Meet Me at The Mall!
Diajeng Hendratmo-Brown, WEEKENDER | Thu, 12/23/2010 12:26 PM |
It used to be the clothes that made the man and woman. These days, it’s the mall we choose to frequent.
A major city requires many things: Dependable public transportation, active city government, a great international airport and diverse cultural offerings. It also needs communal centers, parks and social infrastructure.
As us 9.5 million Jakartans know, our city falls short on many items in this list. But whatever Jakarta lacks, it makes up for with its multitude of shiny, behemoth shopping centers.
Malls, with one on every other corner of the city, are the place to go for communal activities – certainly not a park, given the rarity of green spaces in the city. It doesn’t matter what your background or income, these air-conditioned spaces are Jakartans’ first choice for entertainment or to refresh from the stressful daily grind.
Many of these shopping centers seem to have popped up overnight. Wherever you go in Jakarta these days, it seems, you’ll find a fancy new glass structure promising the best clothing brands, the most delicious foods and the coolest place to pass your time. And then there’s the fact that it’s hard not to pop into the nearest mall just to cool off.
Each of Jakarta’s malls offers more than the one before. Offerings range from the sensible to the absurd: An artificial lake with life-sized sailboats on the 6th floor of an indoor structure? Check. An ice-skating rink in the midst of the tropics? Check.
You can do anything in a mall, and I mean anything. Jakartans go to malls to hold business meetings, to work out, even to go clubbing. It seems as if these shopping centers were designed so customers could spend all day and night there, if they wanted.
Each seems to have its own personality: there’s the grand dame Plaza Indonesia, the fancy-dresser Grand Indonesia, the luxuriously low-key Plaza Senayan, the fashion-forward Pacific Place and the youthful Senayan City. Each has its own loyal patrons who wouldn’t even consider going to another.
It wasn’t always this way. In the 1980s, only a handful of shopping centers were sprinkled about our megalopolis. Ratu Plaza on Jalan Sudirman once held court as the ritzy place to go. I have many early memories of Jakarta from there. I remember holding my mother’s hand and looking at the fancy neon lights while riding up and down the escalators.
In the early 1990s, the bigger and glitzier shopping centers started to emerge. Plaza Indonesia on Thamrin and Pondok Indah Mall became the places to see and be seen. Then came Plaza Senayan in the mid-1990s. Now, well, now they’re everywhere.
It’s not too hard to see why malls keep mushrooming. With the state of the traffic, having one place to do everything is much more attractive than driving all over the place.
Proximity is another important element in a mall’s popularity. Nina Soekamto, a media professional, enjoys spending her time at Plaza Indonesia because “it is not too big, it has a good selection of boutiques, it is central to the city, near to where I live and has a good selection of restaurant.”
Of course, there’s another reason why malls are located where they are: proximity to wealth. Is it any wonder why Plaza Indonesia is located near the affluent Menteng neighborhood? After all, there are only a few neighborhoods in Jakarta whose residents can afford to spend Rp 8 million on a pair of shoes.
What would a neighborhood do without its mall? Nowadays, it seems as if every new residential development requires a mall for its future tenants. The presence of a mall has even become a status symbol for the neighborhood, promising shopping experiences to rival those of cities like Singapore or even Paris. Brands promising luxury, status and prestige recur frequently in these malls. Looking at the malls, both their number and content, you’d think all Jakartans are wealthy and lavish consumers.
But shopping hasn’t got that much to do with it. Vinta Pasla, a schoolteacher, enjoys going to Senayan City because “it is large, it has good ventilation and high ceilings. Plus there are great food options and play areas for my kids so I can hang out and my kids can also have fun.”
In a city where pedestrian walkways are rarer than honest politicians, shopping malls have become places for families to safely and comfortably spend their leisure time together.
It is also a place to see and to be seen. Indeed, malls have taken over the role of traditional town squares as the place for people to meet and even, for some, to check out the opposite sex. Carlo Batubara, a law professional, confessed to liking Senayan City in South Jakarta because “it is huge, complete and the girls are pretty”.
No wonder hipsters and fashionistas wander the marbled avenues of Pacific Place, or the Birkin-toting madams take their strolls in Grand Indonesia. In a place where your social status is your social identity, why would they be seen anywhere else? After all, birds of a feather do flock together, right?