It was an ocean sparkling above me. No wait, it was an ocean replete with sea monsters, squeezed together like they were queuing for Kenny G tickets. I looked up in awe, my clothes completely dry and in the corner of my right eye a Starbucks sign flickered, luring me with its promise of bad coffee diluted with sweet creamy goodness. Yep, that's right peeps; I was at a shopping mall.
But this was no ordinary shopping mall; hanging between two fake sandstone buildings was a football field-sized screen. Like an IMAX theater with a Muzak soundtrack.
Cryptically titled The Place, it looked like the hang-out venue-of-choice for underage mallrats whose weekly allowance is equivalent to the average annual working wage. Hagglers beware: I don't think you can bargain with any of the shops and human hair is not an accepted currency. But the barter ban didn't faze me as I had traveled there with my partner for a specific purpose before the gigantic fish derailed my train of thought.
I had read (in the China Daily, of course) that Zara had just opened. For those of you not familiar with the retail chain, just think of a company who has applied the principle of a Lido handbag store to making clothes. They basically see what the astronomically expensive catwalk designers make and then mimic (i.e. rip-off) their ideas using cheaper materials.
But fortunately for irregularly shaped Australian schmucks like myself, Zara makes shirts and trousers in sizes that don't force me to make scheduled bathroom trips with a toothbrush between meals.
And boy, what a gratifying difference a non-skin tight pair of pants makes. The shop was nice if you're a fan of minimalist chic and gag-inducing Western R&B music but for mine, Christina Aguilera's shrieking never helps when you're trying to figure out how your bottom looks in checkered slacks. The prices were a pittance in comparison to the ritzy toff-shops of the Oriental Plaza downtown but the pouts of the peacocky clientele half white-collar Chinese, half Westerner were out in force nonetheless. It was like rubbing shoulders with extras from Zoolander.
But even a shop-full of chic sneers couldn't shake my mind off the big screen outside. It got me thinking about one-upmanship, as in, what next? Free hovercraft to get you from one shop window to the next?
In any case, if malls are the new architectural indicators of world status, China's looking good. The Forbidden City? The Great Wall? Pffft! Yesterday's news. Well-heeled punters are voting with their dough and nothing I have seen anywhere on this planet comes close to The Place; where you can buy lots of stuff and stand gobsmacked underneath a digital aquarium. Now all they need is for the sea monsters to deliver sub-conscious messages to shoppers.
SQUID: Hungry? Try the food court but don't be seen in the food court wearing anything less than the latest fashions from Zara.
SHOPPER: Yes, thank you, oh wise giant squid, you are right, I am famished and unfashionable
(China Daily 03/14/2007 page20)