Mallrats is one of my favourite films ever, mainly because it’s pretty damn funny, but also because it gives an insight into one of the those baffling American pastimes that mean little to a Brit like me – I mean, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would you want to spend all their time hanging around in a shopping mall?
Until I got to Manila. I’d already read it in the guidebook, but it wasn’t til I got my bus in from the airport that I realised quite how many malls there are in the city. There must be dozens. And some of them are huuuuuge – the biggest (the Mall of Asia) is apparently the third largest in the world.
I had no intention of spending any time in them, but on my first day I needed to pop in to the local one to get money out. After wandering around town a bit getting my bearings, I soon found myself sucked back in to get a snack (after all, they had a much bigger selection of food outlets than anywhere nearby). I don’t think I’ve ever been to a mall twice in one day before. I resolved to be more adventurous on day two.
I headed out the next morning to take a walk down to Intramuros, the old walled part of Manila. As it happened, the mall was on my way so I popped in for some breakfast (and my first taste of Filipino sausages: mmm). So much for trying to avoid the Mall. Anyway, I headed down to see some history, which took all of a couple of hours – I had no idea Manila had such a tragic recent history, as it was one of the world’s most badly damaged cities in World War Two, as the Americans and Japanese pretty much razed the city in 1945, killing over 150,000 people in the process. This tragic episode has left little of what was once one of Asia’s most beautiful cities. The huge protective walls are pretty impressive, and there are some nicely restored colonial houses, and even the World Heritage listed San Agustin church (nice as it was though, I’m not entirely sure why).
On the way back I found myself wandering into the mall without quite realising I was doing it, and for no apparent reason. Still, while I was there I popped into M&S for a quick look (just to see if it was exactly the same as back home – it was) and a coffee before heading back to the hostel, where I bumped into the people I’d met the night before, and soon found myself heading straight back to the mall (it turns out – of course! – that the nearest supermarket was located there) to buy some dinner to cook in the hostel. Three times in one day. What was happening to me?
On day three we had some time to kill before catching the nightbus up to the mountains, so we decided to have a bit of a jeepney adventure. Jeepneys are very much the typical Filipino means of transport – they were originally converted US army jeeps, but are now made in the Philippines, and have to be my favourite method of local transportation I’ve encountered yet, as they are painted in bright colours, covered in stickers, and plastered with various slogans (I’m such a fan there’ll be a separate post on Jeepneys coming up). We thought they looked pretty fun, and so we decided to just jump on one and see where it went – which turned out to be chinatown, which is full of your typically hectic asian market stalls (many of which were playing exactly the same ultra-violent chinese film, which people were glued to). Still, it was mostly tat, so after a bit of a wander, one of the girls needed the toilet so we soon found ourselves – where else, but the local mall.
Despite our best efforts to be in and out in five minutes, we soon found ourselves sucked in, trying out the local empanadas (very nice, but not a patch on Argentina’s), munching on chocolate doughnuts, and shooting hoops at the local arcade’s basketball game.
In the end I had to face up to it: I’d turned into a mallrat myself. And you know what? It turned out to be a lot of fun.