Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thursday October 20, 9:16 p.m.

Just read on CNN that the so-called "King of Kings" Muammar Khadafy (I don't think we'll ever agree on an internationally acceptable spelling for his name) has been finally captured after The Fall of Sirte. Just when I thought that the Republican debate slapfest of the night before was going to be the biggest news of the week... Well, I'll see if it's true or not when I hit home in about 2 hours.
Had another good session with Mrs. Thursday. As usual, we went through the various shows such as "NCIS". I also found out that she's a big fan of the original "CSI". She kinda had a bit of a shock when I revealed to her that Lawrence Fishburne was gonna replace the guy who had played Grissom...yep, we're pretty behind with that show over here, too.
Anyways, I'm getting ready to head home. I've got crickets chirping outside... If I ever get any Libyan readers, I'll send my congratulations to them.
Thursday October 20, 5:51 p.m.
I'll tell you...that Kimono Nurse is a barrel of laughs. Just by using one picture that I've gone over so many times in that textbook, the two of us managed to create a running gag routine that could've ended up on a Second City stage. Too bad that I know our time is limited. And then The German had our usual banter for the hour. Not sure how much longer the two of us can go without a text, though. I think we may have already broken a personal best. And Mrs. Thursday and I often ad lib a lot in our lessons, too. I don't think the bossman will like any of this talk but I just have to go with my gut on this one.
Tomorrow, I've just got The Bass and then Swank. It'll be nice to have a night off. Plus, the 2nd season premiere of "Fringe" starts up.
A rather interesting incident on the news this morning that's gotten the morning media worked up. Somewhere in Japan, some lady opened an envelope and it exploded on her. She survived although she's got burns on her face and hands. Of course, my former student, The Journo is on the case. But now we may have media covering this like the American media did for that anthrax scare immediately after 9/11 10 years ago.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Thursday October 20, 1:11 p.m.

Over the weekend, I'd received a kind birthday gift from The Satyr and Miss Ivory via a gift certificate from Well, of course, that meant online shopping for CDs. And one came in pretty lickety-split. It was another Taeko Onuki...this one titled "Aventure". It's a 1981 release, between Onuki's musical re-birth album of "Romantique" and her most accomplished album "Cliche". "Romantique" showed Onuki going full throttle into her European mode while in "Cliche", she specified that into a more Franco-centric bent. So, "Aventure", despite the title, is a bit surprising that it's notably poppier although a few of her songs on the album (notable for the fact that they got on her Best albums) keep that Gallicness going. A couple of songs almost sound as if Onuki was channeling her contemporary, Yumi Matsutoya. There's one tune in particular with the very poppy and cliche title of "Chance" that would have sounded perfect as a theme song for a light TV drama. Probably for that reason, I think the album kinda dips a bit between the two more significant releases. Still, it's Taeko Onuki, so a fine album.

I've got three coming up today for lessons. The Kimono Nurse should be here in about 40 minutes, followed by The German (who is another nurse) and then Mrs. Thursday. So, it should be a pretty nice day. Earlier I actually went down to Shibuya to sell a couple of books at Book Off. I thought I would at least get enough money for a Big Mac set. Well...even with a 20% increased money back coupon, I got the grand total of 12 yen...for both books. I think I could've gotten one of those tiny blocks of chocolates that sell by the cash register of a conbini, but that was about it. If that's the case, I just wonder if it's better for me to just dump the rest of my books into a garbage bag.

Then, it was off to Tower Records to get a 5,000-yen gift certificate for The Satyr in return for his birthday kindness. Actually, his birthday is today.

Wednesday October 19, 5:19 p.m.

Finished dinner here. My day has been pretty easy. I had The Businesswoman for the first time in about a month. She was at the end of her current contract and when I saw her bring some nice little confectionaries, I kinda figured that that was it for her. I usually assume someone bringing cakes at the end of a contract as a farewell gift. However, she actually did decide to renew although she will probably only be able to come monthly....which means in all likelihood that I'll only one more time to see her before I leave.

