I don’t like malls. I actually quite hate them. I was never knocked out by them, even as a teenager (not that we had one in Pitt Meadows). But under normal circumstances you’d have a hard time finding me in one of those sterile, soulless, lifeless crapholes. I think I went to the mall once in Vancouver, because that’s where the DMV is and I had to renew my driver’s license.
But in KL, it’s an almost daily thing. Asia loves its malls, and Kuala Lumpur is definitely a stronghold of mall culture. Malls are the major landmarks here. When describing where something is, the mall is the focal point. You don’t say “Petronas Towers” you say “KLCC”. Why oriented yourself to the gigantic twin towers that stretch up so high you can see Hong Kong from the top floor when you could oriented yourself to the mall that sits beneath them? “Just past Mid-Valley”, “behind Pavilion”, “across from Times Square”, “out by 1 Utama”…you simply cannot get around town if you don’t know your malls.
We go to malls for a couple of reasons. One is that that’s where the grocery stores are. They’re in the basement of the malls, invariably. Unless you want to buy your groceries at the 7-Eleven, you need to go to the mall. The second reason is that it is bloody hot. Kuala Lumpur is just above the equator at 3 degrees north. It’s always hot, all the time. The all-time record low temperature here is 19C (66F). Temperatures range from pretty warm to seriously scorching. So naturally during the middle of the day the entire city retreats to the comfort of the mall.
Malls have become the sole gathering space for an entire generation of Malaysians. I went out for a walk and came across a Muslim restaurant with a few dozen people out front dining al fresco. It looked like a good crowd…until I got across the street and went into the mall. A cast of thousands milled around, buzzing and swarming. Most were not doing much of anything in particular. People go to the mall just to wander around and spend time.
And eat. Malls here have a lot of different dining options. There’s restaurants and coffee shops scattered all throughout any given mall. There’s always some sort of food court. Malaysians have long had this tradition – either in rows of hawker stalls or in old-school outdoor food courts. The food in the outdoor food courts is better of course – the one behind Pavilion absolutely slaughters the food inside the mall. In addition to the regular garden variety food courts (a mixture of local chains, western chains and some local independent shops) there is sometimes a “locals” food court. These are grottier, with less A/C and the same food at about half the price. I can dig that.
Two types of food courts and random restaurants isn’t enough – malls in KL are also home to some of the city’s nicer restaurants as well. You’ll see higher-end ethnic food in these places and some such restaurants have become dining destinations…on the sixth floor of a shopping mall! Pavilion has a nice touch – a bar street. This includes one of KL’s many German places, which are always good for a half litre of weissbier at prices that would make a Scandinavian discombobulate.
Malls are so utterly ingrained in KL culture that it is hard to imagine how one would function without them. I wouldn’t know where to buy food, for one thing. How would I see a movie? And where oh where would I buy a shirt that bleeds its red all over the rest of my clothes?
After we leave KL, I might not set foot in another mall until my driver’s license expires, but while we’re here, we’re practically mallrats. That’s just how it goes.