Shanghai Welcomes Replica Central Perk, Future Renditions of ‘Smelly Cat’

Good news, tourists of the world! You no longer have to descend upon Manhattan looking to fulfill your desire to live in a mid-’90s sitcom fantasy and look for Central Perk. Even as Carrie and Miranda, and, to a lesser extent, Hannah and Marnie, begin to eclipse Ross and Rachel and Monica as the international pop culture-driven perception of what living in New York is like, people all over this great planet of our still look to the scripted, laugh-tracked comfort food that is Friends. And the greatest monument they will find to the classic NBC sitcom can now be found not in New York, but in Beijing.

As NPR’s Lisa Lim reported, Du Xin, a longtime super-fan of the sitcom who has styled himself as "the Chinese Gunther," who calls the show his "religion," is responsible for the working replica of the iconic coffee shop at which the gang would gossip, discover more about themselves and, in the case of our Phoebe Buffay, perform brilliantly bad folk songs like "Smelly Cat." In addition to the popular Beijing café, which he opened several years ago and features identical furniture and serves menu items mentioned on the TV show, Du recently opened a Central Perk in Shanghai and created a replica of Joey’s apartment on the show. No word on whether or not Huggsy, his Bedtime Penguin Pal, is included. "This TV show also told us you have to choose a living way you like… I learned a lot from Friends: how to treat friends, girlfriends, my wife, how to be generous, how to be gentle," Du told NPR of his fixation.

There’s something fascinating and comforting about this whole thing, and what it says about pop culture bringing the world together and how people all over the world are introduced to American culture. But this is also unnerving when it comes to imagining the future.

We can see it now, in some bustling international metropolis, some far-flung corner of the world, time zones away from here, lovers of New York-related-television shows the world over creating replica homages to HBO’s Girls, where Robyn is always blasting and cupcakes are served to you in bathtub-shaped booths. This is our future, world. (Note: If you’re reading this in the year 2025, and this becomes a real thing, I will accept royalties via check, Visa or PayPal.) 

Going For Gold on the Conde Nast Traveller 2012 Gold List

Like the BAFTAs and the Oscars, there have long been equally prestigious lists of travel excellence being produced on both sides of the pond: in both cases, there’s often some overlap, but each organization has its own particular sensibility that makes both selections worth paying attention to. While the U.S. edition’s Gold List selections are drawn from their massive readers’ survey, to take advantage of their breadth of knowledge, the U.K. edition depends on their editors depth of experience within the industry to discern what’s truly extraordinary.

The 2012 list is divided into eight categories, depending on your priorities, although of course any hotel on this list will excel in all of these things. Among our favorites within the many excellent hotels selected for each are the newly-reopened St. Pancras Renaissance in London as best for location, the eclectic Crosby Street Hotel in New York as best for rooms, and the classic Alvear Palace in Buenos Aires as best for service. Beyond the basic categories, they also selected for more subjective but equally important concerns, including the Bellagio in Las Vegas for best leisure facilities, the Opposite House in Beijing for best food, and Le Royal Monceau Raffles in Paris for best ambience  & design.

Shangri-La China World Hotel Makes Beijing a Tiny Bit Greener

Al Gore could find enough environmental disasters in Beijing alone to make a box set. After all, the pollution levels here are so bad, flights can be delayed up to eight hours due to visibility (I know this first-hand, having experienced the longest delay of my life at Hangzhou—just a one-hour flight away—thanks to the “fog” in the former Olympic city). It also doesn’t help that the number of cars in China doubles every five years, or that there’s a Dickensian swarm of smoke-belching factories all over the city. When I visited the recently opened China World Summit Wing in Beijing, now the largest hotel in China, you could barely see through all that smog/fog/gray. Maybe the ghostlike view gave its neighbor, Shangri-La hotel group’s China World, reason enough to bring green back to a city known mostly for its haze.

From now until November 30th, the five-star, ultra-luxe hotel is featuring a carbon-less holiday package, which includes two night’s stay, eco-friendly hybrid Mercedes airport and intra-city transfers, the option to explore the city’s historic or contemporary sights by bicycle, organic welcome cocktails, and a Chinese dinner prepared from locally sourced and organic ingredients. Oh, there’s also a one-hour massage and daily breakfast thrown in. We see that as a reward for contributing to a good cause. While it’s going to take more than an earth-conscious package to suck the pollution from this dynamic city, it’s one step toward awareness. Al Gore would be proud.