I've got 001 and Kirk for the first time in a few weeks as well, so probably lots to talk about and maybe very little textwork.

I hear "Fringe" is heading into its 4th season Stateside. Over here in Japan, we're just going to get the 2nd season premiere this Friday. So, no mention of Fauxlivia or Walternate, and Charlie Francis is still very much alive. The show has become quite popular here in Japan since shows about the strange and bizarre are always welcome in a country that often celebrates the same. I haven't been able to catch all the episodes in Season 1, including the pilot but I've become quite faithful as of late.

The Carolinan has introduced me to who will most likely be my very last student in this country. The lass is well aware that I won't be staying here too much longer but she apparently still needs some help in Business English, so if everything is cool, I'll see her in Shinjuku next Tuesday night.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wednesday October 19, 3:58 p.m.

Now that I'm in the last two months of my life in Japan, I thought I can start talking about things that I will miss and things that I won't miss about this country. Of course, paramount on the former list is friends and students, but I'll probably give a tear-soaked tribute near the end in December.
As it is, I'll start off with the more conceptual stuff. For example, this picture is indicative of what I will definitely miss about life in Ichikawa, and that is safety. This picture was taken on one of the roads leading to my neighbourhood; that is the Tozai Line subway overpass on the left there. And as you can see, it was taken around 10 p.m. No people in there but that's a bit of an illusion since tons of people leave my station right up to the end of the subway schedule past midnight. I was just walking along the road in the lull moments between commuter disgorgings. But the point I'm making is that even on a desolate street at that time of night, I can walk home confidently safe without having to turn my head or putting a grip on my house keys as if they were a weapon. I can't say that on a similar street even in Toronto my hometown. In my 17 years in this city, I've never been mugged or accosted by street punks (my fist is banging down heavily on something wooden as I write this) on my 10-minute walk home.
Mind you, not too far away, there was that murder a few years ago involving Lindsay Ann Hawker, the British English teacher who had been killed by that deranged young man who had lived just a few blocks over from my apartment. There were some tense weeks immediately after the discovery of the body and the escape by the suspect, but it was back to normal soon after. I could still walk home safely at midnight even on the relatively dimly lit street in front of my apartment.

Something I won't miss about Japan? The summers in Tokyo. That's a no-brainer there. Swimming through atmosphere is something that I'll never appreciate. 35-degree C plus temperatures with 80% humidity...a deadly combination which demands a lot of handkerchiefs, Gatsby wipes and frequent stopovers at the nearby vending machines (of which there are many) for much needed juice. Initially, I thought that I wouldn't survive this summer due to the energy conservation policy in effect, made in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. But strangely enough, I could survive not turning on the AC even though I had to relent for The Egg's sake when he crashed in my apartment. My TEPCO bill was far lower and my fan kept me alive.
Toronto may have its own days of heat wave but it doesn't have them on a long continuous streak starting from July and going into September. Getting back to the ol' hometown may have me appreciating a good ol' Canadian Summer even more.
Wednesday October 19, 1:17 p.m.

Not sure if it had been the fact that the bossman had wanted to give tribute to my past birthday or that he'd felt guilty that I'd ended up at the school just a few minutes after The MedTech had dotakyan'ed last night, but last night he and his wife treated me to a steak dinner at this place. Steak dinner...on the house?! I am SO there!
The place is called Teppei and it's just across the street from our school in Nakano-Sakaue. Judging from the exterior, it seems to have that country house type of feel.

Now, steak in Japan is different from steak in the States. It's not that one big hunk that everyone sees in movies. It's often cut apart into little pieces like in Benihana and heavily spiced with salt, pepper and soy. And there were no onions or potatoes alongside. Instead, it was a leaf of lettuce and shredded cabbage topped off with dressing. Also, considering that the Japanese supposedly have one of the healthiest diets on the planet, the chefs sure like to grease the grills with butter and they even put a nice little pat on the steak after grilling it.

