Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Last Saturday I went to Efteling, a children's fairytale-themed park, on the suggestion of a friend to explore a 'winter wonderland' while the snow was still falling and white! A good thing too, since the snow only lasted a week, and it's been pretty much reduced to rain this week ): Who cares that we aren't children anymore, I've always had such a soft spot for fairytales.

We took a train to Tilburg, that's only about 1.5 hours away from Den Haag.
From Tilburg there's a city bus to Efteling! The great thing about the Netherlands is that the entire transport system is synchronised, so you can tap in and out of all public transport modes using an OV chipkaart, which is like our EZlink cards.

It happened to be the coldest day I've ever experienced since coming to Holland, but we pushed on doggedly to see all the life-size models created to bring fairytales to life. The Sprookjebos, or Fairytale Forest, was one of my favourites. Life-size moving models were made to illustrate fairytales like Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. Being made a few decades ago, these models were put in dioramas - more for looking that interacting with. So it wasn't hard to imagine that you were actually in a forest, chancing upon the candy cottage of a witch! And thanks to the dominance of European literature, most of us all over the world have read stories written by Hans Christian Andersen.

There were also rides, and this is where racial and national stereotypes come to life. One ride called the "Carnaval Festival" showcased the 'typical' aspects of countries like France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, etc. Which is all okay, because they're stereotyped by things like chocolate, watches, or colours. And the same doll is used for all the characters in the diorama - two spheres for the head and body, big-eyed, cute feet.

But then! We reach Japan and suddenly the dolls all have slitty eyes and are fat (sumo wrestlers) and there's this ominous 'Asian' music filled with gong sounds. And of course there's more slitty-eyed geishas shuffling around.

The worst? Africa. The dolls have gone black, with wide cream lips and nose piercings! And all of them are shown hunting wild animals of various kinds.

You can watch a video of the whole ride here:

I know it's for kids, and it's stereotypes, but it borders on being racist and isn't it time to update the exhibits?

The Cannibal Ride, featuring an African doll with a bone nose piercing.


adeline said...

haha i suppose they built this fairytale theme park a long time ago and it'd take a bit much money to tear it down and build it unstereotyped. it's funny how europe is supposed to be more forward thinking and liberal but you still have theme parks like these! reminds me kinda of the windmills i saw in holland. we need 'symbols' to tell us where we are lah. but this is pretty archaic. and fairytales ARE actually where these stereotypes and stuff pervade right. guess it's easier to categorize things into neat packages when we're 'teaching' kids, coz then you don't have to explain all the greyness and complexities?

Sya said...

I agree that stereotypes make it easier to see the world, but racist stereotypes like African cannibals and sexy Orientals is not useful ):


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