Festivals are a time for shopping. Well and good. But I think those of us who live in large cities would be kidding ourselves if we pretended that this is the only time we engage in rampant consumerism. No, from Bangkok to Singapore, Mumbai to Manila, shopping—particularly shopping in large malls—is a year-round priority.
Shopping centres are good. They are a sign of dizzying economic growth, and a demonstration of how far Asians have come, in such a short time. For many of the older generation who can remember a time when everyone lived in villages and there was no running water, the multi-level, air-conditioned mall represents comfort, choice, luxury and better times.
But many Asian metropolises with burgeoning middle classes now have such a proliferation of malls—all teeming with outlets of Marks & Spencer, Gap, Starbucks, Bulgari, Cartier, Mont Blanc—that they appear to have long crossed saturation point. Nowadays, it seems our default venue for every activity is the mall—it’s where we shop, eat, watch movies, bowl, arrange to meet our friends, have a romantic date or just generally lounge around.
Not only that, we have come to regard malls as important landmarks or tourist attractions. “When you come to visit us, you must see our new shopping centre, it’s massive and has an Egyptian pyramid at the entrance”—sentences such as these are quite usual. Whole generations of Asians are growing up to think that, aside from home and school, the shopping complex is the most natural place to be.
Many young people shop for clothes at the mall so that they can look good when they meet their friends—at the mall.
My main contention with shopping centres is not that they are often massive concrete blocks that don’t take into account the architectural nuances or cultural backdrop of a city, or that they promote ultra-consumerism at a time when our planet can ill afford it. My main gripe with the plethora of malls is that they don’t seem to make us happy. Oh, the large advertisements outside the stores could persuade us to think that if we only had this pair of jeans, or if we hung out at this café, then we could feel more fulfilled. But once we buy something, we only want to buy something more.
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