Thursday, May 31, 2012

Another Old Student

One of U of T's greatest fringe benefits.
Thursday May 31, 4:15 p.m.

I subbed for one class yesterday at the school. It was a class that I had taught before, so the familiarity factor was quite welcome. Afterwards, since I had several hours to kill between the end of the class and my meeting with The Siberian, I decided to walk over to the University of Toronto's St. George Campus, my old stomping grounds....for my seasonal lunch from a food truck.

I didn't have to go far up St. George to find The Blue Truck. It had the Burger & Fries package for $5 but I just had to throw in the Coke and extra gravy, so it came out to $7.50, but I wasn't complaining at all. After teaching 3 hours, it was nice and comforting to dive into an unrepentantly unhealthy lunch....while sparrows were just waiting for those extra crumbs and french fry bits to drop down on the ground. I helped them out. I'll tell ya....those food trucks are the lifeblood of lunch at the campus. It also helped that the weather was very pleasant...very May-like out there.

Spent another couple of hours browsing in Koffler Centre and my old workplace of the International Student Centre....not that anyone there would know me now. I have a feeling that the director that I had first met as a student assistant there 20 years ago has probably gone onto bigger and better things.

One heavy dish

Then I looped it around on the Yonge-University Line all the way to Finch Station in the late afternoon and spent an hour at the nearby Starbucks reading before The Siberian showed up at 6. I hadn't seen my old juku student in a few years, but it was evident that he had gained a couple of kilograms. He's been in Toronto since February so he's had lots of opportunities to fill up on the good stuff.

We ended up going to a Korean joint which he frequents just south of Yonge and Finch. I had myself the Kimchi Fried Rice. It may not look like a lot of food in the picture but I was pretty darned stuffed by the end of the dinner. The Burger & Fries probably didn't help. The Siberian and I caught up on the past few years. He's currently going to school at one of the places near Eglinton Station and is staying with a Filipino family at the northern edge of the city. He had heard rumours about the juku boss' divorce via his mother, and so I basically confirmed them for him; he had already been long gone from the juku as a student by the time the marital discord reached a peak. He's only here until August but he's already made a lot of friends from Korea and Mexico; in fact, he had to take off to head to some sort of farewell party down at Bay and Bloor after our meeting. Hopefully, we'll meet at least a couple of more times before he takes off for home.


Thursday May 31, 3:54 p.m.

It's kinda ironic that Shemar Moore of "Criminal Minds"fame was on CP24 today. While he was schmoozing it up with the interviewer, the real versions of the FBI's Behavioural Analysis Unit are probably feverishly trying to find a suspect who would be a prime suspect on that show.

The whole thing started just a couple of days ago when staffers at Conservative Party HQ in Ottawa opened a box containing a rotting human foot. Then, a package containing a severed hand was located at a post office while a suitcase carrying a human torso was found in Montreal. All of the body parts belonged to the same victim, and the suspect is Luka Rocco Magnotta, a gay porn star and someone who has been targeted as a killer and torturer of kittens. As they say on "Criminal Minds", and the other police procedural series that have been on the airwaves for years and years, he may have "escalated". And apparently, he left a note warning that there are other body parts out there, and that he would strike again. Even scarier is that there are alleged videos of him killing and chopping up the victim who's now literally all over Ontario and Quebec, and his kitty kills.

Interpol has been brought into the case which probably means he's fled the country.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Conservatives Gain an Extra Foot

Tuesday May 29, 4:35 p.m.

Well, I gotta say that it's one of the more interesting news stories I've heard all year. The Breaking News all over Canada is that some sociopath has sent a box to Conservative Party HQ with what may be a human foot. Not sure what the message is here. I think in "The Godfather", a horse's head was sent.

I have to say that that beats yesterday's news of Air Canada Flight 001 to Narita dropping parts of one engine all over a Pearson Airport parking lot. Man, the BEE ladies were lucky to have left on Flight 001 on Sunday, and the people in the drop range were lucky not to have died.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hot, hot, hot

Monday May 28, 11:11 p.m.

Hottest day of the year so far although Toronto itself didn't break any records...thankfully. It went up to about 30 degrees with a humidex about 10 degrees higher. Still, I guess living in Japanese summers must have toughened me up...didn't feel too bad out there. Wearing shirts which act as a second skin during July and August in the Land of the Rising Sun helped out a lot.

Looks like I've got another gig at the school on this point, just a morning thing subbing for the same class as last Tuesday. The guys there were a good group although one Japanese woman didn't look too kindly upon me. And I'll be doing the whole of next week since the regular teacher will be heading on vacation then.

The Beehive ladies may have gone home but I've got another former student to see here. The Siberian, from my juku days, is currently residing in Toronto as a student, so I'll be seeing him for dinner on Wednesday up at his haunt of Finch and Yonge. I've seen his profile picture on Facebook; he's been eating well.

In any case, I will definitely enjoy my day at home tomorrow.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Some Old Friends

Sunday May 27, 11:35 p.m.

It's been a bit of a reunion week of sorts. Mrs. Perth and Mrs. Alp of my old student collective in Chiba, The Beehive, arrived in Toronto. And so, I was off to the Sheraton Gateway Hotel at Pearson to pick them up. Almost didn't make it due to a major subway snafu involving the suicide of a high school student at Castle Frank which had hundreds of commuters pouring out onto the streets trying to smash onto the hastily arranged shuttle buses or hailing taxis. I was lucky to have shared a cab with three others so that I could get to St. George Station where the trains were being turned back westbound.

