Zen and the art of malling

(Roberto Verzo/ Flickr/


Most Filipinos are cynical about malls. We view them as a necessary evil — you go there to shop or to eat, but they don’t offer much in the way of anything truly meaningful. If you look past the holiday sales and the shimmering storefronts, however, you will find that there are a handful of mall activities that do feed your soul.


Book signings

Some of the world’s most popular authors, both local and international, regularly have book signings at our mall bookstores. Just recently, for example, we had Mitch Albom of Tuesdays with Morrie, drop by one of our Metro Manila malls to talk shop. Most events like these usually come with a reading, a Q&A, and a signing session, so you’ll have at least three opportunities to interact with some of your most beloved authors. You can listen to them read some of your favorite passages, ask them a question you’ve been dying to ask, and get your dog-eared copy of their book dedicated to someone (yes, it can be to you).

Museum trips

Malls and museums don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, but here in the Philippines they do (at least at Greenbelt in Makati). There, you can spend the better part of an afternoon browsing the exhibits at Ayala Museum. Though they regularly host traveling exhibits from around the world, the core of their own holdings relate to Filipino history. They even have in diorama form all the major events of our storied past. You can get your fill on our past — all for less than a meal at a Greenbelt restaurant, and it happens to be healthier, too.

(Big Blue Ocean/ Flickr/


People watching

We Filipinos people watch because we have to — malls are crowded, after all. But by people watching, I mean really people watching — like sitting down on a bench for just that purpose. Though some of your friends might call you creepy if you ever told them this, you’ll be surprised about what you learn about others (as well as yourself). It’s easy to get hyper-focused on our own personal problems. With people watching, even if it’s as simple as watching a fast food janitor mop up a spill, you can immerse yourself into another human being’s life, so as to replenish your own.

In other words, people watching builds empathy — a fact I know from many afternoons spent relaxing aimlessly at a nearby café or Starbucks. And empathy, if you allow me to indulge in some pop psychology for a moment, is what leads to better relationships with others. Once you better understand people (because through people watching you can literally see where they are coming from), you are that much more able to get along with them. And this, need I remind you, is all for free.


Rock climbing

We often speak about testing our own limits, but how often do we really get a chance to do that? Indoor rock climbing, such as the kind you would find on the top floor of Market Market in Fort Bonifacio, gives us that chance. It has three walls — beginner, intermediate, and expert — so even the most physically fit among us can find a challenge to surmount. The beginner’s wall is more or less just a flat surface from top to bottom, but there’s no greater feeling in the world than climbing to the top and looking down at everything you’ve overcome.




Film festivals

If you’re tired of the regular melodrama type fare they show at Philippine cinemas, then film festivals are a welcome respite. They may offer Filipino films, such as the annual one in December, or more commonly, international ones. In either case, the films do not adhere to the strict formulas of studio executives — they are Indie in the sense that they are original. While originality does not always ensure quality, the fact that they tell new stories in new ways gives them a greater shot of truly opening our eyes in the ways that the best cinematic experiences do.



One-day classes

Many businesses offer a one-day class, usually for free but sometimes with a charge. For example, Fully Booked in Fort Bonifacio regularly offers writing and other art-related workshops, such as the upcoming June 29 workshop facilitated by Carlos Esguerra on photography.

Barcino and other wineries also often hosts wine-tasting events and classes across their locations in Metro Manila.

Yes, this is part of their marketing scheme, but commercialism and becoming a better person are not mutually exclusive. You can still improve your life while being a consumer. Try it sometime.

You just might find spiritual enlightenment in the middle of a Philippine mall.