Saturday, March 31, 2012

Electro Jazz -- Fresh Fred

Back in Japan, where I developed my taste in jazz, I was in the Shinjuku Tower Records when I came across this album which specialized in this fusion subgenre known as Electro Jazz...basically taking all those chestnuts from the 30s and 40s and adding a modern DJ's touch to it. Results vary, but I always kept going to Club Des Belugas' treatment of Fred Astaire's take on "Puttin' On The Ritz"....just one of the most fun 3-4 minutes I ever had with my headphones.

Then I came across the video on YouTube, and I couldn't believe it but Fred looked even cooler with some of the added digital touches. Always one of my touchstones on YouTube if I'm not feeling all that happy.

Meat Pies and Earth Hour and that Lottery

A Schneider's Meat Pie
Lovely to eat!
Saturday March 31, 4:20 p.m.

Gotta get this off my chest. I really missed meat pies when I was in Japan. Tokyo is a great foodie town, but there are examples of gastronomic delights that are still largely missing from the largest metropolis in the world: good reasonably-priced Greek food, decent hot dogs, and meat pies.

Heck, I was just so happy to have the frozen food variety of meat pies for lunch once a week. I have to say that I do like my Schneider's. Ground beef (or something) in a savory meat sauce wrapped in a buttery, flaky pie shell. I know that you will tell me that there are far better alternatives out there in Toronto for home-cooked meat pies, but I have yet to find them. When I do, I'll head over there like a guided missile, but in the meantime, I'll have Schneider's to tie me over.

The annual Earth Hour is scheduled for later tonight. However, like last year when I was in town as a temporary refugee from the quake, I missed out on it. I had the lights in my room on during the designated 8:30-9:30. I'll have to eschew it again tonight since I've got my Skype student for about 2 hours. Gotta have the computer on.

Man, that was one crazy lottery down Stateside, eh? $640 million big ones. Apparently, three folks down in Maryland have probably secured their lives for good. At this point, I can actually imagine the pot going all the way to $1 billion. Someone can literally go from pauper to billionaire in an instant. That's the American way. Mind you, a lot of that will go away for taxes. But the question begs to be asked: what does one do with over half a billion dollars? I don't think daily Tim Hortons combos for the rest of one's life will simply do. In Japan, there is also lottery fever as well. There is a New Year's Jumbo Lottery which brings out the lineups in an nation in which lineups are a national pastime. The grand prize: $3 million. That's so cute!

Friday, March 30, 2012

A, A Nickel for Your Thoughts?

courtesy of Roger Cullman
of Flickr

Yes, usually that would be cited as one of Sheldon Cooper's catchphrases along with "Bazinga"on "The Big Bang Theory". It will also most likely be something that every Canadian may be saying from Fall 2012 onwards. The news came out that the copper-coloured coin will no longer be made by the Canadian Mint because it costs over 50% more than it's worth. Stopping its production will save Canada $11 million a year supposedly. Not that it will be greatly missed since most people hate to scrounge for pennies that won't buy anything at all these days. By that token (no pun intended), the nickel ought to be shivering in its silver-coloured boots as well.

But it will be interesting what life will be like between vendor and vendee once a penny-less (again, no pun intended) Canada begins. What is left, and there will be a lot of used pennies moving around for a while yet, will get dirtier and dirtier or they will get thrown into a lot of wishing wells and fountains. But what's more, when that time comes when either vendor or vendee doesn't have any of the coppers, then it will be time for the Great Canadian Round-Up. Or Round-Down. It'll be like the commercial version of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock!

In my localized world, I'll have to start warning any former students from Japan who ever plan to visit Toronto that there will be no pennies to make change with. They should start saving them so that they can tell their grandkids someday that there used to be orange-coloured coins in Canada.

I guess I ought to be looking for the oldest-minted penny I have and wrap it my 500-yen bill that I have somewhere in my room. The 500-yen bill was long abandoned for the coin version.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Browns of CTV

courtesy of RodTO
of Flickr
Wednesday March 28, 8:35 p.m.

It's been quite the day for CTV Toronto, especially when it comes to two of their own: Tom Brown and Lance Brown. Both the 6 o'clock news and CP24 were abuzz tonight about the happiest weathercaster in the GTA ending up on none other than "The Price is Right"this morning...or at least on an episode that had been taped last month while Tom and his daughter were on vacation in LA. Can you think of another broadcaster who would be more suited to appear on that show than Tom Brown? He seems to be on perpetual Red Bull, that guy. I think he even freaked Drew Carey out when he asked Brown about the weather in Toronto, and he got a full forecast. His face had that "Dude, tone it down!"look. Well, kudos to Tom, and hope he and the missus enjoy Costa Rica next year. To paraphrase something he always says every night, "It's hard to stop a Tom Brown!"

Now, for Lance. He achieved his own buzz today via TV and Twitter. This afternoon, the Twitterverse had a bit of a local blaze when folks within and without the Leaf Nation had quoted some reporter asking Captain Dion Phaneuf to the effect whether he was really worthy being called  a captain after the horrifying freefall of February and March. Some of the Twitterers wondered if the reporter had left the ACC with his teeth intact, a few openly called the reporter a jackass, and just one hailed the question. And it was asked by Lance Brown himself. To be honest, I think the Leafs should be more afraid of Lance than vice versa. He was NOT in a good mood tonight. He looked like a disappointed, angry father chewing out his errant kids. This wasn't the usual ruefully flippant "What are we gonna do?"report of a Canadian sportscaster in March. Nope, Lance was simmering openly on TV, even using "crap"on the air....albeit not exactly that taboo of a swear word nowadays. But it was plainly evident I was watching a new version of Don Cherry. As for seeing that question asked to Captain Phaneuf, nope, the defenceman didn't rearrange Lance's face but I wasn't sure what his reaction was; he kinda glared and then set his lower jaw in a clench...was he gonna explode or break down in tears? It may have been a harsh question, but one that needed to be asked.

Another Anime King Foodie Day, Part 2

Wednesday March 28, 4:00 p.m.

