Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mad for Wings

Snow at Spadina Station
Wednesday February 29, 6:57 p.m.

Yep, it's a Leap Day that I get to make this entry...I only get to do it once every four years (not that I have a choice in the matter). And it's also Half-Price Wings Day at the Madison Ave. Pub near U of T.  I got to meet Shard for lunch and conversation there. As you can see, we actually got an atypical bout of heavy snow...for this year, at least. Until today, it just seemed that Japan was getting all of our white stuff. Apparently, they still did.

A Madison breakfast platter 
A pot of gravy...or embryonic cholesterol.

It was Half-Price Wings!
Yup, I took advantage of the inexpensive order of hot wings....meaty and saucy. Plus, gravy with the fries is an absolute must. And the blue cheese sauce with the wings and the veggie sticks pretty much sealed my coronary for this year. Shard had the breakfast platter which included a fairly hefty omelette.

As usual, we had a good talk on music and blogging. He has been my advisor on my music blog, and I've picked up another follower. I should be reaching 500 pageviews by tomorrow hopefully.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Uh....A Little Help, Guys?

Tuesday February 28, 10:37 p.m.

Man, that old localized joke of Toronto being the only city where the Leafs fall in Spring is coming back, like acid reflux, to haunt me and just about everybody in T.O. and everybody in the ACC dressing room.

It's becoming a disturbing trend in which the game begins on TV, I switch the channel for just a few minutes and then when I switch back, it's already 1-0 for the other team. And the Maple Leafs lose the game. 9 losses in 10 games! Still, you gotta feel something for the oft-acerbic Ron Wilson; it was his 1,400th game as an NHL coach and ends up hearing his name being screamed by an angry Leaf Nation next to the word "FIRE". Haven't heard that in decades.

The commentators are wondering aloud about the same thing although they wouldn't use the F word. The interviewed players sounded absolutely shellshocked, just dumbly repeating the same phrases of just plugging away until the goals go in. And most tellingly, Wilson himself seemed almost funereal in the post-game news conference; no energy or fire, even when one reporter dared to bring up the "Fire Wilson"chant.

Tis a sad night for ice hockey in Toronto...even for the Maple Leafs.

Rebuilding Springs Eternal

Tuesday February 28, 9:57 a.m.

Do you remember this game? I don't. I wasn't even two years old. But that was the last time I existed when the Toronto Maple Leafs won a Stanley Cup. It's unimaginable to me to see any hockey player in a blue-and-white uniform with a big maple leaf with North American hockey's biggest prize in his hands. But apparently, the Leafs were once winners in 1967. Then again, the Montreal Canadiens were even more legendary and look where they are now.

I was watching two sports channels' worth of commentators yesterday grumbling and snarking off about how quiet the NHL trade deadline was (until the last few minutes, that is). 10 hours of that?! Whose bright idea was that? Incredible waste of time. I can understand the NHL Draft in June since the GMs and the coaches and the new players have to be there. There is no such compulsion on the last official day of trading. Get back to reporting and commentating on other things, TSN and SportsCentre.

But I digress. The point is that an entire generation has never witnessed the Cup come to Toronto and has barely seen a decent year of Maple Leafs' hockey (with the exception of that one year in the early 90s when Pat Burns almost got them into the finals). And I missed out completely on the Sundin Years. I left The Great White North when Dougie Gilmour was the captain...I come back, it's a fellow by the name of Dion Phaneuf. But it seems as if things are still the same....frustration in T.O. while the rest of Canada guffaws at us.

It's frustrating because the team hasn't really changed. I've seen these guys go on a hot streak and everything is happy/happy/joy/joy. But then these guys suddenly just collapse en masse like a massive house of cards assaulted by a stiff breeze. The Leafs are and have been so bizarrely streaky....for years. Perhaps I can understand Brian Burke's virtual non-action yesterday...whoever comes here (including Rick Nash) would probably end up in the same existential loop of streakiness. It's almost as if some warlock or witch had secretly placed a curse on the team all the way back in '67, which could go some way in explaining why even Burke and Ron Wilson, supposedly seen-it-all veterans, haven't been able to get The Leafs into the playoffs, let alone all the way to the finals.

I've got a couple of friends on Facebook who are part of The Leafs Nation...probably the most optimistic fans on the planet. I would love to be a citizen someday but right now I'm gonna hold off on any thoughts of emigration.

courtesy of Scott Sillcox of Flickr

Monday, February 27, 2012

Crystal Clear

courtesy of zennie62 of Flickr
Monday February 27, 2:36 p.m.

Well, saw my first Oscar ceremony in decades, and my very first in its entirety ever. Just to see how Billy Crystal fared...coming in from the cold, so to speak.
Actually, it was pretty pain-free, all things told. Not an arduous experience as it clocked in at 3 hours and 15 minutes...pretty zippy for an Oscars considering what some of these marathons have been like in the past....and a good part of it is due to Crystal.
I would give Billy a B or B+. He would've gotten an A if that creaky opening montage and song routine had been excised or actually funny. I know that this was something that had been used before to good effect, but after watching it, it just seemed that it has passed its best-by date. And the thing about him coming back as the host being woven into the montage seemed a bit too self-congratulatory for my tastes.
Still, considering what I've heard about recent hosts for the Oscars such as last year's Anne Hathaway and James Franco, having Billy Crystal come back for another stab at the podium was an injection of comfort and security.
It was great to see Canadian Christopher Plummer get his Oscar at last, Angelina Jolie show her right leg, and "The Artist"get its due as the first Best Movie since the very first Best Movie to get the top prize as a silent movie. It's the only nominee of the bunch that I would actually look forward to seeing.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Daytona and Oscar....No, Not a New FOX Sitcom

courtesy of Mark Vidreiro

courtesy of Cinesystem

Sunday February 26, 5:20 p.m.

