Interesting indoor spaces around the world

indoor spacesI love the outdoors, to the extent that I tend to bypass or overlook exceptional indoor spaces when I’m traveling or recounting a great trip. Fortunately, Lonely Planet author/former Gadling contributor Leif Pettersen’s recent list on LP’s website has reminded me that—as many a grandmother has said—beauty is on the inside.

Pettersen says only in recent years has he developed a special appreciation for the indoors. He had ample time to contemplate his new interest “during two sadistically cold weeks last winter when I voluntarily confined myself to the Minneapolis Skyway System as a livability experiment for an article I was working on.”

He’s since started a list of “singular, practical” indoor spaces (traveloguebookdealforthewin!) of note, including (obviously) Minneapolis’ Skyway System (“The largest contiguous skyway system in the world, connecting what may be the largest contiguous indoor space anywhere.”); Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar; Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure; NYC’s Grand Central Terminal (aka Grand Central Station); St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, and the Queen Mary 2. Here’s to keeping warm indoors this winter.

[Photo credit: Flickr user davedehetre]

Indoor Skydiving

Largest mall in the world is a Chinese ghost town

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While China recently announced 45 new airports due to booming travel growth, several of their development projects have been enormous duds. The New South China Mall is twice the size of Minnesota’s Mall of America, but hovers at around a 1% occupancy. The rows of empty shops are piped with serene elevator music, and guards police the empty halls with echoing footsteps.

Announced in 2005, the mall is located in Dongguan in the Guangdong province of southern China. The location is between Guangzhou and Shenzen in an area that may one day be considered the world’s largest mega city, estimated to have a population near 50 million. Today, the mall has yet to live up to any distinction associated with mega cities, and is a sobering example of what happens when idea implementation precedes growth. Separated into seven districts modeled after international cities, the mall boasts an Arc de Triomphe, Venice canals, and even a mini Egypt. Of the 2,350 leasable store spaces, around 50 are actually in use. Check out this award-winning video directed by Sam Green and Carrie Lozano for PBS that showcases this bizarre mall.

Winter travel time: East Coast gets buried, disrupts travel

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A monstrous storm ran up the East Coast yesterday, burying parts of the country in more than a foot of snow and making life a living hell for road-trippers and airline passengers. As of last night, five deaths were reportedly caused by the storm. Fourteen inches fell on Reagan National Airport, setting a single-day record for December. Several hundred thousand homes in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina lost power. Airports in New York and Washington, D.C. canceled flights and had to cope with long delays.

It’s winter travel season again, in case you didn’t know.

The first major storm of the year was nothing short of severe. Some drivers ditched their cars on the side of the road, giving up any attempt to compete with the snowstorm. Meanwhile, malls were empty, as many didn’t bother trying to compete with the weather.

Sharks Get Violent at Dubai Mall Aquarium

Come shop in the mall recently built in the shadow of the Dubai Burj, the world’s tallest building. You will enjoy over 1,200 of the world’s finest shops and a huge, glittery gold market…and see a 10-million liter aquarium in which divers and small fish are ravaged by gigantic sharks.

The aggressive sharks are part of a 33,000 specimen tank at the 12-million-square-foot Dubai Burj Mall. The tank includes an acrylic tunnel that people can walk through and gaze up at the aquatic life. The mall’s grand opening was marred when the large sand sharks attacked and killed nearly 40 smaller sharks. I doubt that the mall’s goal was to remind people of the casual brutality of nature before they began browsing through the world’s largest gold market. I’m sure the goal was spectacle, but naturally aggressive sand sharks do not mix well with other sharks in a closed environment. Divers performing maintenance on the interior of the tank have also been attacked, though no fatalities have been reported.

A Canadian In Beijing: Malled

My little dorm room came with a kettle and a cup and a few towels but not much else besides the furniture and some simple bedding. To get through three months, I knew that I’d need a few simple household items. For instance, I didn’t have a bowl or a scrub brush for dishes, nor did I have any dish towels or a good pair of scissors for cutting open packages. I also needed some self-loading pencils for the numerous Chinese characters I’m writing in school, the kinds with built-in erasers for the likewise numerous mistakes that I’ll make writing those very same characters.

Anyway, this is all to say that I needed to go shopping.

The other part of the truth (which may or may not be the bigger part!) is that I had been avoiding doing my laundry and I was completely out of underwear. Rather than hand wash a few pairs to get me through, I decided that I could probably afford to buy a few more pairs. Lazy, I know. I’m such a stereotypic bachelor right now!

