Saturday, April 6, 2013

Customer Loyalty At Its Finest

       After living in Lao PDR for a couple months, you become painfully aware of the difference between wants and needs. As it turns out, you need far less than you think you do.

For example:

  • Do you need food? Yes. Do you need Chipotle? Apparently not. 
  • Are you required to own clothes? Yes. Are you required to frequent a multi-level shopping complex in which to buy those clothes? As it turns out, not really. 
  • Do you need coffee? Yes. Do you need Starbucks? Yes. 

And this is how I found myself traveling to Thailand for a Mocha Frappuccino.      
       Now, there are darling coffee joints in Vientiane. Their coffee is delightful. They are within electric scooter-riding distance. However, Starbucks is not one of them, and neither is any other foreign chain restaurant. When you have been required by law to stay within the borders of Laos until paperwork has been properly stamped, and you've been waiting nearly two months, you begin to wonder what is offered on the other side of the fence. You may become antsy to taste something that tastes like home. This is where Thailand comes in.
       The Lao-Thai border is about a fifteen minute drive from Vientiane. Once passports are stamped and customs cleared, you have access to shopping malls on the other side. During the weeks leading up to the first trip there, Thailand became a kind of Mecca in my mind. Laos has everything needed to survive comfortably, but there were several things unaccounted for in my "want" category. Everything I couldn't find here, I was positive I would find there, in excess. Stackable shelves? I'll get those in Thailand! An over commercialized, squeaky clean, six story shopping mall bathed in fluorescent lights? I'll see that in Thailand! Better air quality? I'll find that in Thailand!
       Once there, everything seemed enormous. I have spent quite a bit of time in large cities, but for those couple of hours, I felt as though Udon Thani, Thailand was as cosmopolitan as it gets. That's what happens after you live in a city where this is a perfectly normal, and completely real, conversation to have in one of the main international supermarkets. 

       Me: Excuse me, do you have any more milk in the back?
       Owner: We will probably get more this afternoon.
       Me: Ok! Thank you! 

       This is why we took not one, but two trips to Thailand in less than a week. During the first trip, my Dunkin' Donuts coffee spilled in my lap in the back of someone else's car after taking only a couple of sips. Needless to say, it was a low point for me, and probably for the owner of the car as well. Luckily for him, maxi dresses are quite absorbent.
       For me, the second trip was focused less on buying things to bring back to Laos than buying something at Starbucks. This time, I was determined to drink it instead of wear it. And let me tell you, it was worth every sweltering minute at the border crossing. I'm wondering whether Starbucks will renew my gold card status for going to such lengths to reach their product. I recommend that they create a special discount for people who need to use passports,  fill out arrival and departure forms for two countries, and switch to driving on the other side of the road for a couple of hours, all in order to say the phrase, "I'll have a Grande Mocha Frappuccino please."

So beautiful. Not my photography skills, but the content of the photo.


  1. Why does this post not surprise me? Sounds like it was worth the wait, the miles, and the wanting.

    Hope things are well and thanks for the postcard!

  2. Love this! Perhaps this should be a new "The way I see it" on a Starbucks cup!?