Looking at my globe often makes me think not just of other distant places, or of a well-chosen gift, but of the shopping centre it came from. This was a welcome sanctuary on returning to the UK: a brand new air-conditioned mall with chain stores, a food court and a familiar, inside-outside light filtering onto marble floors. When I had lived previously in a different part of the UK, I had never seen such a place but on moving to Singapore, these surroundings were central to my teenage weekends.
Shopping malls also feature in my first memories of Singapore: the sensory assault from the smells of Chinese food and visual wonders of Japanese merchandise are still vivid, as if they had not become part of my daily life. So too is the feeling of relief that comes with stepping in from the tropical heat to be met by a stream of cold air inside the sliding glass doors.
On returning to the UK, I missed the hyper-capitalist globalisation that had been the backdrop to life in Singapore. Thankfully, a shopping centre had just opened not too far from my new home, providing a homely and familiar environment – a sanitised world in which anyone from a global city could dwell. When an Australian shopping mall opened near my later home in London, I was an early patron of a flat white and I have sat in the food court many times, looking out at the fresh surroundings and eating noodles. I am not alone in finding refuge in these spaces, of course. Amongst the thousands of shoppers, the current and returned expatriates are easy to spot, consuming something that reminds them of a distant home, whether a favourite clothing brand or a once commonplace cuisine. It is not just the setting, then, that makes me feel at home, but also the multicultural company of others looking for a little taste of home.