5 Things Not To Do at the Great Wall of China

If you didn’t catch “Confessions of a Travel Writer” on the Travel Channel, you missed the segment where I referred to myself as the “Chevy Chase of tourists.” Case in point: on my recent visit to Beijing, I thought I could simply hire a private taxi to get to the Great Wall. In hindsight, maybe it’s my spontaneous nature that gets me into trouble, but whatever the reason, I didn’t give much thought to any potentially disastrous outcomes. Lucky, then, that upon arrival to Beijing, I learned from local ex-pats that hiring a taxi and going to the Wall alone for my first visit were both, in fact, terrible ideas. Considering taxi drivers in China don’t speak English, there was a good chance I could have somehow ended up on the other side of the wall—three days later. Not to mention the other nearly-missed disasters. So with a new plan, I managed to get to the Wall and back safely without sacrificing adventure for a big fiasco. Here are my five tips on what not to do when visiting China’s most popular tourist attraction.

Don’t go to Ba Da Ling: Find the perfect spot for a photo opp? You’re not the only one. The most popular entrance on the Wall is equally the most crowded. Seriously. Good luck getting a photo without having the tip of a tour group’s flag poking into your shot. I love kids but, they’re let loose as if it’s a playground. You’ll spend more time looking out for them then admiring the views. And get ready for the blasting of megaphones on tours. They are everywhere and loud and obnoxious. Avoid this scene by going to the Mutianyu part of the wall. It’s less crowded and has equally great, if not more beautiful views, considering all the green surrounding the walls. Best of all? It’s almost 80 percent original, unlike Ba Da Ling, which is about 95% restored or new. That’s right. At Ba Da Ling, you’re standing on cemented bricks rather than the original rice congee and limestone. Oh, and at Mutianyu, you can ride a toboggan back down. Seriously fun times.

Don’t go during the afternoon: Want to have a heatstroke? Then go around lunch time. It’s friggin’ hot, and for some reason the crowds seem to be attracted to the wall at this peak time of day. Nothing like a picture of you standing on a historic wall sweating like a pig, looking dehydrated and defeated! Seriously, wake your ass up early to beat the traffic (during traffic from downtown Beijing, it can take up to three hours. No traffic, an hour and half tops). Better yet, stay at Aman at Summer Palace. Here, you’re closer to the Wall and only 30 minutes from downtown Beijing. Another perk is the fact Aman at Summer Palace is literally inside Summer Palace (another major attraction where royalty used to “summer” back in the day).

Don’t go alone: Go solo if you must, but with the language barrier, it will only slow you down. Also, feel free to annoy strangers when you stop them to snap hundreds of pictures of you posing. Oh, and good luck with the MSG at the restaurant that looks decent! Aman at Summer Palace provided a personal tour with one of their native freelance guides, Jerry. Not only was Jerry great company on the drive down to Mutianyu in a private vehicle, but it was nice having an interpreter (Mutianyu is considered off the beaten path, so there are fewer English speakers). Jerry had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Great Wall, due to that fact that he’s camped in various Wall locations and previously lead large tour groups with China Travel Services. He also gave me my space, offering me time to just absorb the Great Wall without any commentary. Lastly, when leaving, Jerry steered me from the Grade C restaurants and took me to have some wonderful dim sum in a local, clean Chinese restaurant.

Don’t make eye contact with the hawkers: The hawkers here are truly annoying as shit. They’re actually equipped with notepads to give you their name should you trail away, and they also somehow manage to wrangle your name from you so when you finish with the Great Wall, they are waiting for you, calling after you, following you. They don’t give up and once they realize you won’t buy anything. You’ll be stalked by a different hawker who really, really, really wants you to buy that “I Just Climbed The Great Wall” T-shirt, which you are, hopefully, not going to buy. Do your shopping in town, where you can find the exact same stuff and where the quality of the products is much nicer and quite cheaper. Don’t wear flip flops: We’re not suggesting a fashion show but seriously, we don’t understand how people just don’t get it. Don’t wear flip flops to the Great Wall. You’ll get mutt and stuff all in your toes. It’s not a yoga pavilion at a beach resort, it’s the Great Wall of China. You’ll be climbing steep steps, descending tiny steps, the weather is temperamental, etc. If you ignore Rule number five, you’ll have your toes stepped on at least a thousand times. Wear comfortable walking shoes. You’ll be happy you did. And when we say don’t wear flip flops, that includes Crocs.

Chinese ‘Friends’ Fans Pretend China is NYC

You know what’s just the worst? Visiting New York and finding out that the Central Perk cafe from TV’s Friends doesn’t exist. No Ross, no Monica, no Chandler, no Phoebe. No lattes! Thankfully, now crazed Friends fans (whomever they may be) can visit Central Perk in Beijing, China for a taste of the show.

