Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Jakarta Mall

A palm tree gateway in the atrium welcomes Jakartans to the mall Kelapa Gading

The Mall is a major part of life for many Jakartans. Within a five minute drive from my house we have two full on multi level, movie complexed, food courted, sports clubbed, department store bound, mega malls; Mall Kelapa Gading and Mal Artha Gading. Across the street from my apartment is a third named the Sport Mall, where, according to the billboard advertisement, “Shopping is Sport”. Included in this mall is an indoor arena that can seat several thousand and the “Sports Bar” which takes up a good portion of the second level of the complex. Connected to Mall Kelapa Gading or MKG as it is affectionately called by the locals who consider it their mall, is a condominium complex under construction. It is being advertised as a “one stop living experience”. I am sure many a Jakartan gets dreamy eyed when imagining such an existence. When I first moved to Jakarta I dreaded the mall and made a point of avoiding going there. It just seemed wrong to be living in such an exotic locale as Indonesia and hanging out in a mall. It did not take long for this sentiment to be purged from my extra sensitive culturally aware new guy in a foreign country psyche and I soon started frequenting the mall like everyone else in Jakarta. The degree to which the mall has made itself a part of life here in Jakarta was evidenced by a statement made recently by one of my students. For our class trip we went to an UNESCO World Heritage site called Ujung Kulon. It is located on the western edge of Java, accessible only by boat and is a very remote, protected and pristine environment. No one lives there accept the rangers and the fishermen who ply their trade in the area’s waterways. My student asked if there would be a mall there. I said yes, sarcastically. She then inquired how much money she should bring for the Ujung Kulon Mall.

One of the more interesting aspects of the malls here, or at least our mall here in Kelapa Gading, is the booths they set up in the middle of the mall. They are used to advertise new products or occupied periodically by the mall nomads who make the circuit hocking their wares in the various malls of Jakarta. Many of these kiosk people tend to be rather aggressive, especially the massage equipment sellers. They often lunge out at unsuspecting passersby with some scary hand held massage device rotating and gyrating madly and make serious attempts to apply the thing to your back or some other muscle bound area. Most mall goers don’t seem fazed by this treatment and actually stop for a bit of a rub down. I make good use of my people avoidance skills; get my speed walk on, do the eye contact aversion gaze and scurry on by.

A massage store guy wielding a hand held massage device looks for a potential customer

Some of the kiosks offer services that are frightfully painful, not necessarily to the receiver but to the unfortunate soul who manages to catch a glimpse of what is taking place. Alicia once saw a scary hand held massage device salesperson giving a full on (and fully visible) upper butt crack massage to a middle aged man who did not seem the least bit concerned about this public display. Another time I saw a woman in a medical looking outfit holding some high tech device. She was showing a possible client something on a portable TV while another very curious individual looked on intently. My curiosity got the best of me and I discreetly ducked over to get a better look at this unusual display; a very bad decision on my part. The high tech device was a super powered camera that was used to take close-ups of your scalp, focusing especially on the area around the hair follicles. This is not something you want to see – maybe your own scalp at the doctors or something – but definitely not some old guy’s nasty head at the mall. While the patron and onlooker where staring intently at the giant hair follicle on the screen the medical looking lady was excitedly telling him all about the damaged area and how it can cause hair loss and what magical follicle cleaning device she had to help him and his horrible looking head. After this I was feeling really stressed. I think the crazy massage device guy could sense this as he positioned himself in my path, waving the crazy device with a bit of a mad glint in his eye. I did a putar balik or a U-turn (another whole story in those two very innocent looking Indo words), avoided the guy all together and called it a day.

So if you are ever in Jakarta and want to experience a bit of the city, forget Jalan Jaksa and the Monas; hail a taxi and get to a mall.