As is often pointed out, Starbucks in China is often taken as an economic indicator. As coffee goes, it’s not cheap when compared to Chinese cafes, and Chinese friends sometimes tell me that some people go there more as a fashion statement than for the cakes or the drinks. Going to Starbucks 星巴克 is a way to show off that you have money.
When it comes to Changzhou, I used to think Starbucks were mostly just centralized in denser parts of the city. Hutang in Wujin, the city center, and the greater Wanda area in Xinbei, for example. Well, that’s starting to change. Xinbei just got two more, and they are not near Wanda.
More interestingly, I found one in Zouqu 邹区 . This is a small township in far western part of Zhonglou District. Technically, it’s not in Zhonglou at all, according to Baidu Maps — rather, in one of the oddly contorted norther arms of Wujin. Still, I choose to lump it in to Zhonglou, partly because Qingfeng Park is like five or more kilometers away.
Zouqu doesn’t strike me as “cosmopolitan Changzhou.” It seems far more industrial and developing economically. Its in Taifu Plaza 泰富时代广场, and that seems pretty new. When I stopped in for a cafe Americano and a bacon and egg sandwich, the place seemed empty. But, it was also late morning on a Thursday when most people would be working. To find a Starbucks here is a real indication of the company’s rapid expansion in China in general and Changzhou in particular.
And yes, they have a western sit-down toilet.
Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean, seems popular in China, and especially with Chinese children. It’s not hard to guess why, either. Out of the types of cultural imports, physical comedy and bodily humor is the most easy to relate to. Think about it: there is no language to translate, no idioms to misunderstand. It’s one of the reasons why, for example, Jackie Chan has been able to find success outside of China. His English accent is terrible, but no American really watches Chan for a witty punchlines or verbal nimbleness. Profound silliness is inherent in his actions. It’s the same with Atkinson as Mr. Bean.
This popularity can be seen first hand in Changzhou. A Xinbei cafe bares a distinctive theme. Even down to the name: Mr. Bean Coffee. Inside the cafe, one can see pictures of Atkinson in his grey suit, but also weird, and rather surreal, portraits of the character on the wall. Other depictions range from cartoonish to semi-life-sized. There’s even a photo of him by the entrance, ushering a patron in.
Sitting and drinking espresso in Mr. Bean Coffee is just an odd, surreal experience. It’s not unpleasant. It’s just strange. But it raises other questions. Is this a case of copyright infringement? Does Atkinson profit from all these kids sitting around in his cafe while eating cake? It’s easy to lob “violating intellectual property” charge at businesses in China. After all, you don’t have to look for in Changzhou to find unlicensed uses of Micky Mouse. This isn’t one of those cases. Mr. Bean Coffee. The cafe is a chain. And it does have a license with Tiger Aspect. In theory, Atkinson should be seeing profit from this.
In Xinbei, Mr. Bean coffee can be found on a sunken, but open-air basement level of the Changzhou TV Tower complex. It’s the same urban block that’s home to a Lafu supermarket and a Secret Recipe Malaysian fusion restaurant. Mr. Bean is the neighbor to an Internet / computer gaming cafe. Wanda Plaza is in walking distance.
Yet, despite all of these location details, one fundamental question has not been addressed. How is the coffee? Not very good. Usually, I only buy Americanos at cafes. That’s because no business ever makes a simple pot of coffee in China. And I have no interest in drinking lattes or other types of liquid desserts. So, my judgement comes on the watered-down espresso shots alone. Starbucks is a lot better. The only reason to visit Mr. Bean Coffee is gawk awkwardly at its novelty.