The Shopping Centre Getaway

Features Editor Kenalyn Ang recounts her visits to malls in the Philippines that offer their patrons far more than shopping.

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Kenalyn Ang

“Come in, look at what we got,” “There’s so much more,” “There’s such a lot!”… “Lots of excitements, and bargains and FUN!” … “WE’VE GOT IT ALLLL (for you!)”

As the mall chain SM Supermall’s theme song proclaims, malls around the world, particularly in Asia, offer locals, tourists and people everywhere so (too) much.

Whether it be part of a chain of several malls or a one-off complex, famous due to its architecture and design, founder or crazy history, malls all over the world have become increasingly bigger and better, as people flock to these complexes for food, shopping, entertainment and leisure. Today’s malls include extensive facilities past the standard cafe and shop duo. The Dubai Mall in the UAE boasts over a 1,000 shops and restaurants, bolstered by an ice skating rink, hotel, and multiple cinemas. The Mall of Asia in Manila, Philippines flaunts an envious spot by the coast of the island, and consequently, breathtaking views. It features an outdoor inflatable playground for the kids and a Ferris wheel, 180 feet tall and a major contribution to the MOA’s daily average of 200,000 visitors. Indeed, on a list of the world’s 10 largest malls, only two fall outside of an Asian country.

Last July, I had the chance to see some of these malls for myself, and an inkling of the oh-so-wonderful world of shopping in Asia. After visiting four malls in my first week, I quickly realised how immense the shopping industry truly is in this region of the globe, and how heavily reliant those who reside in such countries might be on commercial shopping for recreational activities and pastimes. Over a dozen malls later, I describe and review five. Each structure varied in style, size and location, but ultimately, all hosted some variety of the same shops and brands.

Eastwood

Located in Quezon City, within the outskirts of Metro Manila, Eastwood Mall is an outdoor conglomeration of shopping stores, condominiums, restaurants and office towers, and a branch of the company Megaworld Lifestyle Malls. Narrow, glass buildings featured newly constructed condos and offices, which encased colourful, concrete spaces complete with outdoor fountains and bridges, lush palm trees, and the constant yet stealthily camouflaged Bose speakers, perpetually pulsing out some upbeat, shopping accompaniment. When I visited, our sole purposes were to first, take a walk, and second, see what Eastwood Mall was like. As the stores were just beginning to open for the day, I had the luxury of seeing the venue at its chillest amongst individuals going off to work nearby. The humid heat was incessant, but visitors mustn’t worry; as I would realise at almost every mall I visited, this centre offered a restaurant or food place at nearly every other door, complete with a forceful and steady blast of AC. With shops, food, a cinema, arcade and even a chapel, the standard office clerk need not venture too far after hours for any immediate needs.

Shangri-La Plaza

In Mandaluyong, Philippines, visitors can enjoy a peaceful shopping and dining experience at this upscale and beautifully laid-out shopping centre. Shangri-La Plaza boasts international designer brands such as Givenchy, Kate Spade, Superdry and much more. Several British department stores such as Marks & Spencer and Debenhams are common, and Rustan’s Supermarket, the Rustan’s Department Store food hall, offers an array of international foodstuffs including wines, dressings and more from Britain’s very own Waitrose. The Plaza is part of Shang Properties Inc., a holding company that also created Shangri-La Place, home to condominiums, a hotel and overall community. Despite the reputation and hefty price tags attached to many of the stores here, the mall is still quite popular, as evident in the college students visiting afterschool and those staying at the nearby hotel. But beware – according to locals (including some of my relatives), the steps outside the plaza are notorious for drive-by robberies and bag-snatchers, so hang on tight to your purchases whilst waiting for pickup or standing just outside the entrance.

Greenbelt

Inspired by the breezy shopping experiences available in Hong Kong, Greenbelt is a cluster of five shopping buildings, numbered and each boasting a different architectural design. It is located at Ayala Center in Makati, Philippines, actually across the street from a Fairmont hotel too.

Popular with tourists (probably because of its location in Makati), Greenbelt gave off an impression of manicured green space and complexes. Shrubbery was strategically placed along outdoor footpaths and koi ponds, giving a cool, quiet, shaded and breezy experience for all.

At the time that I visited, the church located at the centre of the greenspace was just finishing a service. As a result, throughout this manicured green, hymns and a chorus of voices singing swelled and boomed across hidden speakers, seemingly filling the entire plaza and surrounding cluster of buildings with the music and service ongoing. As I walked along, my aunt dabbing at her sweaty forehead with her “panyo” (handkerchief), the music, shady walkways, chirping birds and endless green scenery proved to be quite a relaxing morning walk away from all the smog and traffic in the city.

Venice Grand Canal

Fancy a quick ride along Italy’s Grand Canal? Then look no further than a 17-minute car drive (though potentially 3x longer than that with traffic) from Greenbelt Mall. I visited the Venice Grand Canal Mall upon the suggestion of one of my cousins, who cited the mall as the “number one spot” for new lovers and couples seeking out a venue for their romantic occasions. A member mall of Megaworld Lifestyles, I thoroughly enjoyed our meander amongst the crowds of lovers, tourists and families, soaking in all the bridges, lanterns, shop stands and individuals dressed as gondola drivers and marionettes along the paved shores. However, the picturesque mall was compact and busy, and it was difficult to manoeuvre amongst the outdoor stands of goods and throngs of people.

SM Megamall

By far the most memorable and most familiar mall for me, SM MegaMall is everything you might expect from a mall titled “Mega”: busy, boisterous, spacious and most importantly in such a tropical climate as Manila, completely air-conditioned. The buildings housing the different stores are separated into three, Fashion Mall, Mega A, and Mega B. Situated in Manila, Mandaluyong city, the mall is the largest in the Philippines, and the second largest in the SM mall cohort. Personally, I associate SM Megamall with children’s toys, plastic shoes and food courts. While the mall does indeed have these things, recent refurbishments in its fourth building (Mega D) have equipped it with a bowling centre, a Bingo area and an Olympic-sized skating rink.

While the list of malls is extensive, the companies and business folk in charge of it all is few. Beautiful, picturesque and creative, these malls tower over city traffic and overcrowded streets, air-conditioned oases from the muggy, humid heat. A cornucopia of shops, movies, food and good times promised, but for a reason. Individuals and companies such as Henry Sy, John Gokongwei and Ayala Land are in constant competition, family businesses with history deeply ingrained in their negotiations. But, these businesses are a whole different matter, and far too complicated to dissect in this article. The development occurring and ongoing in the city of Manila throughout the past decade has been impressive and rapid. But apart from such urban sights and consumerist activities, you can also visit the Philippines for its great outdoors, an abundance of natural beauty, landscape and sights.

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