Kidzania Jakarta – One amazing day with my nephew

I love the names of some Indonesian cars. Two have especially captured my attention. The tiny Suzuki “Rush” and the Toyota “Avanza”. Avanza is an antidepressant, and is especially useful when the patient suffers panic attacks. What a wonderfully apt name for a car headed to the street of Jakarta. Mel has organised for Ferdi the driver to help me out for the day. There is no way would I brave these streets myself, well maybe on a scooter, no way in a car. Ferdi has been driving in Jakarta for 18 years. The man deserves a medal as he always looks completely relaxed with his wide smile and a ponytail which pokes out from under his baseball hat. Getting out of the car to drop us off at Kidzania, Ferdi lights a clove cigarette and tells me not to rush.

8am, after our 45 minute drive, I explore a very exclusive and currently very deserted shopping complex with my four year old mate. Ameer is feeding me a steady stream of facts. “Fish makes you strong…I think Grandma is nice…I share with my sister, because I am nice to her…” (I also learn that sticky fingers show up really well on the crystal-clear Tiffany and Co window).

The reason we have arrived so early is to avoid traffic. Mel told me earlier, with a haunted shudder, that the commute here normally takes about 45 minutes but can stretch to over 2 hours in rush hour.

We walk past Prada and Louis Vuitton handbags in windows next to expensive looking suitcases and Jaguar cars. Ameer and I ride the elevators and muck around, killing time, as cleaners scrape chewing gum off marble tiles. This is the neighborhood where Mel’s other campus is, read rich people. I keep Ameer occupied by pointing out an arts exhibit. An artist has bent and stretched numerous red bikes into myriad different shapes. We try to guess what the bike riders would look like. “Uncle Ben, The man who rides this bike must have long legs…longer than Grandpa even!” he decides. I agree, the bike is over four metres long.

Just as I am starting to see the world through young eyes a steady stream of little Buddhas yelling signals 9am. Little Buddhas are fat, rich little Chinese kids. Dubbed little Buddhas by Mel, these kids display the most breathtakingly atrocious behavior. Over the course of the day I see them slap their nannies, push in line, punch smaller kids and acting like they own the place. They quite probably do.

grey Kidzania Jakarta   One amazing day with my nephewAmeer and I make our way to Kidzania. I know nothing about Kidzania apart from seeing a few photos from Mum’s recent visit with the kids. I also know it is meant to be quite a spectacle and did not miss the glint in Ameer’s eye when I uttered that magic word. I pay with real money and receive an electronic wrist band that is coded to show that Ameer is with me. The entrance price is very reasonable considering that we are allowed to stay for seven hours. Ameer is given a handful of Kidzos (The official currency of Kidzania) ands we walk to the ‘Air Asia’ counter. A fully grown lady greets us, she looks somewhat silly behind the small counter but takes it all in her stride. Smiling she checks Ameer’s ticket and waves us through immigration and into a plane-corridor.

We walk down this plane-idor into Kidzania. This incredible playground occupies almost the entire top floor of the shopping complex. Ameer and I stand in a tiny cobbled street amongst the first to arrive and try to get our bearings. Amazed I look at miniature two storey buildings, then up to the ceiling which is painted with clouds to resemble the sky. I feel just like Gulliver, except that instead of being tied and bashed, I am welcomed by costumed princesses, rabbits and policemen. They smile and wave, displaying early morning enthusiasm that fades as the day progresses. Tiny bakeries nearby warm their ovens for baking lessons, the kids can earn kidzos working in the hospital, putting out fires or fixing the race cars.

Our first job is to find the bank. I walk Ameer into the Kidzania branch and hear, not for the last time “Solly sir, only kids arrowed”. I wait outside in the street as Ameer makes his deposit. There are tiny “Kidzania Bank” ATM’s everywhere where Ameer can withdraw Kidzos with a real bank card to buy a drink or lollies at tiny supermarkets. Supermarkets are staffed by young workers who, not surprisingly are paid in kidzos. There is a whole economy here, as I watch Ameer in the bank I wonder if the global financial issues have affected the price of the Kidzos.

Both Ameer and I are somewhat overwhelmed by choice, we walk about for a while, dodging the ambulance which rushes a patient to the hospital for treatment by small doctors.  Ameer decides he wants to be a doctor so we walk, past small construction workers pouring cement and past painters gleefully covering a building with a vomit of colours, to the hospital. I feel a rush of Uncle-esk pride as Ameer, waiting patiently in line, ignores the little Buddhas and leans over to inspect a tree with interest. For the second time in less than half an hour I hear “Sorry sir, only kids allowed” Looking around slowly I try to come to terms with my exclusion from activity.