Du Xin, a devotee of the show, opened the Beijing “Central Perk” last March on the sixth floor of a less than perky office building. “When I watched Friends, I always wondered whether there was really such a coffee shop because I would definitely become a frequent customer,” he says. “But I didn’t find one. So, I decided to open a ‘Central Perk’ on my own.” To build the coffee shop as close to the real thing as possible, Du agonized over pictures of the set and Friends reruns for months, working with furniture makers to make the replica as exact as possible.

Despite such attention to detail, the coffee shop wasn’t initially popular, even though the show is a big hit in China. But, after word spread online, it’s now a hot spot for super fans. They’ve even taken to calling Du “Gunther” after the coffee shop proprietor on the show. The biggest upside to all this is that there’s no need for a Central Perk, and another cheesy tourist trap, in New York.

White People for Rent in China

Fear not unemployed (white) Americans, there’s an exciting new career opportunity in the East. In China, Caucasian foreigners are in demand, with Chinese companies willing to pay to have pale-faces pose as fake employees, business partners, or girlfriends.

Foreigners are still often associated with wealth, power, and connections (irony!), and Chinese businesses are willing to pay to have a strategic white guy present at meetings and key events. The practice is know as “White Guy Window Dressing,” the gigs as “Face Jobs” or “White Guy in a Tie” events. “Because Western countries are so developed, people think they are more well off,” says Zhang Haihua, author of Think Like Chinese. “So if they really want to impress someone, they may roll out a foreigner.” If no pale-faces are around the boardroom, they may just hire an unemployed actor, model, or expat English teacher.

Jonathan Zatkin, an American actor living in Beijing, was paid about $300 to fly, along with some Russian models, to a small city in the Henan province to speak at the grand opening of a jewelry store. He recalls, “I made a speech about how wonderful it was to work with the company for 10 years.”

One company, called Rent A Laowai (Laowai is “foreigner” in Chinese), posts classified ads online looking for foreigners. One such ad reads, “Occasionally companies want a foreign face to go to meetings and conferences or to go to dinners and lunches and smile at the clients and shake people’s hand…There are job opportunities for girls who are pretty and for men who can look good in a suit.” Hmmm…maybe we could export Heidi and Spencer?

‘Vice’ & Intel Launch the Creators Project

Last night at Milk Studios saw the debut announcement of the Creators Project, a massive worldwide digital arts event put on by Vice and Intel. It’s easily the most ambitious thing Vice has ever attempted in terms of event packages, and that’s saying something. Curated by Mark Ronson among others, the stellar cast of participating talent covers artists and creative nerds coming together for events in New York, London, Sao Paulo, Seoul, and Beijing. The launch event–in New York, also at Milk, on June 26–promises a total takeover of the building for a variety of panels, installations, and of course parties in the inimitable Vice style. Quite likely to be among the summer’s top events in this town.


Vice’s Shane Smith works the room. Photo: Bryan Derballa.


Spike Jonez and Mark Ronson talk about baseball and tae bo. Not really! Just tae bo. Photo: Bryan Derballa.

Diesel XXX New Global Partying Initiative

Diesel XXX — not be confused with that unfortunate chrome-domed actor and his unfortunate secret agent movie — is segueing from industrial clothing brand to international party starter, with a 24-hour global shindig on October 11. The intercontinental soiree will begin in Tokyo and successively stumble to Beijing, Dubai, Athens, Amsterdam, Milan, Zurich, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Oslo, Helsinki, London, and Sao Paulo. No New York unfortunately, except for the 5,000-person grand finale we’ve been granted along Brooklyn’s scenic waterfront, hosted by that Mistress of Seduction, Joey Arias, and featuring performances from M.I.A., N.E.R.D, and Hot Chip.

The Diesel folks are shooting for a circus vibe, with trapeze artists, fire eaters, roller-derby squads, and sword swallowers (will our beloved Heather Holiday be binging on blades?) vying for your internet-demolished attention. The whole thing will be broadcast online for those 24-hour party people who can’t quite make it.

The Unfortunate Fashions of Michael Phelps

Michael “Gilly” Phelps may want to keep to the pool. While nobody questions his swimming talents or his taste in ladies, his choice of fashion is another matter. Guest of a Guest produces this unnerving photo of Phelps spotted last night at Beijing hotspot China Doll sporting a shirt that looked as if he upchucked a banana daiquiri all over his front. His bemedaled look didn’t turn out much better, however.

Phelps brings home eight gold medals for the United States, and Sports Illustrated goes out and dresses him in drag. In a nod to the 1972 Mark Spitz cover (sad, tiny little inset at bottom left), SI draped Phelps in red ribbons and gold. The result? Guy looks like he’s wearing a halter top. Either that, or they positioned the ribbons around his neck to hide those palpating gills.