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Curing Culture Shock (With Starbucks)

Curing Culture ShockI discover a small pizza shop by the waterfront with my new friends, and it’s the first time that I feel like everything might be okay. There’s one pool table beside the dart board and our cues are shorter and lighter than the standard, yet each time we turn around, the cue is poking up someone’s butt. This corner of the city is my favourite impression of Hong Kong so far: hip, but smashed.

How to Cure Culture Shock (With Starbucks)
I need new tops; my two carry on bags didn’t fit a closet. My friends direct me to large malls where the trend is boxy top and socks with sandals, which I can’t justify no matter how many runway models do it, so I settle for a t-shirt from H&M, which adds to the problem as four weekend shirts are already half of my wardrobe.

The music, though, captures me. I linger in shops where there’s familiar music even though the clothes are inappropriate. Maybe I should attend meetings in basketball shorts– at least sweat will air-dry with sports gear. I should be careful though, my boyfriend jeans are turning into skinny jeans, except the butt is still hanging. Dang.

Curing Culture Shock (With Starbucks)Hong Kong likes to be horizontally compressed. At night, everyone is drinking outside 7-11 because the clubs are full, then drunk Brits start shouting at our guys and the girls pick them off before the fight starts by the top of the stairs. I dance with a Swedish guy whose hair is really, really pale.

How to Cure Culture Shock (With Starbucks)You can spend a day in the city only hearing music from North American Top 40 Billboards. Your shirt will be wet at least once each day, from air conditioning, mucus, or sweat. You can expect noise noise noise but you can plug into the noise you like by turning up your own music.

There’s a music room downstairs in the condo where the piano hasn’t been tuned for months and the Cs don’t quite match up, which bothers the heck out of me. I didn’t bring any sheet music, so I spend the night improvising on snippets of Beethoven and Graupner, where my intuitive grasp of chord structure isn’t disastrous.

The room isn’t quite soundproof but it’s an empty space in HK.

Curing Culture Shock (With Starbucks)It’s hard to stop going going going in this packed city.

The other day, I wanted to eat lunch with my laptop but a professor sat down across from me at Starbucks and we designed a Starbucks user experience flow based on the labels they print on the drinks.

During the slowest times of day, they might offer a free size upgrade if you buy two drinks, and display the menu on screens so it can be unpredictable.

Starbucks will use data from the previous month:

  1. Which drink is rising in popularity (highest percentage change in sales)?
    This drink will get the size-up deal.
  2. Which times and days are slow?
    The size-up deal will be offered during these times the following week.

The timing of the size-up will be unpredictable as the slowest times of the week will fluctuate, and customers will keep checking back once they get the hang of it. The cashier’s computer will note the deal in case baristas forget. Overall, the size-up encourages customers to try new drinks and bring a friend while they’re at it. The store will get more foot traffic.

My biggest problem with the size-up idea is that the digitized menu wipes away the indie, human touch of the brand– but half of that is gone anyways since Starbucks is printing labels on drinks in Hong Kong.

They still play good coffee shop music, though–that doesn’t change when you travel to another Starbucks across the world. Although it’s generally so noisy in the shop that I plug in my own music anyways.

I got this green tea latte from Starbucks just now. The store still feels familiar. You can win some and move forward, but you can never win them all. It may be hard to find yourself alone but so easy to lose yourself in the mix. At which time, hold onto the fact that this, too, shall pass.


Read More on Travelling in Asia:

What Travelling in Asia Will Do to You

Curing culture shock
Because I can almost guarantee that your first time in Asia will result in culture shock.

Traveller’s guide to recording music
My favourite recording hacks.

Practicing music when you’re on the road
Sneaky ways to practice music, so you don’t lose all music ability when you return home.

Survive the ER and avoid traveller’s loneliness
I went to the ER. Even the strongest people get lonely. Here’s how to avoid this.

4 staple pieces of music that travelling pianists should play

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8 years ago

Did they have Starbucks birds? A friend in Japan was all excited because a Starbucks opened near her, and when she described her experience there, we were amazed to find that it was EXACTLY like a Starbucks here — they hadn’t changed a thing — even the little birds scarfing food at the outside tables were the same! We thought about it and decided that the “kit” that they send a new franchisee (Starbucks store, barista training, cups & coffee & all that) MUST include a tube of free Starbucks birds: open the tube on the first day, let the… Read more »


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