My 250 g (about 8 oz.) came with a sesame dipping sauce. Really nice and buttery meal...with a heaping bowl of rice. Yep, I know...8 oz sounds like a woman's portion. Teppei does have much larger portions and I would've gone for the heftier, more American size but I didn't want to break the bossman's bank.

The place itself is pretty puny...only 6 seats at the counter by the open kitchen and a bench in back that holds perhaps another 6. It was almost full when we came in but luckily there were 3 empty seats at the counter. Perfect! And it certainly had atmosphere. Incandescent lighting, the smell of sizzling beef and Sarah Vaughan singing in the background. Plus there was the sullen lone chef cooking away in his very lived-in kitchen. The bossman had told me about this place before...and about the chef. He's not mean or anything, but he has all the outer warmth of Mr. Spock. You give him the order, he cooks it, he serves it, you eat it, you pay him and you take off. Given the size of Teppei, I don't think he can really afford to have customers lounging too long in the restaurant. High turnover is a necessity here. Not surprisingly, there is no coffee served. Still it was a fine free meal. I may have to inform Skippy and MB about it although I think they are definitely more the lounge-and-chat types.

Tuesday October 18, 7:42 p.m.

As I said, my day has come to a quicker-than-expected end. At this time, I would've been in the middle of teaching The MedTech but she did cancel rather suddenly. It was a pretty long but good day. I had Cozy for an atypical Tuesday morning lesson followed by a rush over to Cafe Nard in Funabashi for my regular session with The Beehive. I got my belated birthday present from Mrs. Jade in the form of a Gucci velvet tie...I don't think I'll be turning into Isaac Hayes anytime soon, though. The ladies surprised me by wondering if I would be interested in going to Okinawa for a visit there to see Mrs. Pottery, our former colleague in the Hive. Even with them paying my tab there, I just can't see it happening seeing how things are starting to close down in my life here.
Heading home, there was one of those demented fellows who occasionally end up on either the Sobu or Tozai Lines. He was some scrawny middle-aged guy dressed up like a hip-hop kid screaming obscenities. Yup, we do have them here, too. Just crashed at my place for about 90 minutes before I made my way out for my next pair of lessons. Stopped off at Maruzen in Otemachi and ended up picking up an "Entertainment Weekly" when I was stunned to see that it only cost 903 yen. My favorite mags there usually cost more than twice the price there which is why I only get the foreign periodicals at Tower Records.
I got to Tully's in Tameike-Sanno over an hour before I was to meet The Godfather, partially in penance for last week's blunder. When he did show up, he quickly batted away any apology and just went straight into talk. I can only consider myself extremely lucky at his generosity.
And then I got through the rush on the Marunouchi Line to get over here to find out that my final class got canned. But Speedy asked me if I would like to try a nearby steak place with him and his wife. I'll never say NO! to steak in any burg.
Tuesday October 18, 7:30 p.m.
Well, my fairly busy day came to an abrupt end as soon as I came into Speedy's and Mrs. Speedy told me sheepishly that The MedTech had done a dotakyan (that's a slang term for sudden cancellation for my new Israeli viewer...shalom, by the way.) So I've been getting some odds and ends out of the way...answering e-mail, responding to comments on Facebook and writing letters informing about my impending departure from these shores. However, I would like to talk a bit about the second half of my rather interesting Sunday. The first half you have come across via my report on my visit to the Rabbit Cafe in Harajuku. The second half entailed meeting up with MB and The Satyr, plus their significant others in front of the famous LaForet Store nearby to line up for Eggs N' Things, that very popular pancake-and-breakfast place that had come over from its native Hawaii early last year.

