Notes from a pilot's kid

Japan's Biggest Drink is the Highball

Japan’s alcoholic drink of choice is not sake, umeshu, or shochu. It’s probably either dry, malted draft beer or the highball, a simple whiskey and soda on ice. The highball was popular in the 1950s when Japan was conservative, poor, and in a period of recovery. But Suntory, one of Japan’s largest and oldest whiskey manufacturers, recently found a way to revive the highball beverage at a time when many younger Japanese considered whiskey in general to be their grandfather’s bedtime drink too strong for pairing with dinner. In 2008, 15,000 places served the highball; a year later, the number climbed to 40,000. The growth in popularity of the highball has led Suntory to start introducing the drink to other parts of East Asia, with a goal of 10,000 bars outside Japan serving the beverage by next year. CNN claims this growth came from a large campaign from Suntory that started in 2008 including a TV commercial featuring Japanese model and actress Koyuki. In my own experience, it’s hard to find a place serving a highball in Japan that doesn’t involve whiskey from Suntory, so it’s not surprising that Suntory’s Kukobin whiskey saw a 70% growth in sales around the time of the campaign and has seen sustained 10% year-on-year sales growth in recent years. From what I can tell, highballs are only more popular in Japan now than they were five years ago, and they’re not going anywhere.

Bangkok to Penang and Kuala Lumpur by Train

Traveling within Southeast Asia by plane is usually affordable and efficient. If you plan it right, you can find a plane ticket from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur for less than US$75. But I am terrible at planning ahead, and I find train travel charming, so when I was in Bangkok trying to find a way to visit Penang for its street food and history I discovered on Seat 61 that there’s a train that leaves every day from Bangkok to Penang and on to Kuala Lumpur.

True Cell Phones in Thailand

True is a big telecommunications company in Thailand similar to AT&T. They offer 4G cell phone service, satellite TV/Internet, and probably other things, and their name is everywhere. What’s most interesting about them at the personal retail level is how they specialize. Right next to each other, they sometimes open three locations:

Personal Banking in Bangkok

Outdoor markets in Bangkok are surprisingly organized. If you walk past a vendor that sells fake Hello Kitty pajamas, you can be sure that there are five or six more vendors right around the corner also selling some form pajamas with cartoons on them. At most markets I don’t think this sorting is enforced by any regulator; people who break the organization probably don’t survive, because everyone looking for pajamas knows the general location of the pajama area and will go there when that’s what they want to buy. If a rogue pajama salesperson in the toy section of the market decides to sell pajamas, he may make some sales from customers buying pajamas on impulse or out of convenience, but he or she will miss out on all the sales from being an option at the destination people are familiar with.

Trash in Japan and Taiwan

Trash in America (the suburban America where I grew up, at least) is something that you put out at the end of your driveway for a trash company employee you don’t know to put in the back of a truck and drive off. You pay a flat monthly fee for this service. Plastic bags – white for indoors and larger black ones for outdoors, though the color didn’t really matter – accumulate trash over the course of the week, and on “trash day” a family member collects them, places them in an official bin, and wheels the bin out to the curb. If there is too much trash for the bin, you can usually get away with piling up extra bags right next to the bin and someone will take care of it. ”Taking out the trash” in this way did not feel American to me until seeing other ways it can be done elsewhere, so here are some examples.