Vodawhore Panda – Part I

Things have really been picking up lately – the last crop of JET newbies arrived in the prefecture about two weeks ago, and it’s been hectic trying to get them where they need to be, preparing for all the various seminars and conferences they have to attend this month, and also get settled in my new school all at the same time.

In a rare demonstration of pro-active extrovertedness, I decided to volunteer to help get some of the newbies settled into their life here in the hood (as well as in the inaka). While there have already been some occasions where I have desperately regretted this decisions (some people seemingly can’t tie their shoes without assistance) for the most part, I’ve actually enjoyed pretending to do something quasi-useful with my time. A good, warm, fuzzy feeling washing over my jaded and cynical (but entirely cute) panda heart, if you will.

One of the first things all the newbies want to get sorted out is a cell phone. Understandably so as well, since they are essentially dumped off here after a whirlwind of different conferences and seminars, in the middle of a strange, empty apartment in a country where they don’t speak the language, and with absolutely no idea of where they are or where even to get groceries. Sitting there, trying to figure out the bizarre kanji on the air conditioner remote, I’m sure each and everyone of them must suddenly think “woah…. I need to talk to someone…!”

Since many of them don’t have landlines (and those that do most likely didn’t know their numbers in time to share them with others), the cell phone – ketai – is of primary importance. Now cell phone shops are a dime a dozen here in Japan – you can hardly walk around a corner without encountering at least one or two different ones showing off the latest and the greatest models. If you’re a foreigner with a proper visa, it’s not really a problem to get one either – provided you go with someone that speaks Japanese. This becomes particularly essential when you consider the fact that most JETs want to get a cell phone straight-away – the problem is that you need your foreigner registration card – gaikokujin torokusho – before you can get a cell phone, and that particular piece of identification requires 3 weeks or so of bureaucratic dragging to obtain. You can actually manage to get around this if you provide the cell phone company with a certain form which indicates you have already applied for said card, but you need to sweet talk them a little bit in order to finagle it, for which Japanese, again, is indispensible.

While most supervisors are on top of the game, more than a few are less than up on what needs to be done to help new JETs get settled in, and for this reason, mistar “area leader” panda (god that sounds about as geeky as “president of the 4H club”) was called into action to help sort out some keitais for those jonesing for some mobile cellular human interaction.

Here in Japan, there are three major cell phone companies: Docomo, Vodafone and AU. Docomo is the largest, despite the bizarrely inconsistent acronym from which it inherited its name (DOing COmmunications on the MObile network), and is a subsidiary of NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone) – which can be thought of as the monopolistic Japanese verision of ol’ Ma Bell (AT&T). Docomo easily has the coolest and most advanced phones of the three services, as well as some interesting features, but it is quite expensive and the customer service is occasionally lacking.

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The pile of Vodafone stuff on my desk keeps growing and growing…

Vodafone is now fully owned by the same British telcom giant who’s name it shares – even as recently as last year it used to be a pure Japanese company known as J-phone. Nonetheless, a lot can change in 12 months, and an aggressive marketing and advertising campaign has served to highlight the marked differences the poms brought with them from the land of Earl grey and hooliganism. Above and beyond the now-ubiquitous bright red vodafone logo branding, Vodafone seems to be specifically targetting foreigners in Japan, offering top notch English service/materials, a full lineup of bilingual phones and a whole host of international services (including advanced “global use” phones). The gambit seems to be paying off as foreigners are flocking to Vodafone in droves – it helps too that their phones, while not quite as advanced as those of Docomo – have some interesting features including terebi and rajio enabled ketais” (cell phones featuring built in TVs/radios) and 2 megapixel+ cameras in some of the higher end models.

AU is the second largest company, in large part to the extensive discount it offers students, and while many of its phones are not as advanced as those of the other services, it does offer some strikingly unique features and designs the others do not have (Tennis’s phone, for example, can speak korean/chinese), and its coverage is superb. The price is quite reasonable as well.

Nonetheless, since so many foriegners use Vodafone (it’s cheaper to call from one vodafone phone to another than to a phone on another service) and they have excellent English support, all the newbies decided on Vodafone ketais. Which explains how, over the course of 5 days, I found myself in the same shiney Vodafone store downtown with 5 different people assisting in the purchase of 5 different cell phones from exactly the same two smiling female employees with whom I was on a first name basis by the end of the week.

