Sang Starbucks

The Vietnamese expansion plans were at the heart of things from the very beginning...(links to source image)

The Vietnamese expansion plans were at the heart of things from the very beginning…

(links to source image)

“Thông tin vào như nước sông Hồng,
Thông tin ra nhỏ giọt như cà phê phin.”


It was slipped under the door, an unmarked yellow envelope with the thread and wheel seals that apparently only Hong Kong is cool enough to use on a regular basis—an impressive feat considering I still can’t pinpoint my apartment’s exact address. The densely populated warren that vomits out around Hồ Ba Mẫu is just blank space on Google Maps.

Deciding a blog laziness has pushed to the brink of death should be entrusted with such journalistic gold is certainly perplexing. Are there resonances that escape me? Strategic implications? The major player machinations in the escalating international tensions between coffee retailers with strikingly similar aesthetic senses remains opaque to us mere mortals. I don’t really have the Messiah complex required for the Assange mantle to rest comfortably. It appears I have little choice.

The script contained within seems horribly overwritten. Almost as if its author shot for something resembling a screenplay while ignoring the minor obstacle of having absolutely no idea what he or she was doing. It could be a pitch aid orphaned by rejection or a future campaign’s beginnings. The specificity’s all wrong for a shooting draft. There’d be fistfights on the set. I can’t decipher the hieroglyphic industry shorthand that covers its pages so ignored them. As far as I’m concerned it testifies to the document’s unimpeachable authenticity.

Others have written much more incisively about their assessments of Starbucks’ prospects here in Vietnam. Excessively offended condemnations veer a little too close to the bullshit pristine exotica fallacy informing so many crimes, especially the type that arrogate expressing sentiments on behalf of Vietnamese people. The brand’s one of those evocative icons of cultural homogenisation that’s now expected to take a beating. Starbucks offers me nothing. Đen không đường. It’s right there in the title. Nâu đá is an almost unbeatable dessert, and even espresso hankerings can be satiated with something far more interesting and deserving of support. Ultimately though, the Seattle siren’s fate is equally as divorced from me. Indigenous aspirations create an irresistible niche. Sad, yes, but dwarfed in scale by other pillages, both real and potential. If you can emerge from globalisation wearing an “I integrated into the international capitalist system and all I got was this lousy coffee” t-shirt, you’ve done pretty damn well for yourself.

Of course, Starbucks isn’t exactly helping itself by constantly reiterating its “deep respect for Vietnam’s long coffee traditions”. The one selling point on which the company inarguably has no claim. Tokenism like the “Asian Dolce Latte” and

“…the distinctive Starbucks community table, whose teakwood surface was recycled from a local villa, and an old ‘ba gac’ (bicycle), which was traditionally used to transport goods around the city in the past…”

bodes no better.

What do I know. Recent reports suggest things are proceeding as planned, in spite of the misguided platitudes. But I can’t help thinking Starbucks shareholders will rest easier knowing the leaked promo spot’s ambitions might live on, just waiting for a visionary capable of realising them.


