Jewel of the Orient: Hong Kong City Mall by Jason Ng

11215 Bellaire Boulevard
Houston, TX 77072
Phone: (281) 988-8898

April 2004–Flocks of birds migrate to a specific site to rest, eat, and enjoy their temporary home as do the citizens of Chinatown to Hong Kong City Mall. Like clock work, every Saturday morning you can anticipate large crowds of Asians wandering around the countless number of shops within the mall. An average American can easily get lost in a sea of short, tan skinned, black haired bodies.

The architectural design of the mall distinguishes it from any other Chinatown shopping center. Most visitors can see this by just glancing at the Hong Kong City Mall sign, posted on an enormous structure made from several tons of stone and cement, sitting in the corner of the parking lot. In any oriental style architecture there are basic designs, which are included for a number of several reasons.  Large red columns dotting the exterior of the mall are used to show the importance of the building. Layers of curving roof cover the building. They’re made of heavy overhanging tiles constructed because heavy roofs ward off evil spirits, by popular Chinese superstition. Finally, the pair of stone lions at the main entrance guards the mall from any harm, another Chinese superstition. Neon lights from the individual stores and automatic sliding doors present a modern touch, to augment the mall’s ancient structural design. The incorporation of these contrasting features into the design of the mall seems to have given it a strange sense of vitality.

Of course the mall has some of the worst parking in Houston, due to its extremely small parking lot. Little Asian women driving giant SUV’s don’t make the situation any better since the parking spaces are smaller than normal, and because the drivers can barely see over the dashboard. For the majority of Chinese and Vietnamese shoppers, patience is not a virtue, which explains the loud obscenities in their native tongues emanating from the parking lot. It is also in this parking lot that many newcomers witness large Asian families, with three to five kids running out of a car towards the mall with the parents close behind; or newcomers might notice how the families always travel in packs. Perceived as a must have by most oriental families, the beige Toyota Camry Sedan is the most dominate car. Since many of the customers are constantly walking through the parking lot, it has only added to the chaos for any of the drivers.

At either end of the mall, there are two fantastic restaurants for visitors to dine in and enjoy the surrounding ponds with fountains, lily pads, and sky blue waters. Ocean Palace is a massive two-story restaurant that serves some of the finest dim sum in Southwest Houston. The colossal east wall is made mostly of huge glass windows, allowing guests a great view of Bellaire Boulevard. Their spacious dining rooms on each floor offer plenty of seating for large family gatherings, wedding receptions, and the several hundreds of guests that come for their share of daily dim sum and a hot cup of green tea. The service is not the best in Houston, but some people just love the hustle and bustle found in the restaurant.

At the other end of the mall is the ever-popular Tay Do restaurant, which is quite famous for its assortment of authentic Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. Diners take pleasure in viewing the decor within the restaurant, including the large fish tanks filled with exotic fish, the detailed paintings covering every wall, and several Chinese plants that successfully form a traditional Chinese environment.

The corner of the mall is home to the famous tapioca drinks found at Dunobaby and Suzie’s Tea House. Both offer a variety of tasty flavors from the sort of flavor like jasmine milk tea to passion fruit smoothie with basil seeds. Kids, teenagers, and even the elderly find the brown, chewy, sticky balls of starch cooked in sweet syrup and placed at the bottom of the glasses of tea, irresistible; some substitute tapioca with soft, chunky jelly if desired. Like an American coffee house, Dunobaby and Suzie’s Tea House offers tons of literature, and mouth-watering Chinese desserts for its often chatty guests.

There’s not a McDonalds in this mall, but there are dozens of soup kitchens and sandwich shops that have created a kind of fast food Asian hub, and where visitors can get a bowl of beef noodle soup in less than five minutes. Most of these fast food joints are located in the food court, where shoppers can enjoy a quick meal accompanied by a nice view of the lake or an exciting sports channel on the several TVs around the entire food court. Guests can create their own dishes by choosing the combinations of meats, the type of noodle, and the kind of broth, which is all accompanied by a large plate of greens including bean sprouts, limes, chives, and some green leaf lettuce. Sandwich shops make foot long sandwiches with fresh baked bread, choice of meats, shredded carrots, cucumbers, and pretty much anything else a person might want. When people walk near the food court, they can always smell the aroma of fresh baked bread.