But I did get there right on time, and Mrs. Tulip was there with her van to pick all of us up for a round of dim sum at a Mississauga restaurant called Summit Garden. It had been almost half a year since I last saw the group that I'd been teaching for 13 years, but it felt like yesterday when I saw them. Afterwards, Mrs. Tulip picked up some mussels at the local Costco to make up dinner for the ladies at her place. I spent a few hours there just to reminisce before I had to head on home.

On the Saturday, I met up with Perth and Alp again and gave them a small tour of the downtown area. Specifically, I first took them down to the St. Lawrence Market. I had been kinda iffy about this place being voted the Best Market in the World, but it looks like the weekends actually do help give the place a lot more excitement.

The three of us went for a DIY Ploughmans Lunch of sorts. We made full use of the market's facilities by picking up gravlox, prosciutto ham, olives, apricot cheese and Montreal bagels. It was the right call...better than settling for the set meals, although they are also good. Alp and Perth were suitably impressed with the variety and taste. In fact, Perth decided to buy half a dozen of the bagels to bring back to Japan. Just by the largest coincidence, my old friend Eriko just happened to be taking a lunch break from an all-day course in the area, so she joined us for the meal.

The weather was just perfect for a walk down to Harbourfront. It was warm but not too humid unlike the steam bath of Friday. We had been thinking about getting on the ferry for Centre Island but coming upon the huge lineups at the ticket booths, we decided to just enjoy drinks at Queen Quay's Terminal. Talking there for a few hours just reminded me of our old sessions on Tuesday morning.

Of course, with the weather being so gorgeous outside, the TTC declared the season "Construction"and closed down the Bloor-Union leg of the Yonge Line, so we took the shuttle bus up from Union Station. Man, it was like going on a JR Bullet Train during Golden Week. The three of us were lucky to get seats and that we got off at the other end of the bus route.

The last part of the tour ended in Greektown where I showed the ladies the wonders of Mr. Greek. Greek cuisine isn't exactly cheap or plentiful in Tokyo. Not to say that Greek fare is dime-a-dozen but it's all-so-reasonable here in Toronto. If they had come here a month later, they would've been privy to A Taste of the Danforth, but c'est la vie. Still, they were happy enough with the hot spinach dip, calamari and souvlaki. And of course, I had to order the literally flamboyant saganaki.

We were joined by a young Japanese-speaking Korean lady who is buddies with another Korean who had been good pals with Mrs. Perth back when the latter had been living in Australia several years ago. Very engaging and talkative, and her Japanese was so fluent that I kinda crumpled up inside in terms of my pride.

And of course, the night in Greektown wasn't complete without having dessert at Demetres. However, I just settled for the far more liquid Iced Cappucino since I was just so stuffed from the souvlaki. However, the three ladies were happy to engage their sweet tooth by munching on a cherry cheesecake.

I was the complete host and took them all the way to their hotel near Spadina Station. It will be a long while before I see any of the Beehive again, but hopefully either next year or the year after I may get a chance to visit Japan again.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Smooth and Rocky Wednesday

Toyoko Line Platform
at Shibuya Station
Wednesday May 23, 8:41 p.m.

Got free reign over the household today since the parentals are off in Niagara Falls for the night. It's been nice staying home all day just relaxing and cooking and watching sports since I had another sub teaching gig over at the school yesterday.

I think I know what's been eating me about this job. Although I do need it for the money, it hasn't been much fun. The night before any gig there, I toss and turn like a Mexican Jumping Bean. The stress just builds up as I go through breakfast, the commute and the lesson planning before the lessons. After I get through them, I head on home and feel exhausted. Then the next morning that I don't work, I feel like a plank of sequoia...just like this morning. But at least, I got a good night's sleep and even dreamed.

The problem is the nature of my job. Obvious thing to say, but when I'm teaching these guys, I know I'm not teaching MY guys. These aren't the classes that I'm personally and professionally responsible for. I feel like I'm invading their airspace. Having been on the other side of the situation back in elementary school, I know what it feels like when a sub teacher comes in. First question: "Who the hell are you?" Second question: "What the hell did you do with my real teacher?"

Not to say that any of my students have been brats or anything like that, but that initial tension is there. Plus, some of the logistics involved in my school don't exactly chime in with me; it's made my job that much more difficult. The teachers I have been subbing for have been good about telling me what needs to be done, but as much as I plan for teaching a good, fun class, I'm increasingly of the opinion that my way of teaching seems to be more suited for the audience that I had been teaching for several years. Now that I'm teaching multicultural lessons, I know that perhaps my somewhat humourous approach isn't rubbing off too well on other non-Japanese students. And every night I get home from school, I end up just wondering about whether my reputation is simply preceding me as a sub. That's my stress.

But, along with the fact that the school is one of my few sources of income and that I've been told that the busy season is coming, I just can't up and leave. Perhaps I can do something about it once Fall comes around, but that leaves the question about how to supplement my income. Mr. Moriya has been fine with me, but that's just one student twice a month, and the translation season with Cozy is over for another year.

Anyways, I'm glad that I'm having a nice day today. Plus, I'm gonna be meeting with my old students, The Beehive ladies, tomorrow up at Pearson and then we head out for a round of dim sum. I actually got an e-mail from Mrs. Travel who had to pull out at the last minute due to a family emergency. Looks like her husband is on the mend, happily.

It seems like the Tokyo Sky Tree has overall had a good start. But even the opening was pre-empted a few days ago by this news of a stabbing in Shibuya Station. It happened on the Fukutoshin Line escalator, an area that I have passed through during my days in Japan. Apparently, a middle-aged man got skewered by a younger fellow after they bumped shoulders and had a brief, intense exchange of words before the incident happened. The cops arrested the guy this morning thanks to the subway security cameras. Just one of those guys who simply snapped. Earlier this year, there was a similar incident at the station when an unhinged woman stabbed a younger woman for merely staring at her.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Tale of Two Towers

Tokyo Sky Tree August 2011
Tuesday May 22, 8:28 p.m.

