THE New Zealand Annual Dinner and Dance has come to be listed in the social calendar of Kuala Lumpur’s expatriate and corporate community for four possible reasons.
“We start on time and there are no long-winded speeches,” said Malaysian New Zealand Chamber of Commerce (MNZCC) chairman and event organiser Richard Tankersley, who also cited a delectable menu and a line-up of New Zealand international stars as winning factors.
The annual dinner which saw some 600 guests converging at Shangri-La Hotel’s grand ballroom recently, lasted well past midnight with a free flow of red and white wine.
Spreading the joie de vivre spirit was Tankersley, 73, who got the ball rolling by being the first one to step onto the dance floor with committee member Doris Ng.
The Masterton native was seen dancing the night away with a few partners.
“They like to chase me for a dance,” joked Tankersley, who used to teach the twist and rock and roll during his university days.
Though he lasted three hours on the dance floor at the event, Tankersley claims his record was eight, a feat achieved sometime in the 1960s.
The annual dinner and dance event is organised by MNZCC and began in 2002 with 256 people. Ticket sales, priced from RM300 nett for members, hit an all-time high with 800 revellers last year.
“We could have easily sold as many this year but as it was a long weekend, many people opted to visit their families,” said Tankersley of the event.
For loyal fans who turned up, the event mainly acted as a platform to network and reconnect with old friends.
MNZCC past chairman Yong Kee Chiang said Malaysia has always had a place in the hearts of the Kiwis due to trade links.
“We buy their fruit, meat and milk. They buy electrical and car spare parts from us,” said Yong, an international export consultant.
Malaysia and Brunei trade commissioner Matt Ritchie said Malaysia is New Zealand’s eight largest trading partner. Yearly bilateral trade between the two countries is estimated at RM8bil annually.
“Trade began in the 1950s when the Colombo Plan saw an influx of Malaysian students in New Zealand universities. Trade came naturally and among the first companies was Fonterra which brought Anchor butter and Fernleaf milk powder to Malaysia,” said Ritchie.
A reflection of this longstanding partnership is the New Zealand-Malaysia Free Trade Agreement signed in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 26, 2009. This saw an exemption of tariff for goods sent between the two countries.
Using this platform to advance his goat farming venture in Kampung Kuap, Sarawak is Brangka Munan, who was in the dairy farming industry in New Zealand for 23 years.
Son of author and honorary curator of beads at the Sarawak Museum, Heidi Munan, Brangka, whose family migrated to New Zealand in 1985, said he was looking to utilise technology from both sides to obtain the best results for his goat farm, run with his wife, Philippa.
But trade is not the only factor driving the party.
Nostalgia, hinted Dialog Group Bhd executive chairman Tan Sri Ngau Boon Keat, has a role to play.
Ngau, who spent his student days at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, remembers his first impression of the country when he arrived there at a time the population numbered only 2.5 million in 1967.
“It was heaven on earth. There were more sheep and cattle than people and the scenery was breathtaking,” recalled Ngau, now 65.
Dialog may have up to 30 engineers from New Zealand on site at any one time, depending on project requirements.
A loyal follower of the event for the past 10 years, Dialog sponsored the two Maori dancers who performed at the opening ceremony.
Frankie Stevens started the dinner with a beautiful rendition of the New Zealand national anthem and Shane Cortese, who put up a powerhouse of a show with his band, The Class of 58.
Guests also took part in a live auction of hand-knotted carpets supplied by Easter Carpets.
Malaysia Development Bank director Zainul Rahim Mohd Zain, who had successfully bid for three carpets over the past three years, said the thrill of competition added an additional element of fun to the night.