It was a great day for NASCAR-loving movie buffs....or it would've been if the Daytona 500 hadn't been cancelled...yep, for the first time in its history, I got to see a bunch of well-suited ex-drivers have a televised reunion for over 4 hours; the only thing missing was 4 tumblers of Jack Daniels and ice. A pity...I haven't seen this race in a couple of decades due to my odyssey that was Japan. Remember that Tokyo is 14 hours ahead of the East Coast...any American races would be taking place in the middle of the night in Asia. Still, it's been re-scheduled for tomorrow at noon, and since I'm currently unemployed, I will have the opportunity to still catch it. But I have to say that today was the longest pre-show coverage I'd ever seen; even the Super Bowl pre-show coverage wasn't that long.

Still, unless an Al Qaeda attack takes place, the Oscars will go on ahead as scheduled. There's another long pre-show sequence in store there. Again, I never got to see the Oscars since it's Monday morning in Japan, and at the time I actually did get to work regularly. And what good timing. Billy Crystal will be back as the may be the first time that the remaining 3 hours and 40 minutes of the ceremony may be upstaged by his 5-minute opening. Not really sure if a Whitney Houston tribute is warranted there, though. After all, she was a singer first and actress far second.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dashiell Hammett

 Saturday February 25, 1:41 p.m.

It's been a Dashiell Hammett afternoon on Turner Movies. I saw the entirety of "After the Thin Man", a few hours ago, and it's been "The Maltese Falcon"right now.

Some years ago, I'd caught the former movie in its last 5 minutes, so I knew that the mad killer was  none other than a youthful Jimmy Stewart, getting his first really meaty role in Hollywood, a few years before "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". It was a fun 2 hours considering the age of the flick (it's a year older than my Dad); although the banter wasn't quite as spitfire as I'd been led to believe (legend tends to overstretch even the best of things), I enjoyed it for the chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy (Nick and Nora Charles), and just for all of the 30s atmosphere...I've been a long fan of the old movies dating back to the Chaplin silents. The cornball "Hi ya doin', Toots?"dialogue, the Art Deco and the fashion have always appealed to me although I am very much aware of what the times were like economically and racially. I would like to see the original movie sometime.

courtesy of cinema_lasuperlativ2 of Flickr
As for Hammett's magnum opus, "The Maltese Falcon", I have it on the special anniversary DVD, so I've already seen it a couple of times already, so I'm typing this entry as the TV is playing it behind me. And really, the only good time to watch a film noir is at night, not in broad daylight.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Kata Kori (肩こり)

Friday February 24, 2:57 p.m.

Last night, I told you folks about YouTube's masseur-in-chief, Baba The Cosmic Barber, in India. Well, YouTube is also well populated with tons of videos of masseurs and masseuses plying their trade in Japanese clinics. Unlike here in Toronto...or probably anywhere else in Canada...these clinics are almost on every corner in the Kanto. I ought to know...I used to frequent one of these places back in my old neighbourhood in Ichikawa City, Chiba.

I could describe it to you in writing, but going with the adage that one single picture is worth a thousand words, I'll give you a whole ton of pictures running for a few minutes. My title refers to a worldwide ailment: stiff shoulders. The Japanese treat it almost as a devil to be stomped...or rubbed gently away...via the temple that is the local massage clinic.

I used to go to mine once every two weeks for a 10-minute session for a thousand yen. Not expensive at all. I did stop it a few years ago when I wondered how effective it really all was. Part of the problem is that I had different masseurs on almost every visit. Some were good and could untie those knots, but others treated my back as a testing ground to see how far their fingers could stretch out my chest. So, all in all, it came out rather average.

Still, now that I'm back in Toronto, I sometimes wish that I could get any sort of rubdown. Those cats doing massages on YouTube are even looking pretty good right now.

Second Wind

Friday February 24, 2:25 p.m.

About this time yesterday, I was feeling as high as a centipede's belly. I had that brief exchange of opinions with my parents about banking procedures in the morning, pretty much hollowed out my new bank account with the money owed to Nippon Express, and was starting to feel the strain of staying home a lot without a regular job. Did NOT feel like writing about anything, although I think that's where my future may lie.

Fortunately, that much-vaunted snowstorm that CP24 and all of the other Toronto networks had been warning about (although one of the weather specialists was hedging his bets by saying ", it's not a done deal just yet...) turned out to be a mere drizzle so far so that Dad and I could go to the mall. I ended up reading magazines in the local library when I read the latest issue of "MacLeans"and came across an article which featured fashion journalist and amateur tailor J.J. Lee. He has just won some prize for non-fiction because of his book, "The Measure of a Man". There was an excerpt from the book in which he talks about his father and his epiphany about the importance of being well-dressed. Just from the excerpt alone, I extrapolated that his book would be a good was descriptive but not wordy or jargonized, and yet he could give insight on a topic that most of us wouldn't be too sussed about...just looking good for the day.

And I thought...yes, I can do this, too. I may never win a prize for it but all I want is just to be able to make a living out of it, if possible. My experience teaching a couple of weeks ago has made me wonder if it is time for that sea change.

Just before dinner last night, in my ugly mood, I managed to look up a couple of websites where budding writers could try some stuff out for some pittance. There were"Suite 101" and "Yahoo Voices"(formerly, Associated Content). I haven't applied yet since I wanted to get a feel for what it was like to write for these guys. I came across a lot of emotional reviews from both sides of the aisle for both sites. Mind you, the most recent broadsides seemed to have been back in 2009. But we shall see. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Cosmic Barber

Thursday February 23, 11:05 p.m.