After years of seeing this thing slowly rise up from the nondescript neighbourhood of Oshiage, Tokyo Sky Tree finally got its debut today. All 634 m of it opened up to the public. The weather didn't cooperate too much, though, since there was a pretty steady rain dampening the proceedings, and later on the winds were strong enough to stop any elevator rides up to the higher observation deck. Still, by the end of their Tuesday, 220,000 visitors made it up and down the world's tallest tower. How? I've got no idea.

Of course, NHK gave a full half-hour to the opening. And there have been a lot of gimmicks surrounding it. One French restaurant near TST is serving a towering dish made up of chicken, rice and veggies. There is a campaign going on at a soba restaurant in which exactly 634 grams of soba noodles measuring 63.4 cm in length are being served. Kinda challenging dining.

Meanwhile, the former No. 1 tower, Toronto's own CN Tower, is down to No. 3, since the Shanghai Tower usurped its position a few years ago. Seeing the Tokyo Sky Tree debut kinda took me back some decades as I remember seeing the CN Tower being built as an elementary school kid. As I played recess in the schoolyard in St. James Town, I saw the tower slowly taking shape and rising above the cityscape thanks to the famous Sikorsky helicopter taking up various parts to the very top.

I think it's still a proud structure down at the lakeshore, and I can honestly that I have lived in two cities that boasted the tallest free-standing structure.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ajisen and The Avengers

courtesy of bigmek
from Flickr
Monday May 21, 1:11 p.m.

Another great day out there. Very summery, and unlike back in Tokyo, I'm not sweating my vital liquids out.

Yesterday, I met up with The Anime King for ramen at Ajisen up in North York. I had the tonkotsu BBQ Pork. Very tasty and reasonable at $7.99. It's not authentic Japanese ramen but I like to consider Ajisen's cuisine as neo-ramen. In a way Ajisen ramen is to Japanese ramen as the California Roll is to the usual sushi back in Japan. Purists will probably want to konk me over the head with a soup ladle.

courtesy of M & R Movies Productions
from Flickr
Afterwards, The Anime Jester joined us at the nearby Empress Walk movie theatres which just had an IMAX system installed just three weeks ago....just in time for the big hit of the summer so far, "The Avengers". It's really convenient for people like The King and myself since otherwise it would've meant a 40-minute drive out to the wilds of Mississauga for the closest IMAX experience. Instead, it was just a bus-and-subway ride for me.

When the idea first came out for "The Avengers"several years ago, quite a few of us had some major skepticism. After all, superhero movies were still rather hit & miss affairs. And the other previous superhero group franchise, "The X-Men" didn't exactly wow cinemagoers or critics (although the second movie did right by most people). Plus, the Marvel hero flicks leading up to "The Avengers"were rather limp. "Iron Man 2" was a disappointment as was the second movie for "The Hulk", and "Thor"just seemed like a prelude to something bigger. "Captain America"seemed to be the only movie immediately before the big project to come out smelling somewhat of roses.

So, it was with some surprise that the year's first big summer blockbuster hit a grand slam with everyone. Even James Cameron may be looking a bit nervous right now. The three of us caught it last night some 3 weeks after its debut, but there was a sizable enough audience to laugh with, and not at, the characters. Joss Whedon has somehow pulled off a miracle interweaving these heroes from rather meh movies and creating a fast, furious and fun flick. Considering the celeb-laden script, everyone, from Robert Downey Jr. to Samuel L. Jackson, got his or her day in the sun. Downey got the lion's share of the best lines although that was not ego-negotiated actor talking; it was simply that Tony Stark is the wiseass character of the team (and Downey owns the character now...I just see the comics version of Stark as being incomplete without the jokes), and not the others.

I'm not sure if Shakespeare had included the superhero team plot in his theory that there can only ever be 7 plots in human storytelling, but "The Avengers" follows the usual line of disparate characters being assembled to battle a huge foe, with the characters initially not getting along until they get their faces rubbed into it which is when they smarten and toughen up just in time to vanquish said foe. But on this plot skeleton is draped some solid character writing, a mix of personal agendas, zippy effects, and some cheer-inducing one big scene of pathos in the middle.

"The Avengers 2" is a lock which means that the expectations will be super-high. But in the meantime, everyone connected with the movie can just bask in the glow for the rest of the year.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Victoria Day Weekend

Sunday May 20, 12:44 p.m.

It's my first Victoria Day weekend in 18 years. Couldn't ask for a better reunion: high of 28 C and absolutely gorgeous out there. So, why am I inside typing this? Well, I won't be here for that long. I will be heading out in a few hours to meet up with The Anime King and The Anime Jester for a quick dinner and then "The Avengers". Yup, I'm finally getting to see the "Ocean's Eleven"of superhero movies. And apparently this movie will make tons more than the entire George Clooney/Brad Pitt trilogy made. At the beginning of the year, folks were kinda looking at "The Avengers" with a bit of jaded cynicism with "The Dark Knight Rises"being considered the superhero movie of class. Now, the pressure is on Batman. Of course, Comic Book Guy would probably scoff at the comparison, but critics AND fans make a pretty potent combination when they agree on something.

