I was digging the Halloween decorations out of the basement today, when I came across my old PSP gear. Joy!
Sonyʼs PlayStation Portable wasn't the first portable video game system I ever owned. I had the original Atari Lynx back in the 80ʼs. But the PSP brings back warm memories of a time in my life when I was more full of hope, and the world seemed to be filled with endless possibilities
I was in Japan in February of 2005, a couple of months after the PSPʼs launch, but two months before it became available in the rest of the world. My wife and I were riding on a subway in Tokyo when an OL (“office lady” — the female version of “salaryman”) sat down next to where I was standing. She pulled out a PSP and started playing ルミネス (“Lumines” in English). I was absolutely enthralled. I immediately said to Darcie, “Thatʼs what I'm bringing home from Japan.”
Yodobashi Camera is like the old Crazy Eddie electronics department store, except taking up a dozen floors of a skyscraper. If it runs on electricity, it's probably at Yodobashi. Anything from a Hello Kitty waffle maker to a household earthquake detector. From a refrigerator to a radiation monitor that you hang around your neck. From a transistor radio to the latest computer gear. If there was a PSP in Tokyo, I was sure I'd find it here.
Except that I didnʼt. Yodobashi was too much for me. Too many levels. Too much stuff. Precisely zero signs printed in English. I was over my head. Finally, I had to ask for help. A young man in an ill-fitting suit and an eager grin decided to take a chance with me.
My Japanese is bad. Real bad. When weʼre in Japan, my wife is in her element. She handles the shopgirls, and drags me around like a wide-eyed toddler. But I was on my own this time.
I tried to communicate very clearly and plainly, “Video games?” Blank stare. I broke out my best non-regional radio voice and enunciated as clearly as I could: “Play-stay-shun Port-a-bull.” Nervous smile.
Finally, I resorted to pantomime. I held my hands out in front of me in loose vertical fists, and pumped my thumbs up and down like I was pressing buttons.
With an expression of exuberant relief and a flourish of forearms and pointing palms, he guided me to a half-height white cabinet, bent over, slid back the glass door and popped up with a glossy white box.
With a hasty bow, he took off like jackrabbit down the warren of Panasonic boom boxes, Sony Cliés, and Sanyo voice recorders. His job was done, and he was happy to be done with me, and out of there.
That's why to this day, my wife and I call our video game machines “Peesps.”
I have a bad habit of holding on to transportation cards; especially if they have leftover money still loaded on them.
The grey Ventra card was the first one. It also functioned as a MasterCard debit card with the idea that it could be of benefit to poor people and the many thousands of Chicagoans who canʼt or donʼt have a bank account. That didn't really work out, and eventually it was migrated into the more common blue transit card.
Amazingly, I was able to use the blue Ventra card on my most recent trip to Chicago. It had about eight dollars on it when I last used it, and 11 years later, that money was still available, and it worked fine. It turns out that it doesnʼt expire for 25 years.
More durable than a card, and you can hang it on a keychain, I got an akbil to get around Istanbul. The akbil system has since transitioned to a boring plastic card like most of the rest of the world, and the money that I had left on this has now expired.
Amtrak (United States)
This was just a rewards card, like a frequent flyer card. I earned quite a few points going back-and-forth between Chicago and Saint Louis; Seattle and Vancouver; Saint Paul and Chicago. But since Amtrak discontinued service to Las Vegas, I stopped using it and the points expired.
I think this is the oldest of the bunch. I have no idea if thereʼs any money left on it.
Orca bills itself as a single payment solution for getting around the entire Puget Sound area. But I seem to recall that it wasn't actually accepted everywhere. That may have been fixed by now, but I seem to recall that when I was using it, it was only valid on ferries, and Sound Transit buses and trains. I remember using paper transfer tickets on Seattle city buses.
I have no idea if thereʼs any money on this one, either.
Do It All (Singapore)
This card is supposed to do it all. I don't know if it did. I only used it on trains, and perhaps a cable car to Sentosa Island.
Thereʼs probably money left on it, if it hasnʼt expired.
Octopus (Hong Kong)
I've noticed that a lot of transit cards are named after sea creatures.
I had money on it, but that was probably forcibly expired as Hong Kong was crushed under the mainlandʼs thumb. At least I still have my Hong Kong money with the image of Queen Elizabeth Ⅱ on it.
A good number of transit cards are also positioned as general-purpose payment cards. My observation was that T-Money achieved this most thoroughly, and early.
It seemed like you could use T-Money anywhere in Seoul. Its acceptance was probably wider than even Visa or MasterCard.
Since T-Money is more like a bank account than a transit card, there's probably money left on it.
Suica is one of two major transportation cards in use in Tokyo, and adjacent areas of Japan. The other one is Pasmo.
How to choose between the two? Easy — Pick the one with the cute penguin on it.
Suica has a unique set-up process, where you can create your account and login at the ticket vending machine, and it prints your name on the back of the card. Pretty nifty.
Thereʼs very likely money on this one, since itʼs not that old.
Zipcard (United States)
When I lived in cities where I didnʼt need a car all the time, I used ZipCar to bring home major purchases that wouldnʼt fit on transit, or to take longer trips.
The interesting thing about the ZipCar process is that you tap the card on the car to unlock it and get the keys.
Pocari Sweat is an interesting thing. Japanese people love it because itʼs a great hydration drink. Americans who like to cosplay Japanese, but will never go there and know of Japan only what they read on the internet, like Pocari Sweat because of its quirky, to American ears, use of the word “Sweat.”
When recovering from a sunburn or the flu, Pocari Sweat is my go-to drink. It used to be rare and exotic, but now it's available in Japanese-themed stores across America, and guzzled down by people who know nothing about Japanese culture other than comic books and a vision of Akihabara that is 30 years out of date.
Most of them don't know that the Sweat theyʼre sucking isn't the real thing.
In this photo above, a bottle of real Pocari Sweat is on the left. On the right is the American version, which an internet search shows is actually bottled by the Crystal Geyser Water Company at its co-packing facilities in Bakersfield, California.
Is there a difference between Japanese Pocari Sweat and Bakersfield Pocari Sweat? But hereʼs what's in each:
Real Pocari Sweat
High fructose corn syrup
Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) as a preservative
American Pocari Sweat
Less than 1% of:
Natural and artificial flavors
Grapefruit juice concentrate
Monosodium glutamate [MSG]
Ascorbic acid (to help protect flavor)
Another interesting difference is the serving size. The suggested serving size for the American Pocari Sweat is one full bottle — 500 milliliters, giving you 130 calories.
The suggested serving size of the Japanese Pocari Sweat is 100 milliliters — a fifth of a bottle, giving you 25 calories. If you decided to drink the entire Japanese bottle anyway, thatʼs 125 calories.
Is one better than the other? Perhaps if you have strong opinions about high fructose corn syrup, or grapefruit juice. But taste-wise, I canʼt detect a difference. The Japanese drink has about 4% fewer calories, assuming you drink the entire bottle. And like many Americans, I am a firm believer that 1 container = 1 serving.
Still, itʼs useful to know the difference, if you hang out in places that attract fake Nihonjin. To sort out the posers, just look at the label on the bottle. Real Pocari Sweat sold in America will have a paper nutrition label pasted over the original Japanese label.
But one nearby noodle shop, confronted with competition from its neighbor, may have had the last word when it decided to give itself a “new media” edge. It decided to take advantage of rapidly dropping prices by buying a FAX (facsimile) machine; now I can send in my order for traditional Japanese soba or udon noodles directly from my home FAX machine!