JOHOR BARU: Royalty, politicians and tourists joined thousands of revellers from both sides of the Johor Straits for the country’s biggest Chinese New Year party on the fringes of the city’s Lido beach here, yesterday.
They braved the rain to gather at the celebration site at the scenic Danga Bay, which is part of a major project to transform the beach into a waterfront “jewel” with residential, commercial, recreational and social development.
The grand opening of the programme was televised ”live” in Malaysia and Singapore.
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Syed Putra Jamalullail and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Fauziah Tengku Rashid, together with the Tunku Mahkota Johor, Tunku Ibrahim Ismail and his wife Raja Zarith Sofia Sultan Idris, graced the occasion.
Leading the VIP guests were Prime Ministers Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Goh Chok Tong from the republic.
Among the others were Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his Singapore counterpart Brig-Gen Lee Hsien Loong and Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman.
The organisers – the Culture, Arts and Tourism Ministry and Johor government – estimated the crowd to be around 300,000 people, including some 50,000 visitors from Singapore.
They began arriving at Danga Bay from as early as noon to enjoy the activities that had been lined up, including water scooter performances, stunt shows, stage performances as well as a feast of local food.
By 5pm, the site was crowded as many went to the venue early to avoid traffic congestion and road closures.
Dances representing various ethnic groups, including Indian, Iban, Kadazan and the Chinese lion dance, welcomed the royalty and other dignitaries.
A focal point of the celebration was an enormous yee sang platter which, at 4.57m in diameter, made it into the Malaysia Book of Records as the largest.
The King hit a large Chinese traditional drum three times to mark the start of the event.
Just then, a giant lantern lit up, followed by thousands of lanterns of various sizes, which were strung throughout the whole area.
Among the entertainers at the giant party were singers Penny Tai, Summer Grace, Grasshopper, Nick Shen and Jamie Teo.
The Beijing Opera had the crowd mesmerised with their performance of the Monkey Story.
Gurmit Singh aka Phua Chu Kang was also on stage to sing and tickle the crowd.
Ning Baizura, Ramli Sarip, the JB Chamber Choir, Sasi The Don, Abu Bakar Ellah and the Yayasan Warisan Johor kept the crowd entertained with songs and dances until the night’s finale of a spectacular 15-minute firework display.
The royal entourage, accompanied by Abdullah, Goh and other VIPs, mingled with the crowd who stretched out to shake the hands of the King and Queen as they were leaving.
Australian visitor Grant Allen, who is on his first visit to the country, said it left a deep impression on him as he was touched with the warmth extended by Malaysians from all walks of life.
Allen, 39, an engineer in Singapore, had decided to take a drive here with his wife Connie, 39, nine-year-old son James and daughter Samantha, seven, after watching the advertisement on the open house on Singapore television.
“I believe this is something unique. I can see Malaysians from all walks of life – Chinese, Malays and Indians – coming together to celebrate the festivity without worry or fear.”
Technician Ahmad Mohd Daud, 42, and his family, from Singapore, came to experience the Malaysian style of Kongsi Raya.
“I am glad that I came. It is nice to experience Malaysian hospitality. It shows that Malaysian warmth transcends racial and cultural barriers,” he said.