inside thoughts on China and beyond

Chengdu Shopping

 I don’t know about you, but if there is one thing that wears me out before it has even started, it is shopping.  What traumatic experience ever caused this apparently unique disorder, I don’t know, but for as long as I remember, for me, shopping is an endurance race. And after the first 3 shops, it is right out torture. And so when my wife, daughter and son banded together against me to devote the rest of the day on shopping, I categorically refused and stuck my heels deep in the Chengdu soil. This time I serious; I wasn’t going to give in. Not me, not now.

And thus, half an hour later, I left -with the rest of my family- to the shopping mall. I had even argued that it would be inappropriate on this 120th anniversary of Mao Zhedong’s birthday, but to no avail. Reality is, of course, and I’m quite troubled by it, that I have absolutely no say in these matters and have just to follow and drive. They insisted on going to the biggest shopping mall in western China which -whether out of foresight or arrogance, I’m not sure, but surely not out of humility- was given the name ‘Global Center’. Why, I wonder, always go for big? That for past and present civilizations on the way-up to their Golden Age, everything has to be extravagant, I understand. It’s inevitably part of the chaos to the next economical stage. China is no exception. But why always big? I wish they would take more pride in ‘best‘ or ‘most practical’. So far, that is not on China’s radar. How often have I not gasped in front of a huge building in China with massive pillars and endless open spaces and felt quite intimidated and small, only to feel surprised at first, and then shocked when stumbling into its made-to-be-uncomfortable interior of dirty and half-finished-half-falling-apart cold hallways and rooms. Maybe it’s just me, but each time this happens I feel cheated. High expectations outside crushed by low performance inside.

The Global Center, the crown jewel of Chengdu’s achievements, made name with -you can guess- its monstrous size. From far, it’s like the cross-mating of a UFO that has just landed and the ark of Noah, waiting for the flood, as it is written in Genesis 7: “…clean and unclean, all creatures that moved along Chengdu, male and female, came and entered the ark, ..” It includes, according to its brochure, besides a handsome number of hotels and half a dozen of cinemas and several dozens of restaurants, nothing less than half a kilometer of indoor beach, complete with waves and sunset -every hour. And of course countless shops. And all this is wrapped in shiny marble and -I’m still quoting the brochure – ‘in a comfortable temperature that is constant and comfortable wherever you go’. (This is worth mentioning because shopping malls are always too cold in summer and to hot in winter.)

We decided to start on the first floor and work our way up. That was easier said than done: finding the first floor was already a challenge. I had parked in the underground garage but couldn’t find an elevator up. By the time we found the elevator, I had no idea anymore where the car was. It won’t be the first time that I’ll be looking for my car until all others are gone and the lights are turned of. But so be it. First the shopping. The ladies headed straight for H&M (my daughter had come back all the way from Europe for it because their new summer collection had just arrived, just so you know), my son for the beach and I for the toilets. I always feel lost in these large malls where all shop windows and hallways and promenades and elevators and escalators seem one and the same. What made it even harder was that the planners had clearly saved some good money on direction signs: they were so sporadic and small in these vast distances that for a moment I considered sending my son to get the binoculars from the car. But then again, where was the car? Never mind. After about 547 marble slabs (and this is just an estimate, feel free to check yourself) and 3 marble left turns and 7 marble escalators and circling every marble pillar at least twice, we arrive at a large and empty -marble- square and we knew our destinations could not be far.

What attracted our attention though was not the beach, for that was still carefully hidden behind high marble walls, nor the toilets (no sign of them at all yet), but a small but really inviting wooden kiosk with a cosy terrace where chairs and tables were grouped under large beach umbrellas and fake palm trees. A few guests were chitchatting away while waiting to be served. A beach store of some sorts, surely. Not a bad place for a first well deserved rest and drink, and, giving the promotion posters with ladies in bikinis a first quick glance from a distance, they seemed to sell swimming gear. What else could it be, in front of the pool’s entrance, right?  Well, let me just tell you what was on the menu card. All products were really only one and the same item but available in multiple sizes, and just as in Starbucks, they called small ‘tall’, tall ‘large’ and large ‘grande’. The only difference was that they didn’t sell beverage here, but silicon breast implants.

That was awkward, especially because a waitress (or whatever they are called in a place like this) just came to our table to take the order, or at least explain the options. But my son wasn’t looking for bigger breasts -after all, he is still growing- nor was I. How to get out of this situation?  “Do you do take-aways as well? With those practical cup-holders, please.” I didn’t ask, but surely considered it. Take it from me, the best way to safe yourself is to take it like a MAN: gracefully rise up from your chair, straighten your back, push your shoulders back, breath in deep and high and allow your by now proudly forwards pointing chest to expand -as big as you can. And that’s how we left. Once again I had a lot to explain to Asher but I left it by the marketing perspective that this was a hotspot location for them. Mums are waiting while their child is swimming, then what else would you do, as mum? I’m not sure whether it really explained his questions, but I left it at that anyway because I felt many eyes burning on my back. Time to move on.

We left our ‘beach shop’, forgot about swimming and headed straight for the gents (no ladies would follow us there now, would they?) but instead, stumbled into the female side of the family while passing a nearby shop. Cold air had moved them to the next store and then the next and all that was left of their idea of shopping for summer clothing was but a frozen fossil from warmer times long gone. The indoor temperatures had turned against them and they were looking quite pale. They were trying on winter coats now, three at the same time.

They decided to call it a day, to which I reluctantly agreed. It may surprise you, but I thought this day was not all that unsuccessful. For one, it did give me something to write about (although, let me be honest, I may be wrong on a detail or two), but above all, I was quite sure they wouldn’t dare to plan another shopping trip anytime soon. What more could I hope for, really? Now let’s get the car.

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