I only put this in Humdrum, since I treat it like anyone else's Miscellaneous. But I'll have to confess to all of you that I'm a fan of massage videos on YouTube. Now, that I'm back in Toronto, it's even more difficult to find a masseur that won't charge an arm and a leg...and I simply can't even afford a finger right now. Plus barbers over here don't have the custom of rubbing scalps and shoulders.

So I see vicariously by watching various massage videos on YouTube. And this is the star: Baba The Cosmic Barber of Pushkar, India. This original video was put up almost 4 years ago, and since then a few more have gone up, and he's even earned himself a Facebook tribute page. When I first viewed this video, I thought the guy was a royal nutjob with his WHOOOSHING noises as he tried to bring down the spirits to infuse into this fellow's scalp as he gave it a good rubbing down. But the customer apparently doesn't mind, and it looks like Baba gives a mighty fine massage. I would love to head down and get one of his spiritual jobs (just hope he sucks on Tic Tacs before he does his stuff), but I'm not a good traveler at all, and I don't think India is for novices. So, I'll just be happy with his appearances on the Net. Maybe he can get on Letterman someday.

Slightly Stressed

Thursday February 23, 1:13 p.m.

It's been one of those mornings...finally paid the piper, i.e. VISA, since I had that hefty bill to Nippon Express for my moving expenses. But just before I headed over to the bank, both my parents asked and then chided me for not getting a passbook. When I insisted that the guy who had helped set up my new account never gave me one back in December, Mom looked incredulous and annoyed, which automatically got me internally's a Pavlovian response developed through years of training.

In any case, I went over to the bank with Dad in tow, just in case any trouble arose. As it turned out, the young clerk informed me that the bank is no longer in the business of giving out passbooks, so there was no trouble. Mom, who never likes to lose an argument, gave a short but somewhat frosty "Ah, so?"when I told her what happened (I was civil, I assure you). Still, I got a bit of the stick for proving that I was part of the working poor and that I just had to find any sort of job at the earliest opportunity.

Sometimes, I just can't win....

Passbooks are still used with abandon in Japan. I've brought my UFJ passbook over from there. And they come in designer covers of beloved cartoon characters. When UFJ used to be Sanwa Bank so many years ago before a couple of mergers, my old passbook had Peanuts characters since Snoopy is pretty much a god in Japan. My current one has the Disney characters. The crazy thing is that at selected ATMs in Tokyo, if a passbook gets all used up, the ATM can offer to make a new one for you right on the spot, and of course, with your choice of cover.

Still, I'm happy that I don't have to worry about passbooks anymore in Toronto. I think we've killed enough trees already for the banking industry.

The only other stressor right now is that I actually got my first bona fide comment on my other blog, but it may be a troll. The "Anonymous"tag was my Yellow Alert, but although he/she was blunt in his/her question, he/she was polite enough. I sent him/her a polite but friendly enough response, so I'm seeing what his/her next response is.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

From the police blotter of Japan

courtesy of Simsie of Flickr
Wednesday February 22, 2:47 p.m.

As I've said before many a time, crime is not all that common in Tokyo when taking into consideration the population and its density. But sometimes what crime there pretty bizarre. I found out from NHK that there had been a stabbing incident right at the height of the evening rush hour at Shibuya Station last night.

Some 70-year-old woman, who had been squatting by the lockers in the station, decided to knife a woman a decade her junior because, in her own words, "she was staring at me". The senior citizen would-be killer got her three times in the shoulder and side while commuters fled from the scene and before the cops showed up. I recognized the area of the crime since I used to walk through the station a fair amount in the past. I saw the awnings for the Tokyu Department Store and the interior walkway between the West and East wings of the station. Never would've thought that a geriatric crime would take place in the Teen Mecca of the country.

Then there have been the starving deaths of a couple of households over the past few days. A couple of elderly parents and a middle-aged son were found partially mummified in their apartment some months after they had died. And there was news of a 45-year-old woman and her 4-year-old mentally disabled son who were found in their apartment...some weeks after they had died alone.

Not Easy

Wednesday February 22, 2:33 p.m.

It's been 9 weeks since I made my exodus back to Toronto after 17 years in Japan. And frankly, I've been feeling like I'm in a rather undesirable Limbo. But do I regret coming back to Toronto? No, not really. I was slowly leaking money away there, and my parents weren't getting any younger waiting for me to come back home, so getting back to the ol' hometown was the thing to do.

However, it's not easy when I haven't had an obvious source of income for over 2 months. I say "obvious" since although I am teaching Mr. Moriya via Skype on alternating Saturdays, and I'm gonna make a small windfall from Cozy with all of those translation assignments, my parents haven't seen me go out the door to head to that school to teach regular lessons. I did have those 3 days a couple of weeks ago, but I'm frankly not too sure that I'm gonna be asked back all that often...or ever, considering that lousy second day. I wouldn't mind so much except that I'm starting to feel mighty guilty about relying on my retired parents' limited income for shelter and food day after day.

It would be nice if I could make my two blogs work for me and actually generate some sort of income, but that's a bit optimistic, and if there's one thing I'm not, it's an optimist.

Aside from Cozy, Mr. Jyuppie and The OL have kept in contact with me. While The Jyuppies are getting prepped for hay fever season, it seems like The OL has been going through the usual travails at her job. And she mentioned that her otaku-like sister's health has been "ruined". Not sure if she were using the wrong word, but that sounds rather serious.

Foodie Day

Classic Breakfast at Eggsmart

Strawberry/Azuki Bean/Custard Shake at Lambie
Wednesday February 22, 1:50 p.m.

