KL is no exception. We seem to spend half our waking hours in malls, along with the rest of the population here. And there is nearly always something for small children to do, breaking up mummy's dull routine of rifling through coat hanger after coat hanger. Of course, the options range in size and quality, but virtually every mall will have at least one small playground or 'soft play' area. Some of them are free, others charge a nominal fee. The best thing about these places is that everyone's happy - your little one gets a neon-coloured change of scene, and you're free to sit back, relax and take it all in. As you do so you'll no doubt find the people watching is plentiful.
The first model to check out in any play centre the world over is Second Wind Dad. You'll spot him easily. He's the one who's desperately trying to convince his kids to 'have a go' on the climbing wall, because deep down he's hoping it'll give him an excuse to climb up too. He's the dad who can't resist having a surreptitious little jump on the trampoline when he thinks no one's watching.
Another favourite play centre parenting model is Downtime Mum. Downtime Mum is so completely and utterly exhausted that she sees the play centre as her ticket to five minutes of peace and quiet. And so, for those few, blissful moments when she sinks down onto a foamy barrier, she is in her own, perfectly insulated little world as her children roam in distracted bliss. She pretends she's sitting at home in her own lounge room. Out comes the favourite magazine, the crossword puzzle or the ever-accessible mobile phone for a few minutes of social networking escapism.
If you are very lucky, you'll find another parenting type too: Mr/Mrs Chatalot. This encounter is a traveller's dream. Chatalot has been so starved of adult company s/he is desperate to commune with anyone who can string more than three words together - even if the only option is the pasty foreigner lurking in the corner. He or she will happily share local gems that you won't find in any guidebook - the best parks, the best ice cream stops, the best toy shops and perhaps most usefully, the restaurants where you can order a decent meal and leave without hanging your head in shame at the amount of food your two-year-old has thrown all over the floor. The only difficulty with this parenting type is that he or she may want to come along to dinner with you.
There's just one more (obvious) component in all of this. The children. Don't worry about language barriers. Forget about cultural differences. In every play centre around the globe there will always be those key preschool characters: the rowdy one, climbing the walls and bashing his brother over the head with a foam brick; the quiet one, sitting in the corner staring at it all in open-mouthed surprise; the leader, with a troupe of toddlers following her in admiration; and the comedy act, bashing himself in the head with a foam brick in a desperate attempt to elicit the same admiration the leader garners by just being, well, normal.
KL-ites take note: we've just found a brilliant play centre at the Aeon Mall in Setiawangsa called Kidizooom. Entry: RM10. Watching your little boy, decked out in builder's hat and jacket being 'made up' with play make up by a bossy little five year: Priceless.