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

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 7. Travel 2.0, Shanghai by Rachel2 Comments

“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.

Comments

  1. Rachel,
    First of all, I am so sad you were not able to go to the Mr. Bean-themed café! Maybe one day you’ll stumble upon it without having planned it, and it might be the best café experience you’ve ever had! Secondly, Bon App sounds like such a cool tool to use when looking to try great new places! But based on your description, it might sound cooler on paper than in practice in real life. I can totally relate to feeling exasperated when I cannot find something I am looking for, especially when I am really looking forward to going there. Perhaps your experience can be a learning experience. I know I have certainly tried to learn from my past experiences which have been similar to yours. Often we are so intent on finding the places we see online just because others have expressed how cool they are but what about discovering places on our own and coming up with our own reviews? Nothing is cooler than being the one to discover a really awesome place which could become your new favorite place without the help of an app (or Travel 2.0).

  2. Hi Rachel!

    Sometimes the best things are found when you’re not looking for them, whether it be the love of your life or a good spot to have coffee between classes. I’ve totally been in that situation of trying to find a place that refuses to show itself. I hope that someday you do find the Mr. Bean cafe, but I’m sure that the one you did end up finding is better and less touristy (although if the Mr. Bean cafe is that hard to find, it’s probably empty a lot.) Ten years ago you would have just happened upon a spot and it probably would be just as good, just not as gimmicky- so go you for just choosing the spot 🙂 I hope you find many more cafes for in between classes!

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