In praise of shopping temples of Klang Valley

Azmyl Yunor

Is shopping the national pastime in Malaysia? – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 22, 2023.

WITH Hari Merdeka and Malaysia Day come and gone, I guess it’s time to get back on the conveyor belts of our modern existence… not.

What gets me about national celebrations is the post-celebration blues: it always leaves me dazed and bemused.

I insist that such occasions are a chance for self-reflection and a chance to start over a new leaf. 

How does one maintain a patriotic sense of pride in all things Malaysian? Well, as you have may read in the past month, I dig into my favourite Malaysian books, films and music.

I’d like to try something different this round and instead focus on the temples of commerce and consumerism aka shopping malls that I often criticise. 

I am also picking up on a Twitter (now called X) thread in which Malaysians argue over which malls were the best.

Before I start, it is important to note that the three shopping malls that shaped my youth growing up in KL no longer exist and will be excluded from this list. They were Ampang Park, Plaza Yow Chuan, and Bukit Bintang Plaza.

So here are my two favourite shopping malls as an adult in the Klang Valley.

IOI City Shopping Mall, Putrajaya

Naturally, as someone from Bandar Baru Bangi, this shopping mall ranks at the top of my list. For decades, there was a notable absence of a significant commercial hub for us consumers south of the capital to indulge in shopping and window shopping, until just a few years ago.

Since then, this mall has expanded into the largest mall in Malaysia.

The shopping mall, of course owes its existence to the development of Putrajaya.

The area now occupied by Putrajaya used to be called “Prang Besar”, and was primarily a palm and rubber plantation.

In fact, during the mid- and late-1990s, I used to take the old trunk road that wound its way past the dark Prang Besar junction from Bangi to Subang Jaya for jamming sessions with my college band, avoiding the tolls where this mega mall now stands.

This trunk road has since evolved (and probably been resurfaced) into the present SILK Highway, connecting to Kajang town.

What I appreciate about this mall is its spacious pedestrian-friendly design, extending from one end of the old wing to the recently inaugurated new wing (which also accommodates two Golden Screen Cinemas outlets, mind you).

While shopping malls often seek to maximise their space for profit by renting out walking areas to booth vendors, IOI City Shopping Mall, as a relative newcomer, seized the opportunity to ensure that the pedestrian spaces were adequately wide for patrons.

The parking facilities, a crucial element, are also well-structured and strategically placed, offering numerous entrances to the mall through escalators, elevators, and staircases.

It’s a mall that doesn’t mind if you just want to window shop.

Considering that our weather generally discourages outdoor leisure activities until around 6pm, this shopping mall is the ideal destination, especially for us “southerners.”

Sunway Pyramid, Sunway City 

This mall exemplifies the modern shopping mall archetype in Malaysia, aside from its distinctive pyramid and pseudo-Sphinx at its core.

Fun fact: There’s a rumour that the reason the Sphinx-like face resembles a lion is due to local council regulations that prohibit the depiction of human faces on large commercial structures (feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken).

Similar to IOI City Mall, this shopping complex has expanded beyond its original size but uniquely maintains its walkability, thanks to its circular and compact design, partly due to the limited space it occupies, bordered by the NPE Highway on one end and Sunway Lagoon on the other.

I didn’t initially spend much time shopping here, and I don’t have any nostalgic attachments, but the mall grew on me after I began teaching at Sunway University. (Linked by a canopy walk that used to be a circular monorail encircling Sunway Lagoon).

I would frequent the mall in the early mornings primarily for parking when the staff parking at the university was full.

At lunchtime, I would return to the mall to relocate my car and find a parking spot at the university’s staff parking area (there were always spaces available since Malaysians love going out for lunch, whereas I would always bring mine), and this routine became my daily, healthy practice. – September 22, 2023.

* Azmyl Yunor is a touring underground recording artiste, and an academic in media and cultural studies. He has published articles on pop culture, subcultures and Malaysian cultural politics. He adheres to the three-chords-and-the-truth school of songwriting, and Woody Guthrie’s maxim “All you can write is what you see”. He is @azmyl on Twitter.

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