Thursday, January 26, 2006

Just before the morning rush

hopping out of bed and thinking about the one thing
that will make the morning sun a little brighter
that will make the birds sing a little more
enthusiastically that will make the crisp air seem
a little crisper and that will make my day before
the day even really starts

(from the back wall, author unknown)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Breakfast at

Blueberry donut, blueberry scone, pepper ham scone, chocolate scone, ginger apple muffin, blueberry muffin, mandarin muffin, banana walnut muffin. Strawberry blueberry danish, cinnamon danish, coffee twist, rex milano croissant, tuna hard roll, chelsea bun, fruit bun. Apple turnover, vegetable bruschetta, turkey and red pepper bruschetta, tuna melt pocket, mushroom and cheese pocket, sausage roll. Muesli with strawberry yogurt, tiramisu, coffee concord slice, mandarin slice, mango cheesecake (whole cake). Turkey cucumber sandwich, wheat toast, ham and mozzarella sandwich, cinnamon toast, bacon and tomato multigrain sandwich, ham and cheese turkish bread sandwich, waffle, finger sandwich (chicken tikka and egg mayonnaise). Mini chocolate lamington, mini lemon lamington, chocolate peanut eclair, blueberry cheesecake, blueberry swirl cheesecake, chocolate marquise.

"Would you like your muffin heated?"

"Yes, please. Thank you."

Monday, January 23, 2006


At times, I find Starbucks to be full of expatriates and foreigners from all over, thought mostly from Australia, the UK, and the States. Could-be Soccer moms gather with their strollers and kids for morning coffee and croissants. Some of them bring their live-in housekeepers along so they're free to devote their full attention more weighty things than their own children. Plenty of people bring their laptop computers to take advantage of the free wi-fi connection.

Other times, Starbucks appears to be full of people who look Chinese in ethnicity but not in actuality. At those times, when Starbucks looks more like the small, hole-in-the-wall noodle shop that you find less than a mile outside of the business district, it sounds and feels like something else entirely.

Appearances can be deceiving, especially at the Starbucks in Central, Hong Kong. To my left, three Chinese women, young, no older than 75 together, speaking English, sounding English. To my right, two men, one Chinese, one Caucasian, both sound like Aussies.

I wonder what brings all of us together. Did we all develop our taste for Starbucks in other countries where Starbucks is more ubiquitous or did we develop it here? I look around and hear the language that I grew up with. I can't help but think that we all come here looking for like-minded people, not for the overpriced coffee that really isn't that good. Maybe we're drawn to the things in Starbucks that always look the same - the green logo, the green aprons, the Starbucks siren, the Venti size drinks. Maybe, sometimes, appearances are all we need.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Demographics II

Saturday, 10:42 am. Starbucks was sparsely populated with only 45 people in attendance, 19 of them non-Chinese, 4 of them non-Chinese children under 10 years of age. Over the course of twelve minutes, an additional 7 Chinese men and women entered compared with 12 non-Chinese.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Demographics I

Friday, 5:45 pm. Chinese customers outnumbered non-Chinese customer at 79 to 17. Over the course of twelve minutes, an additional 16 Chinese men and women joined the crowd compared with 7 non-Chinese. Only eleven tables had a combination of Chinese and non-Chinese people drinking together.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


They were friends, clearly, because neither of them was trying to impress other. Both sat slumped in their seats with reproachable posture that reflected their present states of mind. They sat at right angles to each other, him in the cushioned chair, her at one end of the couch in front of the coffee table. They drank juice, not coffee, him orange, her kiwi. They talked little, but not because they had nothing to say. The day had been long and trying and each sought repose in the other's company.

Couple number two sat side by side at a table near the friends, both looking out at the passersby. He was selling her something. She wasn't yet sure what it was by she wasn't buying. He drank coffee, she drank tea, both from paper cups. Coconut crumbs were left on the plate that moments earlier carried the lamingtons that they'd shared. He out-dressed her by several degrees.

Couple number three sat head to head, sitting across from each other at a round table just inside the threshold. The woman's confidence could been seen in how she aggressively launched large bites at her blueberry danish, intermittently washing them down with gulps of frothed milk that left white residue in the corners of her mouth. Unabashed, she leaned in toward her opponent as he sat back trying to create space between them. Her hair was long for her age, reaching her lower back when tied up high on back of her head. Her large purse sat in the chair beside her. His brick of a wallet sat in clear sight on the table by his left hand, this symbol of his worth fighting a battle of its own.

