FRIENDS Lives…in Beijing

How popular is U.S. TV? How alive are our characters, especially those in U.S. sitcoms? This alive, that’s how:


‘Friends’ Will Be There For You At Beijing’s Central Perk by Louisa Lim (NPR)

Almost a decade since the end of the hit American TV series Friends, the show — and, in particular, the fictitious Central Perk cafe, where much of the action took place — is enjoying an afterlife in China’s capital, Beijing. Here, the show that chronicled the exploits of New York City pals Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey is almost seen as a lifestyle guide.

Tucked away on the sixth floor of a Beijing apartment block is a mini replica of the cafe, orange couch and all, whose owner Du Xin introduces himself by saying, “Everyone calls me ‘Gunther’ here.”

Indeed, he is a Chinese version of cafe owner Gunther from the show, down to his giddy passion for Rachel (the character played by Jennifer Aniston).

“I’m crazy about Friends,” Du says. “For me, it’s like a religion. It’s my life.”

‘Religion’ Turned Business

The extent of Du’s Friends obsession is clear on entry to Beijing’s Central Perk. The level of detail is scary: same window, same doorway. People sitting on the orange sofa are watching TV — reruns of Friends, naturally.

The cafe only serves snacks mentioned in Friends, and the menus are even annotated.

For instance, the menu informs anyone ordering cheesecake that it was — in season 7, episode 11 — the subject of Rachel’s exclamation to Chandler (played by Matthew Perry): “You stole this cheesecake. That is wrong!”

Now, Du’s “religion” has turned into a successful business, with a second Central Perk recently opened in Shanghai.

Du says he had no idea how popular the cafes would be, but he’s discovering that they serve as unofficial Friends fan clubs. The enthusiastic response from customers amazed him.

“It’s beyond my imagination,” he says.

Reruns of the show serve as a language-learning tool for Chinese university students. The show is particularly popular for its use of colloquial language and as an introduction to American culture. It’s also popular because of the laid-back, friendship-filled lifestyle it portrays, far from the stressful, competitive world that Chinese young people inhabit.

“That’s why we like Friends,” says Du. “We’re looking for this kind of life.”

When asked for an example, he cites Chandler as an inspirational figure.

“He quit the job he hated, and he found another one he liked,” Du says. “This TV show also told us you have to choose a living way you like.

“I learned a lot from Friends: how to treat friends, girlfriends, my wife, how to be generous, how to be gentle,” Du enthuses. He believes friendship in China is not that pure, saying ruefully that people think more about “how to take advantage.”

Friends’ Lasting Appeal

Next door to the cafe, Du has taken his Friends fervor a step further, building a replica of the apartment that Joey (played by Matt LeBlanc) lives in — down to an identical foosball table. The project took about six months, Du says.

Calvin Le, an English teacher from California who has come to have a look with German friend Adrian Andre, says the replica is “amazing.”

“[It’s] small, but it looks exactly like what it looks like on the show, so it’s pretty cool,” Le says, pointing out DVDs of the TV show Baywatch and the replica of an oversized TV cabinet that Joey made.

Some young Chinese even admit to secretly hankering for the world of casual sexual encounters depicted on Friends. Over the series’ lifetime, the six friends hooked up with at least 85 other characters on air, though one epic survey by a dedicated fan counted 138 sexual partners mentioned on the show’s 236 episodes.

Even for some bolder young Chinese, bound by family and tradition, such wild abandon is unthinkable.

Friends fans come from far and wide to visit Central Perk. Qiu Yu, who lives in Beijing, has brought a friend visiting from Taiyuan, more than 300 miles away. It’s her first stop in the capital.

For Qiu, the main attraction of Friends isn’t the sexual freedom, but the fact that the lives of the six friends are their own, free from the constraints of their families.

“I think their lives are very free, very happy. They can do whatever they like. For Chinese people, the influence of our families is quite big,” Qiu says. “So we yearn for that lifestyle.”

Seems to us that this article supplies an answer for an often asked question: “Why hasn’t China conquered the showbiz world?” Wake up, Chinese guys, the ’90s are over. It’s 2012 2013!


Need Help

As in, Keep It Simple, Stupid?

Of course you do. We all do. Because keeping our writing simple isn’t easy. It takes practice, thought, and editing, editing, editing.

xkcd writing

THE UP-GOER FIVE TEXT EDITOR is a site dedicated to helping us believe in the power of the 1000 most used words in the English language.  It does it the old-fashioned way – by not letting us write with any of the other gazillion words. As a place to exercise our writing minds, we find it ideal.

So don’t just sit there. GO!

EDITED TO ADD: For the record, we used 13 not most used words in the above article, one of them three times. But, hey, we were able to whittle our vocabulary down enough to 78 that the editor allows. So we’re kinda impressed with ourselves. (But then, we’re easy that way.)


Oh, and don’t miss out on XKCD.Com, one of the funniest – and smartest and hippest – cartoon sites on the interwebs.

