JAKARTA -- America's Wild West thrives in a Jakarta slum. So do African jungles, European villages and a potpourri of exotic Asia - the brainchild of Indonesia's answer to Walt Disney.
'I watch the youngsters explore new worlds, and it makes me feel good,' said Aryanto, who has brought the excitement of foreign lands to children too poor to even dream of ever crossing their national borders.
Surrounding Aryanto's burgeoning 'Fantasy World' amusement park is a vast slum of open sewers, hovels and the miseries of poverty haunting an overpopulated city of 10 million people. Mounds of garbage and dark alleys between ramshackle huts serve as makeshift playgrounds for the shantytown children.
Some said he was crazy, but Aryanto saw a 23-acre wedge of land between the urban squalor and the Java Sea as an ideal location for Southeast Asia's first hi-tech theme park.
'This is not Disneyland. This is not the United States,' says the 53-year-old entrepreneur who opened the $15 million extravaganza three years ago. 'This is a pressure valve to relieve the stress on urban life' in the Third World.
In a country where the per capita income is less than $500 per year and travel only a dream for most, Aryanto provides a flight from squalor into enchantment at the lowest possible price -- 500 rupiahs, or 30 cents.
Busloads of children who cannot afford even that are allowed in free.
Many parents bring along a meal of rice and chicken for the children, avoiding the expense of an international selection of delicacies available to those who can afford them.
'I've never been out of Indonesia and probably never will,' said one woman, cheerfully watching her son and daughter explore Buffalo Bill Country, an area filled with stagecoaches, shooting galleries, a Western jail, a saloon, a log-riding roller coaster and figures of screen stars like the late John Wayne.
Aryanto's dream of an escape from poverty, if only for a few hours, started with a childhood fantasy about trains.
'I didn't even know there were such things as amusement parks, but I decided I'd have a train of my own some day to ride on whenever I wanted,' he says.
He still doesn't own a locomotive, but since 1967 has been part of a team running a government-owned array of amusements on the Jakarta waterfront. They include an oceanarium, marina, bowling alley, golf course and even an international motor racing circuit.
'What we needed was quality entertainment for the masses,' says Aryanto, who made 10 trips to the United States in search of a formula that would work in his homeland.
Drawing on Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii and hi-tech thrills at amusement parks elsewhere in America, the deputy director of Jakarta's Fantasy World turned a swamp into a fantasyland.
'In Disneyland, visits are measured in days,' he said. 'Here, it's only a matter of a few hours of rejuvenation. So what we offer has to be very special.'
A re-created 17th century Dutch colonial Jakarta welcomes visitors with a town hall and Dutch bridge leading to a quaint carousel, its horses revolving to folk tunes. The African zone has lush jungles guarded by mobile and vocal predators. German and English architecture dominates the European sector.
Japanese, Indian, Korean and Thai food fare beckon among pirate ships and pagodas. Dizzying rides challenge excitement seekers.
Despite the poverty of much of the park's clientele, Aryanto spared no expense in audio-animatronic technology. The 160 people employed in the 'Imagineering Department' turned out thousands of talking, singing and moving dolls and animals.
With the aid of two American advisors, all the figures were made in Indonesia, along with the computer programs choreographing their movements.
'The real skill is in merging technology and art,' said Teddy Darmanto, a former fashion designer who took a crash course in computer science to lead the creative team.
'You start with the doll and then you animate it,' Darmanto explained. 'If you do it the other way, you get robotics, not art.'
Belly dancers girate, Eskimos huddle in igloos and Parisian dancers perform the can-can. The designers made such strides that Aryanto now hopes to export the technological expertise.
'We knew if we built it ourselves, there would be no problem with maintenance,' he said. 'If we see ourselves becoming an international attraction -- and we do -- we should start thinking of these things.'
As for Aryanto, the lure of an amusement park never dies. Days off are spent towing his own two children around Fantasy World, where he still plans to erect his long-cherished train.
'It will be futuristic,' he adds with a wink. 'You can count on that.'