After the fire and brimstone of Pakwanchi in the late morning, and then a stopover at Second Cup for a coffee and danish, The King and I had a few hours of watching anime at his place before The Anime Rook came by. Then the three of us headed for the second part of the Foodie day: All Star Wings and Ribs. Yup, we do not skimp on the calories. It was a 20-minute drive up to the branch in Markham.

 Of course, there was that sports bar vibe inside. A lot of these pennants and flatpanels showing various sports going on: a hockey game and a March Madness basketball game.
 Lots of sauce to choose from. It would take years to go through them all if one went monthly. It would therefore take weeks if one went daily...and it would take your life, that is.
My choice was the Creole BBQ up above. I only chose the medium-level of heat since my stomach had gone through the Pakistani curry at Pakwanchi. But my tummy generously held off on any major rumblings during my time at All Star. The King and Rook ordered Cheese and Orange respectively. We did a lot of the end, we couldn't really tell what we were eating. I'm just glad we held off on any fries.

Hopefully, the celery helped to bring some fibre into our diets.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Another Anime King Foodie Day Part 1

Last Sunday was another biweekly foray into Toronto's foodie scene out in the boonies with The Anime King...although I sometimes think that for these food outings, I really ought to be dubbing him The Foodie King. I guess the theme for the 25th should have been called "SPICY", and I intentionally put that up in capital letters. Our first stop was at a strip mall at the southeast corner of Sheppard and Kennedy. Right next to a Hakim Optical branch, there was a Pakistani restaurant called Pakwanchi that the Anime King has been a regular at for several years. It's a small eatery and we were the first ones in the place. There are a few tables but The King has told me that even at high noon, the place isn't all that busy since the regulars take it more as a takeout place than a sitdown dining experience.

 Our first dish was The Beef Nihari, an oily, soupy curry with chunks of beef so tender that you can utter a swear word at it, and they'll fall apart. We got our good share of naan to dip and scoop up the beef with the curry. And boy, those spices will do more than the most powerful antihistamine to clear your sinuses. My stomach was still doing a cha-cha several hours later. Good stuff, but I would beware. The nihari came with condiments such as fresh ginger strips, lemon, lemongrass and hot peppers (for those with a death wish for self-immolation). Guess which three I went with.

Then it was The Chicken Biryani, long-grained rice with a lot of spices mixed in, including saffron, and a couple of pieces of grilled chicken underneath. This was also a killer dish, and to emphasize that point, the waiter also left us a pot of yogurt to spoon onto the biryani so that our esophagi wouldn't end up corroding.

Very good stuff, but we sure drained that pitcher of water really quickly.


Tuesday March 20, 12:39 p.m.

The last couple of days have been fairly interesting. My sister-in-law sent me an address for this opportunity of a lifetime for a foodie out in Vancouver. Apparently, the city of Richmond B.C. has sent out an all-points bulletin to anyone on the planet who would be willing to live there for an entire year and blog about 365 restaurants with photos and video (, and it's a paid position of $50,000...which is far more than I ever made per year as a teacher in Japan. I must admit that it's rather tempting, but it would mean uprooting myself once more, and frankly speaking, I'm not sure if I'm up to that anymore. Plus, it's like the JET Programme...rounds of interviews and eliminations. Still, I'm thinking about it. I've come across a couple of folks who are really trying hard to get that position...they've already got the blogs and video.

The other tip was from Shard. There's some communications company based right here which is looking for freelancers like to me to talk on stuff related to Toronto: fashion, movies, FOOD. And since I am a foodie, I think I have a better chance there. Not sure how this would work but I'm going for anything I can that doesn't involve digging ditches or selling life insurance.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Snakes and Lattes

Monday March 26, 9:10 p.m.

Yup, one of Toronto's legendary emporia...Honest Ed's at Bathurst and Bloor. Believe it or not, there is a twin of sorts in Tokyo as well called Don Quixote (or the Japanese call it there). When I was a kid, my family used to go to Ed's all the time. It was just like a labyrinth inside.

After our lunch at The Thumbs-Up Eatery nearby, Shard and I decided to finish up things with a coffee somewhere. We had initially thought about hitting the local Starbucks, but instead we came across this place called Snakes & Lattes on the north side of Bloor, just west of Bathurst.
As it says in little print on the awning, it's a Board Game Cafe. The coffee certainly wasn't expensive for was just $2.75 for an Americano. But if you want to play a game, it'll cost $5. And the above picture shows just one section containing a ton of categorized board games: anything from D&D to chess. I even saw a couple of Star Trek games. I'm sure the gang from "The Big Bang Theory"would feel at home there. I would put up the website address but when I checked, it was rather obvious that it was still undergoing some measure of construction.

Koreantown Foodie

Ah, yes, it was a gorgeous day last Thursday, the last of the freaky Summer days we had in Toronto before normality came back. The high got up to about 26 degrees downtown...didn't even need a jacket. I met up with Shard at Christie Station for a bit of lunch and to touch base. We decided to make it a monthly thing.

 Shard lives not too far away from Christie Pits, the main park in the area, so he is very well acquainted with Korea Town. I hadn't been there since I got back from Japan. I used to hit the neighbourhood from time to time to indulge in Korean BBQ with friends. I always had a good time there with the only casualties being my clothes and anyone who had the bad luck to sit beside me on the subway home.
As I said, it was a gorgeous day in the city. Shard told me that there was some urban drift happening there as it had been for Chinatown. Apparently, a number of the Koreans who had first settled in the area have moved outwards to suburban homes. Now, a lot of them just work in Koreatown.

