In Kuala Lumpur, the best malls are the worst malls.
New malls are largely cavernous, too-brightly lit spaces made of glass and faux marble with endless floors connected by a labyrinth of escalators that look as though they were conceived by Escher. As soon as these new malls open, all sparkly and new and yet familiar, everyone forgets about the old ones.
Back home, one of my favourite places to shop was the indoor market that has been around for a hundred years or more. There’s a rumour the lamb butcher has had his shop since the market first opened and he certainly looks the part, the corpse of Dick Van Dyke, greeting his regulars in blood-stained whites always with a meat cleaver in his hand. You can buy computer games for consoles that are no longer being made, second hand books you can’t believe anyone bought in the first place and enough handmade jewellry to create your own shell beach. Yes, some of the shops sell soggy out-of-date crisps and make-up that makes your eyelashes fall out and there’s enough polyester clothing in there to gas the whole city if a fire ever broke out but it’s cheap, people remember your name and it has character.
The best thing about the forgotten old malls in big South East Asian cities is that, once the big names move out, they regress into being more of a market type space than a mall. Often the shops will be ran by individuals, prices are low, you can buy all manner of strange items and conterfeit goods and sometimes you can even haggle. It’s shopping with a soul.
So if you’re in Kuala Lumpur leave the safety of the Pavilion and the Suria behind and visit one of my best-worst malls.
When I googled this place I couldn’t believe it was built as recently as 1997. The exterior of the Amcorp Mall looks like a snapshot of California in the 1980s, palm trees and slanty neon font, but not on purpose. It seems it was built expecting an immediate decline in popularity as within a year Amcorp Mall was hosting weekly flea markets and began to fall into disrepair. The flea market had your usual mix of antiques and total rubbish, not that I can tell the difference with any expertise, but also some stalls selling handmade goods and other curiosities like cobra blood. We were interested in the original film posters one guy was selling but he had no website, no email, just his weekly stall. Not much of a business plan but a very nice chap.
Berjaya Times Square
Times Square Mall is, or was once, the seventh largest mall in the world. Trying to get there as a pedestrian was murder, or more accurately, near roadside fatality, due to the lack of pavements in Kuala Lumpur. As well as a hundred thousand shops, cafes and restaurants we found a muscial staircase, a bowling alley, an archery range, a cinema, a snooker hall, and an old fashioned arcade that was worryingly busy for a weekday afternoon with grown men sitting around playing underwater bubble games and teenage boys taking ‘Just Dance’ way too seriously. The whole place is a flamboyantly dated version of a teenager’s dream entertainment space and as such deserves a few hours of your time.
Just next to the forbiding new super-malls with the unglamorous location of being attached to the train station is Sungwei Plaza. The building seems to be mostly apartments but on the fifth floor there is a small ‘fashion mall’. A lot of the clothes on sale were aimed at the ‘tweenagers with pocket money’ market, incredibly cheap and incredibly tiny. However there were a few boutiques selling up and coming labels and some decent vintagey stuff. It’s here that I bought the ‘best shorts in the universe’ and just for that it deserves a look.