Nicholas Meyer Talks About Screenwriting

And we certainly can’t think of many people who might be considered as qualified.


 Since writing the best-selling novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (still one of, if not the best of the Sherlock Holmes pastiches), Nick has written the screenplays or teleplays for:


And on and on and on. So we’re definitely all ears about what he has to say in this video:

“Hire Me?!”

What’s that you say? The old employment Catch-22 got you down? You know, that thing where you can’t get a job unless you have experience, and you can’t get experience unless you get a job?

This breaking in business is a bitch. What’s a writer to do?

Well, you could always try a writerly variation of this:


How to Get Hired When You Are Just Starting Out
by Jenn Godbout

At 99U, we often share best practices and insights from the world’s most productive creatives, but what about those of us just getting started? How do you fill out “past experience” on an application when, frankly, you don’t have any?

We talked to Career Advisors from art and design colleges around the globe about resourceful ways to package any amount of experience on your CV, application or in an interview. Here are our top tips for promoting your “student” status and jumpstarting your creative career.

1. Include Personal Projects to Bulk Up Your Resume…

2. Don’t Just List the Facts; Tell Your Story Instead…

3. Showcase Your Creative Process by Sharing Iterations and Mockups…

4. Hiring Managers Expect Tailored Applications. Do Your Research Before Hitting Send…

5. Don’t be Afraid to Mention Your Idols, Mentors, or Creatives You Admire in an Interview…

Read it all


Peggy Bechko: What’s in a Name?


by Peggy Bechko

A lot goes into naming character, I know, I’ve named a lot. Worse than naming a kid though to tell the truth I’m not so sure a lot of parents put a whole lot of thought into what they name their kids. I mean I remember a friend from high school who was named Stewart Stuart. I mean come on!

But I digress.

The subject here is naming your characters for a book or a screenplay (or, well, maybe for a kid who’s coming along though that one isn’t MY problem).

Along with names comes preconceptions. It’s true, don’t try to deny it. When you name a character ‘Bill’ it’s different than if you name him ‘Percy’ or if you name a character ‘Elizabeth’ it’s different than if you name her “Lizzy”. Names can be a reflection of background, faith, ethnicity or parent’s weird ideas.

That said it’s not surprising to any writer I know that naming the characters in a book, short story, screenplay, or whatever is the most important moment In defining the character’s personality and even the place he or she will hold in a story. Sometimes the name is right from the get-go. Other times you might name a character only to find that character turns on you and begins to act in ways you never intended. Change the name and you change the character. A mumbling, shuffling wimp, can suddenly transform into Indiana Jones. All this in a name.

And where does one find the names that really ring a bell and fit a character? Phone books, movie credits, baby name books, obituaries, organization rosters, weird naming sites online like the Victorian And Steampunk name generator or Victorian Era Names or the Fake Name Generator or The Random Word Generator online. There are lots more of them by the way if you want to kill some times wandering name generators. Just google it. You can even drive your friends crazy by demanding they come up with name ideas for you.

Finding the right name can drive a writer crazy. It rankles and irritates when the right name just does not come. You can think about it day and night, when working on other projects or when driving down the street.

So is there some magical, mystical formula for naming a character, getting just the right moniker attached to the right person?



But there are a few tips that help a bit. First, and I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, unless there is an insanely compelling reason to do so, avoid names that begin with the same letter. No Bill, Ben, Bob, Basil, Bubba or Betty, Becky, Bitsy, Betina.

Here’s why. The human brain is fascinating. Once a reader introduces a character to the brain, that reader pretty much starts skimming, recognizing a character by the first letter or two or the general shape of the word. Your brain fills in a lot while you read that you’re barely or not even aware of. The same letter beginning a name can end up confusing your reader and nobody wants that.

Consider keeping your character names pretty simple as well. It’s easy to get carried away with naming and choose something outlandish, lengthy, poetic, whatever, but which won’t necessarily fit very well with the story. Think realistic for your setting. The occasional extraordinary name works for specific circumstances – but not as a continual stream.

Oh, and don’t forget to keep them realistic for your historic tales. Do some research, find out what names would have fit for the era and the circumstance. Consider your geographic location as well. Names that work well for a setting in the UK might be awful for a story set in China.

And don’t forget gender-neutral names. If you name a character Tracy or Drew or Francis (most folks don’t pay attention to the Francis or Frances spelling to differentiate between character male or female) then be sure to make it immediately clear whether you’re talking about a man or a woman (boy or girl). Don’t allow your reader to dangle for paragraphs or even maybe a page or two before making that clear.

And finally if you’re writing and that name doesn’t feel right, if the character is fighting your choice of identifier, then change it. That’s what global replace is there for. But beware, change of name almost always requires change of story. Because, as discussed above, the name can affect personality, ethnicity, background and more. So tweak it, fix it, bring it into line. You’re going to have a much better story for it.