#52: Rats in the Mall

Something I noticed leaves me feeling uneasy.

Vision City Food Court

So I find a seat in the food court on one of those seats around the communal table. The one with the fake plants in the middle and high seats that make you realise you’re really short.

I purposefully avoid the tables meant for groups, despite it still bring too early for groups.

I sink into a seat and offer a friendly nod across to the family also sat catching their breath behind the fake hedge of flowers on the table. 

I wonder if they noticed it too, but they – two parents harbouring their rowdy platoon of two toddlers – look exhausted, unable to pull their soldiers in line. 

I am witnessing a calculated mutiny unfold. The kids terms of settlement is to have all the toys TODAY! This is the mall and there are several toy stores before they reach the exit; a sheer mine field. 

Kids world
Vision City Toy Shop Near the Exit

The dad sends me an embarrassed smile over his visible distress, and I swear I hear a yelp leap toward me. 

The mom and dad sit shell-shocked for a while before they gather the courage to negotiate with the soldiers and quell the uprising. Mom and dad would never have negotiated with me, but then again we never had shopping malls growing up.

After a moment, they leave, as I see more families with young children trickle into the food court taking over the vacant tables. Perhaps this is the compromise, or the beginnings of a coordinated mass mutiny.

But all this happens in what feels like a moment.

 I still feel something bugging me, perhaps even bothering me.

Something I noticed earlier but couldn’t quite pick it.

Then I see them again, entering the foodcourt.

Swooped hair bunched and tied up in a handle to the side. Not the back. To the top left, just above her ear. Eye liner. Pink lipstick and I catch a vague scent of something sweet. 

White headphone strings rustle into the smart phone jack held in one hand wrangling over bangles on her wrist. In the other hand, an orange takeaway juice cup with a sucking straw poking through. The content, half empty sloshing around. A rucksack hangs on her back looking tired from the day.

A checkered unbuttoned shirt drapes over a T-Shirt with the words “I Love PNG” printed on it, tucked into skinny jeans terminating just below the knees. White socks bury into All Star Converse’s from her shin.

The fashion sense screams teenage angst.

Around her are boys her age who obviously got the fashion memo with an emphasis on hair-do’s minus the lipstick and eyeliner. 

One has a bleached fro-hawk. The other with pleated dreads tied to one side. Both have their smart phones armed and at the ready in one hand.

The one with the pleated dread lifts his hand into that familiar selfie pose. 

-Really kids?! In the foodcourt?

I cringe.

Perhaps her fan group, I wonder. 

Fro-hawk boy seems eager to grab the juice off of her. Giggling, she jerks away with a sharp ‘wshhh ’, the universal Papua New Guinean sign of annoyance.

She pouts. 

He appears gleeful for soliciting the reaction and says something in that vastly complex language that teenagers use to discover the intricacies of life. 

– Maybe he wants to be more than a fan?

I’ve seen this before. Many times before in foreign shopping malls. I remember hair dos, checkered shirts, jeans, and phones, and teenage chatter. It all comes trickling back like that 1995 Kevin Smith movie Mallrats!

I know this scene too well.

But this time it catches me off guard. Betel nut stained teeth. The sweet scent of brus.

This is a rendition that I have no context of. This version of the movie looks foreign to me. This cast of Papua New Guinean teenagers would give Kevin Smith a better plot twist.

A feeling of dread begins to rise. That movie was a complete pop cultural flop.

But I cringe at the realisation that I am seeing rats in Vision City.


-by Hans Lee
Saturday lunchtime observations at Vision City, May 2018


There is definitely a social transformation happening in Papua New Guinea that’s starting with the younger generation. One thing I was unable to put into words was the juxtaposition that was quite evident between these three and the other Papua New Guineans.

They drew attention to themselves from everyone in the mall but they were not the only ones doing so. There were many teenagers there that day who behaved similarly. As an observer, I was quite aware of where they were coming from. I was also aware of the other people who were there staring at them. They were the show and the entertainment, if the mall is the zoo, they were the display and I too was an eager observer.

The mall is offering a space for new cultures to form and take shape in Port Moresby’s urban life so this is a string that will form part of an interesting tapestry in the modernisation of the ‘new’ Papua New Guinea.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s