The South China Mall is the largest mall in the world, and it's a ghost town, with only a handful of shops in its peeling, spooky, sprawling guts.
The employees of this giant mall could, if they wanted, spend their breaks driving bumper cars, browsing for house-wares, strolling along a Venetian canal, petting fake herons in an indoor rain forest, or gazing at an eighty-five-foot replica of the Arc de Triomphe – all, of course, without leaving the premises. They could also picnic next to the bell tower of St Mark’s Square in Venice, soak up the ambience of San Francisco, or take a ride on the mall’s indoor-outdoor roller coaster, a 553-meter flying railway known as Kuayue Shi Kong, or “Moving Through Time and Space”.
As it happens, it’s just those things – time and space – that give so much trouble to the workers here. They have too much of both. On a recent Friday afternoon, an amusement-park employee, slouched in a forsaken ticket booth, tried to kill time by making origami. Another worker slept, with perfect impunity, on a table. In front of the haunted house attraction, one attendant was doing hand-stands while two others looked blankly on.
There was nothing else to do, because the South China Mall, which opened with great fanfare in 2005, is not just the world’s largest. With fewer than a dozen stores scattered through a space designed to house 1,500, it is also the world’s emptiest – a dusty, decrepit complex of buildings marked by peeling paint, dead light bulbs, and dismembered mannequins.
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