once upon a time, when i was still living in my home town, there was one activity that i enjoyed the most, other than designing clothes. it’s called ‘going to the mall’.
for those living in Asia and the States, you probably won’t think it strange as you know what kind of malls i’m referring to. but for the rest of the world, i guess it’s fair to elaborate a bit.
when i was small, there were places called plazas (basically the same as shopping centers) and department stores in Jakarta. they weren’t that fancy, although one of them at least had a small fountain inside the building and elevators with see-through glasses all around so we could look outside as we go up and down the floors. there were small shops in that said Plaza, and sometimes, though very rarely, if my sister and i had been nice girls for the day, we might be able to get some small new stuffs from this one shop that sold stickers, arts and crafts & other hobby things. it would make our day. in Bandung, where we would spend our holidays since that was where my grandmum lived, the place to go was a book store, which also had all kinds of small delightful things for kids like us.
and then when i was about 10 or 11, the new era of shopping malls started in Jakarta. they were big, nothing like those old plazas and department stores. suddenly those old shopping centers looked so dull compared to these clean, shiny & shimmering new shopping malls. they all had full air conditioning, marble floors, high ceilings and usually more than just 2 floors. it got even crazier when i was in middle school. one super mall had a rollercoaster inside the building. another one had (and still has, i believe) ice skating rink, also inside the building. over the years it seemed like they build bigger and bigger malls, and soon every area in Jakarta had at least 2-3 malls.
with such temptation and less & less of other recreational places to go, who could blame me and the rest of the people for going to the malls, just to stretch our legs, feel the cool air of the air con, AND look at the pretty displays on the stores at the same time? sure, you might also get tempted to buy something (alarm bell #1) and while you’re at it, why not try that new restaurant/cafe that has good ratings (alarm bell #2), but really, the keyword is ‘recreation’, right? you’re allowed to do all that.
for me, i liked going to the malls because, with the clean, shiny & shimmering interiors, the malls were the perfect place for showing off my new stuffs. got new shoes? wear them in the mall. new dress? wear it in the mall. new bag? absolutely use it in the mall. the whole mall interior itself i think pushed me to do these ridiculous things, because you can’t even step inside this kind of shopping mall with your dirty flip flops. seriously, most malls in Jakarta actually do have these “no flip-flop” signs on their entrance doors, right along the “no smoking” and “no pets” signs. so the shopping malls became sort of like exclusive places where you are not welcome if you don’t have money to buy other shoes than those dirty old flip-flops you’ve had for 3 years. i’d rather stay home than going to the mall on a bad-hair day. i had to put on make up & dress up just for going to the mall, otherwise i would feel too bland or too contrasting with the mall’s glitzy interior & other people in the mall.
another thing i liked about going to the malls was the sightseeing. yes, there were the nice displays, but i meant the people. since, i assume, everyone else also behaved like me, putting on make up & dressing up just for going to the mall, i enjoyed seeing the clothes people wore. not to judge or compare, but i did this to see what the people liked at the time, the trends, the tendencies. well, at the time, i had to know what the fashion trend was all the time, so i hope you’ll apologize me for doing that.
suddenly i moved here, to Finland. on my first trip to the mall, i did all the fussing again as always, putting on make up, dressing up… only to realize that all those clothes i wore was going to be hidden anyway under my down coat, since it was winter. okay, i silently vowed to do my ‘revenge’ on spring/summer time. all through winter that year, i tried my best to still look good whenever i had to go to the mall. i was so caught up in that thing, that i didn’t even realize that nobody was looking.
the first spring and summer came. i dressed up and went to the nearest mall just for recreation, as always. and all of a sudden, i felt so out of place. the people in the mall here don’t put on any make up or dress up. they are people who go to look for things to buy because they need them, find them, buy them, and go home. shopping malls belong to everyone. you can even step inside the building with your bare feet (as sometimes happens here in the hot summer, some teenagers going barefooted inside the shopping malls).
the displays on the shops are still nice, of course, the shops always have to lure people to buy more & more things. but the atmosphere is quite the opposite of what shopping malls in Jakarta give out. in here, everyone is welcome, with or without any money. you are welcome to look, try things on, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t even matter if you buy something or not. people won’t look at you and see if you have any shopping bags (which indicates you’re buying something new from the mall) or not, unlike in my home town. the only people eating at the restaurants are business people from nearby neighbourhoods and family/friends that haven’t met each other for a while. they eat there because those are the perfect places to catch up or talk business, not because it’s a hip and happening new restaurant that you simply MUST try, otherwise your friends would think you’re so outdated.
it took me a while to get used to it, and only lately did i manage to force myself to go to the nearest mall without any make up and only in plain t-shirt & shorts. and even then i couldn’t stop myself from wondering what my so-called ‘friends’ would think if they could see me now, going to a shopping mall without any make up? in t-shirt and shorts?? and dirty old sandals???
now i feel ridiculous for behaving the way i did back then in my own home town. how could i let myself be so caught up in the physical appearances of things and people? and reading an article like this made me so ashamed of myself. spending too much time in those glamorous malls can really make you forget that to some others, malls or even hypermarkets like Carrefour feel so out of reach. forget that new trendy restaurant, someone out there has never even tried drinking Fanta or Coke because it’s too expensive.
i am thankful that i was given the chance to step out of my old hobby and see things differently. i don’t spend that much money on things i don’t need anymore, in fact, i very rarely spend any money at a shopping mall (the only things i buy these days are groceries and occasionally fabrics, of course). i’ve found dozens of other recreations that have more benefits for myself (and my wallet) than going to the mall, like biking or walking (in the spring/summer). instead of going to the movies to catch the latest blockbuster i would just wait till the blu-ray comes out, or even better, wait till it comes on Netflix.
my life is not boring, on the contrary, i feel like it has become more colourful ever since i moved here. so what if i don’t feel the need to put on a dress and make up to bike around town? inside, i feel rich. when i feel that way from the inside, even a lick of ice cream or a gulp of iced Coke on a hot summer day seem like such a blessing.
sometimes, that is all you need: to step back and see things from a different angle.