Yep – it’s all here. At the Wanda Plaza mall in Ningbo. This extremely upscale mall looks like it came straight from any major city in the US. Caution – rant ahead.
A few observations…
– After spending quite a few hours at this mall eating and shopping (it’s located next to my hotel in Ningbo), I feel I have a pretty good handle on the demographics of the customers. These people are the factory owners / managers / wives & kids of the factory owners and managers. The underground parking garage is full of European luxury cars. The shoppers are well dressed and accessorized. And they are spending OUR money. Yes – the money that we (US citizens) spent at Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Best Buy, name your favorite retailer. The shoppers at this mall have benefited from our lust for low cost goods from China. Let me be clear – I don’t spite them. I envy them. They probably have more money than me.
– The same customs of “crawling the mall” exist here. There are roaming gangs of teen girls furiously shopping in an effort to duplicate the fashions they see on the internet. They eat Papa Johns Pizza. Have an ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen. Buy Apple iPhones. And emulate most of our other mall customs, including hanging out at the Starbucks (there are TWO at the mall).
– Smart phones are like crack in China (and the US). People stare mindlessly at them EVERYWHERE. People don’t talk anymore. They WeChat (audio texting program).
– I understand there are other luxury malls in China. I’ve been to them (Shenzhen & Shanghai). But this is Ningbo! A factory town with a reputation of making hardware items and widgets. These stores are stocked with high end products (Leica, Canon & Nikon cameras, iPhones & iPads, you name it…) with grossly over-inflated price tags. I saw a Gerber pocket knife that you can buy for $28 on Amazon.com. It was selling for $128 in one of the shops. Nice profit margin if you can get it.
– I learned that when this mall opened a few years ago there was a serious disruption of the local manufacturing labor pool because EVERYONE wanted to work in the air conditioned & heated shopping mall. The surrounding factories lost a lot of good employees to the mall. Who can blame them?
– Mr. Wanda is one of the wealthiest men in China because of his mall developments and this particular Wanda Plaza mall has the highest sales in his empire. I can see that.
– Some of you may have never heard of Ningbo, China, so here’s a quick lesson. Ningbo is just south of Shanghai and has a population of 7.6 million people. That’s almost three times the population of Chicago. While Ningbo is one of China’s oldest cities (4800 BC), it grew quickly about 20 years ago when China designated it as an “economic zone”. That meant cheap money fueled factory growth and rapid expansion. Because of its proximity to Shanghai and a deep water port, Ningbo is a shining star in China’s explosive economic growth.
– The modern use of the term “middle class” dates back to 1913 and identifies people falling between the upper class and the working class. The “middle class” in China emerged between 1990 and 2005, when this demographic grew from 15% to 62% of the population – which coincides with China opening the borders to trade with the west. That’s when the wealth from factories began trickling-down to the middle management level. This group of people are now buying cars as fast as they can make them and China’s air quality is really suffering. Ugh…
– I’ll have to admit, most of the photos I take in China are a “celebration” of the differences between western and eastern cultures. This blog post is just the opposite. I felt like I was at the Mall of America in the middle of Ningbo, China – and these photos support that feeling.Disclaimer: This isn’t exactly award-winning street photography. It’s more of a photojournalism exercise to illustrate my rant.