Friday, April 06, 2007

Santa's Sleigh: Bonding in Jakarta



I do believe these images are lost forever, which might just be for the best as they were rather disturbing .... read on.

Safari Land. The blurry effect is to replicate what your mind has to be like when you enter into this land. You can see the dragon returning to its stable and the giraffe emerging from Jungle Land taking a brave little girl for a ride she will never forget - even if she wants to.

I have finally arrived at the point in parenting where I can manage going to those “funland” places where they have ball crawls, see saws, bouncing things and various other dangerous devices. There was a time in my life when I would never even consider stepping foot in one of these places let alone actively participate in and support its existence. But things have changed and now I join thethrongs of nannies in making sure that the little ones are not crushed by the big hyper kid doing a WWF style, off the ropes dive into the ball crawl.
The “funland” at our mall is called Safari Land and the play area has a sort of jungle theme and is called Jungle Jumpland or something of the sort. There is a procedure to getting your kid into Jungle Jumpland and of course it is filled with all sorts of complicated steps and maneuvers. The workers already treat me with a bit of wary skepticism – because I am not Indonesian and not a nanny. Add to the fact that I forget the requisite socks and look like a slack jawed yokel because I enter into that glassy eyed, just short of shock stage that dads go into when they undertake things like themed restaurants, toddler/mother care type stores, and “funlands”.
But I am changing and now enter Safari Land like a seasoned veteran, bring my own socks and help manage the tumbling toddlers determined to somehow hurt themselves even though everything has rounded edges and is relatively soft. Due to my new found confidence, I felt it was finally time to conquer one of the more bizarre offerings of Safari Land; the forward moving, machine operated, rideable creatures.


The Chinese Dragons make quite an impression as they lurch out of Safari Land into the mall proper.

Four years ago, upon first seeing these things in action, they were so startlingly strange and unusually fascinating that I would actually follow them around the mall. Unfortunately, a description does not do these things justice but I will give it a shot. They include a variety of animals, a few Chinese dragons and a Santa’s sleigh attached to two reindeer. Most are in various states of disrepair, the lion is missing an eye, the fur on dog is ratty and patchy so it looks like it has contracted mange, the elephant has one tusk and it is sagging. They make quite a frightening site as they shuffle jerkily around the mall like something out of a Hollywood, B Zombie movie.


Giraffe.

Four years of living in Jakarta and two years of being a dad do a lot to a person, and today I actually thought this forlorn looking group of critters looked neat and that Emmerson would enjoy a ride on one. I bought her a ticket and then allowed her to peruse the lineup so she could choose one to ride. She chose Santa’s Sleigh. I didn’t like Santa’s Sleigh and tried to urge her to select the deranged dragon or the mangy dog, but she was set on the sleigh. She had to wait her turn as another kid had dibs and I watched with a tiny bit of concern as the reindeer began shuffling and the sleigh began jerking rather violently up and down, and back and forth. My concern grew as the sleigh came into site around a corner on its return journey. The carriage was still bucking erratically and the kid had a strange look on his face – one that said “I know this is supposed to be fun and I should be smiling but in fact it is scary and I am confused by this whole experience”. Unfortunately, Emmerson's skills of observations and intuition are not quite as keen as mine and she did not understand the look on the child as he came down the final stretch of a very disturbing experience. When I urged her to select another of the less violent looking creatures she again, insisted on Santa’s Sleigh.



The infamous Santa's Sleigh waiting for its next victim/rider.


I believe the chicken was out of commission or it had been acting particularly ornery and its handler had put it in the corner for a "time out" session.
When the guide (a handler trained in the unique idiosyncratic behavior of each of the creatures) spurred the reindeer on and the sleigh began to buck violently, I realized that even though Emmerson was smiling, she was actually in danger of getting whiplash from this ride. After about 20 feet of shuffling and bucking I actually placed my hand behind Emmerson’s head to keep it from whipping backward as the sleigh lunged this way and that. Every time I would take my hand away she got that same confused look on her face worn by the previous rider. To add to the overall bizarre and increasingly disturbing quality of the experience, half way through the trip, we heard emanating from deep within the bowels of one of Santa's reindeer not Jingle Bell's or some other appropriate Christmas themed music, but Celine Dion's voice belting out a particularly emotional rendering of the Titanic theme song. Finally, the handler guided the reindeer home and the sleigh was put to rest. I looked at Emmerson and she at me in a special, knowing way; for we had just experienced one of those unique moments in life where a special bond is forged that will remain with us for the rest of our lives. So in the future when she is angry at me for not letting her stay out late, upset because she failed her driving test again, or mad at her mom for embarrassing her again in front of her friends, I will simply have to say “Santa’s Sleigh” and everything will be seen in its proper perspective, and be OK.


Another "fun" land. Emmerson and I on the elephant ride.

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