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Above Forbidden City

That Starbucks have gone global has been a fact. In Asia coffee connoisseur-wanna-bes revere Starbucks as if it’s the way to approach espresso artistry. Go figure. However ubiquitous and infiltrated Starbucks is, I’m not prepared to see the sight of Starbucks housed in a Chinese Qing-style building. It’s hideous, almost blasphemous. I spotted Starbucks within the rabbit warrens of the Forbidden City two years ago, but owing to the sober nature of a state heritage, at least it adopts a rather low-key profile. I was looking for a place to sit and read over coffee (who would have guessed?). I settled at a tea house instead. Eighty pages into The Likeness I’m convinced that Tana French has firmly established her as an important voice is suspense fiction and thriller. An identity thief had been murdered. What’s so surreal about this is the stolen identity itself was fabricated for an undercover agent five years ago. Now the agent herself, Cassie Maddox, would walk straight back into this victim’s life and pick up where she left off—because their physical appearance is almost identical.

Some people are little Chernobyls, shimmering with silent, spreading poison: get anywhere near them and every breath you take will wreck you from the inside out. Some cases—ask any cop—are malignant and incurable, devouring everything they touch. [1:9]

How about that? It’s almost surreal that I’m reading this mystery amidst the chill and silence of Beijing in early morning, before the streets come alive with commute hustle. Two pots of iron goddess tea later, hands a tad warmer thanks to the tea and emerging penumbra of sun, I assembled my outfit, which consists of a cashmere scarf, soft-leather gloves, and down-feather parka, and began the climb to Jingshan Park, once an imperial garden during Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, which overlooks the Forbidden City.

Were it not for the bitter cold, the benches up at Jingshan Park are not a bad reading spot.

12 Responses

  1. Nice imagery!

  2. how cold is there now?

    I always skip Jingshan Park, though it might be one of the best spots to shoot the Forbidden City (another one would possibly be the Beihai Park), as I tend to visit Beijing between June and Sept, for work, dry hot summer … @_@

    winter should be a nice time to visit Forbidden City as it’s cold and much fewer visitors go there

    • It’s much colder at night than during the day. Sub-zero (Celsius) temps at night. It’s not too bad during the day when the sun comes out. I want to see snow actually. I’ll go to Forbidden City tomorrow, as it will be much colder tomorrow, so visitors would be sparse.

  3. Starbucks…wow, that is rather bizarre.
    But what a fantastic trip.

  4. So glad to hear you’re enjoying The Likeness! The only better place to read it would be Ireland, I think!

  5. There used to be a Starbucks in the Forbidden City. When I was there as a tourist back in 2008, my brother and I searched for one (*ashamed*) as it had one on the Forbidden City map. We asked around, and they told us that they used to be there, but are no longer there. They directed us to a similar coffee shop.

    • The one inside Forbidden City is still there, near the middle courtyard actually. It’s very non-descript without a loud sign boasting Starbucks, and you can totally miss it walking by.

  6. So glad to hear you are enjoying your trip. I have heard so many good things about The Likeness. I look forward to your final thought!

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