Thursday, November 25, 2010

Starbucks in China; how to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee

Apparently some people seem to think that sitting in a Starbucks in China is is wrong. These people fall into two categories, those who have never been to China and those who have been to China and would rather sit in a smoky tea house. As I am generally opposed to sitting in smoky tea houses that is an easy one for me to dismiss. The other day Amanda was talking to a colleague online that was agast that she would want to spend her time in Starbucks while in China. The appropriate response to this question was thus "Have you been to China, or lived here?" the answer was no and the person falls into the first category. Having spent a little bit of time abroad I feel like I have a small base to pull from in terms of valid experience. Of course there are plenty of people that live in China that have come from abroad and stay for long extended periods much longer than me so take my comments with a grain of salt.

My opinion is that if you plan on being abroad for a long time then you are willing to accept long periods without the accommodations that are so plentiful in your home country. For me I enjoy being able to go to a place and have a cup of coffee and get some work done on the internet. Having lived the last few months on and off in a rural part of Sichuan province with a couple weeks here and there spent in Chengdu and Beijing, I've gotten used to living without certain amenities. Heat being one of them, high speed internet the other (unless you consider a step function as proper internet speed), and sitting in a coffee shop. I have no problem attaining quality coffee as I have the means of making it in a proper coffee maker from freshly ground beans. If I throw on some music and sit on the sofa I can pretend that it is a coffee shop, but it isn't really the same is it? Nope. That is why sitting in a Starbucks is completely acceptable when I return to civilization, well that and the fact that they have the cleanest bathrooms of any restaurant that I have been to. That's right they stock amenities like paper towels, toilet paper, and hand soap. Top that off with Kohler fixtures and you have veritable bathroom paradise. They are comfortable, clean, and there is generally no smoking. OK, occasionally you get the guy that decides not to read the no smoking sign and lights up anyway. The staff will tell him not to smoke in the place though and that takes care of it. Paradise.

For those that choose to sit in a smoky tea house and absorb the local culture, I say "good on it". Everybody enjoys the culture in different ways and I don't need the same "unique Chinese experience" that everyone else has. If you are unfamiliar with the "unique Chinese experience" it generally involves ignoring everyone around you that is not Chinese, pretending that you are the only foreigner that has ever been to your particular part of China, like Beijing. I don't know where this ideal comes from but if seclusion is part of the "unique Chinese experience" I don't want anything to do with it.

So am I a sellout because I like to sit in Starbucks in China? No! The benefits outweigh the costs and you can call me a trader to my coffee snob brethren for spending time in a comfortable atmosphere but I have my reasons (read: nice bathrooms and the coffee is uh, consistent). And when I return to the Americas I will hold up my nose to the local Starbucks and walk to my local shop and get a cup of coffee.

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