Rojak Daily's Ang Moh Talks: Malaysia's Mall Culture

Walter realises that a lot can be done at a Malaysian mall. A lot.

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Rojak Daily's Ang Moh Talks: Malaysia's Mall Culture
Editor's Note: Yes, as Malaysians we all know that shopping malls have everything. But imagine growing up in a land where your gym, grocer, hardware store and restaurant are in four separate places. 

How Many Malls? Are You Serious?

Several years ago, before moving to Malaysia, I spent a lot of time online trying to get “pre-acquainted” with my new home, gathering all the information about Malaysia that I possibly could. Among the things that most interested me in my investigations was that Malaysia is full of different cultures.

However, the one “culture” that I didn’t find in my search online was one that all Malaysians and certainly all visitors to Malaysia never miss out on: the amazing “mall culture”. And for anyone who doubts there is such a thing as mall culture in Malaysia, all you have to do is think for a minute about the 241 malls located in Malaysia, as reported by The Star

Malls Can Be the Epicentre Of Your Life If You Let Them

Over 700 stores in one place, and the world's 4th largest mall
Since I have lived here, I love being able to go to a mall in Kuala Lumpur early; going to the gym, followed by some grocery shopping, then meeting friends for lunch or coffee and ending the day by going to the cinema or doing some serious clothes shopping.

I, like millions of others, take full advantage of Malaysia’s “mall culture”, where one can spend as much time doing just about whatever they want or need to do.

In America, Not So Much

A photo of Rolling Acres in America in a report by NY Times on 'Dead Malls'
In America, if you go to the mall, you first have to find one that hasn’t gone out of business or isn’t half-emptied of stores, and then you are pretty much limited as to what you can actually do.

In the States, there has never been anything like a “mall culture”; and that is certainly true these days. According to, 96% of Americans shop online and reports that 25% of all malls in America will be out of business by 2022.

An American friend of mine living in the States, Mary Beth, explains why she does just about all of her shopping online. 

“It’s so much easier than going to the mall…and you don’t have to deal with disinterested salespeople. I can shop from the comfort of my living room and wait for UPS or my friendly mailman to bring whatever I purchased right to my door.”

With online shopping catching on here in Malaysia, too, the “mall culture” that we have all grown to love could be in serious jeopardy. Let’s hope not.      

Scary Pictures From American Malls On The Busiest Days Of The Week

Mall St. Matthews in Kentucky has seen better daysA few weeks ago, while in America, I needed to do a bit of clothes shopping, since Malaysia doesn’t usually carry clothes to fit my American-size frame, so I went to my city’s second largest mall, Oxmoor Center.

It only has a total of 83 stores, including restaurants (only one of three malls in a city of about a million people). I was shocked to find the car park almost empty and the mall void of anything that looked like a crowd. It seriously looked like Mid Valley does at 8am any day of the week, two hours before most shops even open.

While it was quite sad to see my favourite hometown mall in such a state, I was furthered dismayed when I went to the largest mall, Mall St. Matthews (with 123 total retail outlets, including restaurants) there two days later on a Sunday afternoon, only to find the exact same situation. I was able to pick up some things at discount prices but the whole time I was shopping I was seriously wondering if many of these stores would still be in business on my next visit back.

If I go to any of the larger malls in KL on a Sunday, I always try and go before 11am, as it keeps me from literally going around in circles hunting for a parking space, as Sundays are that busy at malls here.

Maybe the single biggest difference in the way malls do business in America compared to the way they do business here is that in America malls don’t even open on Sundays until 11am and they close at 6pm!

Can you imagine if any mall here tried closing at 6? You might have a riot on your hands from disgruntled shoppers, not to mention the shop owners. As for the rest of the week, malls typically close at 9pm, not at 10pm, like here.

Americans And Malaysians Are A Lot Alike In Other Aspects

So where do people gather in America since they don’t seem to be doing that in shopping malls anymore?

We’re just like Malaysians; we like to gather with our family and friends at our favourite restaurant or watering hole for good food and drink and most importantly, good camaraderie.

While America isn’t known for our mamaks or our banana leaf eateries, there are plenty of locally owned restaurants that many Americans, including myself, prefer over chain restaurants, with both being quite busy for both the lunch and dinner crowds.

Saruman at work again at Yellowstone Park in America
And with the great expanse of the country itself, and the range of weather conditions, those in the States spend plenty of time outdoors, whether it’s in city parks or in great national parks like Yellowstone and the Great Smoky Mountains.

Just like the places many Malaysians go, both in the cities and in great outdoor places like Taman Negara or any of the highlands.

It’s All About The Destination And The Economic Impact

I do worry about the serious economic impact of the current lack of mall shoppers in America and how that is changing the country; not only economically, but also socially. I can’t run into my friends by chance at my hometown malls if they are all home alone shopping online. For me, that’s kind of sad.

The shopping mall situation in Malaysia doesn’t make me sad at all. Messaging my friends on a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon and making plans to meet at our favourite mall for fun and friendship, still thrills me and the fact that with many of the world’s biggest malls, along with some of the most beautiful, it really is all about the destination and spending time doing what people do in malls and doing it with people you care about.

Malaysians Should Be Flattered

They say that imitation is the best form of flattery and if that is the case, then Malaysia should be flattered to death, as many malls in America seem to be starting to emulate what Malaysian malls have known for years ­– that diversifying is the key to success, by starting to add cinemas, fun centers, gyms and the like.

It may be too late for the American mall business. Thank goodness for all of us here in Malaysia, that the key to our success lies in our diversity, a lesson that Malaysian mall owners learned a long time ago and put into practice for their benefit, and more importantly, ours.

However, some American mall owners aren’t giving up.

Mall St. Matthews in my hometown has diversified recently by adding a cinema (though only ten screens), and many years ago began adding to a small list of destination chain restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory and Red Robin, home to gourmet burgers. Most recently, the mall announced the addition of Dave and Buster’s, a popular national chain that combines a restaurant and bar with hundreds of state-of-the-art arcade games. 

Every Day Is Christmas in Malaysia

White Christmas in the mall
In the States, the day after Thanksgiving officially marks the start of the Christmas shopping season and along with Christmas Eve, they are usually the two busiest shopping days of the year. The weeks leading up to Christmas, the malls have historically been packed with holiday shoppers and the whole atmosphere is quite festive.

But believe it or not, while the malls decorate for Christmas back in the States, the way the malls here in Malaysia decorate and celebrate Christmas -- along with all the other major holidays celebrated here throughout the year -- is one hundred times more festive and fun as opposed to the malls of America.

When I’m back in the States, I try to explain Malaysia’s “mall culture” by telling people that going to a shopping mall here on any day of the year is like the jovial and gleeful fun of going to the malls on Christmas Eve in America.

And I hope that in spite of the growth of online shopping, every time I walk into the Malaysian mall of my choice, it continues to bring me a little bit of that magic that I used to feel on Christmas Eve, no matter the time of year.

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