There are many many many malls in China, in spite of the fact that every time I ask someone where to get anything the answer is Taobao (online emporium). New ones keep opening, each with their own name brand or special store, few with enough of a population of users to make me think they are financially viable. They may be largely created for real estate flipping/investment rather than for retail per se, just as housing is built for investment, not to live in. In any case, we do go to them for various necessities and indulgences both. When we moved here there were two main malls we dealt with — InCity and Times Square. Since then two new large malls, Harmony City and Link City, and a small mall, Vanguard Living Plaza, have been added to our regular circuit, recently supplemented by the Pheonix Mall. More have opened within SIP, and more are under construction, including a huge Aeon mall right next to kiddo’s school, and there are several others that have been there all along (Rainbow, Global 188) but we just don’t visit.
So last weekend, kiddo and I went to Times Square in search of ginger (as I mentioned last week) and also toys and new clothes for kiddo. Times Square is a big signature high-end mall, with associated office buildings and even its own subway stop. Unlike most of the others, it is a largely open-air mall, built along a canal, and organized into four blocks liked by bridges across the canal and lit-up canalside underpasses below the street that runs through its middle.
One of the blocks contains a large shopping mall/department store unto itself, with lots of designer clothes, restaurants on the top story, and a grocery store in the basement with lots of foreign food of all sorts (especially Asian).
Sushi galore in Fresh Mart, in the basement at Times Square
Another block used to have buildings with furnishings and with kid’s stuff but is now mostly empty, except for Toys R Us, now in a ground floor location, a big electronics store, and some restaurants (including both a nice place we have often gone for fancier dinners for work and B’s favorite, a self-serve frozen yogurt place of the sort that litters every main street in America (but this is the only one we know of here)).
Toys R Us is Toys R Us, except of course the US brands are paired with their less expensive Chinese twins here.
Ben likes all kinds of awful combinations of treats on his frozen yogurt at Kiwi Kraze
The other blocks have clothing stores, including Uniqlo, where we get half our wardrobes, and a range of others including super-expensive Crocs; reasonably priced restaurants, including the now nearly ubiquitous Secret Recipe, with good cake and Laksa; and lots of places to get coffee. The reasonably priced restaurants get a lot of action on weekday lunchtime from the office towers nearby and from others, including taitais. When I first visited Suzhou I went to lunch at Secret Recipe one day and ended up meeting two Americans who worked in two different factories further out into factory land in SIP where there were no restaurants. The restaurants offer a nice variety of prices and of styles of food, including Shanghai, Korean, and Thai. There is also a business offering virtual golf, billiards, and bowling which can be fun to go to. Because they use the same equipment as most American bowling alleys, the bowling area feels remarkably familiar, down to the decorations on the walls and the 10 year old celebratory graphics for a spare and a strike. For littler kids, there is also a junior adventure playground, but B hasn’t wanted to try it.
He does like the various kinds of scooters and other vehicles available to try nearby. For some reason, they never seem to have the scooter he likes in stock.
Times Square’s claim to fame is the world’s longest TV screen, mounted across two of the blocks in a sinuous curve.
The curve that looks like an elevated road on the left is the TV screen. The wedge-shaped building on the right is the department store.
Shopping in the shade of the giant TV
The TV is pretty cool when it is on, but there isn’t much created with that aspect ratio, so it mostly has the same video of a dragon or else tiles of ads or the Suzhou promotion piece that ran in Times Square, NYC, a few years ago.
Times Square is a place that I feel like I’d like to go to, but in truth there’s not all that much reason for me to go there beyond Uniqlo and Toys R Us and occasional bowling. As competition rises and I can now go to Secret Recipe and Starbucks just a block from home, any given mall is less compelling. You can see the result of this competition in the large areas of Times Square undergoing renovation, or simply sitting empty.
shops under renovation, I hope
But it is still an interesting place, in spite of a design that doesn’t fully take advantage of the opportunity to connect with the canal at its center (a problem students in our final year urban design studio engaged with last year). And it is always fun to see what they come up with for Christmas. This year the tree is purple and made of fake flowers.
Inside there is a “Princess Dream Garden” complete with Santa and giant patchwork reindeer.
For the last two years, they had a fake lego town that somehow seemed a little more connected with Christmas, in its color scheme if nothing else.
If purple flowers don’t say Christmas to you (and they emphatically do not to B, who is a bit of a traditionalist and not a girl, no matter how pretty he may be), another block offers Christmas with alien Doraemon cats
They seem to have arrived on a cross between a UFO and a muffin.
After unsuccessful battles with the Great Firewall, I am happy to finally be able to post. More shopping landscapes, Chinese landscapes, and adventures of all kinds to come in future weeks.