Wednesday, September 27, 2006

mall hell

The great Jakarta makeover continues apace. A new busway has been built near my domicile in Mampang which I will no doubt be able to use soon. As of now though, it remains just a smooth, raised concrete lane alongside the rest of the road with the odd Jakartan walking or cycling down it happily, amazed at the only real sidewalk in town. Maybe they should forget about the buses and just keep it as a cycle lane forever.

Also, new shopping plazas keep springing up at the rate of about one per month. My own plaza strolling time has tailed off enormously in recent years as I'm of the opinion that, in the words of the old joke, once you've seen one shopping plaza, you've seen a mall. However, Jakarta's valiant citizens, if a recent article in the good old Jakarta Post is to be believed, can't get enough of the places and claim that hanging out in plazas is their favorite activity. This seems like somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy to me. If there's nothing but malls in the city then, unsurprisingly, people will go to malls. In this respect Indonesia once again exemplifies all the worst elements of late capitalism: Its capital city being woefully bereft of parks, libraries, theatres or public sports facilities and instead being crammed with temples of vapid materialism. Plazas spewing forth expensive consumer durables and dodgy food court rice; circuses and bread for the modern generation; the new church (mosque?) of the emerging middle classes.

This week though, I trundled my plaza prejudices along to the brand-new Senayan City. Malls seem to be getting bigger and bigger and Senayan City makes old Plaza Senayan just across the way look like little more than a glorified gazebo in comparison. It's absolutely enormous, more like an international airport than a shopping mall. I was greeted by branches of Top Man/Top Shop and Debenhams and although I was slightly unsettled by seeing these rather proletarian UK shops being scrubbed up and repackaged for the Indonesian petty bourgeoisie, I headed through the Star Trek sliding doors into the mall's cavernous interior.

As I headed towards the main concourse, I felt the wave of agoraphobia sweep over me. You could go hang gliding in here. In keeping with high-end malls full of expensive shops, Senayan City is also dazzlingly white. This clinical sterility is perhaps appropriate because when I enter a place like this I feel like I’m being dissected and examined by 1000 hidden security cameras in an effort to ascertain my purchasing power. The Plaza paranoia was taking hold in earnest but I pressed on and headed up a huge high heeled shoe like escalator which transported me up a whole two floors, deep into the belly of the beast. Senayan City, a bright shining world unencumbered by the guys with guitars, potholes, diesel fumes and dried on Sambal stains that prevail outside. An odourless nirvana of boutiques and juice bars, computer motherboards and security guards in ill fitting uniforms, ready to pounce if they see a single bead of perspiration break out on your forehead.

In fact, as I walked around on my bad Plaza acid trip I saw that much of the retail space hasn't actually been occupied yet. Is Senayan City a mall too far? There has to be a limit to this ever expanding retail infrastructure. There are only so many Prada purses that the city can collectively purchase, surely?

Then I saw it. The shop that summed it all up. The clincher that presages doom for Jakarta and the whole world and codifies the impending extinction of the human race itself. It was called Kiddy Cuts. Evidently a clip around the ear and a chastisement along the lines of, "Keep bloody still when you're at the barbers," will simply not suffice these days. Instead, the offspring of the wealthy, the nation's future leaders no less, need to be pampered with little cars in which to sit and individual video screens showing cartoons whilst their little Lord Fauntleroy locks are sheared and maids in nurses' uniforms spoon-feed ice cream into their ever ravenous gobs.

I had to leave. I'll give you a full report on my vasectomy next week.

Simon Pitchforth