 Shard took me to one of his haunts called The Thumbs Up Eatery...perfect for Henry "The Fonz"Winkler (if you don't understand the joke, you must be under 30 years of age). We got there about 11:45, and it was fairly busy but there were no problems about getting  a table.
For just $6.19, I could order a pretty heaping plate of Pork Kimchi, a sloppy mix of the famed fiery pickled cabbage with juicy slices of pork, next to a small hill of boiled rice. It was quite good although the kimchi was a bit sweeter than I'm used to. I kinda like my kimchi to have a bit more kick in the umami department. I used to make the dish myself occasionally on the weekends. Believe me, for you neophyte cooks, Pork Kimchi is one of the easiest things to fry up: just get 300 grams of any kind of pork, slice it all up into bite-sized pieces and then saute in oil for a few minutes. Then throw in a small package of kimchi. Nowadays, you can just buy the stuff at any Asian supermarket.
 The condiments were purely complementary, and our very kind waitress even offered to get us one more round of them, but we begged off since our main dishes were more than enough to fill us up. There were the kimchi, the Korean slaw and some potatoes.
Shard's choice was a bowl of kimchi ramen. Not sure what that white stuff was in the centre. I think it was probably the Korean version of kamaboko, Japanese fish cake...a de rigueur addition to an Asian bowl of noodle soup.

I would definitely go to the place again since the food was filling and the service was very nice. The waitress was even willing to break my $100 bill...not an easy thing to do in this town.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

NDP...Rock Concert...Who Knew?

courtesy of
YYJ_Colin of Flickr
Saturday March 24, 10:46 a.m.

As I mentioned on my Twitter, I woke up hearing what I'd thought was another wildcat strike happening at Pearson. It just turned out to be the New Democratic Party Leadership Convention downtown. For what is basically a political entity that's about as close to socialism as we dare get, these guys are having a Las Vegas-scale good ol' time. Who'da thunk it? Jack Layton must be doing a tap dance up there right now.

My interest in politics is basically that of a fairly bemused spectator. Canadian federal politics simply doesn't have that rock n' roll Hollywood spectacle that American politics seem to have in abundance, but still, the NDP convention today is giving it a good try.

Otherwise, just a regular ol' Saturday. Let's just hope that the selection of the next leader will be the only exciting thing about today.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Labour Pains

Friday March 23, 11:09 a.m.

Looks like we're all suffering from a Spring of Our Discontent right now. Toronto is undergoing labour disruption from multiple angles. A wildcat strike by baggage handlers and ground crew at Pearson is making things miserable for passengers, the  city's librarians have been locked out for almost a week, inside workers may be going on strike tonight. Plus, City Hall is locked into this transit debate and the NDP Leadership Convention is taking place here for the next couple of days. And by the way, the TTC will be shutting down a major part of the subway this weekend for repairs. A great time to be a journalist in this city....for other people, not so much.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mawaru Penguindrum The Finale

Wednesday March 21, 2:09 p.m.

Yup, my second post on this mindfxxk of an anime. Caught the last two episodes of the serial this morning. The Anime King told me that he got rather teary-eyed at the finale, but my brain was just trying too hard to reconcile the real with the surreal to get emotional about it.

Not that I didn't enjoy it. It was a good deep gash above most of the usual anime that gets shown on Sunday mornings in Japan, which is probably why it got shown late at night. As I may have mentioned in my other entry on "Mawaru Penguindrum", it's got some pretty suggestive scenes thrown in with the comedy. And a heavy dollop of the metaphysical. The progression of the serial was like any other anime series in that the first several episodes are largely done for comic effect with some teasers about the dramatic arc to follow. Then, things get progressively darker as we go into the last half before a barnburner of a cathartic finale. But MP has the difference in that anyone who has seen it will not only have enjoyed it but will be scratching their noggins for a long time to come. I read a few of the forums on MP, and they echoed my sentiments. I still have a number of questions, Number 1 being "Did the universe re-correct itself when the curse was broken, or was a new timeline born?"

Some folks had been hoping that the serial would continue or a sequel could be made...always a good sign of a show....finish things while leaving your audience wanting more. But I think MP finished where it should have.

Seizon Senryaku indeed. I just hope Hollywood never gets its hands on it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Tuesday March 20, 10:55 p.m.

Got a call from The Anime King tonight. Looks like we've got another Foodie Tour coming up this Sunday. He also asked me about this Japanese-Canadian fellow; the interesting thing is that my mother had also mentioned this same fellow the day before. He used to go to Japanese Language School with me and my brother, but we only knew him by reputation. He was one of the more gifted speechmakers, since there was the annual speech contest...something that I hated doing. In any case, he has apparently passed away from a heart attack. Surprising, since he was a few years younger than me. My mother had found out from a phone call from an old friend. And The King knew because he and a couple of others had actually hung out with the guy a decade or so ago. You just never know anymore how small a world can get and how quickly a person can leave it.


Tuesday March 20, 1:52 p.m.

In the movie series of "Batman", both the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan ones, the Dark Knight is forever brooding over his battery of computer monitors which blanket Gotham City as a huge sensor web.

I've come to the conclusion that I've become somewhat like the Caped Crusader in that aspect (except for the lack of pecs/6-pack, courage, confidence...pretty much anything that would make up a superhero). I've got 2 e-mail accounts and three accounts on different SNS and my blogging one, including one in Japan. My most recent acquisition is Twitter...and it's through viewing there that I realized that I've become this plugged-in person...remarkable, really, considering that I used to tell folks back in Japan that I was a Luddite. But then again in Japan, you just have to mention that you don't have a cellphone to be seen as a freak. There is always information coming into Twitter to the extent that it acts like my own CIA/NSA Situation Room. And I've rather designed it that way. I've joined the accounts for a number of the major news organizations in Toronto and around the world, and those for a few celebs in Hollywood and Japan. Perhaps in the near future, I won't even bother looking at TV....I will have already gotten the scoops.

Perhaps, I'm closer to Neuromancer than I dare admit. I did live in Chiba, y'know (inside joke).

Fanshawe Fracas

Tuesday March 20, 1:13 p.m.

Last weekend, there was a horrible incident in London, Ontario at Fanshawe College in which a thousand or so young folk decided to go on some sort of drunken rampage. When I first saw the coverage on CTV, I thought the newscasters were talking about London, England where I would usually expect riots. I'd never heard of this Fanshawe College, but it looks like it's become infamous all around the planet now.