Victoria Day is the unofficial beginning of the summer in Canada, but back in Japan, Golden Week is the first major holiday. Starting from late April and heading through the first week of May, depending on what days of the week GW falls on, the Japanese can get as much as 10 days off. Basically, it's 3 or 4 national holidays stuck together with some strategically placed regular days as the glue. Of course, the traffic jams and crowded stations & airports take on epic proportions when a huge population and limited transportation facilities are involved. Luckily, I was one of those people who had absolutely zero incentive to travel, using my time to enjoy a half-empty Tokyo. And equally as luckily, I had a few friends in the area who agreed with me so that we could meet up for movie and a dinner.

Cha Time

Sunday May 20, 12:05 p.m.

After the somewhat mixed experience at Don Don on Friday, Sam and I literally hopped over next door for a bit of tea at a place called Cha Time.

Sam was far more satisfied with his small drink than with his entire lunch. I had the really sweet Pearl Tea for $4.20. That's the one with the jelly balls down at the bottom of the cup, aka Bubble Tea.

Pearl Tea has settled down from its initial fame to become part of the regular Toronto culinary landscape which is great. There's no more hype surrounding it and I can get it pretty easily without having to search high and low for a spot that sells it.

The drink was introduced over a decade ago in Tokyo, but it never really caught fire over there for some reason. I remember going to one of the "To The Herbs" (a pasta chain) branches in Ichigaya for lunch, and I just happened to see the new campaign for bubble tea. The drink must've been very new since after I'd ordered it, I had my waitress and even the manager come up to me and ask how it was. I enjoyed it, but apparently not enough of the Japanese did. I'm sure that a few places in the Chinatowns of Yokohama and Kobe probably sell it, but I think Bubble Tea in Japan is one of those noble failures.

Something written on the wall at Cha Time. Probably the largest fortune cookie message I've ever seen at a restaurant in Chinatown.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Don Don the Izakaya

Saturday May 19, 11:58 a.m.

Yesterday, I got to meet up with an old friend downtown for lunch. We decided to give Don Don a try. Over the last few years, I've been hearing about the current boom in izakaya hitting cities like Vancouver and Toronto. Of course, there is the most famous and most successful (allegedly), Guu with its infamous 1-hour lineups.

One hour?! To wait to get inside an izakaya?  Obviously, I know about the reputation of Japanese cuisine in Canada and about how new the concept of izakaya is in my homeland. Still, having been to the real thing countless times back in the Kanto, I'm rather impressed-proof about the whole thing. Izakaya are as plentiful as cockroaches and McDonalds in my adopted home. My old neighbourhood had at least 3 or 4 big ones that the salaried types hit on any given night after getting home from the office. Izakaya isn't anything's just the local tavern with the emphasis on the copious amounts of beer and shochu, and not so much on the food although the variety is good, especially at the chains. And we certainly didn't need to line up.

This is the small drum by the entrance on the 2nd floor. Sam reminded me that Don Don now occupies what used to be the legendary Sai Woo restaurant....ooh, man, brings back memories. Apparently, the gimmick here is that  whenever a customer comes in, one of the staff hits the drum a couple of times. Don Don is the onomatopoeia for that sound. I've read some of the widely varying reviews for the place online, but it seems like the critics are almost unanimous in saying that having the drum relentlessly beaten doesn't contribute to comfortable dining. As someone who has been to The Spaghetti Factory in the days when huge cymbals were used to announce something, I can certainly sympathize.

I ordered the Take (bamboo) bento for $10.95. Pretty good considering the quantities involved. It came in a two-tiered long lacquered box. The top tier contained three salmon sushi done in oshizushi style (square-shaped and pressed), a potato croquette, a fried shrimp, and lettuce salad with dressing. No complaints about any of it.

The bottom tier contained the teriyaki chicken option with a mix of beans & hijiki with the rice on the side. I know that teriyaki has been getting the pointed end of the stick as the lazy  Japanese eatery's go-to dish all over the food courts, but I still like it. And I didn't eat it all that much in Japan despite there being teriyaki bentos in supermarkets and convenience stores. Sorry, but karaage was my first and only love with hamburger steak being my close 2nd.

I was fine with my bento, but Sam wasn't too thrilled with his oyako don. But he and I agreed that it had more to do with the fact that he doesn't particularly like the style that the chicken is made for oyako don (thigh meat simmered in a mix of shoyu, sugar and mirin). I don't order oyako don for pretty much the same reason....and I'm not a huge fan of runny, drippy cooked eggs. He's generally not all that enamored with all the hype surrounding the izakaya invasion since he also lived in Japan for a few years and been to izakaya there without the hype or higher prices.

One interesting observation. One waiter came by while we were still eating and asked if we wanted our dishes cleared. Of course, we politely said "Not yet" and continued our noshing. But sometime during our conversation, we were frankly stunned to realize that someone had taken Sam's bowl without us even noticing; and although he didn't really like his lunch, he still griped that there were at least two spoonfuls left. Apparently, Don Don has hired a ninja as a busboy.

That leads to my main gripe....the service still needs a bit of fine tuning. I overheard some of the staff-customer interactions on either side of us (izakaya is very much communal dining....just to warn those who may not like sharing a table or bench with strangers) in terms of forgotten orders, and perhaps there is a communication barrier involved since it seemed like the wait staff were all non-native speakers of English. But having a customer's food taken away before he's done with it would carry the death penalty in Japan. Overall, I was OK though Sam will probably not come back. I'd like to check out the nighttime menu.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Donna Summer (1948-2012)

courtesy of Bart & Co.
of Flickr
Thursday May 17, 1:27 p.m.

Heard within the hour of Donna Summer's passing. I had no idea that she had been the least bit sick, but apparently she had been suffering from cancer.