Mr. Tran, who doesn’t speak English very well, has been shopping at the mall since it first opened. When asked about why he chose to shop at Hong Kong Mall, Jimmy Tran answered “I wanted to shop here because I don’t speak much English, but because the shop owners speak Chinese, I have no problems communicating with them.” He also said that he enjoyed shopping at the markets, and that they remind him of the ones back in China. Later, Mr. Tran explained how he comes to the mall to relax and enjoy a hot cup of tea.

As with any mall, teenagers are instinctively drawn to Hong Kong Mall for several reasons. The Hong Kong arcade, especially known for its Dance Dance Revolution or DDR game, attracts most of the younger teenagers. If it’s not for the games, it’s for the anime shops including Lucky Gifts and Little Surprises where the boys usually purchase cards for the several trading card games, or the action figures of robots or model cars. On the other hand, most of the girls enjoy buying the little cute stuff animals, or anything pink. As for the older teenagers, they come for the famously cheap phone cases. Some of them change their phone cases more that they change the oil in their cars. There are several little stands, each carrying dozens of cases for almost any type of phone. But all teenagers love the Candy Land shop, where they can load up on sugar and sweets.

There are odd things about Hong Kong City Mall; one is that there is a Payless Shoes store in the mall. It’s the only American shop in the entire mall, but it is very popular because moms love cheap shoes. There are also a number of dental offices in the mall, where as dental offices are nonexistent in American malls. The Pak’s Tae Kwon Do Karate dojo on the second floor, Lin’s law office, or the liquor stores are also unusual suspects. Shoppers can literally get all their shopping done at Hong Kong City Mall, which is great for them, but strange for anyone else.

The heart of Hong Kong City Mall is none other than the Hong Kong Supermarket. The dozen of rows, often jam-packed with people, are full of exotic goods produced throughout Southeast Asia. Customers can purchase garden-fresh produce from bitter melons to sweet Asian pears, seafood, from giant squid to tiny hard shelled clams, or drinks, from cans of grass jelly to boxed soybean juice. Not only a supermarket, but a hardware store, the store has inventories of rice pots able to cook ten servings at one time, steamers made only of bamboo, and tons of everyday cooking utensils. No matter what the reason a person might have to take a trip Hong Kong Mall, they always end up visiting the Hong Kong Supermarket.

The mall’s creation is due largely to the owner of the old Hong Kong Supermarket. Through his efforts and dreams to construct a grand shopping center for Houston’s Southwest Chinatown, the construction of Hong Kong City Mall is a great achievement, which also got investors to start developing much of the surrounding area. Financially, the building of the mall gave him a monopoly over the Asian consumers in the dozens of surrounding neighborhoods. This  was due largely to the small shops contained in the mall that offer merchandise customers can’t find anywhere else in Houston. If they were able to find the goods somewhere else in Houston, competitors still have to compete with the fact that Hong Kong Supermarket also offers some of the lowest prices on most of its goods. At no other mall could Houstonians find such a mixture of different generations spanning over several decades. This is precisely why people of all ages enjoy the mall, both as a place to relax and shop for almost anything a person might need at extremely low prices.

Now a memory, a field of weeds and stalks of grass has now become a great center of commerce and has become a true jewel of the Orient within the city of Houston. What more could a business owner ask for as they could target almost any age group, gender, or even nationality to sell their products and services. As for the consumers, they get a massive variety of products to choose from, and all for less. The combination and contribution of these unique generations has made the mall immensely successful. Hong Kong City Mall is quite the attraction for all different generation of shoppers, and will continue to be for years to come.

Map:

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Related Sites

Vietnamese Shopping Centers
http://www.vietnamtown.com/houston/index.asp

Chinatown Shopping Centers
http://www.2002china.net/chinatowns/houston/indexee.htm

The Galleria
http://www.galleriamall-fl.com/index.shtml

West Oaks Mall
http://www.shopwestoaksmall.com/

First Colony Mall
http://www.firstcolonymall.com/html/index.asp

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