A dingy backstreet in the heart of the metropolis. Concrete rust
adorns the scarred orange walls of some nondescript shopfronts. Four
naked fluorescents dangling from makeshift hooks and wires
are prematurely flickering to life, audibly buzzing. They
compete with the crackle and pop from the loudspeaker peak of a
nearby tangle of power lines. Tinny Oriental music -- the kind
that soundtracks the vaguely racist stir-fry sauce advertisements
of massive multinational corporations -- infects the air. An OLD MAN hunches on a blue plastic stool. The wisps of his beard
point the way for anything else in the gutter the breeze manages to
push along. On the wall behind the man’s beret bumps a faded,
hand-painted: “CÀ PHÊ TRUYỀN THỐNG” Two glasses, one topped with a dented filter dripping sludge, the
other a stagnant leafy yellow, occupy the stool in front of him. A fly drifts across the man’s face. It settles on the lip of the tea
glass. Spasms. Tumbles in. The old man sighs a prelude to
the wracking cough that dislodges the thuốc lào pipe propped against his
leg. His eyes track its progress as it rolls -- loudly --
towards the left of screen. The man’s attention is still focused on his disappearing pipe when a
horn dopplers in from offscreen right. While his head is
turned, there’s a horrible metal on metal crunch and the entire scene
jolts violently to the left. (in the manner of an interrupted wipe, we catch a glimpse of the massive, silver fendered vehicle bulldozing its way into our POV) The man grabs at the beret his head leaves hanging when the frame
snaps back into place. His two drinks slosh. The fluorescents
swing. The CÀ PHÊ sign clings by a corner before surrendering to the
inevitable. Years of dust are visibly liberated from the
shopfront and its eaves. An air horn resounds once more, louder now, closer. An engine revs.
The old man throws up his arms in the face of the building roar.
This time, when the crash occurs, what we eventually can
identify as a black stretch HUMMER® limousine doesn’t stop. It’s
relentless, pushing the border of the new frame across. The aerial
old man tumbles in rapidly diminishing space before his world is
shunted away entirely. Stretch HUMMER® body whips past. We effectively... WIPE TO: EXT. HCMC CITY - NIGHT ...a familiar street scene, but less claustrophobic, less dank.
There’s certainly nothing creeping along the gutter -- it’s all
spotless. No orange walls in sight. No blue stools or handwritten
signs. Dark green umbrellas stand on either side of a crimson carpet leading
up to glass double doors glowing warmly from within. Half moons
of chrome embossed with the stylised image of a crowned lady
split in two form the doors’ handles. Second storey windows bear the
same ‘siren’ in green and white. The entrance itself is ostentatiously roped off. A queue of the
anonymous has been corralled to one side, its lumpy shadow tailing
offscreen and presumably around a distant corner. Two white blurs pull into the bottom corners of the foreground. We
rack focus to catch the BENTLEY® badges on both. The bass thump of
the introduction to CURRENT K-POP HIT SINGLE kicks in when the
first stiletto heel touches ground. It’s joined by a variety of
others, interspersed with the latest premium sneakers from
NIKE®, ADIDAS®, REEBOK®, CONVERSE®. There’s enough ridiculously
expensive designer shoes for seven people. Doors slam. We follow from behind as the group strides up the carpet-- dawdling a
little, creating more room, settling back into a slightly
truncated version of the Goodfellas tracking shot. Some are
carrying shopping bags. The glossy logos of D&G®, BURBERRY®,
CHANEL® et al. jostle for pride of place. A man in black with a headset and clipboard unhooks the rope and
professionally disappears. The KPOP HIT SINGLE intro swells. It
breaks into its first verse as our clique crosses the threshold of
the doors that have swung inwards on their own accord. INT. STARBUCKS® CÀ PHÊ - NIGHT An intimidatingly ornate chandelier is mirrored by a champagne
fountain of branded reusable cups atop a round chrome pedestal at
the forefront of what could be the cafe’s ‘atrium’. A staff
member -- on a step ladder and in black, with a green and white
crowned lady chest badge turned towards us -- times the beginning of
the milky caffeinated cascade perfectly. The floor is tiled
black and white, the siren enlarged and enmarbled. Subdued
lighting. Disguised lamps and spots pick out the design
details we’re meant to admire. Paper thin LCDs mounted at
regular intervals around the room cycle through drink specials.
Pearls of high definition condensation practically leap from the
screens. The pockets of patrons orbiting clusters of distressed chrome stools
and high tables, or nestled in cavities of dark suede sofas and
armchairs, are all as fashion press glamourous as our posse.
The latter weave their way on. They notice the ROLEXES®,
RADOS®, and TAG-HEUERS® crowning VENTI®-clutching hands. APPLE®
saturation is also nearing its maximum -- at least one
prominently displayed IPHONE® or IPAD® or MACBOOK® per trio of
customers lends its luminosity to the general ambience. Two of our group pull away towards one of the gently spiralling
staircases that flank the convex bar and drinks preparation area at
the back of the atrium. Hazy neon and laser flashes bouncing
around the stairwell interiors hint at the atmosphere anyone
venturing up can expect. PRADA® and LOUIS VUITTON® and friends are flung ahead of the group
onto the nook of furniture they’ve chosen to claim. We circle around
to a passing WAITRESS who receives their signalled orders with a
smile, the tracking shot continuing in the overlap, but now
shadowing her path to the coffee bar. She's briefly haloed in the buttery gold of the pastry case. Her relayed
orders get a nod from the cashier. Four other staff are shrouded in the
steam spat by three hulking pseudospresso machines. Each of the
blenders in the backlit rank stretching the length of the drink
preparation area whir above syrup dispensers glittering prismatically. A conservatively mohawked male barista -- think back-up dancer in the
music video for the CURRENT K-POP HIT SINGLE that hasn’t stopped
playing -- is garnishing an Asian Dolce Latte FRAPPUCCINO®
and a TAZO® Green Tea FRAPPUCCINO® with immaculate clouds of
whipped cream. The waitress collects the tray without slowing. Her target’s angled away from us, a male form in a dark pinstriped
suit sitting at a table to himself. Over his squared shoulder we see
the IPAD® commanding his attention. The waitress leans in lower.
The CURRENT K-POP HIT SINGLE reaches its maximum ear
worminality. The man rests his IPAD® in front of him, looks up... ...and graces us with the grin of the OLD MAN we last saw shunted into
nothingness by a marauding HUMMER®. He’s cleaned up, the grime
gone, the aura of drudgery and toil replaced with the practiced
leisure of the consolidated rich, but it’s still clearly him. Plus a BLUETOOTH® headset. He accepts the proffered drinks with x-ed wrists. The Gangnam-Styled
rein pump that synchs with rhythm of the non-diegetic soundtrack
cracks the waitress up. We swoop into an overhead as the the old man pivots around. His IPAD®
and the two FRAPPUCCINOS® now dominate the frame. A manicured
finger flicks the touchscreen: “SANG TRANG.” Flicks. “SANG TRỌNG.” Flicks. “SANG STARBUCKS®.” FADE TO LOGO ON BLACK



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