Monday was officially Family Day in Ontario and other selected provinces in the country; the first time I've ever come across this holiday. We have something similar in Japan called Marine Day in late July. In either case, it's a chance to get those extra hours of sleep.
But as for me, it was Foodie Day. The Anime King, who's also a fellow foodie, and I went out for a day of noshing in the northern parts of the GTA. Our first stop was at Eggsmart near Kennedy and the 401, where we had the Classic Breakfast of sausages, potatoes, eggs and toast. If there is something that a foodie metropolis like Tokyo really needs, it's an all-day breakfast place. We also had the added benefit of having half a dozen cops noshing away at their brunches in the restaurant, so even in Scarborough, I think we were in the safest eatery in the city for that time.
There was an afternoon stop at a Second Cup. By that time, the Anime Bishop had joined us for coffee. And then dinner came around. We went to Saigon Star up at around Highway 7 in Richmond Hill. Their specialty is Curry Crab, and that's what we got: one big crab slathered in special curry sauce. I'm usually not a crab fan since I'm just too lazy to use the nutcrackers to crack open the shell, but I made an exception for this one since the mixture of crab juice and curry made for quite an exquisite culinary experience.
Curry Crab, a specialty at Saigon City

Then, we finally got our fourth member, the Anime Rook, after dinner when we all got together at Lambies, a Hong Kong-style cafe in the same area of Richmond Hill. My drink was an Iced Honey Tea...not the most exciting drink to take a photo of although it was good to have, especially after loading up on all that crab, but I did take a picture of The Anime Bishop's choice, a typically Asian milkshake of strawberry, azuki beans and custard. I wouldn't see this in Japan, but it would sound just at home in Vietnam.

I didn't spend too much for the entire day. About $50 for everything. However, my intake of calories probably went through the roof.

Did find out the inevitable truth about The Anime Chamberlain. He's basically persona non grata now from the court. Not too surprised...the King said that the exiled noble was frankly sounding too condescending for his liking anymore.

Friday, February 17, 2012

My First Paycheck

Friday February 17, 8:32 p.m.

Well, about a week after doing my 3 days at the school, I actually got a receipt telling me how much I'd earned for my time there. It was actually somewhat more than I'd expected, and I'm glad that they're doing direct deposit. Considering how quickly it got to me, I'm not quite sure if they're just kissing me off. Well, we'll just have to see if there are any further SOS calls.

I've also gotten started on doing my final tax return for Japan. Since I started my freelance English-teaching business several years ago, I've been very diligent in recording any sort of income and expense for deduction purposes. And I brought the ledger back with me, so it was time-consuming but not difficult. I found out because of the drop in revenue due to the effects of the quake last year, I will definitely not be paying nearly as much tax as I did last year. Not to say that I paid a whole lot, but the amount will be smaller.

Actually doing the paperwork for the tax return isn't all that difficult at all, and just about every salaried employee in a company in Japan will never have to put pen to paper or even touch a key when it comes to taxes. The accounting department does all the heavy lifting.


Friday February 17, 8:26 p.m.

Last Friday, when I made that trek to my former student's condo in Missisauga, I received some traditional sweets from her for my parents. Those are it to the left of you. And before I get any snide comments about dung beetles invading my home, I'll let you know that they are o-hagi. They're kinda like an inside-out version of typical Japanese pastries in that the anko (sweet bean paste), which is usually the filling, is actually the covering. Inside is a core of mashed mochigome, rice for making mochi rice cakes. They are very chewy and glutinous, and admittedly they are an acquired taste, even amongst the Japanese. But I'm OK with them, although they will never replace apple pie in my heart and stomach.

Imperial News

courtesy of rentasimages from Flickr

Friday February 17, 8:09 p.m.

The news this morning on NHK was about Emperor Akihito's impending heart bypass surgery in a few hours. Not surprisingly, it got full court press, including what the procedure will involve. It's just as if Queen Elizabeth or President Obama were going under the knife. The press was asking who's gonna be holding the reins of power in the interim. For about a couple of weeks, Crown Prince Naruhito will be taking care of his father's duties at the Imperial Palace and abroad. 

But frankly speaking, probably most people under the age of 40 wouldn't care very much, although I did see a few teens appear at a special table set up for well-wishers to write their messages for the ailing sovereign. While the British Royal Family have stayed in the news due to the various travails and glamour amongst the members, the Imperial Family have pretty much kept to themselves, except when visiting the odd museum or reassuring the affected people in Fukushima and Miyagi Prefectures, amongst other places. But I think that's how they would like things to be.

The other big news is in the halls of Nagatacho, and this item will capture everyone's attention. PM Noda's Cabinet has come to some sort of agreement on how the consumption tax (Japan's version of the 13% here in Ontario) will be raised. It looks like the current 5% will be upped to 8% in April 2014 before it gets bumped up even further to 10% in the following year. But it's one thing to get Cabinet approval; now Noda has to fight it out with the rest of Parliament. And just like in the States, it's pretty polarized.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


 Thursday February 16, 4:36 p.m.

