finally came back after weeks away due to some personal difficulties, namely a battle between a stubborn husband and daughter. Tee indeed lost a good amount of weight from the stress. It was good to see Mrs. Perth as well since it was basically the final time I would see her here in Japan before my final flight home to Canada. So I went with the ladies for lunch and had a good chance to catch up with Perth.

Finally, I met up with The Godfather at our usual cafe in Tameike-Sanno. He's usually late on Fridays but since I had to teach The German at Speedy's last Friday, he got bumped to yesterday afternoon. His new company has gotten off to a promising start. Nothing too big to report but his company seems to one of consulting, and it's gotten itself into the recovery plan of the Tohoku after the March 11 earthquake.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday July 25, 8:21 p.m.

Well, I would like to take this time to thank all of the 34 Malaysians who have been reading this blog. I'm not sure if I can come out to your country to personally shake your hands but duly note that the feeling is there.

In any case, I wrapped up my day with Miss Genki. It was another one of those gab sessions in which we don't touch the text. Luckily, she also has quite a few conversational touchstones. We spoke on those old music shows, "The Best 10" and "The Top 10", a comparison between Japanese manzai comedy and North American sketch comedy, the revelation that famed movie composer Hans Zimmer was the keyboardist for The Buggles' lone hit "Video Killed The Radio Star" and finally her favorite show, "Glee". She, along with thousands of Japanese fans, are hoping that "Glee: The Concert" will make its way across the Pacific. Like me, she has also heard that the characters of Rachel, Finn and Kurt will be phased out after Season 3. I think the powers at Fox may be biting their nails especially at the fact that TV's most popular gay character will be leaving the roost.
Monday July 25, 6:33 p.m.

Well, the heat is starting to return to the Kanto. For about 5 days, thanks to the wonders of Typhoon Ma-On, we had swooningly cool temps but now that the typhoon has spun away, the temps have returned to the more seasonable boiler room levels of a Japanese summer. But although it was warm today and I was sweating a bit as I was making my way back to Speedy's from Mr. Swank's company in Shinjuku, it was a drier heat with not much of the usual humidity to negate our sweat glands' capabilities. We may have a bit of an extension of the good ol' days of last week tomorrow since the forecast calls for rain, but otherwise I believe I'll have to get a re-supply of the Gatsby wipes.

After months of television PSAs warning us about the change from analog to digital, D-Day finally came yesterday at noon. After over half a century of analog broadcasting, the service finally shut down, going totally to digital. Everything and everyone from anime characters to a member of SMAP exhorted all of us about the coming electronic Day of Reckoning and to prepare by having a digital system set up. Supposedly, once noon came, all of those old chassis-tube tellys would be showing just a screen message stating that analog broadcasts have ceased forever. Well, then, can someone tell me why my own 40-year-old TV which is thicker than a young sapling is still broadcasting in analog? I got back from teaching Yajima expecting to play Taps for my little set...but when I pulled the knob (yup, this set is REALLY remote control), NHK was still coming bright and clear while the commercial channels were somewhat fuzzy and flippy. But that's the point, I'm still getting something. The only exceptions to the new regime are the 3 prefectures most affected by the March 11 earthquake: Iwate, Fukushima and Miyagi. Apparently, my little apartment must have gotten upgraded to become the 53rd Japanese province.
Monday July 25, 6:07 p.m.

The last 72 hours since my last entry have had news to keep the pundits talking for several weeks. And here I thought last week with the Murdochs and Nadeshiko Japan was a banner time. We've had the massacre in Norway, the sad but not surprising Amy Winehouse death and that horrible crash in China between the two bullet trains.
On Friday night, I was just doing my couch potato thing in front of the television set when at about 10:30 p.m. JST, the CNN anchor started reporting on explosions in Oslo. At first, I was wondering if she meant Oslo, Iraq or Oslo, Afghanistan. But, nope, it was indeed Oslo, Norway. As the minutes passed, the information started getting more and more dire as the images of a blown-out government centre started getting fed into the network and eyewitness accounts started filtering in. Then, a couple of hours into the bulletin, the news of automatic weapons fire on Utoya Island, some 30 km away from the Norwegian capital, broke in and I started thinking whether Norway was undergoing its own 9-11.
But some 24 hours later, it had become clearer that the horrors in Oslo were less Twin Towers and more Oklahoma City. Obviously, this doesn't make the situation any less terrible, but the comparisons are inevitable between Anders Breivik and Timothy McVeigh. Both seem to be quiet polite men and both have this delusionary belief that society had to be taught a grave lesson. Breivik is supposed to be pleading in court sometime in the next several hours, and I can pretty much guarantee the viewership for this coverage will far outstrip the ratings for the Murdochs in Parliament last Tuesday.
But if I can add my own Japanese angle on this story, watching the hours of coverage of this tragedy in Norway, I was reminded of that March day in 1995 when the apocalyptic cult, Aum Shinrikyo, bombed the Tokyo subways with sarin gas, killing 12, injuring thousands and scaring millions. Again, it was a case of a group of like-minded psychopaths who had felt that society was too sick to survive and so decided to accelerate the process of its downfall.

But within this Venn Diagram of Norwegian horror, a very big circle started forming within. And that was the Amy Winehouse death. As I've said, her passing was sad but not surprising. It just seemed like her demons couldn't and wouldn't let her go and finally dragged her down. All that talent in her voice couldn't override that addiction in her brain. I was never a fan of hers since I'm just not into soul music but I could acknowledge that her singing was one of those one-in-a-million phenomena. Just seems like an utter waste. Apparently, there is a Club 27 out in Wikipedia whose members consist of celebs who left this world at the tender age of 27. I'm just wondering if Lindsay Lohan is gonna be petitioning for her own jacket in this club in the not too distant future.

As for that bullet train crash in China, the Japanese media were covering this accident in bigger detail than they did Oslo or Winehouse. I guess that the bullet train is considered to be a national treasure in this country and the Japanese get rather concerned when one of their own gets involved in something bad.