Is mall culture slowly dying?

MARCH 16 — Back in the 1980s, there was a feverish excitement which coursed through the country. 

The Mall was about to open and with it, the equally famous Yaohan. Call me arbitrary but to me, that was our first taste of mall culture. 

The Mall was huge and its décor was amazing. I for one remember the cascading fountain even now, 30 years later. Sadly, it did not last very long (apparently it suffered due to the Asian currency crisis of 1997) and by 2004, it became the rather tame by comparison, Parkson. 

But there was a time when mall culture was in full swing and that was the 1990s. 

I was just a schoolboy back then and after school, was not averse to paying a visit to a mall. Subang Parade was the mall of choice although it literally took three buses to get there. 

Impossibly huge (or so we thought at the time... remember, this was before One Utama and MidValley), it boasted any number of trendy shops and restaurants. 

My favourite thing, however, was to go to the few book trading stores. We could actually buy books from them and sell them back at a reduced price. 

The trend started in SS2, PJ with one Novel House (opened circa 1991) and later Walk in Rent A Book and by 1993, this had spread to Subang Parade. 

The last I looked, none of these shops survived except Walk in Rent A Book and even then, just a subdued version of itself. 

Subang Parade also went the same way. When I last visited there in 2010, it looked nearly dead even at lunchtime. Perhaps the restrictive cost of living was to blame. 

Of course, to the boys of my alma mater, Bukit Bintang Boys Secondary School, it was Jaya Supermarket (opened in 1977) which was our gathering place of the day (fortunately, it was also the case for the girls of the nearby Sri Aman Girls School!). 

Jaya was relatively smaller than the aforementioned Mall or Subang Parade but it was our local. It was literally a five-minute walk from my school and despite repeated warnings from the disciplinary teachers, we could still see the boys in their school uniforms loitering around in Jaya as we affectionately called it. 

The infamous picture of the BB boy smoking was aptly captured in the precincts of Jaya. 

Jaya probably enshrined the culture of the time. It had a large MPH (possibly the largest before the one in Bangsar Baru) and although most people simply browsed (including yours truly), it still made enough business to open a second branch across the road at what was the former Medan Ria which was shifted into the wet market building where it still exists today. 

Jaya also had two computer shop — Spectra Computers and Pineapple. These were the hangouts of the schoolboy geeks (also including yours truly!). 

Back then, one had to use 5 and ¼ inch disks and to play a complex game like say, King’s Quest, one would need 10-20 discs and change them ever so often. 

This was the time before massive hard disk space (by which I mean one megabyte... in comparison, my current laptop has four million times more space!)

All these have of course changed. Can we blame the internet for it, perhaps? Certainly, it is far easier to acquire games now. 

One only needs to go to the site, purchase the product and the downloads come instantly. It is the same for books. Amazon Kindle editions have such a range of titles that one literally does not have to step into a bookshop anymore. It is the same with video streaming as well. The entire VHS and DVD rental industry died because of it. 

Malls now tend to be relatively empty for the same reason. Times have changed, culture has changed. Perhaps we are now more alienated and isolated than we ever were. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Related Articles