Well, the saying goes that you get what you pay for. Just kinda wished that The Mandarin had followed that rule. Back on Sunday, my family took out Dad for his birthday dinner. And the Mandarin is not exactly the default choice, but over the years, they've taken him out to one of Toronto's culinary institutions (yes, I realize I'm saying this somewhat tongue-in-cheek). This was my first time taking him out in almost 2 decades.
 Maybe I've just gotten spoiled on the really good stuff that The Anime King has introduced me to during our periodic dim sum runs, but I just found most of the fare at The Mandarin a bit off in taste. Not sure what it was, but I wasn't particularly satisfied. I did two rounds of the buffet tables, and I actually cried Uncle after that; these days, I do two rounds just so that my stomach doesn't end up an Alien launching pad but I still get that desire to go a third round. Not this time...2 rounds was plenty for me; after that, I just went up to get a slice of apple pie, which was the only thing that tasted good.
 Mind you, the wonton soup wasn't too bad.
Thanks, Mandarin, but shucking out $40 to you (I was chipping for Dad's portion) was a bit of a shame. Then again, my parents were just chomping down on the crab legs big time. Jerusalem is still the buffet to beat for me.


courtesy of [Jim] at Flickr
Thursday February 16, 10:10 a.m.

That was a major dose of tough love from The Drummond Report last night, wasn't it? For those who are not in the Canadian news sphere, Don Drummond is the chairman of a commission on public-service reform, and he was drafted by Premier McGuinty to find out what needs to trimmed to save Ontario money. Well, his tome (tomb?)-like  report recommended things like charging kids to use the school bus, slashing kindergarten hours, disbanding the Maple Leafs (just kidding on the last one...only feel like that when they go on a losing skid). In any case, we will all have to tighten our belts to wasp-like figures.

The Japanese feel our pain. They're in the 3rd decade of economic doldrums after The Economic Miracle and The Bubble. There has also been a commission on how to cut costs, led until recently by the far lovelier-looking Minister Renho, a former half-Taiwanese/half-Japanese former model/newscaster. Still, I was watching NHK this morning, and the news is not heartening. Decades ago, the average senior citizen  could fiscally be supported by a small army of the working class. Currently, the cute graphic (even NHK likes to use cute graphics) showed just three people supporting that retired person. And it is predicted that within 40 years, there will only be one person to support one retiree. Of course, it is due to the fact that Japan is the fastest-aging country in the world. Not particularly happy news on the other side of the Pacific.

I am far from any economist...being part of the working poor illustrates that. But I am wondering if it's time for Japan to make another major paradigm shift at every level of society, and gear itself toward a 21st-century model of a good geriocentric nation. Maybe it will need to give up its current perch as the 3rd-largest economic power, go down a few notches and just become either more Canadian or least in terms of welfare. When I was living in Japan, I had to make 8 monthly payments a year of approximately 30,000 yen each for National Health Insurance...and we still had to pay 30% of the medical bill on visiting the doctor. I think OHIP is still a relative least for now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

End of Hump Day

Wednesday February 15, 11:15 p.m.

Almost the end of Hump Day. It's been pretty quiet all day and night. Just took care of a few questions concerning the translations for Cozy back in Japan. I've got to get started on my tax return for my final year in that country since NHK has reported the start of tax season, so I've got to get my stuff in by March 15th. Cozy has also been my representative in terms of seeing whether I did get my security deposit from my old real estate agency. And I will probably be setting up my PayPal account once I get the OK from Mr. Moriya.

For Family Day next Monday, The Anime King will be having me and a couple of others for brunch at EggsSmart and then a curried crab dinner at one of his favourite Chinese haunts. I actually had to turn down my brother's invitation for dim sum on the same day.

Hump Day

Wednesday February 15, 11:14 a.m.

As a Hump Day, this has been more of a Pimple than anything else. Not that I'm complaining. I'm almost done with the first batch of financial report translations from Japanese to English for my old client, Cozy. Since I've been doing them annually for 5 years, it's not too difficult now although it's not a cakewalk either and it still takes a few hours for each report. Luckily, Cozy has given me plenty of time to get them done.

However, I finally got the check from Nippon Express for my moving expenses yesterday. It's gonna be about 2,500 dollars CDN...I can pay it but I definitely will be in the working poor class for the next several months at least. Then again, I'm from alone here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Even in Japan

courtesy of data panik at Flickr
Tuesday February 14, 10:26 a.m.

NHK News has been leading with this item over the past couple of days. Apparently, at some Denny's branch in Chiba Prefecture,  some rather rough types in their 60s(?!) came in and sought out someone who had crossed them over some possible money issues and drilled him dead with a few bullets.

Although I lived in Chiba-ken, I didn't recognize the name of the city, so I assume that it isn't too close to Tokyo. Still, in a country that prides itself on being very strict when it comes to gun ownership, this was indeed a terrifying state of affairs. The thing that struck me though was the age of the assassins. Maybe the eyewitnesses got the ages wrong, but I think it's really unusual for organized criminals of that age to plug someone dead...that seems more the job of the younger chinpira. So far, the killers haven't been caught but even when they are, the psychological damage has been done. There were 2 or 3 schools in the area, and the families are scared witless.

Part of my reverse culture shock on getting back to Toronto has been the almost nightly news reports that begin, "There was a shooting in...." Heck, someone robbed Leslie Subway Station, of all things. If anything like that happened on the Tokyo Metro, it would take up the news for weeks.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Sunday February 12, 3:21 p.m.

The passing of Whitney Houston is still sending shockwaves all over the planet. The Grammys tonight will definitely take on a whole new dimension....probably won't be a dry eye in the house. Throughout the various media broadcasts over the past several hours, one repeated sentence has been how she had influenced so many singers of the current generation. I think that can also be the case in Japan.

Japanese R&B has been a mainstay here for well over a decade or so, and one of the best interpreters of this most American musical genre has been a petite singer from Fukuoka who goes by the name of MISIA. Like Houston, she had a background in gospel and then went into R & B. She debuted in 1998 and her heyday was in the early 2000s. Although she isn't as high-profile as she used to be, any song she releases will guarantee attention.