I took a look at the Facebook site for the college. There have been the usual messages of anger and horror, but there was one person who was taking a much more proactive, profane and defiant approach. It's all too easy to get on the dogpile and bandwagon and verbally crucify every Fanshawe Neanderthal wrote down that the entire school should be closed down and the entire student body should be busted...according to Wikipedia, there are 55,000 students, part-time and full-time there...which is about the size of University of Toronto's St. George Campus. Supposedly, of the alleged one thousand rioters, a small fraction of them were actual Fanshawe students....out of 55,000.

Anyways, getting back to the proactive person, she was furious, and rightly so, at the trigger-happy self-righteousness of some of these messages. Yup, those students who were identified as being the bottlepelters and firebombers should be bagged and tagged, but to slather an entire city that had never experienced this sort of insanity as an instantaneous den of inquity is way too much sledgehammer. And again, a majority of the rioters were not even students there...maybe they were troublemakers from Toronto or some other region. The cops are gonna have to figure it out.

Good Days, Bad Days

Since coming back to Toronto over 3 months ago, I figured that I would have a tough time of it financially. My friend, Sam, warned me last year when he was one of the first ones I told of my intentions to return home for good.

I've had good days and bad days. For about a few hours up to a few minutes ago, I was definitely in the latter frame of mind. The Toronto Maple Leafs disaster last night has nothing to do with it. It comes in waves. To be honest, my good days have been when I am getting together with friends. Other days are merely nominal. Some days I put on the jeans and the shirt and head out to the library or take a walk around the block and then when I get back, I'm on the computer either blogging or writing something. But days like today, I feel very much like a hikikomori...a shut-in of sorts although I have never barricaded myself in my room. But, y'know when I just put on a pair of jogging pants and a T-shirt and know that I'm not leaving the apartment and know that I will be eating, typing on the computer or just watching TV instead of being out there making money for the family, I get into a pretty dark place. There is a fair bit of guilt and depression coursing through me during those dark times.

It also hasn't helped that I got a sideways diss from one of my Facebook friends about the Leafs and my blog on Japanese popular music....well, really, just on J-Pop itself. I know that he's got definite opinions on certain matters and I've known for a very long time that he has no love for any music of the 80s (which is what I thrive on), but he just sent the wrong signal at the wrong time, and so I deleted some of his statements...nothing illegal or immoral about that, but if he notices, I'm sure he'll be asking questions.

Frankly, I carry a lot of weight on my shoulders....unfortunately, I've inherited my mother's enormous ability to carry grudges, and I've developed over the decades a certain talent at dwelling on things I've done years ago which have led to consequences. I've burned enough bridges to earn the badge of a demolitions expert. I've dumped loads of near-friends since I felt I couldn't relate to them. I don't regret doing it but if I had given a bit more thought about how the other side would feel, perhaps I could have waited a bit longer. But still, I've got no interest in them.

Plus, there's the fact that my 3 days at my friend's wife's school were not particularly auspicious ones, and that the staff there didn't even have the courtesy to give any sort of message thanking me for those days; instead, they just sent the money I earned into my account and basically ended it right then and there. Neither my friend nor his wife have contacted me since then....not sure if they're pissed off with me or too embarrassed to make contact.

Am I looking for a job? Nope. I can't at this point since I've got that big family trip in about a month. How could I say on a covering letter that I would like to apply for a job...and oh, by the way, I've gotta take the week off next month?

So, this is Limbo I'm in now. I can only hope that by May, my prospects will be looking better.

Boston Cream Pie

courtesy of aktse
of Flickr
Tuesday March 20, 10:41 p.m.

Yeah, perhaps I'm being a bit cheeky with the "Disaster"tag, but there's no other way to describe what happened last night between the Bruins and the Leafs. And I thought I was having some bad days. Newspapers probably had a field night thinking up of the headlines for this massacre (for the record....Boston 8, Toronto 0): Boston is the Final Nail in Leafs' Coffin", "Bruins Play with Their Food Before Mauling Them", "Leafs Fall on the Last Day of Winter".

I didn't exactly watch the game. My back was turned to the TV, but I just kept hearing "Score!"and names that I was not familiar with. I swear I thought I was getting bathed in the red light all night! The commentators just had to chuckle in rueful wonder at this slapstick by one-half of the participants. If there could be a final punctuation period to wrap up the report on this sad season, last night's game was it. I don't think even the most optimistic of citizens in the Leaf Nation can deny it now. The Leafs are going golfing in 2 weeks.

And what's worse...they have to face the Islanders tonight at the ACC.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tim Hortons

Monday March 19, 8:57 p.m.

I think this week may be the one in which meteorological records will be toppling like dominoes. Toronto is not going to be celebrating the first day of Spring tomorrow, it'll be celebrating the 3rd or 4th day of Summer. Yup, it's that warm out there. The weather folks are using all sorts of superlatives to give their reports. Here in Canada's largest city, we usually have a high of a paltry 4  degrees C, but today we hit the big 2-0! Perhaps by midweek, we'll strike 26 degrees. Meanwhile, my old home of Japan is still shivering from under one of their longest Winters. I went outside for a short walk around the apartment, and there was actual haze lingering. I started sweating under a light jacket, and there were two Canada Geese squatting in an abandoned lot nearby. Great news for most people, but I think the Maple Syrup season is gonna be severely truncated this year.

I went with my parents to visit a few Canadian institutions: Canadian Tire to return a toaster-oven that was simply too complicated for them to use, then a SuperStore for groceries, before we hit the Tim Hortons for a bit of lunch. Back in Japan, I was accustomed to drinking my java and teaching my private lessons at a Starbucks. Now, I'm back having my double-double with chili and a donut. Perhaps Timmies may not have quite the trendy atmosphere of a Starbucks; it's got more of an atmosphere of the Tokyo Mister Donuts. But it's a comfy enough place and I sure can't beat the price for a Chili Combo of chili, bread, coffee and donut at about $6. Just having a latte and a dessert at Starbucks would've set me back $8.

Have been getting some contacts here and there. I'll be seeing good ol' Shard for the monthly lunch  later this week. I'm getting printer paper from him and he'll be borrowing some of those 80s CDs I got at Tower Records. I'll be seeing an old student next month for lunch...we're looking at Baton Rouge at the Eaton Centre. My other old student back in Tokyo, The Carolinan, has finally gotten underway with my replacement.

