People in China don't really drink coffee. Don't ask me why, I don't understand. They prefer more subdued beverages like milk tea or beer with 2.3% alcohol content.
There are no coffee makers or espresso machines for sale at department stores here. You have to go to China's equivalent to Amazon (something called Taobao) to get that. Instant coffee is big but I hate it. It's like drinking non-alcoholic sparkling wine instead of champagne at New Years. It tastes empty.
Getting a single cup of coffee in China is hard. This makes life challenging for a caffeine addict like myself. There are 'western inspired' places that sell it - and by places I mean like two or three in an entire city of 5 million people - so I usually go there. This morning was no different. I get the ~ mei shi kafei re da ~ an Americano that's hot.
Today, my favorite store's espresso machine was broken. I’m not sure what was wrong with it - they explained it in Chinese. "It happens, I totally understand,” I said, speaking to them like I would speak to a 5 year old. When there is a communication gap between two languages, just speak to someone like they're 5 and no matter what’s said or understood, everything will work out okay.
I walked out and figured I'd try my luck with the sure thing about 5 blocks down the street. I go there several times a week and get a ~ liang fen nong suo kafei ~ 2 servings of thick coffee aka 2 espresso shots. It was 10am so I was sure they were open. They weren't open. I knew because there was a bike lock tied to the front door which is how they lock things here. 30 minutes and no coffee.
No coffee today sounds especially terrifying because you didn't sleep well - you’ve had this day before and it never ends well. This thought doesn't leave you and your desperate search becomes intensified. Then it comes to you. Just two days ago when you wandered into KFC to get a chicken sandwich, you saw a coffee on the menu and you ordered it. It’s close by and the coffee happened to actually be pretty good. You have new life.
I've grown to love KFC. It's how I explain where I'm from in China. KFC ~ ken-du-gee ~ as they say. It’s like McDonald's in America, everyone knows it and it’s on virtually every block. I would say the chicken is better here but that would be misleading because I never ate it in America.
I walked into KFC and ordered a ~ Daxing kafei ~ large coffee. They pressed the start button on the coffee machine, I salivated, and watched....as clear liquid came shooting out. It’s hot water. Dear god.
I sat down because the cashier told me to and looked on as three employees took apart the entire machine and attempted to reattach pipes, spouts and nozzles. 20 minutes passed before I finally decided to tell the cashier that I’d like my money back. She didn't understand so I waited more. I could see they were making progress, the liquid had transformed from a clear to a muddy brown color. I kept a close eye on them though because while I didn’t think they'd try to pass that watery shit off as coffee, I also didn’t put it past them - they don’t know what it looks like because they don’t drink it.
I went back a second time to tell the cashier I'd like my money back. This time firmly. She went to make a hot chocolate.
~ Buyao! Buyao! (No! No! I don't want!) ~ I got out my wallet and pointed to physical cash. She looked down at the register and immediately looked back up, her eyes already apologizing. She can’t open the register.
I lost it. Cuss words flowed out. There was no communication gap anymore. No number of ~ Duibuqi’s (sorry) ~ or bows made me feel any better. I stormed out and cut my loses.
I headed home and sat at the crosswalk waiting for the light to turn and realized how desperate I was when the thought of getting a milk tea popped into my head. Jesus. This was your decision. You knew it would be hard. You knew the little things wouldn't be easy. People told you this. But getting a simple cup of coffee? C’mon.
As soon as I reached the other side of the block, I heard someone breathless running and shouting behind me. You’re not surprised by this anymore, weird shit happening around you is normal - you've mentally chalked this up to China being China. You look back anyway.
It was a small Chinese women sprinting to catch up to you, in a KFC hat, with a small cup of coffee, 2 sugars and 2 creamers.
You hear the sorry’s more profusely than before. You get more bows. You smile. You accept her gift. You say thank you. You give a hug. And you appreciate China being China.