A sense of won­der that unites us all

China Daily - - PAGE TWO - James Healy Con­tact the writer at jameshealy@chi­nadaily.com.cn

There’s an old ex­pres­sion, used in in­stances of rap­ture or temp­ta­tion, that de­scribes some­one as be­ing “like a kid in a candy store”. For chil­dren and adults alike, noth­ing to­day comes closer to the candy store ex­pe­ri­ence than the mod­ern mall, a ubiq­ui­tous sight in a large city like Bei­jing.

There’s de­li­cious food, fast and oth­er­wise, at every turn. Al­lur­ing aro­mas waft this way and that, while pul­sat­ing mu­sic in­vites you to browse the lat­est fash­ions. Es­ca­la­tors ga­lore take cus­tomers — ever so slowly to in­crease the an­tic­i­pa­tion — from one floor to the next in a cas­cade of bliss.

I fondly re­call the time when, at the ten­der age of 4 or 5, I “ran away” from home, mak­ing it as far as the lo­cal gro­cer, a mere one room at that time, car­ry­ing in my pocket my en­tire sav­ings of 5 cents. With that sole nickel, I bought a Her­shey’s choco­late bar and was in heaven — at least un­til I fin­ished it and re­al­ized that, alas, I was flat broke, so I re­turned home a prodi­gal son.

Nowa­days, the mall al­lows grown-ups to re­live the won­ders of child­hood, as well as the pain of re­turn­ing home with empty pock­ets. We don’t go the mall be­cause we need some­thing. We go be­cause we want to spoil our­selves, and in a big way.

I went this past week­end to a fa­vorite mega-mall in Bei­jing, in­tend­ing to have a quick lunch, a quick look around and a quick exit. I failed on all counts.

What I saw in­stead was an end­less string of mar­vels that in­ces­santly trig­gered my mo­bile pay­ment re­flexes. Beck­on­ing to me were such del­i­ca­cies as pump­kin bread and whoopie pies at an up­scale bak­ery, a lovely cup of al­mond and egg-white tea, suc­cu­lent roast duck and pork brisket, high-end her­bal teas meant only to pam­per, and a face cream (for the lovely young woman who ac­com­pa­nied me) that cost a mere 888 yuan ($140) for a pal­try few dol­lops. I even had one of my Chi­nese names carved el­e­gantly into a stone pen­dant.

As a teenager, I fre­quented the mall to browse, but rarely to buy, since most of what I saw and de­sired was be­yond my mod­est means. As an adult, how­ever, I have more re­sources and, there­fore, in­fin­itely less re­sis­tance.

The glo­ri­ous mul­ti­story mall (which China has truly mas­tered), feeds us fan­tasy as we rise above our daily drudgery, the mall serv­ing as a fun­house dis­tort­ing mir­ror in which we see our­selves as care­free spendthrifts on a mis­sion of in­dul­gence.

Duck­ing into one store af­ter an­other, we ex­pe­ri­ence, if only for a fleet­ing mo­ment, the joy­ful aban­don of a kid in a candy store as we sam­ple cof­fees or per­fumes, try on shoes or sweaters and sur­ren­der to the im­pulse to buy.

In a frac­tured world, malls are melt­ing pots, bring­ing us all to­gether as equals (at least un­til we reach the cash reg­is­ter). You don’t even need to have money in your pocket — though it sure helps if you do.

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