Every work station has large windows that allow stranded adults to proudly watch all the action (Me?, I watch with thinly veiled envy and pride). A man dresses Ameer in a white uniform and shows him into the back of an ambulance. It is not long before my nephew is whisked away to tend to a patient (from the acting school nearby) leaving me to look around. An ACA TM insurance fire engine with small fire fighters buzzes electronically past to an Acor TM Hotel which is on fire. The Honda TM driving school is next door and in front of me the Pokari Sweat TM-electrolyte drink” Hospital awaits my nephew’s return.

It all starts to make sense.

What better way to sell your stuff. Spoilt wives can drop their children here with nanny and go off to chase Tiffany and Co downstairs. I block out this blatant advertising as the ambulance speeds back to the emergency department, I see Ameer at work. He gently leads his patient to the consulting room where the grown doctor stoops and shows him how to use the stethoscope and remove bandages. With his patient fixed Ameer is paid with 5 kidzos and given a bottle of Pokori Sweat TM – electrolyte drink. Ameer hands this to me as it tastes funny. I thought it a bit ambitious, trying to market a sports drinks to a four to eight year old demographic. As we leave the hospital I spot children up in the second floor using a real, full size, Ultrasound machine on a patient. I want a go! Unfortunately this activity is for over six’s only, Ameer will have to wait.

I stand outside the glass door peering in as Ameer earns Kidzos making smooth, rich, Silver Queen TM chocolate, he grinds Java TM coffee and produces a tub of Pok Moi TM noodles. The noodle place amazingly has a real freeze dry machine and a proper packaging machine which wraps Ameer’s noodles, after he finished designing the label of course. I am torn between how truly amazing this place is, how much Ameer is learning and the in-your-face advertising which is every where. One little girl did look ridiculously cool as she whizzed by in a tiny electric Blue Bird TM taxi, with her plastic high heels and shopping bags blowing in the breeze as nanny gave chase.

Ameer starts to look tired after making his Noodles so, spotting a disco complete with short drink mixing station and tiny dancefloor, I decide he deserves a knock off drink. The sign on the door says; “Six and over only” but I put on my Uncle hat, crack my knuckles and prepare to dispense some important advice. To Ameer’s great delight I show him my best dance moves and give him a preparatory talk on sneaking in to discos. I try to get an identification card from an older kid but fail. Immune to my nephews big brown eyes, the ‘bouncer’ refuses entry so unfortunately Ameer will have to wait to road test my secret moves.

We share a lunch of tiny hamburgers made by small hands in the “Hungry-burger” bar. Without any prompting of pressure from Uncle Ben, Ameer decides to try the climbing wall. He is harnessed by a smiling man and for the second time today makes me very proud when he climbs right to the top of the building without hesitation and rings the bell. It amazes me to witness the difference between children and adults on a first climb. Adults usually freak out at some point, whereas kids trust so easily. When his climb is done, and about five metres above the concrete floor, Ameer just lets go and falls onto the rope, giggling. Once he is given his prize of two Kidzos Ameer takes me to the Walls TM ice cream factory where he makes a lime icy pole for me. My ice cream, however, mysteriously disappears before I can get to it.

Ameer is starting to yawn and looks burnt out so I decide it is time for home. We have only made it through four hours and done less than a quarter of the activities on offer. We walk through Kidzania immigration where the officer gives me a proper, no jokes, questioning. She tells me that we cannot reenter once we leave, I say this is fine. She then turns her attention to Ameer asking if he has spent all his Kidzos and if he has really finished. The immigration officer finally scans our wristbands, checking that this bearded guy really is Uncle Ben and grants us exit. I grab Ameer’s hand and walk out the door before the sounds of fun wafting to us from inside can cause any second thoughts.

In the car on the way home I am under instruction to keep Ameer awake at all costs so that he will sleep tonight. I frantically shove barbecue shapes into his mouth and put a movie on for him. Despite my efforts Ameer is snoring before the opening credits finish. As for me, I am still trying to come to terms with this incredible place. I’m trying to decide if it is a great playground or simply a marketing tool, a massive monument to cold war brainwashing techniques. It doesn’t really matter either way. Ameer is going to grow up to buy stuff with real money one day and he had great fun today so who cares?

2 Responses to Kidzania Jakarta – One amazing day with my nephew

  • Maureen says:

    This is truly the best review/write up I’ve ever read about Kidzania and you know what it is sadly so true! I’ve had friends who ‘dropped’ their kids with nannies there just so they can go splurge and enjoy lavish lunch around the mall.
    The little Buddha chuckled me – but sometimes I had to clench my hand restraining myself from wanting to flick them in their little head for being so obnoxious or zip my mouth trying not to give their parents piece of my mind – how very Mel to say that :D

    Found your blog from Mel’s Facebook btw. Will be back to read more.

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