It’s odd – I actually know so much about Vodafone at this point that I feel I could actually work in the store as a regular employee. I learned all about the differences between the various phone models, the various subtlties in the rate plans, came to understand the myriad of confusing details involved with the suggestively named “Happy Time x2 Bonus Campaign” and now command a grasp of the language that includes such arcane and obscure terms as “packet-transmission service” and “baseline user charge (exclusive) of consumption tax”.

Long story short, so appreciative were the Vodafone employees of my stumbling attempts at panda translation and awkward attempts at explaining the confusing intricacies of Vodafone handsets and service plans to my wide-eyed charges that they started giving me all sorts of free Vodafone stuff. You can see the results above.

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Actually, this isn’t all of it, either. I gave a few of the things away, including a T-shirt to Tennis and a little hand towel to one of my friends. Some of the things were actually pretty cool, especially the mini-aluminum briefcase that just so happens to fit my digital camera perfectly. ;) Tennis however, as accurately labeled me as a “Vodawhore”, a moniker which I really seemed to earn when I started trying to convince her to switch from AU to Vodafone (she should, though!) just so I could get more cool Vodafone stuff (erm, and also cuz’ it would be cheaper, I swear!!!). *sigh* These people should hire me, I tell you.

Anyway, my bright red-Vodawhorish tendencies not withstanding, I did manage to find some time to attend the welcome party for the newbies held at the local gaijin watering hole. It was a fun time – a few friends were DJing (so to speak) – the beats were bumping and the people seemed to be having quite a blast. I did notice however, that the newbies seemed especially amorous – seriously, they’re F.O.B. less than a week and already they’re jamming their tongues down each other’s throats like there’s no tomorrow!!

I asked Tennis if our crop was that way when we arrived (hey, maybe I’m just turning into an old prudish panda…. *sigh* I’m TWENTY FIVE next month…!!! AAAUUUUGGGHHH… ( -_-);;; ) but she confirmed that in fact, this year’s new arrivals were particularly free with their saliva (and who knows what other bodily fluids) – not that it was of any consequence to us poor old bastards, who creaked our way home around 3 in the morning, unable to keep up with the alcohol and caffeine fueled vitality of youth bumping and grinding away until all wee hours of the next day.

Getting up the next day was rough, my friends, let me tell you. *sigh*
*agedpanda*

This Thursday is payday, and having spent the last month in absolute poverty (due to a mixup in my transfer, I was actually shortchanged several hundred dollars last pay period, an unexpected bonanza (sort of – i spent all last month eating ramen noodles) which will be dumped into my account this month), I am ready to buy something cool, sexy and completely geeky.

I’m torn between either these speakers, or else the cell phone you can see up and to the left above.

On the one hand, the speakers are hella sexy, completely match my equally hella sexy laptop and sound pretty good to boot (plus they glow blue, which is awesome. Blue LEDs = teh shizzle).

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Ooh, sexah blue led glowing top thingy! oh man, what to buy, what to buy!?

On the other hand, the phone is also hella sexy – bluetooth enabled, rotateable 180 degree touch screen panel, 1.3 MP camera, mini-SD slot…fingerprint sensor (yeah, yeah, so it’s a gimmick, just like the one on my laptop, but still…) etc. Plus it’s also made by fujitsu (same as mistar laptop) and the two look so similary they are practically begging to be paired up with one another…

You can read about the speakers [here].

You can read about the cell phone* [here].

*(for the record, yes, I am aware this is a Docomo phone… I love my Vodafone peeps, but I think my inner geek might win out against brand loyalty… this phone simply rocks waaay too much to pass up!)

That having been said, I need YOU to help ME decide WHICH ONE TO BUY!!! This is your chance to help mistar panda decide how to spend a large chunk of his next paycheck – don’t pass it up!! I’ll await your comments until the end of the week, at which point… well, some lucky salesperson at either the local electronics store or cell phone shop is about to get a very large commission ;)

And that about sums it up for this entry. I leave you now with some interesting links you might want to check out:

[Google News] – visualized!
[Moregoogle] – preview page thumbnails in google!
[LJBook] – turn your blog into an easily printed pdf book.
[iPod Robot] – how uber sexy and cute is this…!? I want one!
[Textanalyser] – all the stats you could ever want about something you’ve written.
[Smartklamp] – a robotic circumsizer. I’m against gentile mutilation, but this is sort of funny.
[Godhatesshrimp] – mandatory liberal link satisfied ;)

Well, I’m off to bed. Let me know what you think of the new layout/what geeky gadget mistar panda should buy!

One Reaction

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