Starbucks in Shanghai no longer offers milk!

Starbucks has quietly rang in a new policy for the Chinese new year: no milk is offered to customers at the service counter. You can still add sugar, but if you want milk (either fresh milk or UHT milk in those little containers), you will need to ask for it like a common pauper. And it will be added to your cup by a barista, not you!

This from a company that has been called out for charging more in China than anywhere else for coffee.  Just last month, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he was “bullish” on China.  Newsflash, Mr. Schultz: coffee drinkers want cow’s milk, not bull’s shit.  Yes, I’m seeing red and huffing like an angry bull, bad puns and all.

Does anyone know if this is a country-wide change or just in the Shanghai region?

Give Shila Dixon the Chen Liangyu treatment

You don’t actuallyneed to read this.  The issue is that the mayor of Baltimore used gift cards not intended for her to make purchases for herself, family and cronies.

Think about it.  The sitting mayor of Baltimore is on trial for petty theft.

Meanwhile, while American city mayors are bogging their cities down by committing criminal activities, Shanghai is emerging as world economic center.  Well, I suppose Shanghai did have its Chen Liangyu.

Here’s hoping Dixon meets the same fate.

Best Buy Fury

No not from me. I was just there to buy a step down transformer, in hopes that the Bose Companion 5 computer speakers that I just brought back from the States (110v) will work in Shanghai. While waiting for the staff girl to box the transformer, some Chinese guy was throwing a fit at the counter. He was in a total fury – he yelled 15 times at the salesgirl 随便我吗? (I’m assuming that before I took note of the situation, whatever it was about, the salesgirl had said 随便你.) The irate guy’s girlfriend stood stoic at his side, as did a male Best Buy employee (he was looking on, not intervening or saying anything). The fury man turned around, and upon seeing me, said “damn”, followed by – for good measure of course – “bitch”. The salesgirl disappeared into the back room; 90 seconds later the fury man kicked the counter hard (in his flimsy sandals, ha ha), yelling 人呢 . To my interest, but not surprise, no other Best Buy employee intervened to quell the situation. The salesgirl reemerged with my transformer, and out the door I went.

SHTig’s takeaways — Shanghai is a real pressure cooker, everyone is angry here. And thus, I don’t accept any argument from Chinese friends that the way to handle tough situations is through gentle and retreating words. Chinese people in this city can get harsh in a hurry.

Get free McDonald’s coffee by June 16th (2009)

2009june-mcdFree coffee every morning from 8 to 8:30am in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and a few other cities.  McDonald’s is smartly taking on Starbucks, by offering a full line of coffee varieties at 50% of Starsux prices. 

Apparently the free coffee is not boosting McDonald’s breakfast menu sales, but that’s probably OK by maidanglao.  Getting the word out is worthwhile.  They’ve been supporting the free coffee campaign with TV ads that note the new coffee product line.

I live in downtown Shanghai, and it’s a common to see pedestrians tenderly gripping a cup of Starbucks, green queen logo facing outwards.  You never see someone nursing a McD coffee like this.  Will be interesting to see if McD’s can break thru the shallow snob barrier.

Shopping Trip to Shanghai’s Carrefour

Below is a blackberry message I sent to a friend following a trip on Friday 29 May to Carrefour in Zhongshan Park. The context is we are noticing that Shanghai is becoming more crude and insensitive than even a couple years ago.  Editing slightly and posting. “xy” is my girlfriend:

Just the typical shit. I was looking at blenders and the sales kid stood there blocking them, totally oblivious that I was straining to see and purchase the model he was blocking (I had to walk away and come back later to buy it). Was looking at scales w xy and people kept stepping in front of us outta no where to try the scales (not even considering purchasing, just playing around), crowding us out from selecting one to purchase until they left. Women hitting xy w their bags to nudge her out of the way. Girl shoving my cart out of her way even while I was moving with it.  Running into an acquaintance who cut in front of us in check out line (no one was behind us, so that was ok), but then jumped back to another line because her friend had already reached the register, and then acquaintance offers for us to cut up to the front of that long line with our stuffed cart.  Of course we didn’t go, and it was embarassing that this acquaintance thought she was being kind to us by being so inconsiderate to others. A stray cart came flying down an escalator ramp and nearly hit me. No one said sorry or yelled “hey watch out”. A taxi driver stopped for me and others jumped in. I said in driver window “hey”, he just totally ignored and drove away. Coming into our apt complex plenty of people milling around at entrance, no one helped us w door that requires keying in a passcode from outside or elevator button, just gawked or ignored as our bags were breaking (there were 10 people doing essentially nothing on either side of the security door). That’s just in the last 2 hours.


Shanghai’s Smuggled Children

This MSNBC story on child abductions in China prompted me to write up a recent experience. Earlier this month, my girlfriend and I celebrated my birthday over Japanese teppanyaki on Nanyang Lu (南阳路) in Shanghai, right behind the Plaza 66 shopping mall and Ritz-Carlton hotel.

We had managed to ignore the old man peering in through the window, beckoning alternately to sell flowers to us,  have a glass of our plum wine, or just for a cash handout.  But as we headed for the exit at 11pm, the stirring activity outside caught my peripheral vision.  I put my girlfriend on notice ~ if they accost us, I’m not backing down.

About 10 steps out onto a road, a boy who looked about 2 and a half (but turned out to be 5) came up begging for money.  Shooed him away a few times wasn’t working.  Then  I froze and looked around.  Where the heck is his adult handler?   There is no adult.  That’s it!

Next thing we both knew, the little boy was hoisted up in my arms.  We’ll either find out where the adult is or we’ll walk him to the police station.  Either my Mandarin or my muscles are about to get a workout.

Continue reading “Shanghai’s Smuggled Children”

What’s going on with Renminbi (RMB) direction?

Trying being white and walking into a Bank of China on Shanghai’s Nanjing Road or other commercial center.  “Hello, money change, 换钱” is a greeting you’ll get.  Usually it’s a passive effort by one of the 2 or 3 dudes in black plether jackets congregated near the doorway.

The last few days, though, I’ve noticed them getting aggressive.  On February 5th, I was identified by them well before I got to the bank’s door, and one guy walked along with me giving the standard greeting but with much more urgency in his voice.  Dismissing him, but before inside the bank, another guy gave me the same pitch, and actually walked one step with me inside the bank.   Once safely inside the bank, I looked out and saw yet another guy pacing around like a caged tiger and clutching a huge stack of crisp RMB notes. 

Are they trying to dump their RMB?  Do they know something? Is RMB depreciation on the way?

After I completed my bank business – which did not involve “changing money” – I stepped outside and asked one of the guys why they were trying so hard to actively change money.  Did they expect the RMB to depreciate? The Continue reading “What’s going on with Renminbi (RMB) direction?”