This piece was originally posted on October 1, 2008. It is being re-posted as part of our CHICKS ROCK! Summer Retrospective, during which we will post a combination of new content and posts from the past. Enjoy!
Mall culture takes on a life of its own in most Southeast Asian cities, like Jakarta. You cannot get away from them; they are everywhere. Mall Taman Anggrek is currently the largest mall in Jakarta. The obnoxiously large building houses more than 500 stores on seven floors. Taman Anggrek is translated to mean “orchid garden” in English, which evokes images of serene beauty and calm. I never understood the name, until I found out there used to be a real orchid garden in that location.
Early in the morning during the week is the best time to enjoy the mall’s interiors. It is a marvel of space, light and marble...a truly impressive sight. Even though I dislike malls in general, I cannot deny that the architects who designed Mall Taman Anggrek are true artists.
It is also a less stressful place to shop, especially for women. We can walk around the mall without being harassed, unlike the congested street fairs that dominate many city neighborhoods. I couldn’t avoid Taman Anggrek, or any mall for that matter. It is where I had to go to find Western sizes of shoes and clothes, and anything else that is familiar from home. I am almost ashamed to admit that these malls are also havens for foreigners like me. I don’t have to worry about getting ripped off like I do in other local establishments. Taman Anggrek is my Third World reminder of home…sort of.
Are malls like Taman Anggrek the best that Jakarta has to offer? Well, yes…and no. The few city museums and monuments I visited are intellectually superior to anything that can be found at the mall. Still, the air conditioning, window shopping, and gourmet fast food trumps culture and history for many locals and foreigners in Indonesia’s polluted and over-populated capital city. When expats like me need to escape from the heat, noise and smells of the Jakarta streets, retreating to the mall is the easiest thing to do.
What is your idea of comfort when you're far away from home?