Mall Culture in the Philippines

I found an interesting opinion piece about malling, a relatively unspoken yet pervasive aspect about moden Filipino culture. It's written from the perspective of an expat like myself, so there's a lot I tend to agree with in the piece.

Kristine Sydney for Rappler:


“In the Philippines where “mall” is also a verb (i.e. “malling”), there are more malls than public parks.

Manila has a handful of museums and some national landmarks, but they do not provide the convenience of its malls, some of which have ice skating rinks (fake snow falls from the rafters), a chapel or two, and even a koi pond.”


I come back to Manila every summer and Christmas - in fact I’m Manila for Christmas right now - and more often than not, most of the time I spend for leisure happens to occur within malls, or at least outdoor shopping districts. Every time I look back at each visit when I return to Guangzhou, most of my memorable moments are in malls.

In other words, for an upper-middle class expat as myself, malls are the place to be in Manila. Spend even a good month here in Manila and you’ll find yourself wanting to be nowhere else but a mall. However, I tend to believe that applies too for a lot of other people.

Sydney posits the opposite - that a lot of the malls here in Manila encourage exclusivity, among other things:


“The more exclusive the mall, the bigger and more expensive and decorated its walls. Those who can afford it continue this experience in their homes in gated communities with amoeba-shaped pools and Instagram-worthy clubhouses, while those who can’t are pushed further into dank and darker areas of the city.”


With international brands like Uniqlo, H&M, and Forever 21 attempting to bring the fast-fashion craze to Manila, it’s easy to assume such a thought as fact. But it isn’t uncommon to see people who are evidently detached from their demographic - an obvious example being lower-middle class Filipinos who’re there to soak up the free air-con - walk into the same malls those stores are set up in.

Sydney seems to purvey the notion that malling is an epidemic that’s diluting Filipino culture. But the fact of the matter is much broader than just malls - Filipino culture, compared to other countries in the world, is already difficult to define in itself. Sure, we have our foods and our mannerisms and our national heroes, and that’s great to celebrate. But let’s not forget that we’re a radically Westernised nation.

And I don’t think that it’s necessarily an identity crisis. The Americans and the Spanish have colonised other nations as well. And let’s not forget the British Empire.

Point being, while I agree that malls might have negative influences that encourage Western consumerism, let’s look at the bright side. There’s an episode of one of my favourite podcasts, 99% Invisible, that documents the origin of malls, and I highly encourage you to give it a listen if you’ve got half an hour to spare. Basically, a man named Victor Gruen created the first indoor shopping centres after finding out that people wouldn’t just leave their homes just to go to individual shops. These centres acted as not just a collection of shops, but environments that created an entirely different atmosphere.

And that’s what malls are to Filipinos. If there’s one thing I know about Filipinos, it’s that we’re resilient, and part of that comes from escapism - look no further than the AlDub phenomenon.

Sure, a big outdoor park would be brilliant. I’d probably prefer it. But it isn’t as profitable as another mall. And one of the last things this country needs is to skip financial opportunities. So while the top businessmen in our country prioritise these artificial consumerist beehives above all else, at least it gives people here a place to chill and just hang around, and escape the congested roads and the dirty sidewalks and the near unbreathable air and all our other problems that lurk right outside its walls.

(Via Rappler)