Canada Geese squatters

An atypical last day of Winter

A hearty lunch

A Canadian legend
Toronto has become the City of Strikes, something that I would never have encountered in Tokyo. Over in Japan, they have something called the Shunto (the Spring Struggle) which is basically a mechanical exercise between employees and employers over issues that had already been resolved beforehand. It's rather like having a war with computers (see Star Trek Classic's  "A Taste of Armageddon"to understand what I mean). In any case, all 98 libraries in the city are now closed because the librarians and the City couldn't come to terms. A bit of a disappointment for me since I've been in the custom of visiting the local branch for a few hours on a Monday to peruse some magazines. Air Canada pilots have been playing games with management, and we avoided a major one earlier this year with Mayor Ford outfoxing one of the biggest unions.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Another Lazy Sunday

Sunday March 18, 11:36 a.m.

Got up for my usual bacon, eggs and waffles. I can eat...barely...runny eggs but really I'm more of a hard-boiled guy (in more ways than one). Tasting soft-boiled eggs just feels like I'm drinking down bodily fluids. There was that one episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in which Captain Picard is being tortured by a Cardassian inquisitor (Chains of Command, Part II...just to show you how much of a Trekkie I am), and he is forced to drink down a Taspar egg despite his disgust since he has been starved. I just thought...yup, I can feel his pain there.

Speaking of TV, I barely watch much of it now. Frankly, it's just news (CP24, NHK, CTV) and hockey games. I wasn't that much more of a TV watcher in my last few years in Japan either but I thought I was a fairly faithful viewer of "NCIS", "Hawaii Five-O", and "Fringe". However, even more than crossing the International Date Line, there is another line I have to cross when I come back home, and it's that Japan's release of American TV shows is always at least a full season behind, and I'm simply not willing enough to take that much of a leap. I've basically given up on "Alcatraz"; the mystery there is just not all that engaging enough, even with Sam Neill in it. And it looks like I may not be alone in that assessment...ratings have been halved since the premiere back in January, and it's on the bubble. "Missing"with another big-screen star, Ashley Judd, started up a few nights ago. It looks like a mix between "The Bourne Identity"and a Tiger Mom.....I was still going back and forth between it and my music blog, so I'm not sure if I'm with the program quite yet. Still, to get back to my Trekkieness, I will always remember Judd 20 years ago as Ensign Robin Lefler on TNG. Yes, do get me a life!

courtesy of merkus at Flickr

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Day

Saturday March 17, 4: 47 p.m.

A slightly gloomy and chilly St. Pat's Day compared to the gorgeous weather of yesterday. I'm sure it's a bit disappointing to all of the pubcrawlers but it's still good enough to have that pint of Guinness outside. Nope, I'm not wearing any green today unless you count envy as a form of attire. It's nice to see all those folks with a steady income who can go places. Brent Spiner of "Star Trek"fame sent a tweet stating that he would eat a bowl of Lucky Charms in tribute to the Emerald Isle. I responded that he should call Colm Meaney.

Mr. Moriya contacted me last night to say he has to cancel the lesson tonight due to work. Another old student also sent e-mail to say that he'll be in town next month, so we're trying to make plans for a get-together...the first time in over a year.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring Fast Forward

Pulled Chicken Sandwich Platter
 Friday March 16, 5:10 p.m.

This may be the first Toronto Winter in my 46 years of life that plain wasn't. I can count on one hand the number of days that have been bitterly cold (below -10 C). And next week, we may be getting temps that would be normal for late May/early June...the low 20s!
  On Wednesday, I used my lone outing of the neighbourhood to meet up with The Wild Guy and The Egg for lunch at our usual haunt of The Memphis Smokehouse at Yonge & Sheppard. The last time we were up there was back in January when there was that one rare day of cold. Two days ago, it was a Spring stroll down Yonge. The restaurants, including the Smokehouse, were opening up their patios for lunch.

Instead of the Pulled Pork Lunch, I went with the Chicken platter instead. Still mighty good with the BBQ sauce slathered all over and through the meat. Of course, I had the artery-hardening gravy with my fries for an extra loonie. Our waitress was our usual one; she had me pegged immediately as soon as I came in and asked whether I was eating alone today or whether my buddies were showing up, too. That earned her the tip right away.
Yonge & Sheppard
  The three of us didn't get too political. Instead, we just went technical with the advent of the iPad 3 (more evolution than revolution we all agreed) and about getting that casino for Toronto (absolutely disagree). It was a short get-together since The Wild One had to return to work up the street. But for someone like me who now keeps things literally at home, I appreciated the short burst of parole.

Mawaru Penguindrum

courtesy of didgeridoo_Tom
of Flicker
Friday March 16, 4:40 p.m.

Over the past several weeks, I've been viewing this anime I'd borrowed from my good friend, The Anime King, called "Mawaru Penguindrum". Of course, with his technical know-how, he lent me the whole series via a flash drive. Now, as I've always said, he's probably one of the foremost experts on anime in the country, and I don't think I'm exaggerating on this point. I seem to get any knowledge about anime all from him and in Canada, instead of Japan itself since after all these years, anime is still seen as something of a subculture over in my old home, instead of a mainstream art form. After all, fans of anime are still labeled as otaku, and not connoisseurs.

courtesy of KamiDigital
of Flickr
"Mawaru Penguindrum"had originally aired from July last year to just before Xmas in the wee hours of the morning, which seems to be the prime time for the more cutting-edge anime nowadays. It's a bit of a mindtwister plotwise: the Takakura family, consisting of two brothers and one younger sister, get mixed up with a conspiracy involving three penguins (which are attuned to each sibling's personality), urban genocide, a high school girl with a cursed diary and a stalker habit, a seemingly homicidal female assassin with her own penguin, and a Takarazuka Revue actress. Then, throw in some metaphysics, S&M/lesbianism and a soft spot for the Marunouchi Line of Tokyo Metro. It's not boring, that's for sure. Still not totally sure what the overall arc is about. And it has some wild swings from typically over-the-top if sometimes clever comedy to very dark adult situations. I would be betting my good relations with my family if I risked showing an episode in front of my impressionable niece....let's say.

