Coffee, Bon App, and Mr. Bean: One Girl’s Attempt to Have It All

In The Art of Travel, 7. Travel 2.0, Shanghai by Rachel

“Life is a difficult challenge for Mr. Bean, who despite being a grown adult, has trouble completing even the simplest of tasks. Thankfully, his perseverance is usually rewarded, and he finds an ingenious way around the problem.”IMDB

There is a commonly used Yelp-like app in China called “Bon App,” a punny play on the French phrase bon appetit. The app is a perfect example of Travel 2.0 – all of the restaurant reviews and photos are user-generated and anyone can search up a restaurant or café to see what ratings it has received. I think a majority of users are expats since a lot of reviews are in English. Bon App is theoretically a great resource for newcomers in China who want to “discover” interesting places to eat.

The thing about Shanghai is that it has developed very quickly and consumer culture is everything. Most places to go are inside either financial buildings or huge shopping malls. Because of this, it can be frustrating and difficult to try to find the cafes and restaurants that sound so amazing on Bon App. It is all too common to find myself in deserted basements or accidentally trespassing in work offices while trying to find whatever was recommended to me through Bon App.

I think my most exasperating experience was when my friend and I discovered a Mr. Bean themed café on Bon App while we were on campus. Immediately, we were psyched. We’d been dying to find a place to outside of the academic building to take breaks in between classes and what better than a quirky, British TV show-themed coffee shop? We set off on a twenty-minute walk, using both Google Maps and the Chinese version, Baidu Maps, to guide us on our (coffee) bean mission. Once Google Maps said we had reached our destination, we were in front of a financial institution. Reviews from Bon App claimed that the café was a little bit hidden, but worth it, and located in the basement of the building. However, once we stepped into the building, it didn’t seem as though a basement existed.

Thankfully, right as we were about to leave, a security guard motioned to us that there was, in fact, a basement, and seemed to recognize the Mr. Bean coffee shop from my phone screen. We headed downstairs and after walking past seemingly endless cubicles, being stared at, and feeling more and more certain that we were not supposed to be there, we happened upon a mall. Still, once I showed the photo of the café on Bon App to a woman behind a makeup counter, she shook her head and pointed outdoors, to the left, which were very mixed signals.

After trekking in the direction that her finger pointed in, Mr. Bean was nowhere in sight. My friends and I were annoyed, tired, and sweaty. We ended up walking inside the first café that we could find so we could get some work done. This café had films playing on the walls, napping pods, and bean bags scattered around haphazardly. I’m sure there are great reviews of it on Bon App.

At the end of the day, I relate to IMDB’s description of Mr. Bean, even in this era of Travel 2.0, where all of this trustworthy information is right at our fingertips. Even the “most simplest of tasks,” like figuring out where a café is when I have the address and a real-time GPS, can be a real challenge in a foreign country.

Image source