You may have seen the billboards around KL. Kids dressed as doctors, cops, construction workers, reporters, under the words: “Kidzania. Get Ready for a Better World.”
No thanks, I think. I’ll stay in this Worser One.
At RM55 (US$18) per entry, I can teach my own kids to be reporters, thank you very much.
But as all parents know, you can never say never. I banned pink clothes for my babies. Today, the girls’ closets are filled with pink. Forbade Halloween candy. That lasted about 2 mins. Etc. etc.
And so it came to pass that I too found myself driving the kids, 6 and 8, to Kidzania last week.
Kidzania is basically a two-storey indoor theme park made to look like you’re outdoors. Kids wander through faux cobblestone paths and stop to take “jobs” performing surgery at a hospital, or fighting fires, or assembling a laptop, or any one of dozens of other professions. It’s a role-playing paradise. And it all looks real.
They get paid in “kidzos,” the currency of Kidzania, and deposit their takings at the bank, or spend it at a store.
But not just any old bank or hospital or store. Oh no no no.
We check in through AirAsia, stand in line to cash our “check” at CIMB bank. (Zoe immediately wants a CIMB debit card because our neighbour kid has one. She doesn’t know what it is or what it does but she wants one.)
The girls play nurse and care for infants at KPJ hospital. Parents peek from a distance, behind glass, as they don pink coats and give babies sponge baths, swabbing their navels and carefully wrapping them in a blanket. They feed them milk. It is, I have to admit, unbearably cute.
This place gives new meaning to “product placement.” And we paid to be bombarded with ads?? Why aren’t they paying us?
Since the first Kidzania opened in Mexico 12 years ago, some 20 have popped up or are about to pop up around the world. Tokyo, Jakarta, Dubai, Seoul. Mumbai opens next year. Singapore in 2014. None yet in the US though…
Their business model works thusly: businesses pay Kidzania to set up stores and other businesses in the park. We, the public, pay Kidzania to go in and role play in these stores. Genius, eh?
Did I mention that accompanying adults pay RM35 to get in?
Oh, oh, wait now the kids are firefighters, dressed in yellow raincoats and helmuts. Run, run out of the fire truck. The hotel’s on fire! (Unsurprisingly, this hotel is not a Mandarin Oriental or a Sheraton but a generic one…I guess it’s probably not great advertising to slap your name on a burning building…)
We stop to refuel at Zuperburger. Nuggets, a chicken burger and fries for 3 kids and 2 adults cost RM51. Suitably fortified with additives, preservatives and saturated fat, we push onward.
We find ourselves at the Accident + Emergency Department, where the kids dress scary-looking wounds. And get paid a few kidzos for their efforts.
We can’t leave, of course, without stopping at the New Straits Times. The chick at the door says of Maya: “8 and above only. 6 year I no suggest.” Oh dear. The state of English at the New Straits Times.
She can read and write, I say huffily. I do not add: Better than you.
The girls charge out in khaki vests with “PRESS” on the back. They get their assignments and run out, clutching notebook, pen and camera. Interview over, they rush back to the New Straits Times to carefully peck out their stories. Sap that I am, I find this ridiculously moving.
Four hours later, we emerge back into the Worser World.
The kids had a blast. Me? I felt conned. But it was the most fun I’ve ever had being conned.
Kidzania. Evil genius.