The friends got up and stood gingerly as if they'd been sitting there for hours. They glanced around, delaying further, before walking out and leaving the pursued and the pursuers to continue their affairs.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


The place had only been open for three days and renovations were still in progress. Jack and Howarth were putting up the last panel of wall covering, thick vinyl of brown with pink polkadots that grew in size from left to right. Half inch-square bathroom tile and half hardwood floors, the room had a feeling of unease. The tiles covered more than half the venue, a mosaic of taupe, green, brown, red, and baby blue. The counter lined one entire wall, complete with pastry display case, drink cooler, and walkway to the back kitchen. The centerpiece of the room was a light fixture hanging over the twin LaMarzocco espresso machines. It was as long as a man is tall, suspended horizontally. Two bulbs were surrounded by an oblong, skeleton of light pine that evoked the idea of an overgrown crocodile. The hue of the wood matched the shade of the hardwood floors. The back wall was a backlit red screen behind a wooden terrace of more matching wood.

Jack and Howarth dressed casually, more like artists than contractors. Jack wore blue, faded jeans with a black jean vest and burnt orange long-sleeve shirt. Howarth had on a light grey hooded sweatshirt. Three girls who could've been sisters worked the place, though little work was required during these first few days of business. Mostly, they stood idle or carried supplies past Jack and Howarth from the back room.

The place was replete with newness, from the hired help to the pristine chairs and appliances. With the newness came hope; the hope, for some, that the place would soon become worn in and comfortable, and for others, that the place would soon be profitable. Soon, the scent of hope would give way to achievement or loss. Such is the nature of new beginnings.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I remember nothing before regaining consciousness. I was sitting there for some time before anything eventful happened. Which was good, because it gave me time to take in my surroundings. Where was I? What was I doing there? Why was I there?

It was loud and busy, full of people. It took me some time to adjust to the noise. It seemed like an eternity, because everything was new, but probably only minutes had past. He picked me up from where I was sitting, with a firm grasp, and moved me to an aluminum platform. Then, a sound, loud and furious, followed by heat, intense heat, rising within me.

I never believed in an afterlife, or reincarnation, or God, or heaven, or anything, really, after death. Now, I was forced to believe. I was far from understanding, but I was in the middle of accepting my new life as a coffee cup. I didn't know how long it would last. I feared the monotony that my new position in the world brought with it. I regretted ever thinking that my life, before, was lacking in possibilities. I often thought that no life could be more pointless and mundane than a cat's. Now, I realized I was wrong.

A non-fat latte; that's what I was holding. I only know because this order was shouted out after my transit from the aluminum platform to a wooden platform just next to my previous location. A large, Caucasian looking woman lifted me, using the handle, and carried me across the room. Two sugars later and I was traveling again.

She sat down, alone, and opened a newspaper that draped over me loosely. It became dark, and I remembered the darkness of my fate. Carried, banged, washed, filled, sucked, and carried again. How long could I endure such an existence? I thought about self-determination and the great power that I had had before. Existence, then, was elective, though such an election was frowned upon. I realized now what an immense power this was.

She moved abruptly, turning a page, turning around, I'm unsure. I found myself moving laterally, quickly, then downward, rushing, accelerating. A crash. Then, a familiar feeling - I lost my sense of self. I was in pieces. I was losing my consciousness, my awareness. There was no light, like the last time, only a slow fade to darkness. My last thought, I remember, was how short life was as a coffee cup.

I can only tell you this today because I have lived many lives since then and often long for these brief moments from this life.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Meeting

I imagined the meeting in my mind. I would arrive early and wait for her. I'd sit at a table near the entrance where I could see her approaching. I would have my usual drink, a non-fat, short, double latte. I hadn't yet decided if I would get myself a drink first or wait for her to arrive before offering to get drinks for both of us.

My cell phone rang at 6:45 pm. I was late. "I'm on my way down. I'll be right there." My meeting was not going according to plan. I'd been thrown off my game. I was nervous. I was worried. I was scared.

I couldn't find her, and I thought I was looking everywhere. I was certain that I'd recognize her when I saw her. We met at a conference for professionals in our field just over two months ago. We had lunch at the same table and spoke briefly during one of the many coffee breaks. I wouldn't forget her face. Eventually, she saw me from the table she was sitting at behind the pillar.

