Every year, thousands of people flock to the Pesta site, drawn there by the bright lights, thrilling shows and good bargains at the Pesta Pulau Pinang. Penang State Tourism Development and Culture Committee chairman Danny Law estimated that 500,000 people would attend last month’s event.

The Pesta was the brainchild of the late Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu. It was first started in December 1970 at Esplanade as part of an effort to create a healthy environment for businesses; this was during a period of high unemployment, and the investment climate in Penang was not at its best, to put it mildly. The Pesta would showcase consumer goods and business items in a carnival-like environment during the holiday period.

Another objective of the Pesta was to bring some life back to Penang. The first Pesta was notable for reintroducing the Chingay procession, which had ceased for several years before then due to clashes between various teams. The month-long event would also serve to reaffirm to the nation that Penang was a safe place, one and a half years after the May 13 riots. The first Pesta was a huge success and moved to McCallum Street for several years before, due to the festival’s growing size, it was decided that the Pesta needed a permanent home. Subsequently, the festival was relocated to Sungai Nibong in 1974. In spite of talks of moving the Pesta to the mainland, it has remained on the island for the last three decades and takes place every December like clockwork.

When PEM visited the site this year, long queues snaked throughout as people lined up to get on the 19 rides that were available. The thick crowds would disperse only when heavy rain suddenly fell and everyone scrambled for cover from the elements.

The centre stage typically features cultural performances such as traditional dances and songs by local talent. This year’s Pesta featured performances by the Hangzhou Acrobatic Troupe; the young Chinese acrobats dazzled the crowd with feats of physical dexterity, agility and coordination. Booths and pavilions, often sponsored by corporate bodies or tourism boards of neighbouring countries, offered plenty of cheap bargains.

Special thanks to Datuk Seri Chet Singh.

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