Getting off the bus, we were pinned in between the sign that said ‘Welcome to Toronto’ and another that said ‘Welcome to Markham.’ Across the intersection’s two cold crosswalks was a mall. Now I know, Toronto has plenty malls. Dufferin, Eaton, Yorkdale, there’s plenty options of places to shop and overcrowd on Boxing Day. But there’s one mall that’s different, has an identity so to speak, which isn’t hard when you exclude a Banana Republic from your innards. It was a mall that me and handfuls of friends would venture to after the slower winter high school days. And despite the ethnic flair, it hugs the line of dozens of identical suburbs. Pacific Mall is Toronto’s most authentic attempt at a taste of Japan. You can bet your illegally bought swords it’s full of white anime nerds.
Karen and Curran join me on this hour-ish TTC pilgrimage. I promised them a swell lunch, my now surprisingly foggy high school memories telling me that the food court is the highest priority. We piledrive through the parking lot, the crowds, stores and escalators to the top floor. Passing through some pagoda frames and wacky dragon murals we make our way to an ambush of erotic smells. Sweet pastries and savoury soups conflict my senses with my wallet. The final nail is hammered in by the loud slapping noise of a chef subduing a worm of noodle dough. Each barrowing slam echoes like a masculine mating call. I shell out a fair seven dollars for a noodle soup and coca cola. The deal comes with a complimentary cold soy drink, which tastes exactly like it sounds, so I’m glad I grabbed a soda pop along side. Karen wanted to nosh on some spring rolls as well, whipping her head about to spot an ATM through the crowds. I ask an old white woman sitting parallel to where we were standing. She just tells us she’s also clueless, and that this is the first time she’s even been in the damn mall in the first place. I assure Curran that I didn’t ask her first simply because she was white. She was just the closest is all. That’s all.
The soup is delicious, and leaves all standard mall food court fare sore in the rain, totally earning the shrivelling laminated Toronto guide articles placed along the order counter. Finding a table was not necessarily as cherished a memory. The most scenic, pagoda themed ones filled the fastest. We settled with some just off to the side, at view of a Japanese magazine shop and “The Emperor’s Chair.” The lavish chair has a paper taped to it asking that people do not sit in it. I’m sure plenty jackasses on a regular basis make boorish spite to the modest piece of white paper.
Once we finish our meals we head back out of the most cluttered end of the mall back into the main circle. We rotate around booths clinging on to the elevator, selling swords and jade, all of questionable legitimacy. After closer inspecting a karaoke establishment so tightly built up we half expected a moustached dwarf to pop out and tell us no one can see the wizard, no one no how. We burrowed into the arcade. The arcade, like the food court, I more vividly remembered. One night, me and two other desperate nerds went all the way up to participate in a midnight madness, free play event. Endless attempts and headstrong import arcade titles. Dance Dance variations, horse betting simulators, but none so struck out as much as the Fist of the North Star punching game. The game, a stand up red box with a screen and deep indent, had you punch red targets that popped out of the sides of the hole as they frantically clicked in and about. You are supposed to be supplied with light gloves to spare your knuckles, but not knowing this I went bare Balboa and left my hands red, more scarred with adrenaline. Though upon this visit, I found that cabinet to be gone.
The arcade was now rebranded with Playdium, a slight shock because I had no idea that the dying establishment had the energy to spread. Many of the zanier imports were gone, though the Japanese style fighting cabinets remained, where foeing players sat opposite on separate screens. Curran asked me if I was going to go a round of Street Fighter IV, and after I wiped the drool from my lip I told him there were better uses for my money than to pay someone to beat me up.
While the top level is the most cramped, the main floor feels much more like an ambush. All stores are boxed in glass spaces. The retail doesn’t so much receive an abode as much as they get a cubicle, feeling much more like a trade show than permanent residence. To make up for the lack of solid walls, some stores get creative. Postering the glass with product, posters of pretty boys, hypersexualized booty shorts, and Gundam. There was an intense Disney fetish. While I may have forgotten Lilo and Stitch, Pacific still holds the zany alien runt near to their heart, making him plush at every opportune moment. One of the most outstanding oddities was a gemstoned Donald Duck phone, which struck Curran so hard he had to alert me and then wait for a post-shopping Karen to alert once again.
It’s easy to get lost, despite the layout being no more than rows. Competition must be fierce, as many story types repeat so often you feel as if you were walking through an animation cell. Dry ingredients that look so visually salty you get thirsty thinking about it. Computer part store that I can’t even chip any knowhow into. Bootleg DVD emporiums that so proudly post yellow “NO ENGLISH” signs upon the merchandise. Pink, cutesy girl boutiques and capsule toy basins. With the glass walls and hobbles of people, it’s like focusing on an infinite repeat.
The trip didn’t feel as much as a journey as it used to, though perhaps it’s because the sun remained up for the first time I’ve been. One thing that I can say has changed is just how much I noticed people enjoying the mall. With the one exception of a woman scolding her child, families and especially children had no trouble smiling. Kids dancing about a game counter while their dad played an exceptionally high definition NBA game. Teens pointing, noting and gagging about all the strange novelties. This is the mall for those who hate malls: where the shopping experience itself so often instills monotony, Pacific is like an invasion of an outside tradition. I’ve never been to Japan, perhaps for a Yorkdale to land there would stir the shit out of them. But here, I’m glad we have Pacific Mall.