Apparently, it has touched upon some interest in the anime community since I've come across several pictures of actual humans doing cosplay with the costumes from the show. Not that you'll ever see me wearing a penguin costume....

Happy Hour Talk

Friday March 16, 4:16 p.m.

If I had still been in Japan on this day and at this time, I probably would have been having dinner at the family restauarant or the McDonalds near Urayasu Station. Then it would have been a few hours teaching at the old juku. But those days are long gone now. And they have been long gone basically since the earthquake last year. Once March 11th came by, the juku boss canned all classes, ostensibly to let my former students to attend to any problems caused by the quake (southern Urayasu got hit with the liquefaction pretty badly), but also most likely to start the ball rolling on her divorce proceedings. I sometimes think that was the real reason for the loss of my juku classes. She could no longer stand her husband and she had to move I had no more space to teach anyone there. After my 1 month of refuge in Toronto until late April, I would never see my students...two of whom I'd known for 5 years. I was still in Japan for the remaining 7 months but no contact was ever made.

Now, I'm just kinda spinning my wheels. I've known for a few weeks that I probably wouldn't be called back to that school, and with a major family vacation next month, I can't really apply for any other positions. Basically, I'm just holding myself in limbo. I don't go out much since I can't afford to; I just meet friends once a week and try to stop any financial leakage. I actually called up TD today to cancel this Balance Protection Insurance which I think is basically not worth all that much. Luckily, I could pull it off without too much resistance from the operator. Still, I'm only relying on Mr. Moriya's biweekly lessons and the odd translation request from Cozy for any sort of income.

End of the Line

The 100 series courtesy of timtak

The 300 series courtesy of dscreativ

The Japan Sea Train courtesy of nanahocya
Friday March 16, 10:43 a.m.

I think all those train lovers out there should bring out the Kleenex for this entry. I'm pretty sure none of the train otaku in Japan will survive with a dry eye past this year.

Last year, the original Shinkansen Bullet Train...the 0 series....was finally put out to pasture after decades of service. Just in the last couple of weeks, I've heard that its next two levels of descendants, the 100 and 300 series, will also be retired. I think they still look pretty sleek, although the later series look even closer to Starfleet design. Once these babies have their last runs, there will be armies of train otaku on the platforms of Tokyo Station and other stops with their digital SLRs and movie cameras to commit the scenes for posterity. And JR will have ceremonies with all of the pomp and circumstance of a royal funeral.

While trains in Canada and the United States are hardly mentioned at all...let alone with any sort of reverence (and with the exception of any crashes), the Japanese have had a long love affair with their trains, particularly the ones which have the overnight sleeper car service. Songs have often been written about particular trains. Because of the size of the country, the Japanese love of domestic travel and need for business trips, and the excellent service (aside from the occasional screwup), rail travel still gives air travel a run for their money and passengers in Japan. One of the top stories on NHK News this morning was the semi-retirement of The Japan Sea (Nihon Kai) run from Aomori Prefecture to Shin-Osaka Station. A few veteran passengers of the line gave wistful interviews about how much of a second home away from home it was.

I've had a few experiences on the Bullet while I was in Japan. Of course, I rode the original Zero and perhaps even the 100 series. Riding in the non-reserved section usually, it almost felt like I was speeding along in my own warp bubble...almost separated from the surrounding countryside although I could clearly see the rice fields outside. The ride was that smooth. One time in 1991, I had the chance to ride a Bullet all the way from Hakata Station to Tokyo...a 6-hour ride at the time. I finally got an elite Green Car seat and so it was slightly wider than the usual jiyuuseki. Plus, I had been one of the last passengers to eat in the dining car before it was discontinued.

One of my dreams was to have ridden the Cassiopeia. This is the Tokyo-Sapporo run which lasts for almost an entire day, and is basically the equivalent of a modern hotel on wheels. The prices and popularity also reflect those of The Imperial Hotel. I simply couldn't afford the time and money for it, but perhaps there may be a remote chance in my life that I can still get on it before it, too, gets retired.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

More Tremors

courtesy of Yipski of Flickr
Thursday March 15, 2:07 p.m.

A little after the 1-year anniversary of the quake to wreck the Pacific coast of Japan, another couple of powerful jolts struck the area a couple of nights ago and only several hours apart. No reports of injuries thankfully, but the population, still jittery after 3/11, either held their breaths or headed for the hills lest another killer tsunami decided to head their way. There was one tsunami but it only measured 20 cm in height. Still, wits were plenty scared.
The crazy thing is that at the mandatory press conference, it was announced that the two tremors were classified as being aftershocks of the 3/11/11 quake! That's one delayed tremor! This morning on the NHK News, the top story was the consequential incidences of liquefaction that popped up like mushrooms all over the ground and streets along the coast. Solid pavement turned to chocolate pudding...just like that.
I remember walking in Odaiba which is the Tokyo trendy area built upon reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. There are signs everywhere warning that the entirety of Odaiba will liquefy in the event of a strong quake. Before 3/11, they were probably not given much serious thought but now? At least 5 shopping malls, the Fuji-TV station complex, and many highrise condos exist there. The math is looking pretty ugly.

A Quietly Bad Day

Thursday March 15, 1:51 p.m.

Ah, beware the Ides of March! Indeed, no truer words have ever been spoken.

But....hopefully....I've only had 2 evils befall me. One was my by own hand. I got a little too intense with one of the Facebook games and out of some frustration slammed my fist down on my Netbook which sent it into a 90-minute tizzy. Yep, an absolutely stupid thing to do considering that for right now, my computer is the only connection with any bread and butter coming my way (translations, Skype students). Luckily, it is a forgiving one and came back. But I will now refrain from any gameplaying for the meantime.

