Last week, a few expat friends and I were sitting around discussing which malls in Jakarta we prefer. The irony of this conversation was not lost on us as we all agreed that the concept of "liking" a certain mall back in our respective countries is ridiculous or even laughable. There is a very specific breed of adult human who frequents malls in western countries. The rest (majority) of the population view the mall as a place that is only visited when deemed absolutely necessary. These necessary visits are either for Christmas shopping OR to buy something that is only available at a certain store in a certain mall. In these situations, the mall visit is a commando style get-in-get-out-as-fast-as-possible mission. There is no window shopping, strolling or visits to the food court, just the task at hand.
In Jakarta, this is just not the case. The mall is the place to be for people of all ages. It is not simply the cool choice but the ONLY choice. You see, Jakarta has a severe shortage of sidewalks, parks and basically places that make it possible to walk. This makes a mall very appealing to people here as they can walk without being hit by a motorbike or getting black smoke in their face. The mall is an oasis of sorts, an escape from the filthy, hot, smoky, humid stench ball of a city that this place can be at times. Malls are air conditioned, clean and spacious. Perfect for a casual stroll. This is the main reason that most Indonesians go to malls. Most don't actually go to purchase goods or services but simply to move around and take in the sights.
This may leave you asking why a young expatriate man who does not enjoy shopping or walking in malls visit a mall so often. The answer is simple, it is an all in one place where you can eat, see and do things that are not otherwise possible. I am ashamed to admit that I have spent up to 8 hours in a mall in a single day. The mall is where I go to eat, work out, watch movies, buy groceries, buy household items (http://jakarta-grind.blogspot.com/2010/08/ace-in-hole.html), meet friends for a coffee and even clubbing. Yes, all of these things and so much more in one convenient location.
Convenient is a word that would never be used to describe anything in Jakarta. Most simple chores involve fighting horrendous traffic, searching in vein and lack of parking. A mall, on the other hand, has almost everything you need under one roof. The convenience of having a nice meal followed by grabbing a few things at a supermarket is just so much easier than trying to do those things separately. Factor that in with the relative closeness to home and the avoidance of the outside world hassles and you have the perfect place.
What is my favorite mall you ask? Easy, it is Pondok Indah Mall (better known as PIM). To be more specific, it is PIM 2. You see, there is a PIM 1 and a PIM 2 that are on
opposite sides of the street and connected by sky bridges. This is my favorite mall for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, it is a mere 5 minute casual drive from my house. This is an extremely short time/distance to go somewhere in Jakarta, it might as well be right next door! Secondly, the fitness club I belong to is located there. Third, they have an excellent selection of food that is varied in price and style. Other amenities there that I partake in include the supermarket, ace hardware, book store, reflexology massage shop and newly opened beer garden.
An average weekday visit to the mall would consist of me arriving, going to a yoga class, getting some food to make for dinner that night (or get some food from a restaurant to go), having a casual stroll trying to remember what the other that I wanted to not forget to buy was, peek inside the book store and then head home. I go through this routine at a minimum of 3 times a week. Other times, I may simply pop in to grab some food or to get whatever other item it is that I may need. Ironically, it is much easier to drive my motorbike there, park and get the thing I need as opposed to going elsewhere.
It is pointless to name names of other malls that I like or dislike. What is important to know is that the supply of malls in Jakarta far outweigh the demand. Malls vary in size and quality but there are quite a few boutique malls that cater to the filthy rich. I don't make it to these malls very often and when I do, it is usually strictly for eating or entertainment as many of these malls have great clubs that are open until the wee hours of the morning. Oddly enough, fewer than 5% of Jakartans can actually afford to shop in these monstrosities yet there are a good dozen of these malls.
Love it or hate it, the mall culture is alive and kicking in Jakarta. What amazes me is that they just keep building more and more of them and people keep packing them. A large number of visitors to the mall don't buy much besides an ice cream cone or refreshment which leaves me to wonder how some of these high end places manage to pay their rent. From what the locals tell me, this mall culture is a relatively new phenomenon as most of them are less than 10 years old.
So tell me, what is your favorite mall in Jakarta? By my personal bias, I think that Pondok Indah Mall is hard to beat with Grand Indonesia coming in at a close second. Anyone who leaves negatives comments towards PIM will see my mall-icious side.
Bonus Fact: I spent my last new year's eve at a restaurant/club inside a mall