A new, ultra-modern, high end shopping mall opened up in Taizhou. Unfortunately, it seems to be falling down already.
Wanda Plazas abound throughout China. They are epicenters of this country’s expanding middle class’s frivolous spending, the central shrines of commerce wherever they are built. They are shopping malls built around movie theaters, and are run by the Dalian Wanda Group — which operates the largest movie theater chain in the world.
Other than representing the ascension of The New China, the Wanda Plaza in Taizhou is a model for something else: shoddy construction. The place is hardly a year and a half old but it is already showing signs of crumbling. Next to racks of trendy, over-priced apparel are buckets to catch the water that drips down from the ceiling each time it rains. The place leaks, bad. Walking through it on a rainy day is like venturing into a damp and dripping cave — albeit one with all the latest fashions and gadgets at over bloated prices. The hallways are an obstacle course of buckets, and women with mops stand guard throughout the day, emptying the buckets when they fill and drying any spills. The ceiling in Starbucks is soggy. I watch a young boy kick over a bucket of dripped water as though it was a soccer ball. A cleaning lady armed with a mop shoots and angry look at his father. From time to time windows from the roof break free and crash to the floor. Though just built, this place seems to be falling down.
I was told that the construction of this mall was rushed to completion with incredible haste so then president Hu Jintao could see it during a visit. Apparently, the short term benefit was realized, now we are seeing the brunt of the long term backlash of a mall that seems to be degrading at the same pace it was built.
One of the most annoying aspects of living in China is that everything is made in China. This is a global stereotype to mean junk that reality all too often lives up to. Products here seem to be made to sell, not to use, and all too often fall apart much quicker than you would expect them to. Beds break, new clothes tear, appliances work only occasionally, bridges collapse, schools crumble. Many of the products made here should come with a label that says Not intended for actual use.
This is not to say that the Chinese cannot make quality products. They can, and it is this fact that I find onerous. Many of the products that we call quality in the West were made in China. They are made well, they last as long as they are expected to, Chinese manufacturing can be on par with any country in the world, but what is manufactured for the domestic market is all too often of inferior quality. This is a country that is selling its own people the dregs of production.
What gets me is that crap products sold in China are often priced the same as their quality counterparts sold abroad. It is almost as if Chinese companies know that their people have been conditioned to accept a low quality or have no idea what high quality is. It’s low quality at high prices here: a win win scenario for those on the selling end.
As I walk through the Wanda Plaza in Taizhou nobody seems to find the buckets catching water from the leaking roof out of the ordinary. It has always been like this here: you go to a shoddily built high end mall to buy shoddily manufactured high end goods. Shopping here is a status symbol in and of itself, just be sure to bring your umbrella. The prime shopping center in this city is degrading fast, but I’ve yet to hear anyone complain. It’s amazing what societies can be conditioned to accept as normal, and it’s the normality here that’s startling.