The ground shakes, sirens wail, things fall and children are bewildered. Can they react? Yes. As scrambling for cover begins—the crisis barely managed—sirens sound and a familiar red vehicle whizzes by ejecting half a dozen fire-fighters to bring the blaze under control with water cannons.
Scenes from a movie? No, not quite. These fire-fighters were all under the age of 10, and this is My Rules World, the innovative new attraction that opened barely two months ago in the revived ghost mall that is South China Mall.
The amusement park is the product of Shenzhen OCT Hike Co., a subsidiary of Happy Valley OCT Group, which also produced the famous Windows of the World, Happy Valley and Interlaken Town. It was year 2010 when the company set out to penetrate the youth market. Since then, it has been focusing on “edu-tainment,” merging education and entertainment. The chain successfully operates in cities like Shenzhen, Chengdu, Wuhan, Zibo, Xi’An and Nanjing.
The Dongguan branch’s 6,700 sq. meter facility is a child-sized replica of a real city, including buildings, shops and theaters, as well as vehicles and pedestrians moving along its streets. In this city children aged 3 through 15, “work” in jobs ranging from reporting news for a Southern Metropolis Daily-sponsored news agency, delivering parcels for a China Post Office and piloting an airplane sponsored by Shenzhen Airlines, to landing a spacecraft on the moon.
Aristotle once said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them,we learn by doing them.”
Once they’re in, kids have four hours to try as many occupations as they can. Each experience usually lasts 30 to 40 minutes. There are 50 professions available with plans to add more as they grow.
Some professions have proven more popular than others. Firefighting, police work and airlines are drawing big numbers. In the airline mock-up cabin, boys operate the cockpit, while girls take passengers through the “welcome aboard and fasten your seatbelts” routine.
Before any feminists readers start burning bras and calling for equal treatment, know that girls can be pilots too—upon request. Amusingly, I know one very angry father who thought the approach type casted his three darling daughters as flight attendants. “They are, and can be so much more,” he said indignantly.
A personal favorite is the dark shooting arena set up for the SWAT teams. Here, cool SWAT officers don electronic vests with sensors, navigate the dark maze and shoot at each other with UV lights.
Aristotle once said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Personal experience is a powerful learning tool. Through each job and activity, kids learn about how society functions, how to work with others, respect, confidence and self-esteem. All deemed real-life skills needed to succeed in the adult world.
Financial literacy is also introduced as children learn about the value of money. They earn My Yuan while performing tasks, and the money can be kept in the My Rules Bank or spent at the gift shop or on other activities within the facility.
Independence is cultivated, as no parents are allowed into the career spaces. Most observe the proceedings through glass windows, filming the action whenever they can. Others prefer to relax in the parents’ lounge, as older kids are encouraged to explore and figure things out on their own.
For the sponsors, direct marketing and interactive advertising allow future consumers to see, hear and touch the brands over and over again. Children, the little sponges, are much more impressionable. Case in point, how many of us can still sing the Toys-R-Us I Don’t Wanna Grow up jingle? But change is not likely.
“The list of sponsors are expected to grow,” says Mr. Liu Sikai, the vice marketing manager of My Rules World Dongguan. Sponsors helped with the construction of each respective career space and also performed training for the staff, all in a bid to provide the most realistic job experiences for the children.
Everyone who enters the theme park is made to wear electronic bracelets. For the children, they’re used to check-in to each career space, and can be used to track where the children are at any time within the park. For the adults, they’re used to operate lockers and pair up children.
Each ticket for each session during weekends and public holidays is RMB 180 per child, and another RMB 30 for accompanying adults. Weekdays are slightly cheaper.
Signage in the theme park has English translations on them. Unfortunately, the staff speaks very limited English, or none at all. A basic command of Mandarin is recommended, as most of the “jobs” require “training,” a somewhat lengthy explanation of what to do.
Parents often have big dreams for their children. And it is fun to throw them into this big, big world to observe where interests lie, and perhaps try to steer toward a particular career path? If these are not reasons enough to visit this interesting new concept, I know tired parents of small children will appreciate four hours of peace and quiet while the kids are entertained. Enough said.