[ NOtes from NOel : To be brutally frank about it, there’s not much to look forward on the horizon, and it’s going to be a lot worse before it gets any better. We can only offer moral support, our faith in the human spirit, and our humble prayers to our brothers and sisters in the Land of the Rising Sun. Belated happy birthdays to Atty Bernadette ‘Dit’ Bargas – Abejo and kabatch Ms Jocelyn ‘Asan’ Chan – Tan, thanks so much for appreciating and reposting our post, Maroonmate Ms Julie Lee ! ]
Dear kabatch, schoolmates, brods, kabayan, officemates, friends, Huttmates and anakis :
ROUND THESE PARTS, there’s a Pinoy salawikain ( paraphrased ) that in any urban center, if you want to find your kababayan for whatever reason, whether you’re homesick, you want to get updated on local news, need pesos for a trip home or are just lonesome for brothers and sisters of your color, height and accent, just proceed to the nearest supermall and walk around for a few minutes. It won’t be long before you find kabayan, kaprobinsya and kalahi who’ll smile back if you smile, talk back if you talk, and pretty soon you’ll forget that you’re a thousand miles away from home.
Just a few qualifiers : unless you’re in Auckland, there aren’t many supermalls here approaching the size of Mall of Asia (half a million square meters) or even MegaMall, Trinoma or G-3, stores close their doors after 5 pm (unless there’s a late night schedule usually on Thursdays and Fridays), and compared to payday crowds back home, it’s quite slim pickings for the foot traffic-conscious entrepreneur.
I remember two anecdotes told me by a bean counter ( numbers or stats man ) in the mall business : the first was that, on midnight madness, long weekends or the traditional holidays (Christmas and Easter), if you can see the floor, meaning it’s not covered by wild-eyed shoppers or those desperate to buy anything on sale, you haven’t done your job well enough to draw both hardcore and casual buyers in.
Second, on one of the less dependable holidays for sales, that’s All Souls’ Day November 2nd in the early 2000s, one of the bigger malls in Metro Manila (a favorite of the call center crowd) reported a mall attendance of one million passing through their doors, yup that’s six zeroes after one, on a relatively weak day.
Little doubt then that the Pinoy is a mall creature.
Sorry to veer away from the topic, just wanted to share with you what little we observed in the malls here. They are mostly culled from those frozen moments when I see something that reminds me of home, and at the same time the moment becomes noteworthy for how similar or different it is from what I remember back home.
Food is king, no matter how odd or mismatched the business to the businessman. One of the favorite Pinoy eating-places here is Nando’s, and probably it’s well-loved in other malls and NZ cities as well. It’s a combination of Max’s, Pollo Loco and Kenny Rogers, and every time we visit the place, it’s packed, mostly by South Asians and Chinese, I’m sure you can guess which Southeast Asian group make up the remainder of the unfilled tables.
It was therefore a shock to esposa hermosa and me when we asked the owner-manager ( we’re not sure if he’s Indian or Pakistani ) you must be tired of eating chicken all the time, to which he answered, I have only tasted it once, and I don’t eat it at all. When asked why, he said that he was a 100% vegetarian for religious reasons, not even milk, eggs or fish. When we asked how he reconciles religious restrictions with the dictates of his business, he said that as long as his personal behavior wasn’t affected, there was no problem with his goods or services, as long as people were happy and he followed the law. Adding to the shock was when we found out that some of his waiters and servers were also life-long and dedicated vegetarians. Touche’ to that.
The incongruousness didn’t end there. Elsewhere in the mall where esposa hermosa works is a sushi bar that enjoys a healthy menu, reasonable pricing and probably the best location in the mall. But what struck us a few times when we fetched her on the way home was that three of her co-workers were Chinese, at least two were Korean, and three others were Pinoy like us. Notice what was odd about the staff? That’s right, not a single person in the authentic Japanese fast-food outlet was Japanese, although if you had the formula, the recipe, and knew how to prepare and serve food Japanese-like, I guess native born talent wasn’t essential.
As an aside, better than half of the Malaysian / Singaporean, Vietnamese and even Thai establishments we chanced to visit were owned, staffed and patronized by Chinese cooks and food professionals. It’s like we hadn’t left home at all.
Beat the heat, escape the cold. Bottom line, most mallgoers back home enter the mall not to buy stuff, but almost always, in no particular order, to beat the heat, grab a bite, or take in a movie. It’s not much different here, because the stores close first, restos second, and the moviehouses last.
The only wrinkle is that there are summer months and winter blues here, so it works the other way as well : mallrats both Kiwi and Asian beating back the polar blasts from the Antarctic by meeting the embrace of central heating in most malls here. Coupled with hot marshmallowed coffee and toasted banana muffins, it’s a welcome respite during the frosty months of May to July.
For now, the carefully controlled artificial climates keep you cool in summer, and cozy warm in winter. Not a bad bargain considering that you don’t need to spend anything besides your weekly pamalengke at the grocery or pay your energy or phone bill at the local Kiwibank / NZPost.
MallWorld ends by five. This is the only disorienting feeling we get from malls here : prepare to experience a ghost town as soon as the clock strikes five. Fellow mallrats can hardly believe it when we tell them that come 6 to 7 most days in the Islands, the day is just starting for many stores, cuz that’s when the office crowd starts to fill the mall.
It’s almost as if most employers here would rather close shop by 5 pm everyday rather than pay overtime to their staff, and this literally is the case: the extended recession, leaving many businesses and retailers in the red, has taken its toll on many employers, with most already living month-to-month and can’t afford to pay store staff any more than absolutely necessary.
This is a pity, as many wage earners and salary nine-to-fivers can only visit and patronize the mall after work, and are chained to their machinery or desks the whole workday. Even the recent policy of closing late on Thursday and Friday nights can do wonders for the small businessmen, and hopefully mall owners and administrators might be persuaded to close the mall at a later hour.
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Meanwhile, the eerie silence of the mid-afternoon mall environment (sunset doesn’t come till 8) convinces us that despite the familiar facades (Espirit, McDonalds’, Gloria Jeans and Starbucks), the wide walkways, the generous lighting and the ever-present escalators, you’re not in MegaMall, Galleria or Shangrila Plaza anymore.