I don't know why but this picture looks like it was taken in broad daylight but actually it was already past sunset as we were waiting on this side street. Yes, that is indeed a lineup to get into Eggs N' Things. When this place opened up last year, the line was reported to be 2 hours long. Luckily, 75% has been shaved off and we only needed to let our stomachs grumble for 30 minutes. In this country, a restaurant isn't worth a gold star if there is no sign of waiting.

Now, that is indeed a fine Sunday breakfast...on Sunday night. Eggs over easy, seasoned roast potatoes, Spam and corned beef hash. I would line up just for that.

But Eggs N' Things' claim to fame is the pancakes. This is the banana variation: five flapjacks powdered with sugar, decorated in sliced bananas and then topped off with a huge mound of whipped cream and chopped macadamia nuts. The cream wasn't actually too treacly. Pretty light and not too sweet.

This could be called The Leaning Tower of Pancakes....or a dessert in need of some Viagra (ahem).

In any case, with all of us sharing in the fun food, we only had to pay about 1,850 yen per person. For dinner in this part of town, that's a bargain!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday October 17, 8:41 p.m.

Over the years, cafe culture has become one of the more burgeoning aspects of Japanese pop and urban culture. Thanks to Starbucks, it became safe to actually wean oneself away from the green tea and become coffeeholics. Then, things further diversified over the last few years with things like Maid Cafes. Now, we've got animal-themed cafes. And Skippy took me and The Wedding Planner to one such place hidden in the side streets of Harajuku, known as a rabbit cafe. So, let me introduce you to Ra.a.g.f. Don't even ask me how they came up with that name.

Ra.a.g.f. is not really a cafe in the conventional sense. It's more rabbit than cafe in that it's really a 1K apartment in a building with a lot of cages with bunnies and a lot of free-range rabbits. I basically had to shuck out 1,000 yen along with a 100-yen feed fee which got me free drinks and rabbit food. There was one other party besides us which you can see here. A bit of a tight fit so reservations are absolutely a must. And the maximum time of stay is one hour. Apparently, there are a lot of rabbit fans in this burg.

Here's one cottontail who got a little interested in my camera. Perhaps a bit Pavlovian in that they've gotten used to getting their food from the tips of fingers. As soon as I activated my camera, the rabbits started going for the lens.

There was another rabbit who just couldn't get enough greens and carrots, and so basically decided to jump for the entire bowl.

It was a nice experience for the hour being among these bunny fans but I think the hour was good enough to get that rabbit fix in.

Of course, there was the question of the bunny bombs, if you know what I mean. Yep, there were plenty of those being dropped like land mines. So, we were fortunate that raisin bread and chocolate-chip cookies weren't on the menu. But the three staffers just nonchalantly picked up the turds with their bare hands. Then again, rabbits eat only vegetation so the smell wasn't any problem at all for these guys.

Saturday October 17, 6:13 p.m.
After paying tribute at The Temple of Jobs on Saturday morning, I went a few blocks north to Yurakucho and into the building known as Marronnier Gate (where they get these names is beyond me) and up to the 11th floor where I was to meet The Teahouse Ladies for one final swan song chat fest before I head on home to The Great White North.
Our target was The Singapore Seafood Republic, a buffet restaurant, a culinary phenomenon that has become commonplace in the last 15 years here.

One of the few times that I will ever visually identify folks in my little world. These are two-thirds of the Teahouse Ladies.

Our table had a nice view of the Swiss Cheese-like exterior of the Mikimoto Building.

Not the largest buffet that I'd ever come across (the legendary Farm Grill which closed its doors for good almost 10 years ago will always be the benchmark for me), but it suited our purposes. And I will try it again sometime between now and December.

Monday October 17, 6:08 p.m.
Was walking through Ginza when I came across the Apple Store. Not surprisingly, it was continuing to be The Temple of Jobs with folks lining up to get their iPhone 4S and paying tribute to the man himself. The message says it all.

A lot of apples for the teacher here.

And the acolytes have been lining up down the Ginza for several hours.