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Starbucks in Xi'an E-mail
City Life - Report
Written by Anthony DiFiore
It appears that I’ve located the most wretched hive of scum and villainy in Xi’an, and it’s a place you’d least expect. Starbucks. These past two nights I’ve gone to the downtown Starbucks near the Drum Tower section of Xi’an. It’s been a great place for free wireless internet, coffee, cheesecake, and studying/conversation. Each time has been an experience.

The first time I went in a group of six. At one point the waitress came up to us and said to watch our bags closely because two thieves were just in the coffee shop. This was around dinnertime. Last night I closed out the Starbucks. Peter (one of the guys on the trip) and I went to Starbucks to chat & do some work. I got one of those café vanillas, or vanilla cafes (I’m such a poor Starbucks-orderer, I really think the Barista community hates me) and a piece of green tea cheesecake. I can testify that the Chinese will make a green tea anything. If it’s edible and can have a green tea taste, it exists in China.

I got a big piece of green that looked like it had grass on the top. I half-considered dumping some MiracleGro on top to see if there would be any reaction.

The night got off to a curious start when we were sexually solicited first by a man, and then by a scantily clad woman, both of whom made suggestive poses outside of the glass doors (our table faced the doorway). Shortly later I was showing Peter pictures of my little sisters and a Chinese guy came up and was looking over my shoulder and pointing at pictures. Within minutes Starbucks employees chased him off, and warned us that he’s a thief who comes in and tries to steal from westerners.

Half of me was ready to split the coffee shop. The other half was fixated with an image of Starbucks employees going old Chinese-style kung fu on some bandits. How awesome would it be to see your barista jump kick a low life from behind the counter? I felt well-protected.

A couple times during our conversation I’d notice out of the corner of my eye a young Chinese woman, easily our age, come up to the glass doorway and try to get our attention. She was dressed like the “girls in the window” that we had seen in the non-tourist districts of Shanghai. The sad thing is that she probably pulls that act all the time, and it must work, otherwise she wouldn’t continue to do it.

Towards the end of the night, as the Starbucks employees were cleaning up and washing the windows, a boy stumbled in who was wearing dirty clothing and had a head of messy black hair. He plopped himself down on a maroon cushion that set next to her table, and his eyes scanned our possessions. He lingered around Peter for a while until a Starbucks employee gave him aggressive looks, and he scurried off into the night. As he left I wondered who was waiting for him outside, hoping he’d come back with some money or maybe a bag or piece of electronics to pawn.

The use of children by beggars and con artists in China is another blog entirely, one that deserves its own space & reflections.

Peter & I finally left the Starbucks at around 11:30pm. We walked out onto the busy street around the Drum Tower section of Xi’an, and were greeted by the smells of some food vendors and the beeping of taxi cabs, pulling on and off the righthand lane where they awaited late night fares.

What I’ve experienced in two nights at that Xi’an Starbucks has been unique. I’ve never experienced anything comparable in a Starbucks anywhere in the United States or Canada. Our Xi’an Starbucks is in a major tourist district, right down the street from a Louis Vuitton. It’s no wonder that a place like Starbucks, a symbol of western affluence and leisure, with its high prices and scenic interiors, would be a prime target for beggers, prostitutes, and thieves. I feel awful for the staff, who surely don’t get paid any extra to defend their customers. But they do so anyway, because they respect their workplace. The staff’s generosity is a refreshing comfort, a ‘shot of espresso’ to wake me up from an otherwise depressing and alarming experience, and keep me coming back for more coffee...

Article published with friendly permission from Anthony DiFiore.

Our valuable Editor Anthony DiFiore has been with us since Wednesday, 03 November 2010.
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+4 #1 Peter 2010-11-17 08:36
It is a bit unfair to say this only applies to Starbucks. Practically any of the American (or Chinese) franchises around the Bell Tower attract pick pockets and street whores. If you were to go to a Starbucks in the middle of any city in the world you would get the same treatment.

But having said this, that particular zone of Xi'an is notorious for the beggars. I remember when I first came to Xi'an to visit back in early 2008, I sat on those steps observing China. During that 60 minute period the number of beggars with small children I had ask for money was high. The way they did it was very invading. Sitting down next to me, looking at me, and saying "money money" over and over again until I gave in. I did meet some very cute Chinese girls in the process because of the attention I attracted from refusing so many beggars.

But this thieving is not just a Chinese thief thing. It is common practice. If Chinese were to go to Australia, they too would be chosen as likely targets by theives. Some tourists/expats suffer because they don't know what is going on, and are thinking about " different Australia is...".

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