The second evil was this Balance Protection Insurance from TD that I've been billed for, although I don't remember signing up for it. As soon as I saw it, a Red Alert sign went off in my head. Then I looked at some comments via Yahoo, and saw a lot of "Ripoff"or words to that effect. So, I've sent word to TD to cancel the darned thing. There were a lot of telephone numbers scattered through their website which may or may not have to do with the insurance....nice form of bureaucratic smoke screen. In any case, I've gotta send out $14 by the end of the month. May not sound like a lot but for an unemployed fellow like myself, it's not too kosher by me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

To Die Alone

Tuesday March 13, 10:33 p.m.

From about the late 80s, just when the Bubble was about to burst in Japan and end the amazing Economic Miracle, there was the shocking phenomenon of karoshi, death by overwork. Until I'd heard of this Japanese expression, I thought "death by overwork"was more of an idiom.

Now, just entering this year, there seems to be a new phenomenon that I've been hearing about via NHK. It's called kouritsushi, death by isolation. Just within the last 3 months, there have been cases popping up of apartment residents dying alone because, for whatever reason, they've slipped through the welfare system....frankly, not that difficult in a country which I've always thought had a comparatively flimsy system for the 3rd-largest economic superpower. There have been deaths of an elderly couple and their son, a middle-aged woman and her disabled son, and just this morning, a couple of sisters in Hokkaido who had been found frozen to death in their apartment because they hadn't been able to pay any of their utilities. They'd been dead for about a month.

For the 1st and 3rd cases, it was a matter that their businesses either shut down or laid them off. And they wouldn't or couldn't consult with the proper authorities about getting assistance. In the case of the two Hokkaido sisters, one of them had actually been at the city hall but never handed in the application for welfare assistance....was it a matter of pride involved? The second case was truly tragic...the mother apparently had an aneurysm and died instantly and the son, who couldn't feed himself, starved to death. Still, I have to wonder whether the local authorities could have done more to help these people....or were they just the unlucky ones who slipped through the cracks of the safety net, only to be eventually found out by the media?

In any case, I've got the sad impression that I'm going to be hearing about kouritsushi in future broadcasts.


Tuesday March 13, 10:20 p.m.

This morning, I got the news from Cozy that I would be liable for one more year's worth of Residents' Tax to the Ichikawa government. I almost was on the verge of typing his head off in frustration since I'd been looking forward to that remaining amount from my bank account. Now, at this point, I will end up owing money to pay off my final debt. I sent a letter to the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo only to have them tell me that I should contact Ichikawa Tax Office directly. But I left a message on one of the Japan forums and got some useful, if not good, news. Apparently, the government calculates the Residents' Tax based on the previous year, so, yep, it looks like I gotta pay some more money.

If there is good news, I won't be getting the bill until June. That was always the case when I was living in Japan. And I'll have some time to make up the balance via Mr. Moriya's lessons and perhaps any other job I can scrape up. Not quite sure if I can still pay via installments like I did back in Japan.

Still not a happy state of affairs.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Winter Cancelled On Account of Spring

Monday March 12, 5:06 p.m.

We broke records yesterday with the warmest March 11 in Toronto history....hit the big One-Six C. For this time of year, that's a sign of a heat wave. When I headed out for a few minutes to buy the paper at the nearest convenience store, I heard birds chirping, the sun was shining and an eerie sense of well-being consumed me....for a short time, anyways, then I remembered I was still jobless and the Leafs lost again....then I returned to my default misery.

Meanwhile, in this year's meteorological version of "Freaky Friday" starring Japan and Canada, my former country of residence was shivering with cold and avalanches had become a regular part of the news.

Locally for me, it's been a little better. My taxation proxy, Cozy, has been able to handle the processing of my final tax return to the Japanese government and he was able to get my somewhat suspicious former real estate agency to deposit the portion of my security deposit that I had been owed for my old apartment in Ichikawa City into my account...just in time for him to send off the return with my taxes. There will be some left over from my old account to send back to my PayPal as well. And I also got another translation assignment from him, although this is a smaller job. I'm gonna have to send him some sort of package to him to show my gratitude.

Yup, the Leafs Suck

courtesy of La Bia of Flickr
Monday March 12, 4:43 p.m.

Other NHL teams may be exhorting their fans to say "Let's Win The Cup". Here in Toronto, once again, we folks can say another four words "Well, maybe next year." Or perhaps I should say four-letter words.

Yup, once again, it looks like the Leaf Nation is going to feel like The Island of Lost Toys before Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer rescued them. Under the supposedly hard-nosed Randy Carlyle, the team has lost three and won just one game since he took over. One of my friends who's permanently living in Tokyo but is (or was) one of the few hardcore ex-pat Leafs fans ranted on his Facebook that he has totally given up on the team...for this year, at least...after the latest loss in Washington yesterday. When sportscasters start using the word "mathematical"when they describe a team's chances at making the playoffs, you know it's over. According to one such fellow, the Leafs would have to win every one of their last 13 games to even have a fighting chance to avoid an April tee-off at the links. According to the website Rauzulu's Street (, the longest winning streak that Toronto has ever had was in the 1993-1994 season when the Leafs had won 10 straight in October (I think Pat Burns was still running things there). So, basically, Luke, Dion and the rest of the boys can start getting their irons polished off. And perhaps they can also watch out where they decide to dine out in Toronto during the summer...there might be some rather frigid receptions...and I don't just mean ultra-cold air conditioning.

I just can't understand these guys. But again, folks in La Belle Province are probably saying the same thing about Les Habitants.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

After Year One

courtesy of Dinivian Dondi
Sunday March 11, 3:31 p.m.

Did my "spring forward" to Daylight Savings Time, so I witnessed the memorial services to commemorate the 1st anniversary of the Great Quake at 1:46 a.m. (EDT). I even did my minute of silence in my pyjamas in my room.

I woke up this morning to see the parents watching Ken Watanabe gravely reading letters from those who had suffered directly from the quake and tsunami. I guess he's achieving his Morgan Freeman status in Japan. The past 24 hours have seen NHK showing live reports from the affected areas with intermittent performances by singers and high school choirs along with interviews of families. It's been all very sobering and respectful.

