If I’m honest I’m not especially fond of any of the big brand behemoths that may or may not be coming to whichever big Asian city near you.
People queuing up to do online reviews of a Burger King in Hanoi remind me of that old Peter Kaye sketch about family holidays where they find Kellogg’s Cornflakes in a Spanish supermarket and buy them to see if they taste the same. Funnily enough those reviews can be divided roughly in two: It’s the Same! and It’s Not the Same (Typical Vietnam!).
That said next up is Starbucks in Ho Chi Minh City which means inevitably they’ll end up in Hanoi before too long. Before we proceed, check out this fantastic blogged snapshot of local coffee providers for some context.
Over Christmas in the UK I avoided Starbucks, opting for the UK-based Costa, mostly because of the widely publicised at the time Starbucks’ tax avoidance. On a recent trip to Hong Kong though I visited every day. My boycott, it turns out, was pretty half hearted but a reasonable relfection of my don’t-love-em but don’t-care-enough-to-hate-em attitude to the brand
With that scene set, what of Starbucks coming to Vietnam? Will it kill the local coffee scene?
I doubt it.
People talk of how the high street coffee shops killed independent outlets in the UK but frankly pre Starbucks there were very few local cafes making even a half decent coffee. Hanoi is a little different. There is already a coffee culture. Seeing as it was the French who introduced the bean that became your caphe sua da does it make much difference if the Americans now popularise the latte?
When I first worked here, less than a decade ago, women just didn’t drink coffee. Now I watch my two fellow comms team members arrive at work clutching takeouts. If coffee was a culture it’s now become a craze.
Recently I noticed the bizarre, if very sweet, The Note Coffee appear by the lake in the centre of town. Beyond the provision of very decent coffee it also has a baffling post-it note subtext. Providing coffee is old hat, you have to have a gimmick too.
But in Hanoi it’s not just about the number of places you can buy coffee but also the different types. Italian espresso, egg coffee, yoghurt coffee, sticky rice coffee, fair trade and the ubiquitous caphe sua da. Frankly the fact that the world is going nuts for coffee is good news for Vietnam rather than the other way around. There can be few other places offering such a diverse array of the stuff. On a lovely day, when you can sit outside at pavement cafes, Hanoi is a like a gaint caffeine theme park.
Starbucks will settle into Vietnam in much the same way as McDonalds and Subway fade into the food scene in KL. There was such a massive diversity of food there that the big American brands became another layer amongst many. In the end they’ll only remain if they’re wanted.
At Christmas, alongside a 30 kilo coffee machine, myself and my wife also carried back a huge box of takeout coffee cups (decent ones with lids and ripple walls). To buy such a thing in Hanoi would mean ordering 30,000 of the things that would fill half our house – takeout coffee culture is growing but obviously in its infancy.
That said, when my wife set up The Cart a few years back, the desire to do a half decent espresso meant they opted for Italian beans. But the quality and diversity of Vietnamese coffee continues to grow and that may change in the not too distant future.
Starbucks won’t fail but I don’t think it will kill the coffee scene either. If anything it’s all about to get even more interesting.
Christmas is being spent in Northumberland with family. Today included a trip to a fresh, breezy, blue-skied Tynemouth – the anti-Hanoi.
Yesterday we got married again. This time with the whole family present, sisters, kids etc and a lovely day was had by all.
For a number of reasons, 2012 has been a trying year for us. In October, on our anniversary, I asked Loan to marry me (again) and yesterday was the culmination of that. It also seemed to break a run of bad luck. Since then a new job has been secured by me and a new cafe opened by Loan.
All of the above means that, for the first time in 12 months, we’re absolutely committed to Hanoi. We wobbled this year and the wobbling made us more unhappy than anything Hanoi could throw at us. In the end all we needed to know was our near future would work out and when that fell into place we happily settled again.
Beyond this the only thing I need to really love/survive Hanoi is an annual day like today in Tynemouth. Head, sinuses and cobwebs cleared.
I will hate Hanoi again. In the middle of next summer, in a pool of sweat, I’ll dream of windy Tynemouth but I’ll also love Hanoi many many times inbetween.
Happy Christmas to all. I hope your year is ending as well as mine is.
On one side you have the plight of the bears and the park employees but the issue goes much further. We often talk about the need for transparency versus corruption, but this is as transparent a piece of corruption as you are ever likely to find.
By all accounts embassies, NGOs and international organisations are queuing to lobby the Government on this issue and to add their signatures and voices in opposition. They see it as pivotal. If this kind of thing can be allowed to happen then just how serious is Vietnam about developing? This is going to get a lot bigger and a lot noisier. It’s hard to imagine the bear park winning and yet it’s also difficult to imagine that such a travesty could be allowed to happen. Please share the film.
Who knows something good could yet come out of all of this. Better even than Animals Asia and its bear park being allowed to carry on with their excellent work – and that alone would be pretty spectacular.
I’ve recently found myself succumbing to that Vietnamese start-the-day stretch – an up and at ‘em twist with a bent knee kick, first left then right.
In addition, someone recently told me most headaches are caused by stiff neck muscles so, as a frequent sufferer, I occasionally attempt the trying to touch your shoulder with your ear thing.
Vietnamese customers at my gym stretch so much that it’s hard to know where the stretching stops and real exercise starts. Perhaps it’s straying beyond stretching into actual yoga territory. Perhaps the stretching is the exercise.
At Yakushi they bend and stretch me and on occasions stick needles in me to try and sort out my back. It does seem to be improving though that could equally be down to increased gym visits and subsequent weight loss. The back doesn’t hurt any more but on occasions it does feel stiff which necessitates yet more stretching. Bending backwards over an exercise ball brings a certain vertebrae pleasing relief.
Did living in Asia make me learn the importance of stretching? Did living in Asia make me need to stretch – a lack of brisk walks due to the hot, humid Hanoi summer perhaps?
Do I just need to stretch more because I’m getting old? It’s not the first time I’ve been confused as to whether changes I am noting in myself are down to age or location.
Or, I suppose, generic expat flakiness.