Christmas is a time for shopping. Well and good. But I think those of us who live in large cities in Asia would be kidding ourselves if we pretended that this is the only time we engage in rampant consumerism. No, from Bangkok to Singapore, Shanghai to Manila, shopping – particularly shopping in large malls – is a year-round priority.
Shopping centres are good. They are a sign of Asia’s dizzying economic growth, and a demonstration of how far we 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 in Such-And-Such City, 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 really 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 drinking gourmet coffee, then we could feel more fulfilled. But once we buy something, we only want to buy something more – as everyone already knows.
Shopping malls, even though they try to look as glitzy and as welcoming as possible, can be harsh places. The very concept of the mega-mall plays on human feelings of inadequacy and competitiveness. To make us buy, it must make us feel that we lack something, or that everyone else has something we do not yet own. We must consume to surpass others or, at the very least, to keep up. We purchase to fit in. How can this constant undercurrent of competitiveness, of us always trying to be “cool”, bring us true joy?
The saddest thing is that the modern mall, basically an American import, has made us put aside a whole array of beautiful, worthwhile – and yes, cheaper – activities, many of them intrinsic to our own cultures or region. We have no-one to blame but ourselves. Instead of shopping, we could be cooking, visiting a nearby waterfall, going to the beach, reading a novel, writing poetry, starting a blog, making music, taking a long walk, playing a sport, learning a dance or – here’s a radical idea – visiting each other’s homes.
Every time we have a spare piece of land, and all we can think of building on it is yet another mall, we are showing not only our affluent status. We could be also demonstrating our poverty in terms of imagination, adventure and passion. Perhaps instead, we should be building libraries, or theatres, art galleries, museums, sports halls, public swimming pools, parks, animal sanctuaries – the list is endless. We might even consider leaving that plot of land alone, to flourish as it will.
And this is something that the mall may have caused us to forget – in order to be happy, we must create as well as consume.
Clarissa Tan is a Malaysian freelance journalist and a winner of the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing, awarded by the UK’s Spectator magazine.
|Patrisia on 20 December 2010 ,22:26 |
Personally, as a teenager, I'd be lying if I said i don't like going to malls. But, when i think deeper, then yes, shopping centers are actually not healthy, so to speak. All those glamorous shops, outlets, stores, cafe, they're boosting people's tendency to be consumptive and, as stated in the article, competitive. One has A-branded stuff, and soon others will follow, just for the sake of being "cool and up-to-date". So unhealthy, isn't it? And yes, Asia is rich of cultures. Arts, foods, so much to dig. So i guess shopping is not the only source of fun. There are a bunch of things here in Asia that can bring us joy.
Post A Comment