She looked exactly like I had remembered her. She had just sat down at a table full of used plates and paper cups. Among the clutter sat her large starbucks, made-in-china coffee mug with two earl grey teabags. "I'm sorry I'm late. I actually was on my way but I realized I forgot your cell number so I ran back to get it."

"Don't worry about it." I excused myself to get a drink. "I'll be right back!"

When I returned, the table had been cleared. I saw her returning from the counter with the trash can in it as I came back to the table. I was moved by her effort, especially in Hong Kong where clearing your own table isn't even something that's done in a fast food restaurant. I saw it as her clearing the way for our meeting of the minds.

A conversation ensued like one that you'd expect between two people who barely know each other. Present geographic location; present geographic location of your employer; brief work history; family history; education history; marital status; people we shared a connection to. Eventually, we connected over how the uncertainty of life seemingly coexists with the surety of job dissatisfaction, both of us, in the same field, wondering how and when to get out.

"It was nice to see you!"

"It was nice to see you," she replied as we parted, both of us wondering if we'd meet again.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Today's quote is by Garrison Keillor. "It's a shallow life that doesn't give a person a few scars." Every place has a blackboard near the entrance. I don't know if the quote is the same citywide or if every coffeehouse can have a different quote. I don't like the idea. These days, I would take a few less scars for a little less depth. I'd rather not have someone tell me what I should value in life. Just sell me a cup a coffee. This is easier said than done.

"A small latte and. . . ."

"A soy latte. . ."

" No, a small latte."

"Yes, a soy latte."

"Are you saying 'soy'? Because I just want a small latte. With regular milk." Fung comes over from the machine to save the day. "Just a small size latte, right?" Yeah. Right. Some days are easier than others. This isn't one of them.

Fannie works the register and takes the orders. I can't help but think that she may have been misplaced. She is short, the shortest of the four. Her shoulders barely clear the counter. Each of them dresses distinctively to preserve some sense of identity behind their black aprons. Fannie in black, Fung, the tallest of the four with a Pokemon haircut, in red, and Vien in a white, long-sleeve button-front. Fung makes the drinks when they need to be made and Vien does the rounds, collecting plates and cups.

Fannie stands behind the register and writes intently on a yellow pad. When she finishes with her important scribbling, she waits patiently for the next customer, staring blankly ahead. After minutes pass, a fake blonde walks up and asks for the key to the bathroom. After she leaves the side door, Fannie returns to her waiting.

More minutes pass and a family of three approaches Fannie. No one has coffee but the boy, no older than four, stands on tip toe and pushes a cookie onto the counter. Fannie bends down and slows her deliberate speech to attempt to talk to the boy, but he loses interests and turns to look for other distractions. I am reassured as Fannie has additional communication difficulties even when she's trying her hardest. I hope that Fannie isn't scarred by the experience.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

First Day

Lana makes an entrance with two friends in tow. The coffee house has an L shape, the door being at the end of the short leg of the L, which means that almost everyone makes an entrance when they turn the corner and head to one of the two cashiers.

"Lana! It's been a long time!" Three others are shouting various greetings in the background in both English and Cantonese. Lana is well known by the local barristas. She is tall, Chinese, and has long hair that stirs lightly on her navy blue blazer. Embarrassed by the many turns of heads, she holds a finger up to her pursed lips and waves their attention away with quick flutters of her other hand. She walks up to the counter and leans over the espresso machine to be heard over the sounds of steaming milk. One of the barristas nods in understanding and begins busying himself with filters and tamps. Lana leaves the counter and joins her friends at a table just behind the cream and sugar counter.

The room is dark despite the plethora of track lighting throughout. Two cashiers border each side of the cake display counter, making customers strategically chose their position. The distance is such that they must commit. The left or the right. Stand near to the cheesecake or the sandwiches. They can't have them both. Most people appear to be lazy, stopping at the nearest cashier, ignoring request to come to the cashier without customers. The first cashier is closer to the espresso machine. The coffee order must come faster from there.

Three minutes later, the barrista brings Lana and her two friends three cups of various brews. "Latte? cappuccino?" They already have their accoutrements at the table - two types of sugar and green stirrers. They efficiently begin popping their lids and stirring. They replace the lids on the paper cups and sip in synchronicity.

Lana sees a manager enter the room from the back. She stands and excuses herself from the table. They approach each other and hug when they meet. The embrace is brief but firm and close. Smiles and smalltalk prevail. Lana nods and backs away. The manager does the same. Lana returns to the table, still smiling.