it's business as usual at central perk. on the plush, brightlycolored couches, fashionable 20-somethings lounge around on their lunchbreaks, sipping lattes and chatting with friends. behind the counter,gunther cleans the gaudy, oversize mugs and puts them away。
it's a scene comfortably familiar to any fan of the '90s tv showfriends. but this is not '90s manhattan; this is beijing, 2010. and thecouches are peopled not by hip new yorkers but by upwardly mobilechinese young professionals who come in search of the easygoing friendslifestyle that is increasingly hard to find in beijing's stressedhousing market。
china's central perk, a painstakingly detailed reconstruction of thetv original, is tucked away in a corner of a downtown beijing officetower. it is the brainchild of chinese businessman du xin, who gavehimself the english name gunther in honor of the show's long-sufferingbarista. "friends is very popular among chinese young people because itfulfills a need they have for friendship," says du. "beijing is such abig city, it's very easy for you to feel lonely. i think there shouldbe a place where you feel safe and comfortable and can hang out."
for many of the young professionals, china's property boom istranslating into a decidedly untelegenic lifestyle. as governmentstimulus funds and eager investors flock to the real estate sector,rents across the nation are soaring. in beijing, where the averagemonthly salary is roughly 3,700 yuan ($545)， the monthly rent for atypical one-bedroom apartment was about 2,900 yuan ($427) as of june.that leaves many with no choice but to find people to share their homewith. more and more, flatmates are sharing small, cramped apartmentswith several other people - a lifestyle less reminiscent of friendsthan of another tv favorite of chinese youth, prison break。
the shortage of affordable housing is not exclusively a beijingproblem. an official crackdown on real estate speculation that wasstarted early this year, coupled with new regulations to promote theconstruction of more affordable housing, should lower prices and bringsome relief to beijing's beleaguered house hunters. there are signsthat the measures are already having some effect, but what changes docome will inevitably come slowly. house prices in beijing fell just0.4% in june, month on month。
for now, many of beijing's young professionals will have to put upwith cramped accommodations and a shortage of personal space. wangxiyuan, a 27-year-old beijing office worker sitting on du's centralperk's orange couch, was unable to afford her own place until recently.before, she and a friend were sharing a two-room flat in which the onlycommunal space was a tiny kitchen. "what attracted me most aboutfriends was the friendship between the roommates," wang says. "but it'snot easy to live with a friend. chinese people are sometimes too shy totell you what they really think. they just get madder and madder atyou, but don't tell you."