Most travelers to far away foreign lands can tell you stories of songs they never expected to see or hear, in places where few might possibly know what the words meant but many likely could sing them to you. Cue Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” and cue my cringing. You’ll find it in every airport, I swear. Listening to decades-old Lionel Richie ballads in a back alley shop in Damascus.
But long forgotten products are another surprise. Anyone remember Double Cola? Or RC Cola, which is mocked in an Onion article for reaching double digits in sales one year. I grew up on cheaper alternative soda (“pop” as we call it where I grew up) sold at gas stations in 8-packs of 16-ounce returnable glass bottles. So my eyebrows went up when I found both colas in Syria back in 1998. A Syrian who had picked me up when I was hitchhiking north from Damascus to Homs explained that Coke and Pepsi were not allowed in Syria because “they have the cocaine in them.” Ah, yes, of course. Never correct your benefactor.
So it was a bit of a giggle for me to find that the Japanese still stock all the convenience stores with Zima. Remember Zima? Ever had it? Like a wine-cooler-flavored soda water. A Coors product back in the early 1990s. A market failure in the US (though I was surprised to find it still was being made as late as 2008!), but apparently still finding a niche in the Land of the Rising Sun. And there’s more than one flavor. Eat your heart out RC Cola.