Friday, January 26, 2007

Starbucks in the Forbidden City

On the flight back to Manila from Osaka, I browsed through the combined International Herald Tribune-The Asahi Shimbun edition and chanced upon this item, written by William Pesek:

"Starbucks is up against a popular movement to toss its single outlet out of the Forbidden City. Actually, it's more of a kiosk without the ubiquitous Starbucks sign hanging out front, and good luck finding it. Caretakers will decide by the end of June whether it can remain or be abolished... It's 'a symbol of low-end US food culture' and 'an insult to Chinese civilization,' Rui Chenggang, an anchor of the state television broadcaster China Central Television, wrote on his personal Web log [which has] attracted hundreds of thousands of hits."

Dang. They could only be talking of one outlet. This one:

I took this photo in August 2005, when I had the chance to travel to Beijing and do the usual tourist-y stuff there (visit the Forbidden City, climb the Great Wall, strike a pose by the Summer Palace). Even then, we (the media pack) had found the sight of a Starbucks inside the ancient imperial complex quite jarring, hence the need to snap pictures of it for filing in our 'who'd have thought?' story ideas. That's Tanya Lara of the Philippine Star aiming her digicam at the store.

Since the kiosk has been there for some years, it's surprising that this issue is finding traction only now, and with the blogosphere taking the lead yet, not the media. (Uh-oh, bad sign for MSM guys like me.) From what I'd observed, many visitors--Chinese or otherwise--didn't mind having a Starbucks outlet within the historic walls. It can be infernally hot in Beijing at certain times of the year (like the month we were there), so covering the grounds of the Forbidden City from the Tiananmen Square entrance to the royal gardens at the back can be an invitation to heat stroke. A gulp of cold latte would be a nice cap to the exercise.

My gut sympathies, however, are with Rui Chenggang's campaign. Surely some places should be off-limits to convenient commercialism like this--a UNESCO World Heritage site like the Forbidden City, for instance. Imagine Angkor Wat with a Starbucks in it. Or Intramuros. Wait, there IS a Starbucks in Intramuros. Aaargh...

What do you think?


joelmcvie said...

Punyetang imperialismo ng Starbucks na yan! Dapat tanggalin yun sa Forbidden City at palitan ng... Jollibee!

O kaya Burger Machine, puwede din.

snglguy said...

I agree. Besides, a Starbucks kiosk does stand out like a sore thumb inside the Forbidden City. Chow King puwede pa... mwehehehe :-)

Have a great weekend, Gibbs.

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