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#57 Yay for Starbucks on Campus

March 9, 2009

As I sat comfortably in the brown pinewood chair in the Starbucks on campus, quietly enjoying the solitude of savouring a quiche and my favourite drink, a refreshingly delightful iced caramel macchiato with additional whipped cream on top, I mused about the sense of comfort and familiarity Starbucks has begun to bestow upon me every time I walk through the glass doors with its characteristically deep green shuttered roof above my head. The staff always have a mega-watt smile on their faces, ready to take your orders and make your day a better one by serving up your favourite pick-me-up, although some outlets do make better macchiatos than others.

We didn’t have a Starbucks on campus back home, so imagine my delight when I stepped on campus here in HKU a few weeks ago to see the round, green and white sign that is easily the most recognizable worldwide (with the exception of the Golden Arches of course). And imagine the added euphoria and pleasant surprise to know that students get a discount off the menu in the campus branch. Oh, needless to say, I’ll be living off this place quite a bit, when I crave that much needed break from all the MSG-laden Chinese food here.

I begin to wonder, what is the allure of this place, and why does it seem to have such a powerful hold over us, us meaning people who couldn’t help but gravitate towards Starbucks, happily surrendering 6 dollars for a cup of exorbitantly-priced coffee, and instantly let the effect sink in…all the serotonin beginning to flood our bloodstream. Is it a placebo effect or has Starbucks become a true sanctuary for the busy cityslicker who just needs a respite from all the hustle and bustle?

Sipping on my iced coffee in 15°C weather here on campus, I sat and my inner eavesdropper began picking up the ongoing conversations around me. Even though this is campus, it is clearly evident that not everyone sitting in there is a college student, as I witnessed a Polish lady in her mid 30s sitting by herself in one corner, approached by a Finnish lady of around her age who seemed equally lonely in the busy coffee joint, and began striking up a lively conversation about their new life in Hong Kong. A young couple cosied up to one another at the side, staring intently at their Toshiba laptop before them, occasionally letting a knowing hearty laugh escape their lips before resuming their task. A bohemian-chic girl lounged in a chair opposite me, fingering her cup of coffee on the table, listening to her iPod, looking like she desperately needed a cigarette (but of course she can’t ‘cos you can’t smoke inside the joint – no pun intended).

A clink of the glass and spoon, a chug of the coffee maker, a holler from the barista, a tinkle of the bell as the door swings open — a cacophony of your usual Starbucks sounds, a little noisy yes, but nonetheless sedative, calming and therapeutic on the soul. Chai, caramel macchiato or chocolate, pick your poison and feel the happy effects settling in. You know you’d love it.

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