Bangkok Phil

Office blocks and Starbuckian

If you can't get into the elevator there's always a Starbucks

World Trade Center Offices
I was conducting a two-day seminar on 'meeting skills' last week at the very modern World Trade Center Offices Building on Ploenchit Road. Frankly speaking, I spend a lot of time here. The building, which adjoins the World Trade Center shopping complex, was apparently derelict and unfinished for several years when contractors suddenly run out of cash, but with its polished, shimmering steel and glass facade and a Starbucks on the second floor, it's now blossomed into one of the capitals premier office locations. And you can't call yourself an office building these days unless you have a branch of everyone's favorite coffee chain, a tiny Boots chemist with just enough room for one customer and a slightly effeminate shop assistant , and a place to buy overpriced fruit smoothies.

The WTC Office building also has the most complex elevator system imaginable. The first step in the journey from ground floor to desired floor involves approaching the information desk. Depending on the time of day, the desk is either manned by three young ladies who I'm convinced are all pre-op 'ladyboys', or two male security guards who are memorable only for their total lack of English and their navy blue uniforms that are six sizes too big. I think the ladyboys come on duty at 8.00am - give or take fifteen minutes because I'm sure it would ultimately depend on how long they spend applying make-up in the bathroom. Once at the information desk, you tell the staff the number of your destination floor and receive an electronic card that allows you to go to that floor only. To get this electronic card you have to exchange it for a form of identification with your picture on it. Hand the staff something like your Blockbuster Video card or just a plain business card and they positively revel in the opportunity to throw it back at you. When you eventually get hold of the electronic elevator card, you have to walk over to the row of elevators and scan it against a card reader. A visual display then tells you which elevator to use, be it P,Q,R,S or T. Only that particular elevator will take you to your desired floor. Sounds like a recipe for disaster doesn't it? Well, you have two distinct groups of elevator-user: those that work in the building and are as you'd expect, au fait with the whole system, and then there's the rest of us. The rest of us spend twenty minutes getting in the wrong elevators, going up to the wrong floors, and then trying to find someone who can explain how the damn system works. For a first-time visitor or perhaps a motorcycle messenger who isn't the brightest bulb in the marquee, it's a wonderful way to start the day.

The language of Starbuckian
Let me go back to the topic of Starbucks coffee shops if I may. To tell the truth I'm not their greatest fan, but like so many others, I can't start the day without my regular intake of caffeine and very often Starbucks is the only choice at 7.00 in the morning. I'm convinced the worst thing you can do is 'get known' at any particular Starbucks branch. I don't even have to bark my order at them, because they know me as the 'medium-sized cappuccino' guy. I'll approach the counter and the cheerful assistant will say "good morning sir, medium cappuccino?" and that beaming smile will light up her face. Thankfully she stops short of addressing me by name because even as it is, it's a level of cheerfulness and bonhomie that I just can't handle at such an ungodly hour of the morning. You'll notice how I refer to the drink as a 'medium-sized' cappuccino. I think the menu board refers to it as 'tall' or 'grande' or something equally pretentious. I refuse to get drawn into using that strange 'Starbuckian' language. The words small, medium, and large have served us well for centuries and if I'm the last man defending them then so be it.

While I was waiting in line recently, I noticed a rather fetching pastel-colored Starbucks mug, which would have matched the color scheme of my kitchen very nicely indeed. It was displayed on those shelves where they plonk all the other Starbucks paraphernalia such as bags of coffee beans, placemats, coffee grinders and tins of after-coffee peppermints (you know what I'm talking about right?) I gasped aloud at the price ticket affixed to the bottom of the mug. 290 baht. I put the mug back on the shelf with a slight whimper and even picked up a second mug to make sure someone hadn't had a mishap with the labeling gun. They hadn't. 290 baht was the price and that's simply outrageous. This is the major problem I have with Starbucks. Does the guy who decides the prices of their goods ever set foot in the real world? Does he not know that 85 baht for a quiche pie the size of a ten-baht coin is pushing it a bit? Does he not realize that no drink, no matter which mountain slope in Columbia the beans have been picked from, is ever going to be worth 120 baht? And yet you can sit in Starbucks for just half an hour and see a constant stream of middle-class Thais and ex-pats, grabbing a coffee and a snackette, and not once baulking at having to hand over twice Thailand's minimum daily wage for the privilege. As I've said, I go there for my early morning medium-sized cappuccino and some days I might even take a quick peek at the complimentary Bangkok Post if that irritating Japanese fellah hasn't got to it first. The other stuff - the peripheral stuff - the coffee grinders, the booklets on the history of Brazilian coffee-growing, the mugs and the environmentally-friendly t-shirts - can all fuck off.


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