Kids, it's time to job-hop

Children can find out what it is like to be a fireman and put out a “fire”.
Children can find out what it is like to be a fireman and put out a “fire”.PHOTO: KIDZANIA SINGAPORE

They can make bak kwa, be a fireman and a surgeon all in a day

Next week, a mini metropolis will sprout up on Sentosa, where the kids are in charge.

The 7,600 sq m edutainment theme park KidZania Singapore - housed in the new Palawan Kidz City - opens on Tuesday.

The park is built to resemble a city: The streets are paved and there are modern establishments such as an airport, a police station, a hospital, a department store and a bank - but everything is resized for kids.

Here, the little ones - they have to be aged at least four - can get a taste of working life by trying their hand at being a fireman, a museum curator and a surgeon. They can even learn to make bak kwa. Most of the "jobs" come with uniforms.

The children earn wages in the form of kidZos - the official currency of KidZania - and can deposit their earnings in the bank or spend it as they please.

KidZania Singapore is the 23rd outpost of the global brand that was started by chief executive Xavier Lopez Ancona. The brand opened its first park in Mexico in 1999.

  • VISIT IT / KIDZANIA SINGAPORE

  • WHERE: Sentosa, Palawan Kidz City, 31 Beach View, 01-01

    WHEN: From Tuesday; 10am to 5pm (Sunday to Thursday), 10am to 8pm (Friday and Saturday, school holiday and on the eve of and on public holiday)

    ADMISSION: $58 for child aged four to 17, $35 for adult aged 18 to 59, $25 for toddler aged two to three and senior citizen aged 60 and above. Infants aged under two enter free. Book tickets online for a 5 per cent discount.

    INFO: www.kidzania.com.sg

"Role-playing is a big thing among kids as they like to imitate adults," says Mr Ancona, who was inspired to set up KidZania after his friends and relatives complained that there was no such facility for children.

Mr Ancona, 52, a bachelor, has 16 nephews and nieces.

More than 42 million people have visited the KidZania parks in 18 countries, including Malaysia, Britain, Japan, Brazil and Saudi Arabia.

Mr Ancona has plans to open outlets in the United States soon, which he deems to be the "largest and most sophisticated market" to break into.

The Singapore park and Palawan Kidz City were built at a cost of $90 million by Sentosa Development Corporation and KidZania Singapore. The park will be managed by Malaysian company Themed Attractions Resorts & Hotels, which also runs the park in Kuala Lumpur. Palawan Kidz City also houses children's edutainment centre Mosh!.

Except for the three outlets in Mexico that are owned by the KidZania brand, the overseas parks are franchised. As such, no KidZania is a replica of another and each has activities that might be unique. At KidZania Mumbai, for instance, kids can be a dabbawala (lunchbox delivery man), while at the Cuicuilco outlet in Mexico, children can learn to make corn tortillas in a factory.

In Singapore, there will be more than 60 activities, including two that are available only here: learning to make bak kwa and being a curator in a Peranakan museum.

KidZania Singapore is the only park to showcase a full-wing fuselage of an actual aircraft and is one of the few parks to have a sports stadium and mountaineering school.

Familiar home-grown and international brands can be found in every KidZania park as they are invited to be industry partners.

In Singapore, partners include Maybank and bak kwa retailer Lim Chee Guan. "Zupervisors" are on-site to explain and train the kids. Each task takes between 20 and 40 minutes to complete.

Although the experiences are built to be as realistic as possible, there are limits due to safety concerns. For example, a child role-playing a fireman will not put out a real fire, but rather, spray water onto a non-burning building.

Adults have to accompany kids below the age of eight into the park and pay an entry fee too and they are not allowed to take part in the activities. Adults can either hang out in the parents' lounge or be a spectator for selected activities.

For kids aged above eight, an adult has to "check them in" and leave his personal details. Every child will have to wear a security bracelet.

The Singapore park charges one of the highest admission fees. At $58 per entry for kids aged four to 17 and $35 for adults, it is the costliest in South-east Asia.

In Kuala Lumpur, tickets cost RM72 (S$25) for children aged four to 17 and RM35.10 for adults.

Singaporean Kelvin Ang, who has taken his three children to the Malaysian park twice, finds the fees for the park here "a bit on the high side".

"It's cheaper in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, but you have to incur transportation charges to go to those places, so it might work out to be the same," says the 39-year-old financial planner. He also notes that depending on where you go, instructions might be given in that country's native language.

He plans to check out the Singapore park to see if it is worth paying the admission fees.

"For my kids, it's a good educational experience as they have a chance to learn how money is earned and what it is like to work."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline 'Kids, it's time to job-hop'. Print Edition | Subscribe