You can tell a lot about a country by the way they shop. Some people meander, wandering through open markets to sample a dozen things before buying one. Others go straight for the bargains, or elbow their neighbors out of the way to get a chance at the latest hot ticket item. Sometimes the shops are small, family-run, ramshackle affairs with a selection of merchandise that probably fell off the back of a truck. Other times, you get Walmart. Sometimes its all in the open, with displays spilling out into the street, and other times climate control rules.
Malaysia has malls. Left and right. I’ve been here a month and I’ve visited a dozen of them without even meaning to. Somehow, it’s unavoidable. Walk through any midsize to major city, and you run up against one, and given that it’s usually 90 to 100 degrees, and the malls all have air-conditioning, I usually go through them rather than around. I get my cold where I can, and I was in one the other day, retreating from the heat of Malacca and searching for malaria medication, when I saw a sign for a Toys ‘R’ Us.
Now, I don’t know where today’s kids – or rather their parents – shop for toys. Probably online. If they had the Internet when I was ten, my parents never would have had to search for the one particular play set I wanted each Christmas. I wouldn’t have dragged them to the toy store over and over to let me peer in desperation at toys I wanted but would never save up enough of my allowance to buy. In short, it would have been a sad and dreary state of affairs.
I hadn’t been in a Toys ‘R’ Us for at least ten years. A rectangular track had been set up on the mall floor in front of the store, and small girls in headscarves raced around it as fast as their electric go-carts would go – which wasn’t more than three miles an hour, just enough for their mothers to keep pace and keep them from running over the dotted line and into a clothing boutique.
Inside the store, Barbies, Legos, Transformers, Power Rangers, remote-controlled cars and Star Wars action figures filled shelves under brilliant florescent lights. Nostalgia washed over me, and it felt like a dream as I wandered up and down the aisles. I had played with some variation of almost every toy here, though Barbie was a notable exception. This was home to me, as true a home as I have ever known. Ten thousand miles and ten years away, I remembered the words to the old song: “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us kid…” I guess once a Toys ‘R’ Us kid, always a Toys ‘R’ Us kid.