But I hope that the Japanese government finally get themselves into maemuki mode and finally construct that plan to rebuild the Tohoku area. The city of Kobe has been looking pretty pristine for several years despite being devastated by The Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. Although I'm well aware that The Great East Japan Earthquake was worse on a larger scale, I think the government response has been far less effective than it should be. My biggest worry is, of course, the Fukushima reactors. CNN's Kyung Lah's report in the hot zone (in full radiation gear) does not give me much to be happy about. The contaminated water used to cool off the reactors is just being stored in massive containers until they run out of space. Then comes the big question of what to do next.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


But with all that happened on March 11, 2011....the early morning of March 14, 2011 showed that the sun still rose up.


Saturday March 10, 10:10 a.m.

A lot of these videos have popped up on YouTube over the year since the March 11 earthquake. For anyone who has never experienced a tremor, yup, it was THAT bad. Nothing compared to what the Tohoku went through but it far....the worst shaking that Tokyo had ever been through in many, many years. The following photos were posted a year ago on my previous blog, but I've decided to re-hash some of them here.

Massive bus lines at Shinjuku Station 
My messed-up apartment after midnight 
Commuters pondering options at Iidabashi Station

Outside of the Maynds Bldg, minutes after the quake
 Getting home that night was an odyssey. Subways and trains being shut down was a foregone conclusion. Lines for taxis and buses snaked on for dozens of metres. But the "sho ga nai"(can't be helped) attitude that the Japanese have...which can be darned annoying at times....actually helped preserve the peace. No massive lootings or riots.
Lineups for the public phones

A broken pane was the only damage seen

The lobby of the Southern Tower in Shinjuku

Shinjuku Starbucks shortly after the quake

Trudging home at 11:30 p.m.

Scoured out shelves at the convenience store

A line forms at the neighbourhood supermarket

Early morning subway on Mar 14

My clock stopped right at that time
I got home after midnight Saturday morning after a 7-hour trek from Tokyo back to Ichikawa, Chiba come home to a mess of an apartment. Several of my electronics were on the floor or tatami, including my computer monitor. Strangely enough, all of them still worked like magic! All hail Japanese manufacturing. Took me an hour to get things sorted out. Plus the water came out the color of tea for about 48 hours.

The trek home was a combination of walking and hitching a ride on any subways that were back online. The Oedo Line from Shinjuku Station was probably the earliest to come back at around 8:30 that night. I made it to Iidabashi Station where unfortunately the Tozai Line (my line to get home) would be one of the last lines to recover since it's one of the longest lines in the Tokyo Metro system. Waited there for close to 2 hours before giving up and heading back to the Oedo to at least get a bit closer to home. By that time, the Oedo was packed to the gills with desperate commuters.

I was about to teach at the Maynds Building in southern Shinjuku when the quake struck at 2:46 p.m. My camera clock was running several minutes late, so this is actually very soon after the fact. Ran out, along with many others, and waited with them outside to see the towering skyscrapers of Shinjuku waving like palm trees.

A sight I'd thought I would never see in the age of cellphones. But on March 11, transportation lines and lines of communication would come crashing down. There were people actually forced to use the old green public phones at subway stations once again....something that I hadn't seen the mid-90s. I also several people wearing plastic helmets walking through the station.

In the video I uploaded from YouTube, the Japanese woman reassured her foreign friends that the building they were in was perfectly safe. The Maynds Building is a tall structure going up at least 20 stories. From what I could see on the first floor this broken pane of glass was the only sign of damage. But I'm sure that this building was also doing its fair share of swaying. However, that meant that the anti-quake measures were working....otherwise they would've cracked and crashed. There was that unmanned crane next door, though, that was swinging rather wildly.

Just across the street from the Maynds Building was the Southern Tower which holds Microsoft Japan and a hotel popular with foreign tourists. Again like outside, there were many people in the lobby just pondering their options about getting home. As it turned out, as the hours passed, commuters just took on the grim task of walking it outside of the city. There were literal walls of people heading home that night while the automobile traffic was stuck.

This was the Starbucks in the Maynds Building where I was supposed to teach my student in a private lesson. Around the mid-afternoon, there is often a lull in traffic which makes it easier for me to get a table. But there were certainly more customers before the quake than after as you can see here. The scene at 2:46 wasn't quite as dramatic here as shown in the video but as the quake got stronger and stronger, there was a growing realization amongst the latte-drinking customers that this was no ordinary tremor. Eventually they stopped drinking and chatting and they started looking at the swinging lamps and hearing the vibrating glasses before we all decided to evacuate en masse.

I took the packed Oedo Line as far as Monzen-Nakacho Station, the other link between that line and my Tozai Line. It was much further east and therefore closer to Ichikawa but if the subways hadn't started working, it would've still meant probably a 4 or 5-hour walk home. The main street was still packed to the gills with unmoving traffic while pedestrians streamed home on the sidewalks. I walked past two more stations until a cop at Minami-Sunamachi Station announced that the Tozai was back in operation....some eight hours after going down.

The next morning was a discovery that things were no longer normal. No water, no least, not easily available. I went to the nearest convenience store....which was usually VERY convenient....only to find as of a little after 10 a.m. on March 12, that the shelves were almost virtually cleaned out. It looked like the GUM store in Soviet-era Moscow. There were some samples of bento left, but all of the bottled water was cleaned out early.

This was one of the four supermarkets in my old neighbourhood. Nakamura-ya is located right under my station of Minami-Gyotoku. It opened much later than around 11. But a sizable line had already formed at about 10 a.m. Again, just something that I would never have imagined happening. The other supermarket across the street didn't open, period, for a couple of more days.

On Monday March 14, I went to teach my first student. Usually I left my apartment at 6:30 a.m., but I left that day at around 5:45, thinking that commuters would probably be hitting the subways earlier than usual. My instincts were correct. The Tozai was already at rush hour peak at 6 a.m. I had to get off at Minami-Sunamachi Station and just walked the extra kilometre to reach my student's office.

This was the time when my clock stopped on Friday March 11. For several days, time just seemed to stop for everyone as people tried to cope with the quake, tsunami and then the looming Fukushima disaster.