I was not a die-hard fan of hers but I enjoyed a number of her songs: "Hot Stuff", "She Works Hard for the Money", her version of "MacArthur's Park", etc.. She evoked the memories of the first years of my interest in music as a kid.back in the late 70s and early 80s. And of course, "Last Dance"was often the go-to song for the last dance at any school dance party.

Not sure if people in Japan will agree with me, but I think a lot of the J-R&B divas should give tribute to Summer....singers like Misia, Yuki Koyanagi and Kumi Koda. I've heard a lot of her influence in their voices. Koyanagi, especially, has covered "Hot Stuff"and "MacArthur's Park"on one of her albums. And for a while, the former song was getting lots of airplay via a popular commercial over there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Okinawa -- 40 Years On

courtesy of Viaje con JAPOPLAN
of Flickr
Wednesday May 16, 1:19 p.m.

Earlier on NHK News this morning, the report came out that Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko left Japan for England to attend the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II. While the UK and royalwatchers worldwide are enjoying the 60th anniversary of the Queen's ascension to the throne, Japan is also noticing and not particularly celebrating an anniversary of its own.

40 years ago, on May 15 1972, Okinawa was handed back to Japanese authorities after having spent the previous 27 years as basically an American protectorate. During that time, the presence was most felt via the building of US military bases at places such as Kadena and Futenma. It'd been thought, naively as it turned out, that once the US handed over ownership back to Japan, the military would go, too. But now well into the 21st century, the bases are still there as are growing resentment, resignation and frustration from the Okinawan prefectural government and people.

The news arc that has always been there with me during my 17 years in Japan is the Okinawan issue. It almost seems like an annual media ritual to show very grim-faced officials from Nagatacho meeting with equally grim-faced Okinawan governors in a media-filled lounge. It's the same exchange of words leading nowhere: the national government begging/ordering for Okinawa's understanding about the need to keep the military bases while the governor blandly reiterates his people's wishes for the bases to go. All that is accomplished is an uneasy stalemate, simmering forever like an abandoned pot of souki soba.

A lot of Okinawans (I'm not sure if all Okinawans feel the same way) have been holding up protest cards over the decades with the kanji for 'anger'(怒)and exhortations for the bases to go. The persistent deafening roar of US fighter jet engines over their homes, and accidents & crimes involving US military personnel & Okinawans have chafed for a long, long time. It's like the  house guest who has long worn out his welcome.

But the sad fact of the matter is that the likelihood of American bases pulling out of Okinawa is as remote as Russians pulling out of the disputed northern Kurile Islands off of Hokkaido. Both the Japanese and American governments are aware that Okinawa is a major bulwark against North Korea and China. And as much as Japan and China have tried to keep up good relations over the years despite some of the diplomatic snags, the People's Republic is still seen by many to be more rival (if not enemy) than friend. And nothing needs to be said about the DPRK. As long as those perceived threats remain, the US will never pull out of Okinawa, as galling as that news will be to the citizens there. Unless Japan can pull off another technological miracle such as creating man-made islands further west, Okinawa represents a major lynchpin in the US-Japan defense network. The Japanese government is frankly in the middle....between an angry island population and an indifferent defense ally. And not helping matters is that other prefectures have flatly refused to consider taking on some of those US bases, because of all of the publicized problems that have resulted.

Frankly, the 40th anniversary of the handover is less a historical footnote and more of the checking of the pulse of a chronically ill patient.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Just A....Matter of Time

courtesy of [puamelia]
of Flickr
Tuesday May 15, 12:21 p.m.

Well, got the news that "CSI: Miami"finally got the yank by CBS today....along with a number of other shows....a couple of which I knew had The Kiss of Death on them.

No more Horatio Caine, no more sunglasses-flipping, no more  mid-sentence-pausing pithy witticisms...and no more Calleigh Duquesne (darn!). Plus no more screaming intro theme song! Where am I going to get my "YEARRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHH!"now?

Not that I'm feeling too sorry for the show since it got a good decade in (although there may be some resentment from the "Miami"cast that their brothers and sisters in Las Vegas and New York are gonna be going ahead as usual). Plus, David Caruso is now immortalized along with Jack Webb from "Dragnet" and Jack Lord from the first "Hawaii Five-O"as a TV cop that viewers love and trust. Noone will ever really associate him with his time as another cop on "NYPD Blue". Caruso can now retire happily, knowing that he can open shopping malls and car dealerships by just cocking his redhead and rasping out, "Come here and steal....a bargain of the century." And since William Shatner is now out of Priceline...

I read that "Alcatraz"and "Missing"are gone, too. Not surprising....I saw the first few episodes of the former and just found it a little too clone-ish with "The X-Files" and "Lost", and the story arc was simply not all that compelling. As for "Missing", it never hooked me.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Family BBQ

Monday May 14, 2:54 p.m.

We did have that family BBQ on Saturday at my brother's. I had been looking forward to it since I hadn't had a truly Canadian grill experience in several years. Nothing wrong with the Japanese version, but I can't live on yakisoba alone. My brother, of course, was the grillmaster.

Ah, yes. The proverbial steak. I was fortunate that my little niece kept me on my toes for the entirety of our visit. We played Junior Scrabble and Dodgeball. That got me generating a good appetite by the time these babies were all cooked up and ready to go.
Our dodgeball was as innocent as a lamb. We used a soft furry soccer ball, and at this point, my niece couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. But I did get a good workout just getting the ball. Of course, I didn't tell her about my junior high school days of having to endure the far more dangerous version, known as Murderball, using fully-inflated basketballs. I hope she never encounters that game.

