Friday, May 25, 2012

My Ali Mall Journey

It’s hard to believe that a very famous athlete came to the Philippines offering massive exposure and a major distraction to the social turmoil happening to our country and in the process, building a mall in his honor. Who knew that he had such a huge influence?

I’m not talking about Manny Pacquiao (although “PacMall” does have a certain ring to it) or Michael Jordan (“JordanMall”, “Jumpman Mall”?) but 3-Time World Heavyweight champion and International Boxing Hall of Fame Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali. For those who don’t know the boxing legend, Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.) is an American professional boxer, philanthropist and a social activist (his most famous was his opposition to the Vietnam War). He fought with boxing legends George Foreman, Floyd Patterson, Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier.

His heated bouts to greatness would take him to one of his greatest fights ever, his second rematch with the late “Smokin’ Joe” Joe Frazier that took place in Araneta Coliseum in the Philippines in October 1, 1975, thanks to the offering of former President Ferdinand Marcos. Dubbed “Thrilla in Manila”, the fight was well-received by many, citing as one of the greatest fights in the 20th century. Heck, the “Thrilla In Manila” title was famous in pop culture itself that Paramore vocalist Hayley Williams wore a t-shirt with the title on her group’s concert. Ludacris mentioned the title on his rap on singer John Legend’s recent music video “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” and just recently, comic book scribe Mark  Millar’s visit to the Philippines was dubbed “Milla in Manila”, an obvious nod to the “Thrilla…” title.
old look of the mall

After the fight a mall was built in his honor of his victory against Frazier. Named “Ali Mall”, it is located in Cubao, near the place where the fight took place, has 4-floors and has a 62,000 sqm area. It was one of the first malls in the country. Today there are several malls built in every available place, from the famous SM Malls to the obscure Isetann Mall, one would think if Ali Mall can still go toe-to-toe with other malls.

This is what I tried to find out recently. Acting on impulse and to a recent recollection of the mall, I sought to find out if Ali Mall lived up to its namesake.  And also to try something new besides going to Trinoma or SM North Edsa. With pictures, of course. (Click on any picture to enlarge.)

I have visited Ali Mall 3-4 years ago with my ex, since she lives close to the area. It was pretty beat-up and not a lot of stores are worth visiting. Most of them offer surplus products and second-hand items. Ii remember only looking at the whole mall itself and getting a massage from a blind masseuse (and not getting my money’s worth since he looked tired from the numerous customers and just used his elbow the whole time) And there are numerous malls in the area that offer more options for your shopping needs, like an SM outlet store, Farmer’s Plaza and Gateway Mall. So it appears that Ali Mall has already met its due.

Fast forward to today and I re-visited the mall with my current girlfriend. I was delighted that she accompanied me despite her usual hissy fits and objections. But I guess she just wants to go on a date since it has been a while. And also, to go window-shopping. 

We met on MRT Cubao station and proceeded to walk to Ali Mall. We almost got lost since we don’t know much of the place. Luckily my girlfriend has a slight memory of the landmarks leading to the mall so we were able to find it. I never realize until now that Ali Mall is pretty far from the common transportation, of which is the MRT. When you already get there you might have already visited the other malls and gotten what you want, so you won’t bother to go there anymore. I quickly thought of that disadvantageous scenario.

Another thing that I realize when we already got there is Ali Mall has recently gone a huge renovation. The mall had new lights installed and added some floor spaces, as well as a new foodcourt and cinemas. At one of the entrances there is a large stand showing the vision of the new Ali Mall as well as what is new there. Our visit was timely as the mall is already 70% finished. So you could say that it looks like the admin behind Ali Mall or even Araneta Center company subliminally suggested in my lucid thinking that we visit the place to urge people to go there.

Looking at the place, I was impressed at the new look of the mall. My girlfriend suggested that it looks like one of the malls in Singapore since it’s clean and a few people are there. Ali Mall also put up a covered bridge connecting to SM Cubao, so that people can also take a visit there as well. It was a good idea.

