Plastic Paris in the Mall
One funny and snobbish thing about Jakarta’s malls is their style of interior design — actually, I am not sure if it can be called “design” at all.
Basically, a mall is a large retail floor space subdivided into several shops or eating places (I am loathe to actually call them cafes and restaurants). An interior designer is assigned to each lot to create a different theme or ambiance. It is the experience that is important, they say.
One mall in Central Jakarta boasts a French-style eatery, with dark-blue painted window frames and layout that aims to emulate a Parisian street-side cafe. The frames are profiled to resemble cast iron, typical of late 19th-century Parisian buildings. Everything is a replica, including the service style of the waiters.
The only problem is, once you are sitting inside the cafe, looking out at all the other shops and eating places fabricated to resemble places from other periods, suddenly you cannot help but realize that you are having a fake experience. For some, especially those who have been in those real places before, this might give a nice nostalgic feeling. But as for me, I feel quite stupid in this situation, knowing that what I can see outside the themed bistro is not a real Parisian street with real Parisian people walking along the wide sidewalks, but a real Indonesian mall with genuine Indonesian shoppers.
Since Indonesia’s middle class is rising in number every year — by about seven million people annually, according to some counts — many of them by now have experienced the real Paris, New York, London and whichever world city it is they aspire to live in. I wonder why they are still entertained by these fakes. Is it perhaps not what they, but the designers and the owners, want? Or is it that they are simply indifferent, and do not even realize that the places they are visiting are trying to emulate real places somewhere else in the world?
In the meantime, in the past three years or so, there has been a notable emergence of real street-side coffee shops with real outdoor sidewalks and real people passing by in the streets of Cikini and Sabang in Central Jakarta. And these places seem to be favored and frequented by many. They are becoming popular. Maybe you have noticed them in other parts of the metropolis too?
Nevertheless, I do wonder if these places are becoming popular because we really love the street life here, or because they offer a nostalgic feeling about colonial times, or is it an urban ideal we are aiming to achieve in the future, something for a successful metropolis yet to come?