Of course, it wouldn't be a full BBQ without some extra protein to nosh on. My brother also threw on the sausages and chicken wings. Thanks to my niece, I was ravenous by the time, the grillmaster announced all's well.

Bit of Anime, Bit of Kofta

Overlea Blvd
Monday May 14, 2:09 p.m.

It was a gorgeous day yesterday...truly something to be called Spring and fully deserving of the accolade. Met up with The Anime King since he had another foodie place for us to try called Bamiyan Kabob on Overlea Blvd in East York.

As a kid, I used to come up to this area all the time with the family for shopping at what was once called Thorncliffe Market Place, now known as East York Market Place. The most famous place for me there still exists: Bowlerama. My Dad back in the 60s was part of an amateur league, so I have some very hazy memories of seeing him and his kegling buddies throw a few down and throw a few back.

Bamiyan Kabob is tucked in at the back of a small strip mall, just kitty-corner away from the big mall. We got there a half-hour too early which sparked our trip down memory lane via Bowlerama and the rest of the market place.

There is also a Bamiyan in Japan, but it's the name of a Chinese fast food franchise, one branch of which resided in my old neighbourhood for close to a decade. I think Bamiyan Kabob was much more appropriately named since the place does specialize in Afghan cuisine.

The place is pretty big inside with plenty of tables, but it seems like most people just want to take out, so there was no problem in getting one for eat-in. The Anime Jester joined the King and me. I went for the Kofta Lunch which seems to be the equivalent of a nicely-spiced hamburger strip with salad and naan. With the Pepsi, it all came to $8.57. Pretty darn good. The naan was different in texture from the usual Indian variety. I guess it would analagous to comparing a bagel to a piece of white bread. It was hard making a decision for what to eat since the other menu items looked pretty darn good too. I will have to try the Tandoori Chicken next time.

"The Avengers", we will have to leave for next week since the superhero juggernaut (the movie phenomenon, not the Marvel mutant) was filling up theaters too full.

courtesy of pauryne
of Flickr
The Jester had to leave us to get some Mother's Day stuff going with his family, but the King and I had our usual coffee at Second Cup (to assuage any remaining guilt pangs although the family did have that Mother's Day BBQ at my brother's place on Saturday, I bought a couple of tins of coffee there) where we spoke at length about stereos. Yes, at our age, we do like to talk on archaic objects.

Then, it was back to The Anime King's house for a few hours of soundtrack listening and watching a few episodes of new anime. One was called  "Rinne LaGrange", about a student lifeguard who ends up being a pilot for a slick mecha/hoverbike (as you do). Smooth-as-silk graphics with a bit of irreverent humour, and a club-friendly opening theme.

courtesy of daroldhiga
of Flickr
But most of the hours spent in the afternoon were devoted toward another show called "Moretsu Space Pirates". Again, it involves a high school girl who ends up becoming a space pirate captain...just like her Mom. I'm not sure if steampunk would be the right category for this one, but there seems to be an architectural tribute to old European cities, and the fans of Maid Cafes may wanna take a look. Full episodes were devoted to just the running of the training vessel, Odette II, but it looks like the show is finally getting into the job of being a pirate in outer space.The main character, Marika Kato, looks a whole lot like that currently pregnant newscaster on CP24. I'm just saying....

Of course, several hours of huge saucer-eyed girls and cute spunk can raise quite an appetite, so The King and I just took an hour's break by heading over to Metro Square, one of the many Chinese suburban malls on the northern edge of the city, where he introduced me to this tiny eatery which specializes in Taiwanese-style bento. Talk about old memories of Japan. I had the deep-fried pork chop on rice with three sides I could choose from the display counter....went for mabo dofu, greens and some sweet deep-friend tofu. Again, not too bad pricewise. Just $7.91 with drink.

Heading back to the King's place, I noticed how much green Toronto has, even along the major streets. Having lived and worked in the Tokyo area for the equivalent of a high schooler's life, I noticed that even when we turned from Steeles, south onto Leslie, it just looked like we were driving down a country road with all of the fully-green leafy trees. In Tokyo, it's just nothing but concrete and sound baffles along the roads and highways. I think the effect was further heightened for me since I hadn't been back home during the late Spring for so many years. I've heard some young foreigners slightly denigrate Toronto as being somewhat provincial, but if it looks like this, I will take it as a compliment.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My first BBQ

courtesy of mircea tudorache
of Flickr
Saturday May 12, 1:48 p.m.

Nice start to the weekend, so far. Green trees out there, and the air no longer has that sharpness of cold. Time for barbeque. Heading over to my brother's for a Mother's Day grillout. Haven't had a real Canadian BBQ in several years. The Japanese version of barbeque is OK....yakisoba and Korean-style pork, but I've had a hankering for steak, sausage and burgers for a long time now.

My contribution will be a box of Timbits for my niece. Her mother will ensure that the Tim Hortons donut holes will be given out very sparingly.

Most likely, my brother and I will be staring at the grill while drinking our beers....just like every North American guy does at a barbeque.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bee Visitation

Friday May 11, 11:47 a.m.

It looks like the now-reduced group of my Beehive students should be OK with the revised accommodations. The 24th and the 26th will be my two days with them. Mrs. Alp and Mrs. Perth are actually the two students who couldn't make it on the first trip here about 4 years ago, but they will be representing my old circle when they arrive in a couple of weeks. They're planning to stay at that hotel right at Pearson. I'll be heading over there but through a much less expensive means. When I went over to see Mrs. Tulip at her Mississauga home a couple of months ago, I had to take the GO bus from Union which cost about $10 round-trip along with the two TTC tokens. This time, it'll be just those two tokens since I can use the Airport Rocket from Kipling Station straight to Terminal 3 where the hotel is.