Now it seems that booths selling used celfones or electronic gadgets and what-have-yous were replaced by franchised shops selling signature products. There were a lot to offer for the average consumer, from clothing (Primadonna, Mint, Plains and Prints, Solo, Penshoppe, Bench, Celine, Mossimo) Sportswear/Footwear (Royal Sporting House, Adidas, Bananapeel) Pampering services (Posh Nails, Beauty Haven, Hairliners Salon) and specialty stores (Audiophile, Hahn, Cutting Edge, Silverworks, Japan Home Center, Music Source, Blue Magic, Girl Shoppe, CD-R King). Needless to say, there’s a handful that I haven’t mentioned here. There were other small-time stores that sell bootleg toys, budget clothing, furnitures and accessories and Class-A perfumes, but they are mostly few in the new mall. There is a department store as well in the form of “Shoe Center”, but they’re only selling a few items, has a small floor space and the toys are knock-offs.
they have, however, a very cool chair in "Shoe Center"
cd-r king is everywhere...

And there’s a lot to choose from when you’re hungry. Most of the small-time food kiosks are located at the top floor, at the new foodcourt. At the lower floors there are mostly restaurants and fast-food chains like Savory Chicken, Jollibee, McDonald’s, Max’s and Sbarro. There are some restaurants that cater to the “drinking” crowd all lined up in one spot, like Gerry’s Grill. And there are specialty food stores as well, like Dairy Queen and Starbucks.

There are even forms of entertainment in the form of a carousel located at the basement level and some kid’s rides and a large playpen at the top floor. There is a spot for older people to play as well in the form of an Arcade, but they are mostly decades-old videogames. But they are pretty cheap ( tokens at 5php). Of course it wouldn’t be mall if there are no cinemas and Ali Mall has 4 newly-renovated cinemas. We weren’t able to try them because we don’t have much time left to burn and we already watched The Avengers. But the overall look of the cinema spot looks a lot like Gateway cinemas. Not sure if there are reservations for tickets as well. Maybe next time we could check. Of course there are comfort rooms as well on every floor but you have to tread carefully because you might be entering a pay lounge. Okay, there is a receptionist so you’d know you’re going to pay, and it’s 10php per visit. We weren’t able to try it but I’m sure that it is in pristine condition. We just tried the unpaid comfort rooms and everything is still working and clean (no vandals of a celfone number asking for a “good time”).

Despite the new look, there are a lot of spaces that are still vacant, especially on the top 2 floors. They are covered with tarps showing 2010 Ms. Universe Fourth-Runner-Up Venus Raj as a sponsor of the mall. Not really sure if there are already shops being placed there or they are still for lease. But at the current condition of the mall, the unoccupied spaces does not hinder your mall experience (unless you hate seeing Venus Raj’s face)

I wasn’t able to find out when the renovation of the mall was finished, I asked a saleslady at Girl Shoppe while my girlfriend was trying out a dress, but she doesn’t know (heck, I could count on one hand a saleslady was of any use) so I just used my observation skills to look at the condition of the floor tiles and the comfort room to make a guess of how new it is. I arrived at the conclusion that the new Ali Mall was just 2-3 months old.

So how was our experience there? I love the new look, there are a lot of choices, plus I wasn’t really finding or buying anything. My girlfriend, on the other hand, found most of what she is looking for in Ali Mall. She had a field day that I was pretty surprised when I was just looking at the other direction one second, and the next she already has a paper bag in tow. Not that quick, but you get the idea. After we’ve looked at the mall we ate at a place called Uncle Cheffy’s. The menu consists of steaks, pan pizzas lamb chops and fish fillet. A little expensive, but they’re good.
medium rare steak
paraffin rice

Some of the things that didn’t sit well with me are the legacy of the mall. There are almost no hints that the mall was built in honor of the boxing legend, other than a tarp covering a vacant spot. Some people wouldn’t know why they call it Ali Mall. There should be a statue of Muhammad Ali in any spot of the floor to honor him. Heck, Ali Mall admins should have flown Ali to cut the ribbon and give him a tour of the newly-renovated mall. I’m sure that they can shell out 2-3 million pesos worth of expenses just to give it some public exposure. I may be a guy who values the past too much, but I feel like it’s appropriate.

Another thing is exposure: most of the city folks take the MRT, and when they wanted to shop they’ve already bought what they need on the other malls so they wouldn’t bother to look at Ali Mall anymore. I guess that Ali Mall is in a bad spot in the evolved metropolis. But seeing and being in the mall, it is a great place for buying music instruments (the 2 shops that I saw look credible and had a lot of choices), food trips and looking for affordable signature clothes. 

Looking back, I’m glad Ali Mall was given a new lease; it certainly deserves it for being the first mall in the country. It can be enjoyed by people of all walks of life for another 30+ years. Maybe when Ali would finally go to that great place in the sky, he can be buried there. Hey, maybe…  

 - "the king"

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