Friday, July 25, 2014

Travel Local

How globalization sorta works out 

In one of our media studies classes at university we discussed globalization and the potential effects of “McDonaldization”. The worst possible outcome would be for cities to turn into generic collections of the same brands, uniqueness eliminated across the board. I have experienced this in a funny way – seeing a dress worn by another girl on the Singapore subway that I had wanted to buy in Manila. Or finding one of my favorite New York ice cream shops in Tokyo. Surreal.

The newness of traveling to a city can be diminished because so many of the brands are already familiar and accessible at home. It reinforces the feeling that we are just moving from one concrete cookie cutter city to the next.

When we were kids going to LA or Hong Kong we’d wind ourselves up in excitement over going to Toys’R Us, supertoystores with all the imported kid brands not having been set up yet in Manila. On another HK visit when I was eleven or twelve I remember when my mom let me try Mrs. Fields for the first time. Or, much later, the joy of spending hours in H&M and Uniqlo during trips to Singapore. And hoarding Muji notebooks in New York not knowing they would eventually end up here. A friend told me when she found out that Zara was coming here that she would be down one Euro shopping treat.

The influx of imported brands has even sped up in the last couple of years. Gap, Forever 21, Keihl’s, Muji, Michael Kors, etc, etc, etc.  Even food chains have arrived en masse – Starbucks and CPK were some of the first and now Ihop, Ippudo, Jamba Juice and Pinkberry are here. This year we’re seeing a slew of brand launches that I never would have imagined would make it to Manila – Pottery Barn, H&M… we’re just missing Ikea. It is a great time for Philippine consumers.

I can’t deny though that having all these brands so easily accessible has taken some of the fun out of traveling, especially on the shopping side. Now Manila has everything! Many brands we can find in a mall in Shanghai are now likely in Manila, Singapore, Jakarta, LA. And, following the imported brand trend, if something is popular it is probably just a matter of time before it gets here.

Even if a brand doesn’t have its own retail presence, someone, somewhere is importing them. Malen+Goetz are in Adora, Mario Badescu is now in Rustan’s, and Trader Joe’s stuff can be found in the SM grocery. A friend told me he was overjoyed when he found a Herschel bag in Hong Kong, but just a few months later I found them being sold at Bratpack. I even found Vosges chocolate bars in Healthy Options.

If we now have access to so many of the most coveted global brands right in our malls, is the thrill gone from shopping and other branded experiences when we’re abroad?

The gift of globalization may be that it neutralizes the exclusivity of the massively commercial. Because we have so many international brands that we don’t have to wait to get to other countries to experience, this frees us up to find the locally unique wherever we go. Friends took me to Symmetry and Bar Stories in Singapore, two wonderfully local joints. In New York I enjoyed shopping at Evolution and Kiosk, both awesomely local. In Shanghai I can point you to the one and only branch of Café del Volcan, which is I think the best coffee shop in the city. I can give you the number of Strictly Cookies, the best dessert to order, or lead you to Backroom and Taste, my favorite little boutiques in the French Concession, or show you my favorite neighborhood boulangerie and local Mexican/margarita joint.

I love that we’ve seen the rise of so many of our own food and lifestyle brands in Manila. When a balikbayan or foreigner comes to visit I won’t take them to Starbucks or boast about the new H&M. I’ll point them to The Curator, Wildflour, Ritual, Bucky’s, Chez Karine.  

There’s never been a better time to go local, here and wherever we find ourselves in the world.

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