29 January 2009

Live Blogging from Starbucks

During our usual morning routine, one of us usually asks the other, "So, what do you want to do today?" The response entails exploring some area of the city or going grocery shopping, but today Turner said he wanted to be a bum and sit in Starbucks for the afternoon, sipping a latte and browsing on their wireless internet. Qingdao has five Starbucks, though they seem to be multiplying like rabbits. Whenever a large, high-end retail complex opens, they always have a Haagen Dazs and a Starbucks. We are currently in the newest of these complexes, owned by Hisense, that was built to please the international crowd for the Olympics and for the nouveau riche Qingdao-ren (people). Its stores include Prada, Hermes, Burberry, Tod's, and Tiffany's.

Coffee is a western luxury that few Chinese enjoy in a form other than instant 3-in-1 packets (coffee, milk, and sugar; just add hot water) that I use only in emergencies. The Starbucks' in China brew decent lattes and are hopping most of the time, probably because they also serve all sorts of milky, sugary tea and coffee blends (or fraps, as I've heard them called).

I walked through the Starbucks that we usually frequent, in the Jusco building, and was unable to find a seat anywhere because the Chinese are still enjoying the New Year holiday. The place looked mobbed! Turner had gone over to the Hisense building to meet up with a friend he made at Tiffany's (because he bought my Christmas present there) who knows a worker at the Starbucks who could get us a discount on merchandise. By the way, this is a prime example of what the Chinese call guanxi, or knowing the right people to get what you want. We got 30% off a couple of mugs I had been eyeing. The prices at Starbucks are equivalent to American prices, so things are not cheap, to say the least. We also got some coupons for "buy one latte, get one free." Talk about knowing the right people!

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