You’ve seen the One with the Shark Porn and the bit when Rachel and Ross finally kiss – but how about the one where the chengguan hassle Gunther about his windows? No? Maybe you should check out Central Perk in Beijing’s Central Business District then, where local resident Du Xin (aka “Gunther”) has realized a long-held dream by lovingly recreating the famous Central Perk sitcom café virtually brick-for-brick.
“Chinese people were educated by Friends,” Xin explains. “It taught us how to appreciate our friends and treat our partners. When Ross tells Phoebe ‘everyone deserves their first bicycle’, that was so moving.”
Xin returned to Beijing from Amsterdam (where he’d spent four years’ managing hotels and watching reruns), looking for a place with an orange sofa to Perk him up. “I couldn’t find one, so I decided to make it myself,” he said. He built it; and indeed they came.
Work started in November, when Xin closely supervised a bunch of migrant workers blithely unaware of the on/off intricacies between Ross and Rachel, and continues to this day. If anyone points out a mistake or missing object, Xin promises to fix it.
Additionally, he’s hosting Phoebe Nights for anyone able to play the Buffay oeuvre (not just Smelly Cat), while a previous open-audition for a volunteer to “be” Rachel attracted 400 applicants. “Rachels” will have only 10-minutes’ training before putting in a day’s incompetent waitressing, just like the real thing.
Despite its somewhat ghost-mall location, business is brisk and regular, with the atmosphere cheerfully casual; students lounge watching DVDs or working on netbooks, while drinking Xin’s bargain coffees (none cost over 20 kuai, and there’s cheap snacks too).
And the, er, copyright question? “I’ve stopped showing Friends here to comply with the law. Someone did tell me Warner’s offices in China would like to talk to me but they have no problem with the decoration.” Hey, even the lawyers are friendly.