The orange glow of open flame licks menacingly at the French windows as the silhouette of a fireman hunched over the burning wreckage is just made out beneath the balcony. To the side, an instructor with a megaphone yells directions at a team of 15 helmeted recruits standing at a row of fire hoses — Left! Right! Up!
Even though most of these firemen-in-training dousing the blaze are barely a few feet tall at best, they’ll be paid for this work — a total of five kizos each. They'll be able to spend this money elsewhere in the game park on anything they like — getting a makeover at the beauty salon, for example, or taking a flight on the replica Air Mekong aircraft. They may even choose to deposit their money at the KizCiti Bank on-site, which they will then be able to withdraw and spend on subsequent visits.
The premise behind KizCiti (Khanh Hoi Park, top of Hoang Dieu, Q4) is that it’s a pint-sized simulation of real adult life in which playing a grown-up goes way beyond dressing up in daddy's clothes. The entry ticket (VND180,000 weekdays, VND220,000 weekends and holidays; adults VND20,000) gives each child 20 kizos which they can use to take part in any of the charged activities in the park. If that starts to run low, they can enlist in one of the education-oriented games where they’ll learn a ‘trade’ and earn more to spend. Most of activities booths are sponsored by real Vietnamese companies such as TH True Milk, Vinawa Water, and Kinh Do Bakery, and would take the average child a few hours to work their way around.
Work and Play
The variety of activities is fascinating. Among the ‘professions’ kids can learn are portrait photography at the Sony Studio, doctoring at the hospital (you’ll see groups of kids rushing their patients across the forecourt on stretchers), fixing a realistic-looking vehicle at the Audi workshop, or even creating new concept vehicles at the car design studio. Kids over 1.35m tall can attend a road code class at the driving school to get a special driver’s license — they’ll need one if they want to take a mini race car out on the track. Interestingly, there’s even a police booth where the kids can wear realistic-looking police uniforms. We was assured that the participants would not be collecting kizo fines from the other children.
Conceptually, this falls into the category of those truly inspiring ideas that manage to give rise to something extraordinary. That this has actually happened in Ho Chi Minh City is the work of the founder Le Quang Hung, who opened the park on Christmas Eve last year. Having seen something of the kind in Malaysia, Le realised the potential of the model to present kids with a far more intriguing level of challenge than the tired old roller coasters and dreary pony rides of other theme parks.
We can't say with confidence that it's operating at quite the level it should be, however. After less than a year in operation, the park still looks unfinished — there are a couple of new developments underway, sure, and there are likely to be more activities included once more sponsors come on board, But the neat kizo ATMs are still offline, and many sponsors have missed the opportunity to make their offices as inspiring as they could be.
In fact, KizCiti's greatest failing is its workers — park management has not grasped the value of hiring vibrant, kid-friendly staff, and most po-faced attendants stand about miserably as if they're being underpaid. They do undergo rigorous safety training, but their lack of enthusiasm will do little to assuage the doubts of safety-conscious parents. The park needs to bite the bullet and hire genuine kid-friendly professionals to bring the vibe up to where it should be.
The ultimate test, though, is how the kids like it. We asked seven-year-old Truc what she thought of the park, but she didn't have time to chat. She had to rush across to the newspaper office to get a story out and earn a few more kizo. We know the feeling.
*Grup, is taken from an episode of Star Trek in which Captain Kirk et al. land on a planet of children who rule the world, with no adults in sight. The kids call Kirk and the crew ‘grups,’ which they eventually figure out is a contraction of ‘grown-ups.’