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It's almost 10 years since the end of the hit TV series "Friends," but the show and, in particular, the Central Perk Cafe, where much of the action took place, are enjoying an afterlife in the capital of China. In this postcard from Beijing, NPR's Louisa Lim introduces us to some Chinese fans of Chandler, Joey and the gang.
LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: I'm in a normal apartment block in Beijing and I'm going up to the sixth floor, where something quite surprising awaits. Oh, my goodness, here it is. It is a replica of Central Perk from "Friends." It has the same window, the same doorway. And just walking in the door, there's even the same orange sofa fill with people watching "Friends" reruns.
DU XIN: My name is Du Xin. Everyone calls me Gunther here.
LIM: So I'm now with the Chinese Gunther. He's the owner of the Central Perk Cafe in Beijing.
XIN: I'm crazy about "Friends." I'm a huge fan. For me, it's like a religion. It's my life.
LIM: I just wonder, though, 'cause I think for young Chinese people, life is really competitive, you know, getting an education, passing your exams, finding a job, finding an partner. It's all like a big competition. With "Friends," they're never worrying about money. They're never worrying about jobs and things like that.
XIN: So that's why we like "Friends." We're looking for this kind of a life. Maybe one day if you like you can find a good job you like, just like Chandler. He quit the job he hated, and he find another one he liked. So I think this TV show also told us you have to choose a living way which you like.
LIM: For the Chinese Gunther, the lifestyle has turned into a business with a second Central Perk in Shanghai. The cafe serves the snacks mentioned in "Friends," the menus even annotated so you know which show Rachel mentions cheesecake and what she said. We sit in the next room to the cafe, where Du Xin's built a replica of Joey's apartment, complete with foosball table.
As we chat, we're interrupted by visitors wanting to see Joey's apartment, including Calvin Le, an English teacher from California.
CALVIN LE: It's really cool. How long did it take you to put this all together?
XIN: About half a year. Everything you have to find a carpenter to make it together.
LE: It's so funny. This is exactly how it's like in the show, too. You know how it's like too big, TV frame thing 'cause Joey built it and he didn't really do the measurements right.
(SOUNDBITE FROM TV SHOW, "FRIENDS")
LIM: Strange as it may sound, "Friends" is an English language teaching tool in Chinese universities. So, "Friends" fans come from far and wide to visit the cafe. Today, Beijing Qiu Yu has brought a friend visiting from Taiyuan, more than 300 miles away. It's her first stop in Beijing. What Qiu Yu likes about "Friends" is the sense of freedom from responsibility.
QIU YU: (Through translator) 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, so we yearn for that lifestyle.
LIM: To some, that yearning also extends to the world of casual sexual encounters, as depicted on "Friends." Over the series lifetime, the "Friends" characters hooked up with at least 85 other people, according to one estimate.
(SOUNDBITE FROM TV SERIES, "FRIENDS")
LIM: Such scenes win giggles from the devoted Chinese fans at the cafe. So before I leave Central Perk Beijing, I'm just going to sit down on the orange couch and catch up with a few "Friends" episodes. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.
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