Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Malls of Southeast Asia

Malls are boring. Every mall in America pretty much has the same stuff, the same clothing conglomerates, the same ice cream shops, the same Mcdonalds serving the same Big Whopping Heart Attacks. The footpring varies from mall to mall, a fountain here, a crazy sculpture there, but for the most part they pretty much mimic the mall next door... or the new latest and greatest supermall tries to one up the old latest and greatest supermall with some fancier bad architecture or new giant fountain (or the developer scraps the mall idea altogether and decides to put in a Wallmart). Malls don't even really serve much of a purpose anymore, now that you can go online and get everything you need, cheaper than the mall, with a bigger selection delivered right to your door.

In Southeast Asia, things are different. There are still malls, but they aren't the same as their American counterparts. Some of them are bigger and more ostentatious than any I have seen in America. Some of them are more utilitarian and resemble the ghetto mall from the movie Mallrats... and some of them are even worth going to. Many of the malls in Southeast Asia aren't inhabited by the usual corporate mall suspects that plague American malls. They aren't filled with The Gap, Miller's Outpost, or Sbarro's Pizza. Instead many of SE Asia's malls are filled with small business owners managing Butiks as they are called in Malaysia. They sell products from local designers (some of which are more quirky than you could find in a regular mall). The best part is that the products for sale are usually cheaper than their big business counterpart.

The best part is the food courts. In Malaysia and Singapore, especially, the mall food court is a panaloply of local chefs cooking the local specialties. There is a lot more variety in the food offered in the Malaysian mall food court, there is Indian, Malay, Muslim Indian, Chinese (mostly the Southern Regions around Canton), Boba Nyonya... Its usually pretty tasty and its usually cooked fresh in front of you, no microwave involved.

That's not to say that the big American companies aren't here, they are. There are malls that cater to people who can afford big name brands, but I like the ones that emloy local merchants selling local products and food. I just wish the model could work in the US.

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