We’ve said more than once that living in China, for two Canadians, is kind of like living on a different planet. There’s still the sun in the distance, the ground beneath our feet, there are still people doing everyday people things, but at the same time things are so unfamiliar. From the bus ride to work to buying groceries to working out at the gym, things that felt so ordinary are now so strange–and to be honest, exhausting!
It’s in those circumstances that we miss the things from back home that once were so meaningless, like having the right of way as a pedestrian or being able to identify what kind of meat you’re ordering at a restaurant. But it seems like we haven’t missed anything so much as Hamilton’s café culture.
We used to love going for coffee at Cafe Oranje, Redchurch, or Vintage Coffee. It got us out of the house for nothing more than good conversation, absorbing the life of the city, and on occasion, provide a portable office to get some work done. While eating out seems to be a big part of Chinese culture, probably because food is so cheap, lounging in an establishment while just drinking a coffee doesn’t seem to be a regular thing. However, there is one place we’ve found where we can get that little taste of home for a few hours: Starbucks.
We sit in the well-known international establishment on a sunny Sunday afternoon and feel the most relaxed we have been since we’ve arrived. The Starbucks in China are much like the ones in Canada; the same interior design, drink offerings, and mellow acoustic soundtrack–only they happen to have watermelon cheesecake and Affogato, which are nice additions to the menu if we do say so ourselves. And probably one of the most familiar things in this unfamiliar country is that the menu is in English, the staff speak English, and even their nametags display their English names (lots of ‘Amy’s and ‘Jason’s).
We order our regular coffee orders from Canada in English without copious amounts of pointing and general confusion. Two Iced Americanos (minus the almond milk–we haven’t figured out if they offer that here yet) are prepared just like home. We find a seat at the window, begin working on our laptops, and watch the world go by outside. This particular Starbucks is near Dalian’s Olympic Park, a busy area of the city, which makes people watching–and traffic watching–quite entertaining. We comment to each other that this feels a lot like home.
Now don’t get us wrong. We aren’t trying to avoid the discomfort. In fact, our main objective of coming here was to be uncomfortable and tackle some challenges. And we’ve been learning new things about the world and about ourselves everyday. But we’re only human, and somedays, especially this day, it was so lovely to share a a familiar drink in a familiar environment, as the world kept spinning without anything noteworthy happening at all.
Sure, we might not consider Starbucks a ‘cute café’ back in Canada, but we’ll take what we can get until we find the next thing that reminds us of home, whatever it might be. But for now, we’ll settle for our Iced Americanos (no almond milk) and a view from a Chinese Starbucks.