Pesta Pulau Pinang - An Unexpected and Popular Legacy

loading The bright lights of Pesta Pulau Pinang.

Pesta Pulau Pinang was the brainchild of Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, Penang’s chief minister from 1969 to 1990. It began in 1970 as part of an effort to create a healthy environment for businesses during a period of high unemployment and uncertain economic climate. The carnival-like event showcased consumer goods and business items and was held during the year-end school holiday period.

In the early days, there was no fixed location for Pesta. It was held at places such as the Esplanade and Lebuh Macallum before it moved to the Sungai Nibong site in 1974. “The site has changed a lot since then – previously, there were fewer stalls and stores, more greenery and trees,” reminisces Mohd Zaidi Mohd Nor, the head supervisor of Pesta.

“There are different themes every year for Pesta,” says Zaidi. “Last year, we did an ‘I love Penang, I love Pesta’ theme – love tunnels and other love-inspired structures were constructed. The year before that, we had an animal theme where we invited vendors to display and sell animals, which was hugely popular with the kids.”

The attractions that draw in the crowds are the live concerts, funfair rides and games. Every year, Pesta invites various artistes and performers to perform; last year, there was a special acrobatics performance by a group from Beijing. Funfair rides and games are provided by reputable operators. “Safety is our utmost concern here at Pesta,” says Zaidi.

When asked what the top draw is, Zaidi laughs and answers, “Carpets.” Prices of carpets at Pesta are much more reasonable than those sold in stores. Carpet enthusiasts can easily spend a few thousand ringgit on carpets sold here, which come from all over the world.

Parking is normally a problem at Pesta as the available lots are limited and people who come normally stay from opening to closing. “It is recommended that visitors to Pesta 2018 use car-hailing services like Grab to avoid parking difficulties,” advises Zaidi.

Mohd Zaidi Mohd Nor, the head supervisor of Pesta Pulau Pinang.

A Boost to the Local Economy

Last year, Pesta raked in more than RM2mil from entrance tickets alone. This figure grows considerably if one includes rental income from vendors at Pesta.

“Rental for a lot at Pesta ranges from RM2,500 to RM40,000 for the entire duration. The revenue from rental last year was RM1.8mil,” says Aszeri Abdul Kadir, the supervisor for business, exhibitions and entertainment park of Pesta 2018.

Vendors are selected either through a draw or a bid. A refundable deposit of RM1,000 to RM5,000 is required.

For the draw, interested vendors fill up forms which they can get from the Pesta site office. If the vendor’s name is drawn, they can then participate.

Under the bidding system, interested vendors submit their proposals and offer to the Finance Department of Penang. A selection process ensues, and the vendor with the most interesting proposal or the highest offer gets a spot.

“There is a lot to consider when deciding which vendor will participate. Although pricing is one of the criteria, it is not the deciding factor,” explains Zaidi.

“Last year, as many as 1,300 vendors applied to participate. There are only 264 lots available, and one business entity is entitled to only one form. So, not everyone gets to participate, and vendors will keep trying year after year,” says Aszeri.

Wholesome entertainment awaits folks of all ages.

Siti Hawa Che Rus is a henna artist applying to participate in Pesta 2018 for the first time. “I have been a henna artist for about four years. I prepare the henna mix myself – it is a secret recipe. Typical red henna will last about a week, whereas white henna lasts a few hours. I started my henna business after I got married, and everything I know is self-learnt,” she says.

Cheng Ah Lee is a manufacturer of waterbed products from KL. He plans to introduce his products at Pesta 2018 to tap into the northern market. He travelled to the Pesta site to submit the forms so that his company could stand a chance to participate as a vendor. “This is my first time applying to participate in Pesta under my own company. Previously, I was a director of another company that participated in Pesta, but that was more than 10 years ago.

“We find that Pesta draws a huge crowd. We are also aiming to recruit marketing and sales executives in the northern region as well. We feel that Pesta is a great platform for us to sell our products and to recruit people,” says Cheng.

International pavilions for Indonesia and Thailand are also on show. “Indonesia has three pavilions representing West Sumatra, North Sumatra and Aceh. The respective countries manage their own pavilions for the whole 38 days. Traditional costumes, arts and crafts will be showcased at the Indonesian pavilions. The Thai pavilion is very popular for its mouth-watering cuisine,” says Zaidi.

Almost 100 workers are employed during Pesta. Clothed in smart uniforms bearing the Pesta logo, they each have their respective duties to ensure each night is a success, regardless of the size of the crowd. The highest recorded number of visitors to Pesta in a night was about 70,000 people.

“There is a trickle-down effect, so other businesses also benefit from Pesta. The event draws in folk from other states and overseas – we have visitors from Indonesia, Singapore and etc. They stay in hotels and dine at various eateries around Penang, benefiting business communities in the state,” Zaidi says.

Planning and preparations for Pesta begin in June. By September or October, forms for interested vendors will be made available. Structures, electrical fittings and fixtures will also be built for the event during this time.

Towards the end of November, the doors to Pesta Pulau Pinang will open and the event will last till the last day of the year. Then, a post-mortem of the event will be carried out in February or March.

The entrance fee is economically priced at RM5 for adults and RM1 for children aged six to 12. This year’s Pesta begins on November 24 and lasts till December 31, and the doors open each day at 6pm and close at 11pm.

“The theme for this year will be a surprise. We always try to have relevant themes, and our team does its best to ensure visitors to Pesta take back precious memories home with them,” says Zaidi.

When she is not writing, Tho Mun Yi moonlights as a Tarot card reader and makes a living helping her clients live more in the present. During her sessions with her clients, she uses Tarot as a guide to gain a higher sense of mindfulness and enlightenment.

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