Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Leisure time

Anyone would think there is nothing going on here in the subtropics, except Grit lurking shiftily behind a marble pillar, jumping out only occasionally to spook some innocent woman while I wave a camera phone at her fur framed foot.

I need treatment. For a moment there, it even seemed like a good idea.

I blame the shopping malls. They shrink my brain. I'm beginning to hate them. They make us all consumers, eager to merge reality and advertising. The only way for me to resist them is bring out my bolshy side.

Yet it's hard to avoid those malls in Hong Kong Central. Pragmatically, they are a way to cross the road. Seek refuge from traffic, and you're locked in a shopping circle with no exit.

Once inside, there is an immediate sense of unreality. They are so far removed from people living urban life at street level that when we pass through a shopping mall on our journey, it feels like we wandered into the overground set of Metropolis. I find myself peering through the endless panels of smoked glass to see the workers down below; the ones on the treadmill who light the whole building.

One of the issues I have with the endless malls is their crushing uniformity. They contrive to appear as streams of elegant halls, laid out in easy-to-view long straight lines, offering simplicity, light, and air filled space. In reality, they are crowded, noisy, confusing corridors. Within seconds I am disoriented and fearful of losing my left from my right. One branch of Armani looks much like any other branch of Armani, and when it's brand identified against a hundred other up-market names aligned in routine regularity, I cannot tell where I am, which direction I'm headed and, at worst, why I came here in the first place.

And these places lie. The advertisements say the shopping mall is the place to come to express your who-you-are. But these places are not built for people. They are built for power, prestige, business, money. They are here to display wealth and celebrate the pointlessness of making a stupid judgement between those who have more money and those who have less money. They are here to show off, with no function beyond display.

Once inside, you can only slide forward, breaking your step in the cold marble slipway to enter and leave Versace. There is nowhere to rest or sit, unless you make for Starbucks or some other labelled coffee brand. In those long straight lines, there is no human warmth, no congregation space, no slipway, no hollow where you can pause and take your companion's arm, hold it and say, 'Shall we stop a moment?' There's no heart, no soul, no place to build a memory, no place to laugh and recall 'That was a happy time', and not a public clock in sight to stare towards, and say, 'Yes, I'll meet you, here, later'.

I am glad to get through the unavoidable mall today, make it alive to the other side, catch the bus and reach the park.

Here, I can sit on the warm, dry grass, feel the sun sting my arm, feel the wind rub my hair, hear the children rummage in my bag for biscuits, listen to them grumbling about who ate the last banana, then watch the growing pack of kids follow each other up trees. Meeting there, they hang off branches, pretend to be leopards, hold on to their sun hats. They all squeal when a littlest one shrieks out an alarm of an inquiring wasp. I can laugh at the sight of ten kids up a tree try to scramble down without breaking a leg or an arm. One is left swinging - mine - while another tugs on her legs and a third stretches out arms. I can sympathise, say wasps can be very dangerous, rub one daughter's belly where she grazed it on tree bark. I can think, they might try and sell me aspiration with fur lined shoes, but they don't yet sell me a memory of how we can simply enjoy a day, playing in the park, laughing in the sunshine.


sharon said...

The only good thing about shopping malls is the air conditioning! A welcome blast of cool in the heat of a summer's day when shopping must be done. Other than that the park is a far better choice, not quite as blasé about the tree climbing nowadays though ;-)

Kestrel said...

I'm with Sharon. The shopping mall (and our new abode is sadly lacking in them, having but one) is the air conditioned refuge. We spent large chunks of last summer there, in the children's change room with the television on and I would make occasional forays into the supermarket to restock on food and trashy magazines.

There are parks but they are full of flies, bitey critters and drunken yobs. Plus they're hot, no sweet sea breezes to soothe us.

I loathe shopping malls for the same reasons you do. But when you're faced with unendurable heat and humidity, suddenly selling my soul to the $2 ride on toys in the mall for a few moments of happy faces seems completely worthwhile.

Rachel M. said...

I got lost in a mall in Hong Kong, I swear I walked for an hour trying to find an exit. I had only intended to enter from one side and exit in a straight line to the other to avoid walking around the entire block but the mall halls went in the opposite direction. I was so pissed at the senseless design.

Some of the malls lead to restaurants on top. There is one vastly open design that has an escalator to the roof where a lovely Thai restaurant has outdoor tables that face the harbor. Best curry I've ever had!

Mud in the City said...

Yes yes yes! I feel the same way about Singapore shopping malls and hate them with a viciousness usually reserved for queue bargers on the tube and people who spit in the street.