Last night while walking back from dinner we walked through a shopping mall. Near the exit I saw a sign that said coffee. I asked Kai about it and he said that Starbucks is very famous in China, and that young people like coffee. I woke up at 4 AM the next morning and could not get back to sleep, so I vowed to get some coffee as soon as it was light outside come hell or high water, thinking my chances were good with a coffee shop right down the street and because, in a city (Beijing) of 22 million people there must be a lot of young people.
A good plan yes, but with a few problems. Problem number 1 was that Chinese cities don’t seem to wake up all that early, and when I got outside few people were around and nothing looked open. Since we were checking out of the hotel this morning I dragged myself and my roller bag down the street towards the mall. When I could see the entrance I knew right of way that of course, it was closed. Why would a coffee shop be open early in the morning anyway? Undaunted, I wandered further down the street and to my delight saw this:
Inside I saw a coffee machine. I grabbed the biggest cup they had and put it under the spout, then pulled every level I could see. No, luck. OK, let’s read the directions:
Step 1 was to put the cup under the spout. Check. Step 2 appeared to be to select the size I wanted:
Ok, looks like regular, iced, latte, or espresso. I pressed what looked like large, regular, hot coffee. Check. Step three seemed to involve my phone. What the??? I messed around for a while to no avail. There was a store clerk by the register who was talking to a fellow in such a way that they looked to be friends. I walked over and asked for help. They did not understand, so I pointed to my empty cup on the machine. The friend walked over, assessed the situation, and pulled out his phone. He put it up to the machine and then demonstrated pressing on a phone ap called WeChat, I think, while holding the camera up to the machine . Are you serious? I cannot buy a stinking cup of coffee at 7AM without a special Chinese app on my phone? Yup, so problem number two. I showed him my screen with no app. He shrugged. I tried to ask if I could pay with cash. I pulled out some yuan bills and pointed at my empty cup. He shook his head. I pointed again. He said something to the store clerk, who replied. The friend now nodded his head and pointed me to the register where I gave the clerk 10 yuan. The friend walked back to the machine and used his phone to activate the machine. I heard grinding and could smell that special aroma. Success! The friend smiled and went to the front to talk with the clerk. I heard the coffee beginning to fill my cup, but when I looked down in anticipation like Pavlov’s dog, to my horror I saw not coffee going into my cup, but instead hot, clear water.
I screamed. OK, maybe not a full scream, but enough of a shriek to get the attention of the two fellows. I looked over at them woefully. I can’t remember going this many days without coffee, ever. I have been getting up nearly every morning at 4. I have been getting in late every night. Either my plane had crashed and I was in Hell, or it was the Twilight Zone, or a bad movie. The friend looked at me and made a gesture that seemed to say “just roll with it.” Sigh… I was beaten….. again.
But then, before my wet (I think I was crying) eyes I saw brown liquid coming from the spout and going into my half-filled-with-water cup. What kind of coffee this was I did not know, but also did not care. If it was brown, I would drink it.
Walking back to the hotel sipping a cup of coffee at 7 AM in Beijing, China, I realized I was wrong. I was in heaven, not hell.