A Million Malls Away
BY CINDY XUE
Hong Kong is dotted with multi-story malls -- sleek, modern castles of consumption. But I refrain from describing these as shopping places, as they offer so much more than your run-of-the-mill Simon mall in American suburbia. Nearing the end of our orientation in Hong Kong,
I've experienced at least four or five of these malls, more often to dine or grocery shop
than purchase baby's first LV bag
Over lunch at the APM mall in Kwun Tong, Christina Ma, a Wellesley fellow in residence at CUHK, commented that after a while, she began noticing that each mall exuded a different aura. I began to consciously observe these differences in my subsequent mall visits.
Overall, each mall seems to cater to a different clientele. Michelle and I browsed the IFC Mall, and found only one store where we could reasonably afford something -- perhaps unsurprising as it's located in the International Finance Centre. The Shatin mall, nearest to CUHK, harbors more affordable options -- perhaps unsurprising as it's located squarely in the New Territories. Not only is there stratification across malls, but within them too. Usually, the ground floor is home to the luxury staples -- LV, Chanel, Bally, etc. These are also the empty stores, awaiting that special customer to purchase a $10k USD handbag. Either in the basement or on the upper floors are the shops that cater to the plebes -- your H&M, Uniqlo, Muji, etc. If one visits enough malls in Hong Kong, one might notice that some are much emptier during peak hours, showcase very well-dressed customers, and have nicer public restrooms. I have yet to walk into a Chanel store in my baggy t-shirt and running shorts, but I would be very curious to see how stores would react to such a violation of norms.
The great equalizer across Hong Kong malls seems to be the multitude of dining options. In the States, a hungry shopper must resign to eat orange chicken or a five dollar footlong in the food court. Not so in Hong Kong, where
even the food courts offer high quality, made-to-order international options.
The CUHK fellows often go to the New Town Plaza in Shatin for a nice sit-down meal, ranging from $10 per person for dimsum, to $30 per person for higher end international food. I was surprised to find that malls often hosted the array of Michelin starred restaurants in Hong Kong. On our first night here, the two CUHK first-year fellows took us to a Tim Ho Wan location adjacent to Olympic City, a mall complex whose size lives up to its name.
The demand for malls makes sense in Hong Kong, where real estate is prohibitively expensive and the climate is not always suitable for comfortable strolls down Fifth Ave. People flock to malls for convenience, efficiency (one-stop shop), and that blissful blast of air conditioning when you finally emerge from depths of the MTR station. Malls are family-friendly locales, oases of entertainment and desserts. It's not exactly a center of civil society, as you would never dare to approach strangers at a mall, but somehow, the promise of pretty things in great concentration offers a social lubricant for friends and family. While Americans may be bowling alone, we can be assured that
Hong Kongers need not shop nor dine alone, so long as these centrally located, MTR-connected malls, provide exciting luxury kitsch (glamping, anyone?), relaxing refuge from the heat, and everything in between.
And now, I'm off to eat at the Din Tai Fung in the Shatin with my fellow Yale-China Fellows.