Saturday, 28 February 2015

Our Lunar New Year High Jinks at District 21


For several years now, I have been giving friends and family experience gifts instead of physical gifts during special occasions. CovertDad was treated to a high tea at Carcosa Seri Negara on his birthday. Nicole was given a karaoke birthday party. Amanda got to go paragliding off Jugra Hill. Serina went paddleboarding with me on her birthday. Shamini had a slap-up dinner at Raku-Raku Vegetarian with Karen and me as a birthday gift. Experience gifts are all the more meaningful, even if expensive, because with each trip, outing or meal, we are giving our loved ones the gift of our time and attention.

My brothers and I don't share much in common now that we are adults, so our interactions with each other have often been restricted to the purely necessary. This Lunar New Year, however, I decided to reach out to them and bring back an element of fun and camaraderie into our familial relationship by organising an experience birthday gift for Big Bro, whose birthday always falls around the Lunar New Year. We see each other but once or twice a year, and it's a shame that we don't really celebrate each other's birthdays as a family anymore.

My initial plan was to take my brothers shooting Glocks at a shooting gallery in town, but the customer service representative who took my call when I tried to make a booking a month in advance was so inefficient that I had to call several more times to ensure they sent me the email informing me of the requirements for this event. In the end, I received the email a few days before the day I scheduled for our outing and realised that I did not have the time to fulfill their criteria of surrendering personal information to enable background and security checks. This left me feeling angry and disappointed, because if they had emailed me after my first inquiry, it would leave me with plenty of time to get the necessary paperwork sorted out. I thought it would be an ideal outing for my brothers and me, since they love guns and shooting, and Big Bro can't do it in Singapore unless he has the required licenses and permits. 

When I told my brothers of the change in plans, they seemed unaffected and cheerful, and still made plans to go ahead with BB Gun wars and beer parties at home for the Lunar New Year, so that offered me some consolation. I made alternative plans and proposed a day out at District 21, a new extreme theme park located in IOI City Mall, Putrajaya. They had not realised that a new theme park had opened in town, and were quite curious and keen. And so our excitement grew as our plans began to take shape, and even CovertMum and CovertDad were urged to set aside the Lunar New Year errands for a day to accompany us to the theme park. (Note: I had been assiduously spring-cleaning since November and there really wasn't much left for the parents to do except a few touch-ups.)

I want to sum up our experience in 7 words: "I am so, SO glad we went".

It wasn't as crowded as we had feared because it was still new and not as well-known as the Sunway Lagoon waterpark or the Berjaya Cosmo's World amusement park yet, and due to its distance from the city centre and the lack of public transport to the area. However, I am sure momentum will pick up soon enough. During my first visit to Sunway Lagoon in 1993, it was still so new that we practically had the waterpark to ourselves, and look at it now -- I went on a Thursday morning and it looked as though the entire city population had been rounded up and dumped in the waterpark. The crowds and publicity will come soon enough for District 21, I am sure of it.

As a side note, I think it's interesting how all 3 property developers have designed theme parks that are different enough from one another so as not to create competition or give rise to copycat allegations. Sunway Corporations's 'Lagoon' is a waterpark with a mishmash of themes -- pirate adventure, the Wild West and African safari. Berjaya Corporation's 'Cosmo's World' is a space-themed indoor amusement park with standard automated amusement park rides and one heck of an indoor rollercoaster that makes my knees turn to jelly just watching it corkscrew. And IOI Corporation's District 21 is a post-nuclear apocalyse-themed indoor adventure park with a focus on extreme sports (wall/rock climbing, ziplining, maze navigation, BMX riding, skateboarding, trampoline park). My first choice would of course still be the great outdoors, but amusement parks are still a great option for gatherings, outings and experience gifts.

The entrance ticket prices for District 21 advertised on social media are RM75 for each participating guest and RM15 for each non-participating guest (e.g. our parents) and so I was ready to fork out that sum for all of us. Imagine our surprise and delight when we were informed that as part of its introductory offer, non-participants get to enter for free (but are given white wristbands to indicate that they can't participate), while for every 3 participant tickets purchased (only RM55 and not RM75), we get the 4th for free! 

So I only had to purchase tickets for my brothers and sis-in-law, and got to go in for free. 

I'd say it was pretty value-for-money for a full day of play, considering that entrance tickets to Jumpstreet trampoline park cost RM25 per person for an hour, and SkyTrex charges us upwards of RM35 each for doing the treetops rope adventure course, rock climbing at Camp 5 would set us back at least RM30 each and ziplining usually costs us at least RM30 a go at KL Tower and other such places of interest. To have all these activities in one package for only RM55 a head is actually quite a bargain, provided, of course, you participate in enough activities to make it worth your entrance ticket fee.

Plus, the ticket price includes the grip socks for trampolining and grip gloves for climbing, unlike many establishments that require you to fork out extra, often without informing you clearly that you had to bring a particular type of gloves or socks or risk having to purchase a pair upon entry.

We had a somewhat overpriced lunch at a restaurant right outside of the theme park entrance, and the brothers hardly ate because they were convinced they were going to get sick all over everyone while doing the high ropes obstacle course. 