This song is one of her very best and is somewhat reminiscent of a Whitney Houston ballad. It's called "Hatenaku tsuzuku Story"..."The Never-Ending Story"...not to be mistaken for the 80s Limahl song.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Whitney Houston (1963-2012)

Saturday February 11, 10:14 p.m.

About half an hour ago, I just switched to CNN, expecting only to see the latest results of Mitt Romney's win in the Maine caucuses. Well, I got a shock seeing Don Lemon and other people talking in hushed tones about the passing of Whitney Houston. She'd had her problems with alcohol and drugs, but never did I think she would go like this so soon.

It's starting to hit Facebook, and it looks like the Japanese equivalent, Mixi, has had comments about her death for well over an hour.

My first memory of her was as a university student. It was her second release which caught my attention, "Saving All My Love For You". An epic ballad that was and still my favourite song by her. The rest of the 80s for me was filled with her songs. I saw her in "The Bodyguard", but it will always be the music for me.

Take The Car

courtesy of kereta_api

courtesy of
Saturday February 11, 12:56 p.m.

A Tale of Two Commissions? Coming back to work at the new downtown school the other day, one of my students, a woman from Tokyo, had come in a few minutes late...nowhere near a hanging offense in my books. She blamed it on the Toronto Transit Commission...the good ol' TTC, since the subway had yet another breakdown in service in the morning. Apparently, a number of students had been affected, and they just said how horrible it was.

It's been quite a surprise over the years about how far the TTC has fallen. Since I'd been annually coming back on vacation from Japan over the last several years, there wasn't too much of a shock about the current sorry state of affairs with our public transportation system. I've been privy to some of the delays and the open warfare between TTC staff and passengers.

The bigger shock was for the students when I told them that the TTC had once been the envy of North America...that "The Better Way" had not been an ironic expression. Now, the nicknames are "Take The Car"and "The Bitter Way". The TTC has simply not been able to keep up with the capacity and the times. Last year's introduction of a gleaming new subway train for the Yonge Line attracted crowds like a new escalator in the only 2-storey building of a rural village.

Tokyo Metro is cleaner, the staff are more polite, and the system is more efficiently run. And for the most part, the subways come at the scheduled time. Still, delays do happen, and the rush hours in Tokyo are legendary in a bad way. If at all possible, I used to avoid the rush hour times like the proverbial plague.

I can only hope the saga of the TTC is in the middle stage of a movie....that there will be a redemption of sorts at the end. Apparently, some Canadian who had been working on The Tube in London was recruited last year to get some semblance of order from chaos. Haven't heard much from him, although I have noticed that there is much less of a Cold War between TTC staff and commuters. But the fights are still continuing between Mayor Ford and TTC Commissioner Karen Stintz about the future of putting up either new subways or above-ground LRT systems. I think just getting the current system fixed is a priority.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Wilds of Mississauga

courtesy of drum 118 at Flickr
Friday February 10, 9:46 p.m.

Did my 2-hour odyssey to my old student's apartment in the wilds of Mississauga. Took the Yonge Line down to Union Station where I got the Go Bus en route to Square One Mall in the spread-out city ruled by 90-year-old Hazel McCallion. On the bus over, I ran across those two curvy towers officially known as the Absolute World Towers on Hurontario St. but cheekily called the Marilyn Monroe Towers (I guess in Japanese, they would be called Norika [Fujiwara] and Ryoko [Yonekura]).

My student, who lives in the penthouse floor of a condo, was a member of my old English circle known as The Beehive, up until her husband got transferred to Toronto for the next 6 years. She'll be heading back with her two daughters (hubby will most likely be staying on longer here or be headed for another foreign posting) in July back to Japan. As all married female Japanese will in any social occasion, food will be exchanged. I gave my student a cake my mother had made last night, while I got some o-hagi (to be explained in a later entry) and some homemade bread to take back to the parentals. In any case, we spent the next 90 minutes talking about our futures and our pasts. It was fairly evident that my student was ready to head home; she gave me the impression that she had felt somewhat trapped in Missy, a feeling I'm sure a lot of folks feel there, and my student has a pretty big wagon in her garage.

She was kind enough to drive me back to Square One, since my walk from the mall to her condo took about 20 minutes. We spoke on those two towers. Apparently, some Chinese entity had bought the top penthouse on ol' Marilyn for millions of bucks. My only question was who would ever want to buy a rooftop condo in Mississauga? I mean, was it sight unseen or what?

An Old Friend

Friday February 10, 9:43 a.m.

Will be heading off to the wilds of Mississauga today to see my former student from Chiba and current 6-year resident of Toronto. It'll be a bit of a hike since I'll need to use TTC and GO Transit to get there from the east end of the city.

Finally, got some sleep last night.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What a week!

Thursday February 9, 9:34 p.m.

I'm glad that I'm making this blog entry now instead of 24 hours earlier. If I had done it then, I would've given a far depressed and broody detail, and possibly given some hints about retiring from teaching, period (BTW, the Past Conditional was one of my lessons today).

Yesterday, I subbed for a second teacher at my new school; had three lessons in which the first one was kinda so-so, the second one absolutely sucked eggs, and the third was my lone saving grace. Man, I'm still not sure what made that middle class a crash n' burn....having 11 students of various nationalities, not quite knowing how to handle the lesson material, or just having the bad-day virus. I mean, it was a long time since I had students openly snickering away at me. If it hadn't been for that final class, I may have ended up handing in my resignation right then and there. It was simply not a great day for me. Usually, when I end up doing something I regret, I get some sort of physical distress as a premonition. The night before that trio, I couldn't sleep for hours. So, certainly last night, I was wondering if I'd had make a mistake by accepting employment at this school.