With all this in mind, I grabbed my reusable shopping bags and headed to the heart of Wudaokou.

It is really hard to gauge the size and scope of a building’s interior in this city. For instance, the university has a huge canteen. The first time I explored it, I saw a large room and a lot of food being offered, cafeteria-style. The second time I went in, I noticed an upstairs and there I found another large room with separate kiosks of food like at a North American mall. The third time I went in there, I was with fellow students who led me upstairs again but this time we went through a rear door of that same upstairs room. This door looked like a service entrance, so I hadn’t questioned it, but it brought us into a hallway that led to restaurant after restaurant offering various international fare. I was amazed at my terrible sleuthing skills the two times previous.

I feel a little like Alice walking through the looking glass. I have no idea what I’ll find around every corner and I am constantly in awe at the density of sights, smells, sounds and activity here.

So, en route to aforementioned room supplies, I went into the Lotus Center for the second time since arriving. As I was walking around, I suddenly noticed an escalator at the far end of the small, main-floor, shopping complex that I had mistakenly understood to be the entirety of the “Lotus Center.” I went up this escalator and found myself in a giant mall with three levels that offered everything from DVDs to housewares, new shoes to fresh vegetables, cigarettes to shampoo.

Okay then. How did I miss that the first time?

I stood at the top of the first escalator looking around, dumbfounded, and became a bit like a rock in the riverbed of a flowing public. People flowed around and past me as I turned and waited for a relatively quiet moment to photograph the escalator.

Because I have never seen items for sale on an escalator before. The items don’t move but you do. How does that work?

Picture this: you’re the shopper and you think, “hey, maybe I’ll buy that item but I’d like to check out the ingredients first.” Then, after picking it up and realizing that you’d probably be better off without all those unpronounceable contents in your body, you’ve been carried up and away from where it belongs! Stranded at the top or stranded at the bottom with a box of cheap cookies in your hand, what do you do?

Maybe it’s a brilliant idea. Perhaps you’d look at the effort it would take to put it back — You’d have to do the up/down loop in order to be the conscientious shopper who returns an unwanted item to whence it came, after all — and then just throw it in your basket and consider buying it as your penance for being lazy? Go back into the flowing public just to put back a box of cookies? I think not. Besides, at that point in the consideration, you’d likely have talked yourself into wanting them after all! Maybe they’ll be the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted, you wonder.

Oh how the mind justifies. This is how advertising gets us.

As you can imagine, with these ideas running through my head and so much to take in, I sometimes walk around a bit like I’m in a daze. China makes me move slowly and I get jostled around and bumped into by people left and right — people who are less in a state of wonder and with more of an agenda. This was how it was for me for the remainder of my time in the Lotus Center. My little basket and I wandered wide-eyed through aisle after aisle and my little basket slowly got heavier.

I admit to being tempted by the incredibly low prices of stuff here. I bought my underwear. The women’s version was terrible and came with bows! I ended up buying a four-pack of men’s cotton briefs with some cool designs on them for a whopping 4 kuai (or almost $0.59 a pack — That makes it $0.15 a pair!) Note to self: I am bigger than a men’s medium in China; they’re kinda tight!

And what else did I buy? Well, 96 kuai later and I must admit that I’m not quite sure! I got my school supplies and some letter-writing supplies, some slippers for my cold dorm floor, tea towels, some food products, some water. All in all, it’s easy to say that things are cheap here, but those cheap things eventually cost a lot of money! I know that 80 kuai is only $14 Canadian, but I am aiming to keep this journey within budget and so I found myself scratching my head.

Did I really need the beer shampoo just because it was made of beer?

Maybe I can blame it on the televisions? At the end of every second aisle, a television set with non-stop advertising easily catches a shopper’s gaze. At least, it caught mine! I watched a few ads just for entertainment’s sake, but didn’t buy the products being advertised. Still, perhaps I was subliminally affected into believing that “buying is good” and “shopping is healthy” and “I need more stuff.”

Those discounts are alluring. I couldn’t resist.

At the checkout counter, I dutifully waited my turn and have become quite good at saying “wo bu yao daizi, xie xie,” which means: “I don’t want a plastic bag, thank you.” Everything is put in plastic here unless actively requested otherwise. They look at me strangely but accept my weird “foreign” request without much dispute. Lately, I’ve also starting following up my request with: “shijie you tai duo de daizi.” This means: “The world has too many plastic bags.”

The last time I said that, I actually got a smile.

This is a picture of my checkout line among about twenty others. If only my little camera could capture the panoramic of these views to show the whole scale of such experiences. You’ll just have to take my word for it!