January 4th, 2011

(no subject)

H-Mart's opening has really caused the Market Basket next door to raise its game. They took over the former EXPO Design Center and doubled their size by moving into that space.

H-Mart is a mostly bi-coastal Korean supermarket chain. Like most Asian supermarket chains, it has a large and varied produce section. Typical of Korean grocers is its extensive array of pickled vegetables.

Market Basket is a local supermarket chain. The new store has a much larger produce section and now carries a wider variety of Asian foods.

Yet another reason to celebrate the arrival of more Asian supermarkets.

Isn't mall-walking a pastime for middle-aged women or something?

I dunno, I've started doing it myself. I can't figure out why it didn't occur to me sooner. The idea of walking around in an enclosed, climate-controlled space and avoiding the slush and snain of a Southern New England winter just makes sense.

It's particularly surprising to me because I'd done it before while travelling. Shopping malls are an excellent place to hide from inclement weather (heat in Southeast Asia, snow in Scandinavia) or dangerous levels of street crime (South Africa). Or in some countries, both (Brazil).

South African shops still have shorter hours on weekends, yet the malls are often quite full of window shoppers, even when the only businesses still trading are the movie theaters and the restaurants which as a result cluster near them. Security is fairly tight, and there are a lot of families taking advantage of the opportunity to take a walk around in air-conditioned safety.
For an American it's rather odd to see people walking around looking at the windows of closed shops, since in the States when the stores are closed they close the mall.

Speaking of security, Turkish malls were all provided with metal detectors and X-ray machines. I dutifully put my pack on the conveyor belt with everyone else's and walked through the arch, but it was pretty clear the detector was set with a high enough threshold so that everyone would pass, and the bored security guards often weren't even looking at the X-ray screen. This was obviously security theater, and everyone knew it, despite the fact that Turkey has had its share of shopping mall terrorism.

There were submachine-gun toting guards at the entrances to malls in Belo Horizonte and Brazilia, but they looked as bored as any rent-a-cops in the States, with more firepower. And the parking lots were thoughtfully provided with awnings over the spaces so your car's interior would stay somewhat shaded in the tropical sun. This was a feature some Thai shopping centers also offered. They looked lightly built but must clearly have been able to stand up to torrential downpours.

One feature of many malls in Asia that I really miss around here, however, is the transit station connected to the mall. I kept finding myself expecting a transit entrance either at the bottom or to one side of the mall. This clearly speaks to the primacy of mass transit in many Asian cities and the lack of social stigma attached to arriving at the mall by public transit. If there was transit to the mall I'd end up walking to transit, and then walking from transit, which would be a win all around.

Also, the food is better in most food courts in Asia than in food courts pretty much anywhere else in the world.

At some point I'll probably go on at some length in a post about how the tourist pursuit of exoticism drives them away from the mall and towards a historic bazaar or market, which then tends to turn into a tourist destination. This means that in many place the more authentic local experience will actually be found at the mall, which is where residents actually shop. But that'll go in another post, as this is getting long enough.

Another point is that I'd someday like to tour some malls around the world with someone who is more of a consumer than I am; I am that curious person who likes malls but generally doesn't buy much in them. As a result I believe there are many nuances of shopping which I believe I miss. I'd like to get some commentary on them, because so many of these aspects of life which look familiar in other countries actually differ in significant ways, and one can't get a good handle on them unless one has a greater understanding of how those aspects operate here.