Friday, December 31, 2010

Pesta Pulau Pinang

Went last night (30 December) to Pesta Pulau Pinang, an annual month-long carnival and night market on the outskirts of Georgetown. This event is particularly popular among Penang's Malays - and is similar in many ways to the Jakarta Fair, Sekatanen in Yogya and Solo and the like, with cheap clothes, household items and trinkets for sale, carnival rides and such.

There are regularly artistic performances scheduled at Pesta - a boria competition, Chinese acrobatics, and such - but we were not in luck last night. We caught a bit of a boxing match, and we also saw a reptile show from Thailand (with a young woman handling snakes inside a glass cage), but though a 'rumah seni' was advertised, we could not find this.

We did manage to get to 3 Indonesian pavilions - from Aceh, Sumatra Barat and Sumatra Utara - with vendors selling handicrafts. The longest-running of these pavilions (which are permanent structures, left vacant 11 months of the year) has been in business for 13 years, and is staffed by 20 people who ship over their goods 2 weeks before the fair, and stay in the pavilion for the duration of the event. The pavilions are organised by the propinsi governments, but the vendors are private Indonesian entrepreneurs selling wares that are designed to appeal to locals (e.g., Muslim clothing). No cultural shows were being fielded by any of the pavilions this year, though there have been such in the past.

Mentioning the snake show and Indonesian pavilions to my colleague Tan Sooi Beng over lunch, she read this as a sign of Penang's cosmopolitanism, and how the island has always been a meeting place of different cultures - Thai, Malay, Chinese, Sumatran and places further afield.

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