Thursday, March 5, 2009

Are You Not Edutained?

I work in a mall. Yep, that's right, a shopping mall. Floor 4A, Siam Paragon. For those not familiar with Bangkok, Paragon is a (mostly) upscale mall here in Bangkok. This place is nuts. The combined value of the merchandise on one floor of Paragon trumps any mall or shopping complex I've seen anywhere else. Really. There's a huge pan-Asia food court, all the expected American fast food joints (some with multiple locations within the mall), a bunch of fast food places I've never seen before (Mos Burger, anyone? Or how about Auntie Anne's, the fast food pretzel shop?), lots of more upscale chain dining establishments, at least two Starbucks, a bowling alley, a karaoke center, and of course the requisite multiplex. One of the floors seems restricted to clothing and accessory stores with Italian names. The biggest aquarium in Southeast Asia occupies the mall's basement, and there's a fancy car showroom on the fourth floor. We're talking fancy cars here (see picture). You have to wonder what Thai can afford this shit, especially with the 100% automobile import tax??? Paragon calls itself the "Pride of Bangkok" and it's a monument to capitalism and the consumer society that one would expect to find in Dubai or some other artificial, climate-controlled city of the future, not dirty, sweaty, ramshackle Bangkok. And it is surrounded by four or five other malls and shopping complexes, each catering to a different demographic. Even in a city of 8 million people, where is the market for all of this? This is supposed to be a developing country, after all.

As I said I work on floor 4A, which is sort of a Being John Malkovitch-esque half-floor buried deep in the anterior of the Paragon complex, and only accessible via certain elevators (no one ever really takes the stairs in Thailand. You just don't.). 4A has been dubbed the Explorium, an "Edutainment Center" catering to kids or, more accurately, to their moneyed parents. This portmanteau-happy realm includes a kids' gym, a miniature indoor tennis court for children's lessons, some sort of dojo, a music school and several language centers, including my own. There's also a place I haven't quite figured out yet, the grammatically questionable Babies Genius, which I don't believe has any affiliation with the similarly named 1999 motion picture. Seriously, Babies Genius? Is that possessive? Or did they just put the plural S in the wrong place, perhaps for copyright reasons? Regardless, I don't know what they do in there, and I hope never to find out.

Also great about Paragon is the muzak; some of it is what would be expected: J- and K-pop, instrumental versions of timeless pop hits, and the like. But the lion's share of the piped in music easily goes to Nouvelle Vague(the band not the film movement)-esque sort of bossa-nova-lite versions of timeless pop hits. Seriously, there's gotta be hundreds of them. Some are kinda redundant--do we really need the Carpenters to sound even more like elevator music than they already do?--and some are just weird: one of my favorites so far is "November Rain." Stripped of all the ass-rock bombast and histerionics of of the original, and lacking Slash's memorable wank session, it reveals itself to be one of those songs that could be done convincingly in any style; so much so that I didn't recognize the it for what it was until almost the very end, the vaguely Romance language-accented female voice and unobtrusively polyrhythmic percussion soothed me so. I'm not kidding. Best track of 2k9. Strike that. Best track of any year.