A South East Asian Love Affair with the Mall

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As I visit more and more cities in South East Asia I’m continually amazed at the central role “The Mall” plays in life. Today, I’m in Kuala Lumpur and have spent the afternoon shooting photos at one of the most interesting flea markets I’ve been to since the Portobello Road in London. It’s the weekend flea market at the Amcorp Mall just outside of Kuala Lumpur (KL) in the burbs of Petaling Jaya (PL).

Arriving last night from Langkawi, which was one of the most peaceful and natural places I’ve visited on this trip, I decided to do an urban photo walk. I found a Time Out KL in my hotel room and as I was perusing through it a section on flea markets caught my eye. Sounded like an interesting opportunity to bring the camera. Packing my DSLR, my point & shoot and my iPhone, I caught a taxi to check out what a mall flea market in a Petaling Jaya is like.

Good Lord…my reactions skyrocketed from “let down” to “total amazement” as I headed up the escalators and walked around the upper floors. When I first got out of the taxi, smack in front are the average cheap clothes and kitsch jewelry. The mall itself is a bit rundown and in the burbs of KL so I experienced the, “Oh…I took a taxi all the way here for this…” moment, but my little voice inside said, “just change your lens and look at this differently from the way you usually think about malls”. So I did. That’s how the camera helps, it reminds me to play with how I’m viewing life.

I proceeded to get some ice cream at Famous Amos to kick start my mood (while doing nothing for my digestion) and off I went to see what taste of life I could find in a Malaysian Mall….

Want to know what I found?

I met a man who is an expert in chemical engineering and as he travels around the world on business he collects antiques. He has a collection of bells from all over the world and he comes on the weekends to sell his antiques. He told me every time he buys more bells he always sells them. He loves them, but he can only keep so many, so collecting and selling is his hobby and he’s quite passionate about his bells. He has Tibetan bowls, bells from England, China, Colombia, Bali, everywhere. He hangs out at his stall talking to people about where they are from, selling his antiques and ringing his bells. He’s hilarious.

There’s a man named Fhoo from Penag, who reminds me of Mr. Miyagi from the original 1984 Karate Kid movie. He collects precious stones and the most eclectic mish mash of everything from Jimmy Hendrix photos to mala beads from China and Tibet. It’s possible he lied to me, but I don’t see why he would bother…he has a collection of mala beads and apparently some of them were used by certain Rinpoche Monks in Tibet. According to him, friends have brought him mala beads for years. So I bought one for 50 ringgits. I couldn’t help myself. When does that happen? I believe it’s sign I’m on the path to connecting with my spiritual teacher. Who knows! It’s what I believe…I was raised in a mall in San Francisco, it’s called Stonestown…this fits perfectly…that was a dump for years too…clues in life are all around us. So what if I’m not a Tibetan Buddhist yet…one never knows what the future holds.

Some of the escalators are broken, some of the toliets are the squat style and there’s no toliet paper. People are selling homemade cakes, I just learned about sarawak cakes that have up to 30 layers in one cake and each layer takes 2 hours to bake and cool. Had to buy a small one.

It’s an assortment of eclectic clutter that boggles the mind. Second hand Louis Vuitton handbags, cheap clothing, kitsch jewelry, coin collections, stamp collections, money from around the world collections, antiques, my Kung Fu master doppelganger friend Fhoo selling his Tibetan and Chinese mala beads and random collection of precious stones, second hand books, Archie and Jughead comic books next to copies of the Koran and Star Wars action figures. This is the first time I’ve seen a Thor action figure, I wanted to buy it for Anders. It’s an assemblage of curios. All this Mixed with McDonalds, Starbucks, Subway and music stores. Like a mix between Portobello Road and Stonestown.

I consider this a boon of a photo walk and the iPhone paints the best picture. Exhausted, I’ve headed down to Starbucks to take a break, with my Tibetan mala beads around my neck. As I write this, I’m sitting in Starbucks, wearing my mala beads and people are standing in front of me sifting through kitsch jewelry… is there something wrong with this picture? What does this say about the state of Malaysian society or society in general? It reminds me of a quote I just saw by J. Krishnamurti, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted in a profoundly sick society.” The irony isn’t lost on me, but I’m keeping the mala beads. Perhaps Malaysia is just home away from home for an American in Asia.

I digress…this has become far too long and I’m sure you can use your imagination about how many photos I took…here’s a variety to keep you entertained…

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2 thoughts on “A South East Asian Love Affair with the Mall

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