The plan for that first day will be heading out for yum cha. Should be interesting since most yum cha places in Japan are more staid and limited in dish variety. Our restaurants are much more rock n' roll. Alp and Perth have asked to see a whole bunch of places on the 26th....obviously, can't cover everything, but I think the two markets, St. Lawrence and Kensington, plus Greektown are doable.

Ume-chan Sensei

Friday May 11, 10:57 a.m.

Enjoying my second consecutive day of parole, as it were. No classes to sub for today. Just in my lounge wear, blogging or writing away.

My parents have been loyal customers of Japan TV via Rogers for several years, so when it comes to getting Japanese television, it almost feels like I never got away from the country, especially when it comes to broadcasting by the national station, NHK. It dominates much of the programming on Japan TV. Of course, one of the mainstays on NHK for decades has been the morning serial drama (asa renzoku shousetsu....朝連続小説). Every weekday morning from 8 to 8:15 on Channel 1, there has been a 15-minute telenovella, usually showing a drama based on Japan's yesteryears during the 20th century. Maybe the most famous one that has ever been shown internationally was the series "O-Shin" from 30 years ago which portrayed the struggles and eventual triumph of a woman from abject poverty to the presidency of her own franchise. Even Ronald Reagan dropped the name in a televised speech aimed at the Japanese people. I've never been much for schmaltzy melodrama, so I usually stayed in my room studying while I could hear my parents sniffling away while watching rented videos of the program.

Nowadays, my parents don't have to leave their home to get videos since they can watch their dramas via Japan TV, albeit at 9:45 p.m. EST. The current drama that started nearly a month ago is "Ume-chan Sensei"(梅ちゃん先生....Little Doctor Ume). As with the previous serial, "Carnation", the new drama is a coming-of-age story of a young dotty woman, Umeko Shimomura, in her attempts to become a medical doctor. The setting is postwar Tokyo 1945 so the city looks more like a shantytown than the gleaming megalopolis it is today.

I guess I've gotten mellow in my middle age, since I've been finding myself watching a number of episodes with the parentals. Mind you, I think the somewhat overly melodramatic tone of NHK rendora (the short form of the serial drama) in years past has itself mellowed out. Still, the Japanese like to watch their actors slap their hearts firmly on sleeves, so the Shatner effect pops up now and then. Frankly I think the dramas on the commercial stations are now far more hysterical (and not in a funny way) than the NHK ones; I gave up on those back in the late 90s.

Back to "Ume-chan". The era that I've always been most interested in has been the postwar era leading up to the Economic Miracle years of the 1980s...basically the path from rusted corrugated iron to gleaming steel and glass. Perhaps one of the reasons I've been more attracted to this drama is just seeing what life was like back then, the years that my parents had grown up in. The characters are amiable enough: Maki Horikita is the slightly annoying (for now, at least) but adorable and stalwart Ume-chan with her more with-it older sister, Matsuko and older brother, Takeo. The ever-grumpy father is the typical Showa-era master of his castle (and a doctor) with an ever-patient softspoken mother. Those last two characters are being played more as types than as real individuals, but even the NHK rendora have always been more about showing the sepia-toned fuzzy nostalgia than reality.

At this point, the situations have been fairly light and comical. Discovering the taste of that rare black gold....Coca-Cola, trying to sneak past the eagle eyes of Dad to attend an innocuous dance party, and Ume-chan just trying to figure out the German language so that she can succeed in medical school. Back then, all medical students had to learn German...the Chief of Staff at the local hospital in my town during my JET days could speak it fluently.

I think the only thing that I don't really like is that SMAP theme song......tortured, tortured, tortured.

courtesy of UBIC from Tokyo
of Flickr

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Elbow Bones and Racketeers

Wednesday May 9, 11:34 p.m.

I've come up with my fair share of strange entry titles but this one was made nearly 3 decades ago. Elbow Bones and Racketeers was this 80s disco/big band swing band that came and went years before the brief Neo-Swing boom of the mid-90s. It was a one-hit wonder but what a one hit. I used to listen to "A Night in New York"all the time on AM and FM radio. Wouldn't fully go into jazz for another several years but this was one of my favourites.

I just remembered it tonight so I checked out the ol' YouTube and not only found the song but the music video that went with it. I had no idea that a video had been made...yep, it definitely looks like a 40s big band set done in the 80s. I would love some enterprising fellow to have a go at a remake.

A Looked-Forward-To Weekend

Wednesday May 9, 9:36 p.m.

Especially with all of the arduousness of the past 3 days, I will be looking forward to a relaxing weekend. With Mother's Day coming up, my brother has invited the rest of us up to his place for a BBQ, weather permitting. And The Anime King has got plans in the work to catch "The Avengers" on Sunday.

That movie has already become the big blockbuster to beat at this early stage of the season. Thumping "Harry Potter"s opening last year by nearly $40 million, "The Avengers"racked up a cool $200 million last weekend for the record. "Hunger Games"? What's that? Nice to see a cinematic version of a sum that has become more than its individual parts. Even "The Dark Knight Rises"is taking pause. Good thing that Chris Nolan's final part of his "Batman"trilogy isn't coming out until late July.

Change in Plans

Wednesday May 9, 9:30 p.m.

The last couple of days have seen some changes to The Beehive's planned trip to Canada in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately I got word from Mrs. Perth that Mrs. Travel and Mrs. Tee have had to pull out suddenly due to family illness. So, it'll just be two of my former students, Perth and Mrs. Alp coming over. Mrs. Perth has asked me to cancel one of the two rooms allotted for the ladies at the hotel downtown which I haven't been able to do because of the calls in to duty over the last few days.

