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Saturday May 4, 2013

Purrr-fect getaway

Hello Kitty and friends saying hi to everyone during the daily performance. Hello Kitty and friends saying hi to everyone during the daily performance.

Obsessed with a certain feline character but finding it hard to travel to Japan to get your fix? Why not head down to Johor? Yes, Johor!

THERE’S a little cat in town that’s seducing people with its doe-like eyes and that dainty red ribbon perched on its head. This feline is, of course, Hello Kitty, and she has won the hearts of many around the world since 1976.

Now the cartoon character (created by Japanese company, Sanrio) has made her way to our shores, to the Sanrio Hello Kitty Town. It’s an attraction that’s part of the Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park, a place of fun activities for the whole family.

Hello Kitty Town is definitely a dream come true for Hello Kitty fans. Here, you feel her presence everywhere – even when you’re answering nature’s call as the restroom cubicle doors are adorned in pink and, yes, that ever familiar ribbon.

Personally, I find it hard to understand why people are so infatuated with this animated character with the monotonous facial expression, who never has much to say in the first place. It brings me back to the late 90s when I was living in Singapore.

For a brief mad period during McDonald’s Hello Kitty meal promotion, there were large numbers of eager beavers who lined up and even camped overnight outside every outlet in the island in order to get their hands on the dolls. As soon as the doors opened, they would rush to the counter, order and grab their Hello Kitty gifts – with most disregarding the meal itself!

“How ridiculous!” a teenage me thought.

I vowed never to be part of this “Kiasu Kitty Klan”!

In the years that followed, I slowly did come to like the cat myself, though I’m certainly not a fanatic who’d camp outside anywhere to get a free Hello Kitty toy. However, I’ve gone as far as having my lap-top Hello Kitty-fied.

Kawaii, Hello Kitty!

It was barely 10am on a Friday morning, and the indoor Hello Kitty Town literally resembled a ghost town as things were just getting started for the day.

That gave us, a group of sleepy journalists and photographers, the freedom to explore the place without having to jostle with the crowd.

The town, measuring 20,000 sq ft (1,858sqm), is spacious enough for children to run around in while everyone else takes pictures and performs other touristy routines. The teapot merry-go-round would be the first thing you see on the left upon entering, and the tea, saucers and kettle of the ride are, of course, adorned with Hello Kitty images.

At around 10.30am, a seven-foot (2.1m) tall Hello Kitty made an appearance with her equally large companion, Dear Daniel. I’ve never felt comfortable with mascots, and so felt it was safer to just observe them from the side as they greeted enthusiastic visitors.

The adults and children, who were slowly trickling in, were delighted to see the pair and immediately started snapping away with their cameras and phones for the best “I was here” pictures. There’s also a photo counter where visitors can have their pictures taken with the characters to be kept as a memento.

The activity level increased in tandem with the number of visitors pouring in.

The Wishful Studio is ideal for the ladies (mums, friends and children) as it features a manicure station, a Hello Kitty Baking class where kids can bake their own Hello Kitty-shaped cookies, and a class that teaches one how to make a Hello Kitty doll.

Another interesting crowd-puller is the interactive game where visitors have to find Hello Kitty and Daniel through a maze. This isn’t that difficult, considering it’s designed with children in mind. But it’s all good fun.

What I particularly like is Hello Kitty’s House, where every piece of furniture, household item and ornament has the Hello Kitty touch. Of course, it all seems a little narcissistic – imagine someone who had all their belongings (even the piano) etched with their own face and portrait at every possible angle.

But her house is where the brand comes alive, and Sanrio is determined to show off the best of their Hello Kitty merchandise.

Not everything is for sale, but if you just can’t get enough of the charming feline, then there’s a shop on the ground level that sells merchandise from Hello Kitty, Kerokeropi (the cute little green frog with huge eyes) and the Little Twin Stars, an adorable pair of angels.

But mind you, all the products are original, so don’t expect any pasar malam deals.

More than just a cat

The Cat aside, the town isn’t just dedicated to Hello Kitty. The Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park is a four-storey building that also houses The Little Big Club, another themed attraction featuring favourite cartoon characters like Barney the purple dinosaur, Thomas the Train and Bob the Builder.

The club is just above Hello Kitty Town, and offers more fun rides and games for the whole family. Every now and then, a Barney or Bob mascot will come up to you and give you a friendly greeting, but honestly, that just made me jump out of my skin.

Be that as it may, meeting and greeting the characters, as well as other interactive activities, are big features of Hello Kitty Town and The Little Big Club, and this goes on from 10am to 5pm every day. More activities and performances are offered during the weekends and public holidays.

The Hello Kitty Café on the ground floor, as well as McBunn Café at The Little Big Club, serve simple grub. If you want to be entertained while dining and have the full kampung experience, then Lat’s Place is where you’d want to be.

As you enjoy your meal, which is infused with Malay, Indian and Chinese styles of cooking inspired by the lovable Lat characters, you’ll also be entertained by the “LAToons” and the singing wait staff. These “LAToon” friends are presented as cartoons on big screens, and they actually mimic the movement of real people behind the screen who can see you through a camera.

So, don’t be surprised if you suddenly hear your name being suddenly called out to dance with Rani, sing with Mrs Hew or talk about everything under the sun with the wise Pak Ali.

Visitors can also bring home souvenirs from the little shop that sells Lat merchandise, including T-shirts, note books and other collectibles.

> Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park is opened Monday, Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. It is open everyday during school holidays. Ticket prices for Hello Kitty Town and The Little Big Club are RM65 per person (adult or child) and RM50 per person with MyKad (adult or child). The two park pass (access to both the town and club) are RM110 per person (adult and child) and RM85 per person with MyKad (adult or child).

Lat’s Place is opened for lunch and dinner at RM120 (adult) and RM75 (child) with special prices for MyKad holders at RM88 (adult) and RM60 (child). For more information, call 03- 2203 9668 or e-mail ph.enquiries@tar.com.my.

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