I'd even thought of just calling in sick today, but my moral backbone decided to start aching and basically forced me to head into work and just suck it up. For one thing, my bosses wouldn't have been too thrilled to scramble for another sub teacher in the wee hours of the morning, and for the other, I'm past the age of running away. So, I got in, having gone over the material the night before, and did the old college try. It was almost like night & day. I had the same three classes in the same order. I won over the first class, and with my second one, I started off by teaching them about the various nicknames of the Canadian coinage which was useful for them...after that, the respect, if not fully earned, did come back to a large degree. And of course, the third lesson remained good. It all ended up being a happy ending to a 2-day drama.

I'll be taking a week off from the school, which my bosses seemed to be OK about; after all, I'm a sub teacher...if I'm not available, I'm not available. I have Cozy's translations to do which will take time. Plus, it'll give me time to take a little breather to contemplate the past couple of days.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


 Tuesday February 7, 8:15 p.m.

Savoring my day off a bit more than usual after my first day at school yesterday, I went off to meet The Egg and The Wild Guy for lunch at Ajisen, one of the more famous ramen shops in Toronto. I'd been to Kenzo...the ramen there was OK (although my two eating companions politely disagreed), but the gyoza was a bit weird, so I wanted to make that comparison.
We three went to the branch up near North York Centre, near the north end of the Yonge subway line. Unlike most of this Winter in Toronto thus far, things actually chilled down today, thus making it perfect for gobbling down a bowl of noodles.

 I ordered the BBQ Pork Ramen....otherwise known as cha-siu men in Japanese, which is one of the classic bowls in any respectable ramen shop there. What I got was a bit....interesting. The soup was a bit spicy (kinda like the broth of my favorite bowl of ramen at Foo Foo in Shinjuku Station...but that bowl happened to be tan tan men, a different animal completely), and to be honest, it was nothing that I had ever tasted in any ramen shop in Tokyo or Ichikawa. Frankly, I'm not sure if any discerning Japanese fellow would be too impressed. And the noodles were more like spaghetti than authentic ramen. I mean, it was OK stuff but I don't think any ramen master will be losing any sleep over it.
However, I have to say that the gyoza actually did taste like the dumplings I'd had in ramen shops back in the other country.

So, I can give Ajisen a 6 out of 10. The ramen quest continues...

In the Saddle Again

Tuesday February 7, 9:20 a.m.

Yesterday morning, at the bleary-eyed time of 7 a.m., I went to work for the first time in 6 weeks (Mr. Moriya aside). Started my new position as sub teacher at a downtown school. And my new boss didn't hesitate to load me up with lessons. They were just 2, but both were 3 hours each.

The morning session had 3 students, a couple of young Japanese and one very young German. It was a good class to start with; they were a young but amiable group. A few stumbles but a good start all things considered.

The second class was a bit more problematic. Again three quiet but amiable students but also quite jaded with it all. Somewhat more of a struggle to get through, but classes with The New Yorker, a VERY quiet but amiable student for 5 years, gave me that shield to get through. Basically, it was The Dancing Bear routine. I noticed that the two regular teachers had informed me that there would be more students but I figure that on hearing that a substitute teacher would be teaching, the absentees took that as a chance to take a day off. In any case, I was pretty beat after getting home.

I've got a couple more of those 6-hour days coming up tomorrow and Thursday. Not sure what the immediate future will hold for me. I know that I probably won't take those early wake-up calls for long so I'm not sure if full-time will be the thing for me but we'll see.

In any case, today I'm off. I'll be seeing The Egg and The Wild Guy for lunch. On the search for good ramen in Toronto. Today's target will be Ajisen up in North York.

Giving a Talk

Tuesday February 7, 9:09 a.m.

It's been a tense few days for me. Nope, nothing bad but I've had a lot on my plate all of a sudden after a 6-week layoff. I had my first Skype lesson with Mr. Moriya on Saturday night. The two hours were fine although there were adjustments to be made in terms of showing written vocabulary, for example. The payment plan is still pending. I had sent an e-mail to the foreign customer representative at my Tokyo bank branch but I've yet to hear from her. Not sure if she thinks my questions are so stupid that she won't deign to answer them.

Anyways, I had that talk for my friend's church group on Sunday afternoon. I was pretty nervous, to be honest. How do you wrap up nearly 20 years of life in 30 minutes? But I was lucky in that when I got to the church some 2.5 hours before showtime, I was met by a few friendly folk who ended up joining the talk. That really helped to take the edge off.

As for the talk itself, it actually ended up going a full hour. Tried to keep it lighthearted, although my  last topic was on the March 11th earthquake. Not sure if I won over the whole audience but a few people came up afterwards to compliment me and ask me questions. But all in all, it was good. Had to decompress for a few hours afterwards, though.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Saturday February 4, 10:54 p.m.

Finished off my first Skype lesson with Mr. Moriya tonight. Went well enough for the 2 hours. Had to  adjust the camera sometimes and aiming any written vocabulary was slightly tricky at first. But I passed the first of 4 hurdles for the next few days.

The next one could be the hardest one. This talk that Sam had asked me to do for tomorrow has garnered serious legs in terms of people attending.. All I was gonna do was just talk about my years in Japan informally with half a dozen people, but it's grown to about 20 and it looks like I'm gonna be technologically insufficient. I've got a feeling that what I'm expected to say and what I can say is diverging. Well, the show must go on regardless.

The last two things are my first two classes at the new school on Monday. Luckily, I did get a comprehensive explanation on what is expected of me from the two teachers I'm subbing for. Still, I'm feeling pressure that I haven't felt in some time...even going back several months to Japan.

Take it away, Billy.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sushi Chug-a-lug

courtesy of rob_rin at Flickr
Friday February 3, 10:13 p.m.

