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https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2007/7/7/2370/

Royal Milk Tea Boba and Globalization

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Boba in the United States is a result of globalization (or vice versa). It is becoming as popular and trendy as sushi and sake in the realm of food and drink culture in the U.S. My favorite boba drink is the Royal Milk Tea with less boba from Lollicup—a fast-growing Taiwanese-based franchise now in the U.S.

My understanding of globalization, of course, is limited to that of a privileged person whose worries include oil changes for her car and the calorie intake of a regular size Royal Milk Tea with less boba. Globalization to me, as an American residing in Los Angeles, means ethnic and cultural diversity in an urban city as well as some of the following things: a high concentration of immigrants, diverse range of “ethnic” grocers and restaurants, Spanish as a second language everywhere, an ethnic and culturally diverse population. All of these things are positive. I see it as an exchange and integration of world cultures in one location.

A friend and I had boba at a late-night café on Sawtelle, an area of West Los Angeles popular for its variety of Japanese restaurants and stores and known for its rich history as one of the first dwellings of Japanese Americans in Southern California prior to and after World War II. Halfway through our conversation my friend asked me what I thought about globalization. A lot of things came to my mind, including the irony of us—a second-generation Chinese American and a half second-generation Japanese half White Jewish American, both of us children of immigrants—contemplating globalization over specialty Taiwanese beverages. If I analyzed the irony of the setting that we were in and the topic of our conversation more, the list of “globalizational” things would have been endless. We were engulfed in globalization as we drank our Taiwanese-style boba drinks in the very neighborhood that experienced racial discrimination against Japanese Americans during World War II.

My initial response was “globalization is a good thing.” To me, it meant that countries were becoming more aware of one another, conducting cultural exchanges and ideas. My friend accepted but countered my argument (for globalization) asking me to consider the negative effects it has had on underdeveloped countries. He was right. There were economical, social and political effects that I hadn’t taken into consideration. I felt bad and selfishly American for not looking at the bigger picture.

It may be true that the U.S. has a monopoly on corporate franchises worldwide, but it doesn’t mean that people outside the U.S. should feel threatened by it. What is happening underneath the radar of corporate American franchises is that people are creating personal connections with one another. Such connections create interest in countries and cultures other than one’s own. One example is that it is increasingly becoming a standard for American college students to study abroad. Another example is the JET (Japanese Exchange and Teaching) Program. There are over 5,500 teachers from 44 countries teaching English in Japan (as of 2006). People from 44 countries are traveling to Japan to teach English for at least one year mainly because they have an interest in Japan and its culture. Eventually (I hope), people won’t rely on advertisements that market “cute” Japanese things as a reason to be interested in the country; rather, people will have interest in Japan because of their connections to people.

I can’t deny what I see are benefits of globalization. Surely there is a way to resolve the economical, social and political issues as the world grows more connected. Why did my friend’s parents emigrate from China to the U.S.? Why did my mother emigrate from Japan to the U.S.? To some degree, my ethnic makeup as a half Japanese White American makes me a product of globalization. It allows me to experience multiple cultures inside and outside the U.S. firsthand.

As far as boba in America, it has become so integrated in Asian American culture, especially in Southern California, that it is no longer just a Chinese thing. There are over 1,000 establishments according to my Google search, ranging among Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese among others, that serve boba. Even my favorite Royal Milk Tea flavored drink (originally a popular Japanese bottled beverage purchasable in Japanese vending machines) at the Taiwanese chain Lollicup is experiencing the globalization phenomena. Globalization, whether we protest it or not, is happening to almost everything everywhere. Why not make it a good thing?

© 2007 Victoria Kraus

California globalization international relations Los Angeles Sawtelle Southern California United States
About this series

"Half Enough" is Victoria's first regular column series. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Discover Nikkei.

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About the Author

Victoria Kraus is a former Web Editor for DiscoverNikkei.org. She is a half Japanese half Caucasian currently residing in the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. She graduated from Soka University of America with a Bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts.

Updated October 2008

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