Recently a colleague and I were in Chicago for a conference. The plan was to spend a night out on the town after a long work day. Then we found out that there was a Friends marathon on TV that would run into the wee hours of the morning. So instead, we ordered room service, cracked open the mini bar and spent the evening with Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey. I adore the Windy City, but that was an awesome night in. It’s been almost a decade since the popular American sitcom ended, but it still holds a dear place in my heart.
Apparently, the folks in Beijing understand my sentiments. The city, whose majestic natural scenery makes it a popular tourist destination, now has yet one more draw. On the sixth floor of a Beijing apartment building stands a recently constructed replica of the infamous Central Perk, the cafe where many of the scenes unfold on the hit TV show. The Beijing cafe even includes the same orange sofa where customers can sit and, of course, watch reruns of Friends.
While many American TV shows have taken on a new life abroad, Friends, in particular, is popular in Beijing because it portrays a sharp contrast to the often stressful and competitive lifestyle that the young Chinese are accustomed.
“That’s why we like Friends,” says Du Xin who owns the cafe and likens his obsession with the show to a religion. “We’re looking for this kind of life.”
Qiu Yu, a Friends fan who traveled more than 300 miles to visit the Central Perk replica, says what draws him to Friends is the fact that the characters have lives that are their own.
“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.”
I totally get where he’s coming from, but the irony is that many Americans lead lives that are very much independent of their families, but that wistful freedom is still non-existent. What Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and especially Joey, bless his heart, are actually free from is the notion of any real responsibility. And that, my friend, is a happiness that we all long for—if only for 30 minutes at a time. Twenty-two without commercial breaks.
Do (did) you watch Friends? Were they truly free? What is your favorite epi? [source]