One of the many advantages of homeschooling is avoiding the masses found lining up weekends and school breaks at exhibitions and field trips. Having just moved to Kuala Lumpur a couple of weeks ago, the girls and I decided to make a mid-week, term-time visit to the aquarium at the KLCC convention centre located in the city’s ‘golden triangle.’
We were pleasantly surprised by the aquarium overall. In my opinion, it’s a great size. It’s not so big your kids are exhausted halfway through your visit, but large enough to have a number of well relatively well designed exhibitions. We felt like we saw loads, learned loads, and got out relatively unscathed.
Their Sea Creature feeding show featured some sharks, turtles, and giant rays. I was mesmerized. More importantly, my girls were too. As it was our first visit, I didn’t pay attention to any other scheduled feedings or demos. Just walking through was a pleasure and helped instill the awe and wonder of the mysterious underwater worlds most of us seldom get to glimpse.
We had paid an extra 5 MYR per person for a new educational mini tour called Station Aquarius Workshop. It was located at the end of the main attraction and, thanks to this ticket, I was able to herd my kids through the mandatory giant souvenir store, at quick pace with the promise of ‘activities.’
We got to the station and were made to watch a video discussing the importance of conservation, the tragedy and implications of extinction, and our role in the polluting of habitats. You were asked to join the “conservation mission team,” learn as much as you can, and then march forth to help save the planet.
Petting leopard geckos, dissecting virtual frogs, and hands on viewing of the sea horse lifecycle were all interesting but little context was given to what we were seeing and handling. This may have been the result of a group of teachers having a special tour. No matter, the kids were excited for the grand finale: an aquatic themed coloring activity.
They could pick their favorite sea creature and get creative with some oil pastels. Once completed, a staff member uploads and projected your image onto the walls to swim around with other colored creatures. Then you were encouraged to jump around tapping the plastic in the ocean to clean it up. Successful taps made the bag disappear and replaced it with a burst of hearts and stars.
No sooner had we been schooled in the perils of plastics, we were dumped back into the gift shop.
This shop was stuffed with the usual suspects such as aquatic themed and annoyingly adorable stuffed animals, plastic figurines, and T-shirts. There was every possible permutation of junk imaginable from key chains and watches to plastic panda cups, snow globes of the Petronas towers, elephant and giraffe chopsticks. Giraffes and Elephants? In an aquarium? And why the white bengal tiger dolls and flying reptilian model sets? And plastic cheap binoculars, camouflage for boys and pink daisy flowered for girls. Nothing like throwing in a little gender-stereotyping while were are at it.
True to form, all the small children started tugging on their parents sleeves, begging for some more plastic junk they will likely cast aside in the next 48 hours. Plastic, plastic, and more plastic.
As I resisted my kids pleading, it hit me how absurd this entire situation was. How can an organization market itself as a force in conservation, out to educate the public, while simultaneously pushing mountains of cheaply manufactured plastic junk. That’s akin to Nancy Reagan running around shouting “Just Say No” while dealing crack to Kindergarteners.
As far as I can tell, this problem is endemic to all these types of institutions. The consumer cancer runs deep. It’s time to face the giant stuffed Elephant in the Aquarium.