Newsstand for Sept. 27 to Oct. 11, 2018
Read all about it! The Hong Kong-to-Beijing high-speed rail link is open and all manner of commentary ensues. The media in the East suddenly pay attention to Washington State. The French have come to embrace McDonald's, so don't assume the Italians will hate Starbucks. The best mobile phones ever made, Las Vegas rebounds and much more.

Hong Kong-Beijing High-Speed Rail Begins, Controversy Follows
We discussed China's great leap forward into high-speed trains as the summer began. Now the next link in the chain--connecting Hong Kong to the mainland network--has opened. A new train service linking the supposedly autonomous, free city-state with the Chinese capital of Beijing and many stops in between began last Sunday. And, boy, did the politics, economics and engineering stuff hit the fan. For background, perhaps it is wise to consult the South China Morning Post archive on the new project. If you want a one-off overview, read the Financial Times story on the launch or screen its video explainer (left). The eight-hour ride from Hong Kong to central Beijing failed to meet its passenger projections in the first few days. That's especially interesting because pre-launch sales seemed strong and outside observers promoted the new line as a serious competitor to China's airlines. Also controversial: the purpose-built West Kowloon Station. It opened years late and was 30 percent over budget. And because of the "co-location pre-clearance" of mainland customs, immigration and passport, the station is also the firmest physical foothold for China's government in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, in Washington (Not That Washington) ...
I think our friend, Seattle-based Carol Pucci, does a fabulous job keeping us up-to-date on doings in Washington state, but the more the merrier. The Washington Post is all agog at Olympia, the state capital, which brims with "community spirit ... around every corner--at the farmers market and in oyster bars, at breweries and coffee roasters, on the capital campus and along the boardwalk at Percival Landing." Meanwhile, The New York Times pokes around Burien, a Seattle suburb "in the midst of a serious upswing, thanks in part to several outposts of popular Seattle originals." All this love for Washington is being done, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes, without a state marketing board, national advertising or "a lot of state-wide marketing and branding."

Of McDonald's and France, of Starbucks and Italy
It's an article of Gallic faith that the French despise McDonald's and all it represents: bland, formulaic food, American values and an undeniable emphasis on commerce over gastronomy. But that's so wrong. As I wrote anecdotally about 20 years ago, McDonald's branches in Paris were consistently packed. And the numbers are on my side. Fast food outlets in France now account for 54 billion euros, more than half the revenue of the French food industry. In Marseille, in fact, workers and union leaders are fighting hard to save their neighborhood McDonald's. Why? The business "has played a vital role as a social integrator in one of France's most troubled districts."

I bring all of this skepticism-turned-vital-cultural-cog patter to your attention as a way to frame the current debate over the opening of a Starbucks in Milan, the first in Italy. The Associated Press story on the opening expressed all the skepticism of the coffee version of coals-to-Newcastle. Reuters raises the more practical issue: Will espresso-fueled Italians pay the higher price Starbucks wants for its beverages? (And, yes, Italians are cheap, they like their coffee good and cheap and they drink so much espresso that Starbucks' higher prices can dent budgets.) Stay tuned, but don't be shocked if you read a story in a couple of years that explains how integral Starbucks is to Italian identity.

Tight Connections ...
      Phone Fashions What are the most influential, useful and best-designed mobile phones ever made? Fast Company compiled a list of obvious candidates. If you ask me, there are too many iPhones on the list and not enough devices such as the iconically tiny Ericsson T28.
      Lifestyles of the Bizarre and Famous Andrew Zimmern created a major career out of traveling and eating "bizarre foods." A profile of the Minnesota native in The New York Times makes you wonder about the lifestyle's cost on a person and the people around him.
      The Coming Crap Out Las Vegas was devastated during the 2007-2008 financial meltdown and the subsequent Great Recession. It recovered nicely, but Reuters says Vegas already is preparing for the next downtown.-- Joe Brancatelli

This column is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.