Our parents were just happy to be out with us, although we felt sorry that they would have to spend most of the day just watching us and waiting for us to finish.

A queue had already formed outside the climbing walls and towers (i.e. the 'Power Station') when we entered, and we had to wait well over an hour in line to get geared up with harnesses and helmets.

Big Bro struck a pose after reaching the top of the tower blocks.

Sis-In-Law climbed a radioactive glowing rock wall. 

I scaled the Tetris Wall.

We worked together to build a tower of blocks to help Sis-in-Law climb up the pillar.

And then we had a short break for ice cream and cold drinks.

Once our time in the Power Station was up, we moved on to the biggest attraction, the Roller Glider, which is a unique combination of a zipline and roller coaster. It was exhilarating! When the gates first opened and I could see people 5 storeys below me, I wondered if I would fall out of my harness and plunge to my death. But the people who created this piece of engineering marvel thankfully knew what they were doing and it is not so easy to fall or get hurt on this ride. For all of 20 seconds, I was hurled around the parameters of the theme park ceiling at breakneck speed, the wind in my face and eyes and my legs swinging wildly with the g-force at every turn. When I landed on the platform, I was pretty sure I wanted to go again, and so we did. I am glad we went twice. I think the Roller Glider alone made our visit worth the ticket price. I've never experienced anything quite like it.

Here are Big Bro and Sis-In-Law getting their harnesses and protective gear on for the Roller Glider.

My turn to get suited up with protective gear for the Roller Glider.

Big Bro went first.

I was third in line. Here I am, arriving at the landing platform after the 20-second adrenaline rush.

There was a Tubby Ride right next to the Roller Glider queue and so we went on them next. It was a short, fun, ride; going down a bristly ramp on a doughnut. So incongrous and silly and so utterly fun that I had to do it over and over again.

Me, going down the Tubby Ride ramp.

CovertTwin going down the ramp facing the other way around.

My brothers queued up to go on the Sky Trail high ropes adventure course but Sis-In-Law and I didn't meet the height requirements and had to be excluded for safety reasons. Sis-In-Law was more bummed out about it than me. At least I had done SkyTrex in the great outdoors before. 

While waiting for the brothers to move up in line, Sis-In-Law and I rode BMX bikes on the Pump Track. It was harder riding up the ramps than I expected, and I didn't quite trust centrifugal force to keep me from falling off the steeply sloping parts. Sis-In-Law did better than me on this one, which surprised everyone since I am the skater and bike trick performer in the family. There's just something about riding an unfamiliar bike on an unfamiliar ramp that made me a little more cautious than I usually am. Also, by then my jeans were so stiff with sweat that I couldn't bend my knees much.

Me, all ready to ride the ramps at the Pump Park.

Sis-In-Law's turn on the BMX.

Big Bro and CovertTwin were still waiting in line when we were done riding bikes, and I decided to check out The Maze, which was tougher than it looks. It was very narrow, dark and hot in the metal structure and claustrophobes would probably spazz out within seconds. It really was a maze and not just a tunnel for you to crawl through. There were many dead ends and false passageways and it took me several minutes to get out of the maze and into the skeletal-looking interconnecting tunnel. 

The tunnel led to a big metal cage with giant gym balance balls in them, and it was deeper than I realised because I fell in among the balls and was not tall enough to reach the other tunnel out of the ball cage. Still, it was a novel experience because I have never been inside a ball pit as a child (I'm not really sure of the reason for this but I suspect it was because we couldn't afford luxuries like amusement park tickets back then except as a very special and rare treat).

Once out of the ball cage, I had to climb up a metal globe, which was tougher than it looked on the outside, because the layers of the globe structure were woven trampoline straps, and if you missed your footing, your foot will fall through the gaps and you might get stuck for a while. Once at the top of the globe, you can ride a tube slide all the way down to the ground. 

I played on this for a good while, and also climbed up the wrecked schoolbus adventure gym.

Soon it was time for my brothers to go on the Sky Trail adventure course and we waited below to cheer them on and take fuzzy photographs. There was a point when Big Bro's carabiner got stuck and Covert Twin had to get onto the same platform to free him. I am sure my parents' hair turned one shade greyer watching their sons balance precariously on paint cans and suspended platforms 5 storeys above the ground.

When they completed the course and got back to the ground safely, we cheered and celebrated with more ice cream. The brothers were by then completely soaked in sweat and exhausted, and it was almost closing time. We had played for six solid hours and probably smelled like death warmed over. Oh joy.

We had a lovely family dinner at a teppanyaki place which had one vegan option for me, and agreed that the outing was a great start to the Lunar New Year of the Goat. I am glad that the family outing went off without a hitch or the usual squabbling and nagging, and most of all, that Big Bro enjoyed his birthday experience gift and is already asking what we plan to do next year.

When we simplify our lives and make the Lunar New Year less about errands and shopping and going crazy over elaborate preparations, we will find that we have more time for each other. You can outsource the cooking and cleaning but you can't outsource being a sibling or child or parent. I choose connection over consumption any day. Many Happy Returns to Big Bro, and may he have a successful and fulfilling year filled with wonderful adventures and exciting experiences!

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