Lately, I've been obsessed with history. Not the type of history you read in books, but rather 90's history. Or more specifically, 90's mall history.
You may not have known that back in the day, I was a world class walker. I once walked three hours straight all around the city, passing through busy smoke-filled streets, and going through various outdoor and indoor malls along the way. Exploring the ins and outs of various marketplaces was a passion of mine.
When I was in college, my favorite places to explore were the old Greenbelt shopping center, and Virra Mall in Greenhills, Ortigas. The great thing about these places was that they were relatively safe to hang out in, and they had a lot of hidden areas you could discover. Greenbelt and Virra Mall were also very disorganized and decentralized, which added to its appeal. You would have to make an effort to go from one cool spot to another, sometimes needing to cross a street or walking several blocks to another structure to get to the next place.
It remained this way up to the late 90's, until the Ayala and Ortigas developers decided to 'modernize' these places. This led to a lot of changes causing these places to be barely recognizable today from what it once was. The Virra Mall building was demolished to make room for a brand new structure which was well-lighted, had modern air conditioning, and floor tiles. While on the surface, this seemed to be an improvement over the old mall, I felt that something was lacking. The old magic was gone. It had turned into a much nicer, yet overcommercialized and dull place.
Greenbelt, as you might remember from the 90's was composed of a bunch of disjointed shopping areas such as Plaza Fair, Makati Supermarket, Greenbelt Cinema (which had only two choices of movies), Coronado Lanes bowling center, and a sprinkling of eateries such as Mushroomburger, Ulam ni San Pedro, and Tokyo Tokyo. I loved walking outside in the sun, going from Greenbelt Cinema to Plaza Fair, to Mushroomburger. If you had more energy, you would explore the streets where the multinational corporations had their offices - particularly Legaspi, Salcedo, and Paseo de Roxas. 'Jolly Jeeps' lined up the streets, these were passenger jeepneys that sold food in plastic bags to office workers.
Today, Greenbelt is barely recognizable. All the old structures are gone. They were systematically demolished and replaced piece by piece by more upper class establishments catering to yuppies and high society people. What you have in place of Greenbelt Park, Mushroomburger, and Ulam ni San Pedro is now Greenbelt 3 - ground zero for the yuppie crowd. You no longer have to cross the street to get from place to place, instead you have to pass a narrow passageway with a security guard who inspects your belongings before you can go through.
There is also this new multi-story class 'A' mall called Greenbelt 5, where all the fancy restaurants are stationed. My friend and I were even turned away one late Friday night by the guard, as he told us it was 'closed', although from a distance, we could see that he was still letting through attractive well-dressed couples in the building. He probably thought that we didn't look like we can afford any of the pricey restaurants inside.
Similarly, the bowling alley, Coronado Lanes, is gone, replaced by more yuppie restaurants and a hotel extension. The small department store, Plaza Fair, is now a pile of rubble, and I see more construction going on in the spot where it once was. I'm not sure what they are constructing in its place, perhaps more yuppie spots.
The streets of Greenbelt are not as fun to walk around as before. Instead of the free-flowing stroll around the various streets with the sunshine and fresh air, what we have now are covered pathways converging into small bottleneck checkpoints that are covered by security guards, making sure the area is safe and secure for the yuppies. I am forced to find alternate walking paths, usually small back alley streets where the air conditioning exhaust vents lie.
Which brings me back to my obsession for history, namely mall history. As I walk around these old areas, I close my eyes and try to remember what it once was. I look through old pictures, and old maps showing what these places looked like before they were 'modernized'. I try to identify where the old Mushroomburger, the old Plaza Fair, the old Coronado Lanes, and the old shops of Virra Mall once existed. When I am able to successfully recall these and get back the old feeling, I make a note of it for future reference.
In essence, I am like a ghost, wandering around the old hangout places, trying to remember the way things used to be. These places used to be home. Today, they are just malls.