Last year when Andrew and I took a weekend to visit his parents near Minneapolis/St. Paul, we spent an afternoon at the Mall of America. I’d seen malls before, but nothing, not Costco, not SuperWalmart, not even the giant glitzy malls on Long Island, nothing prepared me for the consumer absurdity that is…that place. Why does one mall need two (or three) of any store? If your mall is SO GIGANTIC that Abercrombie decides they need a second noxious location, it might be time to stop. In the three hours we spent there, I went through a range of emotions, and I did so quickly. First, elation: it was big and shiny and I could likely find any and every item imaginable. Second, frustration: I’ve decided that I want an item, locating it just means I now have to walk a mile to the other side, inevitably through the lego castle, to buy it. Third, depression: look at all this stuff I can’t afford. Fine I found one thing I like, but here’s a store FULL of tie-die cowboy boots imported from Spain, and they’re all $375. Sadface. Fourth, emptiness: everything else has faded, and a dull, glazed, emptiness settles in.
Obviously I have a low mall-tolerance.
Hanoi has a new mall. a MEGA Mall. Literally. The Vincom Royal City (a planned community of fancy high-rise apartment buildings) has a mall under it. UNDER IT. I think this bears explaining. There are 3-5 high rise buildings surrounding a bunch of other stuff (international schools, a hospital…crap like that) and a giant park area with roman statues. Two stories below ground is mall (including a massive water park WITH AN OLYMPIC LENGTH SWIMMING POOL, bowling alley, and ice skating rink) and the two stories below are parking garage. Two story water-fall? Perfect.
So of course we went. With cameras.
It was weird, to say the least. Andrew took my photo with a giant fake elephant outside the water park, and I’ll make sure to post a scan of it when he develops his film. I’ve agreed to go ice skating (he’s from MN, they all grow up playing hockey).
The divide between the glitz/glam of Hanoi’s wealthy side and the lived experience of Hanoi’s majority is…growing. More luxury things, more obsession with brands, more iPads and Vespas and private education. For some. For others there is an obsession with looking like you can afford these things, something that the newly flush personal credit card industry is happy to help with. For others…this is simply out of reach. A place to walk through and look at.