Thursday, March 29, 2007

Forbidden city

On Monday I went to tour the Forbidden city in Beijing. This was the huge palace that the emperor of China used to live in. When I say huge, I mean it is of the order of 1 square km. There are many really cool buildings. My guide book said that you need a day to explore it. The forbidden city is at the back of Tienanmen square. Of course the really important issue was whether I went to the Starbucks coffee shop in the Forbidden city. The Chinese are sensitive about the influence of US in one of their cultural icons. I was told they were debating the issue of Starbucks in the forbidden city in some kind parliament. Look, I am sorry, but I really needed a latte. Coffee is not regularly drunk by the Chinese, so it is hard to get hold off, outside Tourist areas. I found that if I walked into the door of a cafe near a tourist site, the Chinese servers would look at me with a happy greedy face and they would excitedly offer to sell me a couple of coffee. Yes, the mark up on coffee is really good. The actual Starbucks is a small counter in a book shop. It was full of westerners getting their fix of coffee. I was talking to someone about this. They told me they couldn't find the place when they toured the forbidden city. Me, I just closed my eyes and let my coffee starved body guide by me in. I don't think the Chinese need to worry about cultural imperialism. I used the Beijing subway for the first time. It was designed with English maps and the station names were announced in English before the stop. The people on the trains just stared at the floor and didn't make eye contact, just as we do on the London tube.