October 4, 2010

Hansel and Gretel Go to the Mall

Indonesia is so diverse- ethnically, economically, culturally, just about every way you can think of.  In population it is fourth in the world after China, India and the USA, but it's only three times the size of Texas (albeit with 34,000 MILES of coastline).  There is poverty equal to what we saw in Africa and affluence that rivals any in the United States.  The infrastructure is functional, although the water is only good for external uses, the streets are in really good shape- yet the traffic crush makes them unimpressive. 

I tell you these things to give a little perspective and minimize the brain torque you will be getting often in these posts; e.g. from Bajajes on the streets to today's subject: Monster Luxury Malls.

Jakarta has 12 million people and at least twice that many major malls.  

At this point you need to adjust your thinking a little re: shopping mall.  I'm not talking about a sprawling suburban one or two story place with long arms.  Space is tight here in the capital and the malls are all vertical.  Usually 8 stories.  And no straight lines anywhere.  You can't see more than two or three stores ahead of you before the walls make a turn in some other direction.  The farthest you can see is straight up.  

Malls here contain everything from Gucci to Ace Hardware to grocery stores.  There are food courts and multi-plexes and miles and miles of escalators.  

You can get Gap tees next door to the YSL store and then pop down a floor and buy a dog bed from Woof!.  Conspicuous consumption does not begin to describe it. 

So last weekend, Ted and I decided to try a new mall (his office is practically on top of two in Senayan and there are three fairly close to our house...).  We had Ivan take us to Plaza Indonesia, close to Central Jakarta.  This is the directory- a book with a fold out page complete with map for each floor, and a separate directory just for food.  

After ten minutes of navigating the mall, Ted and I sat down on a bench, looked at each other, and admitted we were totally lost and unable to decipher the floor plan.  

We were hungry and we knew that a restaurant that sounded interesting was on L5, so we took escalators up five floors. 

This is not a "turn 180˚ and ride" kind of set up.  If you are lucky you can do two floors without having to wander around looking for a new escalator that goes up or down far from where you popped up on your current floor.  

Anyway, we got to L5 eventually, wandered like Hansel and Gretel (i.e. without bread crumbs) and tripped over the restaurant we were looking for.  

As we gratefully sat and stuffed ourselves with pancakes covered in chicken and mushrooms, we faced the fact that we were completely and utterly lost inside this mall.  

I can't explain the sheer size and volume of this place.  We took pictures straight up a couple of times because that is the only direction that gives any perspective at all.  

And any of you who know Ted know that if he is lost, there is no hope for the rest of us.  He is the poster boy for directional savants.  He always knows where he is, and he can arrange the layout of any new place in his head with very little effort or time.  

Well, Plaza Indonesia kicked his ass.  

The english major and the engineer were reduced to wandering aimlessly,  occasionally tripping over a store of interest, and hoping to eventually end up at the correct exit door so we could catch a ride home.  

But did we absorb the lesson of this humbling experience and cut our losses? 

We did not! 

We noticed, instead, that there was a different Monster Luxury Mall just across the (large, mult-lane, extremely busy) street from Plaza Indonesia!  It was called Grand Indonesia and we decided we had to see that one too.  

We exited the first MLM on foot which was no big deal until we passed through the throngs of people waiting for their drivers and walked across the five lanes of cars moving past the entrance (think of white zones in airports... constantly moving cars picking up and disgorging people while men in uniforms whistle and yell and wave their arms).  

Once that gauntlet was run, we just had to follow the zebra stripes on the pavement to the area where another uniformed man with a crossing guard stop sign about the size of my palm would help us and the other two pedestrians across the street.  

This doesn't mean he stops traffic so we can cross.  This means he walks into one lane and we follow.  When he can walk into the next lane without being run over he does, and we follow.  Repeat three more times and voila! we are across the street and just have to get through the pile of cars in front of the entrance to the new MLM.  

Now we are inside Grand Indonesia Mall.  It has two sides- East Mall and West Mall.  We wander east a little, start to get overwhelmed, do an about face and wander west.  We are completely lost and dizzy within just a few minutes and after a quick Haagen Daas break (don't pretend you wouldn't have done the same thing), we moved toward what we thought was an escalator, but turned out to be the entrance to a Toys R Us.  

As we walked from the front of the store to the back, we realized that without doing anything but walking forward, we would be switching from Toys R Us to Ace Hardware.  

Currently Ace is our favorite store in Jakarta because it has just about everything practical you need at home.  We joyfully entered the Grand Indonesia Ace Hardware and grabbed a basket to hold our Yankee Candles and window washing squeegee.  At one point Ted was talking to a guy about an impact drill (we will need one to hang anything on our cement walls once our stuff finally gets here from the States), and I wandered off a little to see what I could see.  

I got lost.  

The store was so huge, and so full of interior walls and alleys, I had no idea where I was.  So I backtracked using landmarks of things I knew I had already passed... toilet seats-check, ceiling fans-check, patio furniture-check, until I ended up back with Ted and the drills.  

Once he was done, he asked me how to get out of the store.  I shrugged, pointed in the general direction of the likely exit and we headed that way.  

Obviously, we made it out.  But just barely.  And we're still looking at that mall map trying to make sense of it.  

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