Why do Filipinos love shopping malls so much?

Traffic in the Philippines, not that bad, unless you live there (click to enlarge)
Traffic in the Philippines, not that bad, unless you live there (click to enlarge)

Sucat – Manilla, a district in near the airport

Now firmly settled in a nice little cockroach free hotel in Sucat, Manila, I started to venture out for the first time. Not such a good thing for my Filipino buddy Vince. I was hoping for more today. It was the capital, so I wasn’t expecting my first Asian tropical rain forest or anything. Maybe a small island trip. Or, a cool local district with lots happening. Or even a local market! So where did Vince take me . . . Yep, a shopping mall

Shopping malls are “the” thing in The Philippines

Now, I didn’t grow up with huge shopping malls. And, when I did finally venture into one, I always found them expensive, bland, robotic. Not to mention the strange smell each one seems to have. Escalators, neon signs, bored staff, and far too many designer stores. Oh yeah, a multi cinema or 5 too. There wasn’t much difference in the Philippines.

“It’s a cool place to hang out.”

I looked at Vince, waiting for the punch line. There wasn’t any. He was serious. Hmmm.

Getting to the mall

The best part of the day was taking the two Jeepney’s to get there. I was expecting traffic from hell as everyone had told me Manila was known for. In fact it was just fine. But Vince looked miserable. It took 30 minutes, yet he went on as if it was hours. Not a single person harassed me, and everyone was full of smiles. Useful gents to explain which one to take. Not a tourist in sight either! It seemed like Manila was better than everyone had said it was.

Then it loomed up. The huge concrete and corrugated monstrosity that was SM City.

When Malls become cities …

SM City, Manila, Philippines
SM City, Manila, Philippines

Yes they called the mall a city. In fact it was two malls joined together by a sky bridge. And it actually didn’t look that big. I was then informed it was one of the smaller ones. Still, I had a strange feeling about a branded mall.

Stupid security at Philippine malls

My first hurdle was the two white shirted security guards at the main door. And the long queue in front of them. They were searching bags. I thought something must have happened, and played along. They wanted to search my day pack. Hmm. Okay, they were doing it to everyone.

The guard poked a wooden stick into the first compartment I opened and then ushered me on before I could even open the next. Good job there wasn’t any grenades in the other compartments.
The air inside was cool and regenerated. Perfumed, along with the hint of fried food. Ah, lots and lots of KFC’s, Chow King’s and the Philippines answer to the big M, Jollibee lined the malls corridors.

Welcome to the Philippine Mall

Then came the famous Philippine hospitality. Lots of beautiful Filipino girls all coming up to me.

“Hello sir!”

“Welcome sir!”

“Come see our houses for sale sir”

Ah wait, they were sales girls. Hoards of them lined every boutique, stand, stall and lane with pretty smiles and repetitive lines to tempt you into buying something from them. Still, very friendly.

We stopped off to eat at the infamous fast food eatery that was Jollibee. Very cheap and very fast. Not exactly a Whopper or Big King, but I don’t think I have ever had a burger served up with such pride before. Next!

Jollibee Fast Food Restaurant
Jollibee Fast Food Restaurant

Vince decided I needed to visit some clothing stores. My overland clothes were surely not that tattered. Nike, Addias, you name it, the Filipino mall has it. Then the trouble started.

“You have to leave you bag at the counter sir.”

More stupid mall security

I looked at the guard blankly. Then looked on as a host of Filipino girls with over sized hand bags charged through with no issues.

“No. I have an expensive camera and a lot of cash in the bag.” I replied curtly.

Vince spoke to him in Filipino. The guard nodded, and we went through. This then occurred at every shop. In the Mall. Even when Vince bought a can of deodorant he had to leave it at the security desk of the Wrangler store. Trust of one’s customers seemed to be an issue in the Philippines.

“It’s for security purposes,” said Vince.

“It’s a can of deodorant.”

“It’s security.”

“We got searched coming in.”

I could see my argument was upsetting Vince a little so I stopped. Filippino’s seemed to have an over protective view-point of their Malls. I needed to get out. The air was dry and I really just wanted to see the real Manila and not a giant sterile box where people wandered around looking at expensive designer goods. Where was all the cheap fake stuff I’d heard about?

We left and headed out to Makati for an early start on a long-awaited San Miguel beer.

Outside in real Manila

San Miguel beer, the no 1 beer in the Philippines
San Miguel beer, the no 1 beer in the Philippines

It was there we met up with a couple of Vince’s friends from Manila. Tuk Tuk and Mai Mai two lawyer girls from the city. Later we were joined by Rai Rai, I joke you not. They all worked in different law firms and knew how to laugh. Thankfully San Miguel is not that strong, nor expensive. It was also very cold, which in the evening heat was very good. Better yet, they were paying.

The conversation inevitably moved straight onto what I thought about the Philippines? Considering I had only been in the country for 27 hours, I had only seen the inside of the mall I did my best.

“Love those Jeepney’s!”

Tuk Tuk laughed, and then complained about the traffic.

A discussion then broke out as I mentioned the Mall security as being painful. The girls then went off on a tirade about the stores, the prices and the people they last saw at one place or another. A trickle of sweat ran down my back. It was the humidity that made me sweat more than the heat.

Why is the Mall so popular in The Philippines

Rai Rai mentioned something about going back to the Mall. I cringed, then I clicked. The Mall served as a social outlet away from the heat of the tropics. A place people went to meet up and spend their hours chatting. Outside, the city was hot, dusty and noisy. Inside it was climate controlled and filled with half of your friends. It made a bit more sense why there seemed like an obsession with it.

Thankfully we avoided the mall for a while longer, and the local karaoke bar; with talk of my travels north.

Apparently Tuk Tuk knew of a friend who she thought would be perfect to go along with me. Things were already looking up in Manila. What’s more, Lu Lu was her name.

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2 Replies to “Why do Filipinos love shopping malls so much?”

  1. That’s how I felt about the mall too, at first! It felt like such a waste of my time when I could be seeing real sights. But there you are so limited by the weather, with the heat you can’t just walk around outside.
    There is also a lack of free things to do there.. in north america there are tons of free activities, especially hikes and outdoors spaces to spend time. But the Philippines really lacks that when you can’t stand the heat, plus there are fees for everything and everybody must snack all the time so it gets expensive quickly. I actually found myself feeling like there was nothing to do sometimes. After a few months, it was me who always wanted to spend time at the mall – hey, it’s air conditioned, has wifi and food that I can stomach! I think the commercialism of it all is sort of a fantasy land for them. It’s a place where they can walk freely and dream..

    1. All very good observations. The free aircon is a big thing. Though, with electricity becoming more and more expensive, it would not surprise me that one day they put a cover charge on mall entrances!

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