Groundhog Day yesterday...Setsubun in Japan today. A somewhat different observed holiday there in which good fortune is swept in while the devils are swept out. In fact, the expression which is exhorted all over the country is:

Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!

"Out with the devil, in with good fortune!"

In some of the smaller communities and close-knit neighbourhoods of the big cities, people dressed up as demons or devils pretend to invade the houses before kids throw dried beans at them to drive them out. The littlest tots are effectively left traumatized.

A more recent tradition came out of a marketing ploy in Nagoya (kinda like introducing the solid chocolate Easter Bunny) apparently in which people have to swallow whole a long log of maki sushi called E-Ho Maki. To guarantee good luck, one has to follow 3 conditions: 1) the E-Ho Maki has to be eaten in a certain direction within the house...said direction shifts from year to year; 2) it must be eaten in one gulp, and 3) the eater (future asphyxiation victim?) cannot utter a word. Sounds like a fine Klingon tradition or innovative torture for the next "Hostel"movie. I did it once last year at my old school...even with my Jabba mouth, it was a challenge. This year's direction was North by I'm sure the late great Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, must be rolling with great jollity in his grave. I guess you could even call it the Deep Throat of sushi-eating (not the Watergate snitch, but that movie starring....well, you know what I'm talking about already).

But I guess I didn't need to eat E-Ho Maki today. Suddenly after several weeks of inactivity, I find myself with a lot of work to do. I'm gonna be teaching a total of 6 hours next Monday in my first sub teacher gig downtown, I've got Mr. Moriya's Skype lesson tomorrow night, giving a talk on my 17 years in Japan on Sunday, and finally all those financial reports to translate into English by the 15th.

A Gig At Last

Friday February 3, 11:10 a.m.

Well, got the word last night that my services will be needed as a sub teacher for next Monday. I've gotta go down to the school in a few hours to pick up the regular teacher's materials. It'll be nice to be back in the saddle again after 6 weeks of layover. At this point, any paying gig will be welcome. Plus, I've got a Skype lesson tomorrow with Mr. Moriya in Japan, and all those translation assignments from Cozy. The thing about my Japan jobs, though, is how to get that income over without breaking my clients' wallets. There is Paypal, though I heard that changing digital money over to the real stuff also entails a not-so-small fee.

The parentals are off in Niagara to visit the casino. Not great weather outside but since slots is an indoor activity, I'm not too concerned.

Spoke with my old student who lives off in Missisauga. She was part of my teaching circle back in Chiba until her husband got transferred over her for work 6 years ago. I'll be visiting her next week for coffee.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I Believe...

Didn't expect to write down another entry but I came across this video via the YouTube video bar at the bottom of my blog. Nice little drive through the major parts of Tokyo. Feels rather natsukashii seeing my old haunts at 100 km/h. Nice musical accompaniment by Kat McDowell.

Getting into the swing of things

Thursday February 2, 10:46 p.m.

courtesy of visitPA on Flickr
Groundhog Day! The one day of the year in which large rodents take over from humans as meteorologists. But just like the weather people, the groundhogs' take on the next 6 weeks varies from place to place. Wiarton Willie here in Ontario says it will be an early Spring (note to Willie: it's already here), while the most famous Punxatawney Pete insists that Winter will keep on going. For me, I'll always rely on a good satellite photo any day.

Well, about a week after having that interview at the school downtown, I actually got a call from my interviewer saying that I have a sub spot for next Monday from 9-12. I'm hoping that she will get back to me about when I can meet the regular teacher to get his notes so that I can peruse them this weekend.

At the same time, my old student, Cozy, has sent me a number of financial reports to translate by the 15th. When it rains, it pours.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Goodbye, Golf Ball

courtesy of John Charlton, Flickr
Wednesday February 1, 8:51 p.m.

Saw the somewhat nonsensical press conference between the two Ontario government ministers acting like Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum this morning. But the point was clear: Ontario Place as we have known it will be no more.

The Cinesphere and the rest of the 60s architecture will eventually be razed in a 5-year rejuvenation project, led by a former PC leader who wasn't even there at the press conference. All silliness aside, it'll be too bad to see the world's largest golf ball go into the hole of history. A number of people who were interviewed today gave some wistful replies on hearing the news. But like them, when I heard that attendance was dropping like an anchor as well as any profits, I realized that Ontario Place had outlived its best-by date. My memories of the place was centered around the Cinesphere as the world's first permanent IMAX facility. I remember watching some amazing vistas via IMAX: deep blue seas, high blue skies and stomach-churning drops on roller coasters. And there was the summer series of Hollywood movies shown on the big screen. Unfortunately, having a regular movie shown on a 5-storey screen kinda loses its effect, but hey it was the Cinesphere.

It was good knowing the Toronto institution.

They're all here!

Wednesday February 1, 4:01 p.m.

Already into the 2nd month, I see. At this rate, I should reach retirement age by the end of the week.

Nippon Express came and delivered all the goods....12 packages...without any fuss or muss and with all possible speed. Incredibly, they were all done within 10 minutes. Our movers were both Japanese and bilingual, and it almost felt like I was back in Ichikawa. And strangely enough, the boxes got into the apartment without taking too much space. They're still unopened until I figure out how I'm gonna arrange all these CDs, DVDs and books.

Meanwhile, it looks like Japan is getting our weather in spades. Even for a typical northern Japan winter, the guys up in places like Aomori and Iwate Prefectures are just getting hammered with snow. The news is even hitting CNN and our local CP 24. So far, 52 people have died from falling off of roofs while trying to clear snow by themselves...three-quarters of whom were elderly.