Although Mrs. Tee cannot come over, there is a bit of relief in that since Mrs. Tee cannot have any sort of meat due to religious reasons and she's extremely picky. Perhaps now that she has pulled out, the two remaining ladies will be a bit more amenable in terms of Toronto cuisine.

Considering Options

Wednesday May 9, 9:17 p.m.

Feeling like a knotty pretzel right now. Finished nearly 3 whole days of meatball teaching (kinda taking a stripe out of MASH)...namely, I went in as a sub teacher. 3 different teachers decided to take Monday, Tuesday and today off. I think I'm starting to develop a reputation at the school...I've made a few allies amongst students, but I've also developed a number of detractors. Plus, had another crash n' burn of a class this afternoon....just nothing went right, including finding myself a copy short of a frankly useless handout. I was lucky, though, that my final lesson went well and even earned me a couple of compliments from students.

Being a substitute teacher is quite a different experience from being the teacher I was back in Japan. I'm the invader going into the dynamic between the established instructor and the students. I'm just in for that one hour or so and then I'm out, with the only sign that I had been there being in the form of a report to the regular teacher. It's not easy and I'm dealing with students from different countries.

I had to go in early every morning....which I don't complain about. But heading home, I just feel completely exhausted...not the happy fatigue of having done a good job but the tiredness of going through an ultimately unhappy wringer. Even with the few smiles that I've gotten, it's been outweighed by a sense that I really gotta find something different. But I signed up to help them out and supposedly we're going into a busy season of regular teachers heading off for vacation. I certainly don't like to leave people out in a lurch but frankly I'm not sure if I'm heading into burnout mode. It simply hasn't been fun although my parents are happy that I'm not lazing around the apartment.

I've got nothing tomorrow so I can get some errands done and maybe decompress a bit. My problem is that I've always felt that I'm only as good as the worst lesson that I've taught during the day. So, I'm basically feeling like the worst teacher right now. Just gotta gut myself through it.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Toronto Comic Arts Festival

Sunday May 6, 2:53 p.m.

Made a rare trip downtown yesterday. Saw Yorkville for the first time since I returned for good. Not too bustling but then again it was a Saturday morning. But it made for a nice walk. I noticed some of the old names have disappeared.  I knew that the old Movenpick had long gone, but so has Bellini's, the Italian place that Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman had frequented years ago when they had been still married.

The reason that I did go was to take a look at TCAF, the annual Toronto Comic Arts Festival which has been active since 2003. Shard had invited me and so I joined him and another friend, John, to take a look at what has become a growing international festival of graphic novels and their authors.

 It was held at the Metro Library just north of Yonge & Bloor. There have been some renovations underway there for the past few years. But they didn't get in the way obviously. We got there at about 11, a couple of hours after it had officially opened, and there were already a ton of people inside. By noon, the first floor looked like Shinjuku Station during rush hour. According to the official website, the organizers took pains to insist that this was NOT a Comicon by any means since the event was sharing the library with regular users and not holding its own party....the message being that cosplayers were not really welcome. However, I did see a few flamboyantly dressed characters.

And TCAF wasn't really about the conventional Marvel and DC superheroes, although the timing of it with the general release of "The Avengers"was strangely coincidental. This was about the serious graphic novelist and his/her works. There were some very slick and serious productions out there on the tables, manned by pretty amiable authors and publishers. I had initially thought that at least some of them would be the sullen withdrawn types who communicated in well-inflected grunts.

 There was also one room that was devoted to indie video games. Who'da thunk it? I thought that the label was only for music and movies. "Choose Your Rock God" was pretty nifty.
Ah, there is one flamboyantly dressed young lady.

Yup, I did my fair share of karaoke parties in the past. English teachers were basically drawn to them like a moth to a flame.
Hey....what a concept! I think I did something similar.

 Now, I don't know all that much about the serious graphic novel industry nor do I have all that much passion about it, but I was pretty envious of all who were around me since they seemed to be in some sort of love-in with their fellow fans and heroes. I would put John and Shard in that group; they were bantering with some of the authors here and there. Of course, the good thing about a certain detachment from the proceedings was that I wasn't particularly desirous to part with my money....the $10 I had in my wallet was good enough for a cheap lunch at Starbucks.
 I think the Hero of the Day would probably be French artist Hugues Micol. John and Shard were quite enamoured with his work, "La Chien Dans La Vallee De Chambara"...a work which involved a female warrior of sorts in Edo Era Japan. Some minutes later after my friends had asked about him, he showed up and proceeded to draw the protagonist right in their autographed copies of the novel. Shard pointed out that a lot of other artists would've just scribbled something in 20 seconds and asked for 20 bucks. Micol took 20 minutes to painstakingly draw the woman in full kimono on the inside cover for both John and Shard. The advertising side effect was great since Micol's drawing attracted a few other folks to his table.

Here is the man himself with his tubes of paint in full action.

A very interesting experience and perhaps a good primer if I ever attend an actual sci-fi convention someday. I can only hope that the Hollywood crowd would be as nice and generous as Hugues Micol was yesterday at the Toronto International Film Festival. Not that I would ever ask any actor to re-enact a scene at the Bell Lightbox. I'd probably compare the ever-increasing TCAF to a hermit crab. It just perpetually needs to get into a bigger shell. I think even the library was perhaps a bit too small to hold everyone. Perhaps it will need to get deposited into the Convention Centre next year.