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17 April 2007

TRAVEL TALES : Date with a giant in Manila

Aerial view of the Mall of Asia
View of the Mall of Asia from above.

SINCE THERE was little else to do in the evening, I decided to bring the ladies to the nearby Mall of Asia. This is the world’s third largest mall, so I thought that it was an apt way of introducing the Manila retailing scene to both of them. Moreover, I had not seen the mall myself.

The iconic globe outside the Mall of AsiaAnd it was a pleasant giant to see! The SM Group’s latest installation has such raw exuberance that is lacking in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates, arguably the best in the world’s most shopping-frenzied city. Spread over 4.2 million square feet are some of the prettiest window displays and in-store merchandise presentations that I have seen in a long while. Penshoppe and SM Department Store, always trusted in creative merchandise presentations, are true to their old form with pleasant surprises in the use of props, décor, and graphics. Neha and Bembem went gaga over SM’s value-for-money merchandise. The smaller local boutiques (Folded & Hung, Kamiseta, Pink & Blue Soda) screamed for similar delightsome attention.

However, Bench, that old dynamo, was quite a disappointment. The in-store feature displays were just messy. I wonder if its formidable VM team has left the urban jungles of Manila for the cash-flowing deserts of Dubai. Bench, bring back the old boys! At least the yacht ropes and lifesavers of its summer-themed windows were appealing.

It was not this good the last time I was in Manila in 2005. Back then, window displays were static, almost lifeless. Even Rustan’s Department Store, ever the benchmark for visual merchandising, seemed to have given up: its windows served as backdrops for international vendor brand displays rather than their usually theatrical private label campaigns. Highway billboards of all forms and sizes ruled the game: they clogged consumer senses and choked the urban skyline. Ugly.

So it is refreshing and reassuring to see tonight’s window displays. I am excited to see what the Ayala Center—SM Group’s fiercest rival—has to offer in Alabang and Makati City.

Inside the Mall of Asia
The sound and sight of Filipinos in the mall.

The best part that evening was the sight and sound of Filipinos. After one year of almost-zero interaction with the ubiquitous Filipino (there are only 349 of us in India!), it felt good to be back home, hearing the passing murmurs in Tagalog, the laughter-spiked conversations, and the melodious English ballads that only Filipino pop singers can dramatize so soulfully in Asia.

The worst part? The ride back to the hotel. By the time we left the mall at closing hours, the supply of cabs at the taxi stand did not match the demand by a long queue of late-night shoppers. (We decided to hire a light utility vehicle.) Some things never change in Manila; tonight, I realized that efficient public transportation remains to be one.

The Mall of Asia at night
Nighttime beckons.

Past Post: Manila, Manila!
Next Post: Manila F.A.M.E. 2007


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