I wish I had taken a photo of Panyu back on that hot summer's day in August 2003. This is because if I had taken a photo of Panyu all those years ago then I would have been able to compare to what it looked like in those days to what it looks like today. In those days Panyu was nothing but a dusty industrial town with very poor infrastructure, and was heavy polluted. Since the opening of metro Line 3 in 2009, two of Panyu's sub districts - Panyu Square and Shiqiao - have become heavily popular residential areas for most of Guangzhou's population. Rent is still remarkably cheaper than what you would have to pay in downtown Tian He (a three bedroom modern apartment can cost anything in the region of RMB 3,000 in Panyu...the same apartment would cost around RMB 7,800 in downtown).
Shiqiao, an area covering only 11.35 square kms is becoming modern at a dizzying pace (I would refrain from saying that it's becoming more Americanized like the rest of the country). In the space of around 3 years this tiny town with a population of around 280,000 in the south-east of Panyu district, has become home to SIX McDonald's outlets, TWO KFC outlets, TWO Starbucks outlets (as if one was not enough), TWO Pizza Hut outlets, and an abundance of 7-Eleven stores. Shiqiao is the political, economic, cultural and commercial centre of Panyu District, and has direct jurisdiction over 28 communities and 8 villages. Oh, by the way, there used to be a Dunkin Donuts outlet in the main plaza next to Shiqiao Metro station. It opened in 2009 when I first started living in Shiqiao, and then it closed in February this year due to lack of demand because Chinese people love Starbucks (it's seen as a status symbol among the rising Middle-Class and elite to drink Starbucks coffee).
I am a huge fan of Dunkin Donuts, and being British, I have always been highly impressed by the way they make their milk teas- now that's something rare for an American food outlet to achieve (!). I would be more than happy to speak to a few Starbucks executives about this, but in my opinion Starbucks are not marketing and selling the tea as it should be done (take note....Earl Grey is tea without flavour...and I'd like to meet the innovative person who thought about serving a cup of tea with milk FOAM poured on the top!!).
I have bought Starbucks tea in mainland China, Dubai, Istanbul, Singapore, Bangkok, Detroit, Toronto, Paris, Hong Kong, and even in London (home of tea!), and I can tell you that it tastes nothing like the tea that we loyal tea drinkers are used to. I am not sure what native Indians in India think about the tea offered by Starbucks. Believe me, being a British man of Indian heritage I know what real tea and coffee tastes like (I am, of course, referring to black tea). Chai, the word for tea used in most Eurasian countries (including Russia), originated in India during the British Raj under King George, and the original tea derives from the romantic hills of Darjeeling and Shimla (PG Tips and Tetley have it right).
Maybe Starbucks should stick to just selling the coffee - which by my definition is not real coffee either. In my opinion, Chinese people need to be brought up to revere real Italian coffee. Perhaps they should do what the Aussies did after the GFC, where 800 Starbucks stores were closed in Australia - mostly in Melbourne. Only poofs put vanilla in coffee, and milk foam on their tea...!
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