A Malayan New Year

JANUARY 5 — Welcome to 2020. How did you usher in the turn of a decade? With friends and drinks out in the town? A quiet evening with family? Or perhaps even bed at 10pm and the classic joke: wow, I slept for a year.

For me, fireworks are non-negotiable. Perhaps because I am Singaporean and I cannot set them off on a whim — but largely because there is something magical about a larger-than-life fireworks display.

It is beautiful, ancient and humbling; a fitting way to honour a new year with thunder and light. 

Singapore’s annual fireworks display is nothing short of extraordinary. I mean no one does it better than we do.

This year there was the added thrill of a drone show; 500 drones doing a synchronised dance. Innovative and truly a fitting tribute to our era. 

But I missed the whole thing and ended up watching a YouTube video of the display because this year (technically last year) I decided to take my family across the causeway to celebrate.

Still seeking out fireworks, I discovered the annual Puteri Harbour New Year party and brought my entire clan there for a night.

The fireworks over in Johor Baru weren’t half bad. I was certainly a lot closer to them than I would have been back home... but it wasn’t the same spectacle.

What did sparkle for me though was the pasar malam and the pleasant strip of bars and restaurants that had been decked out for the occasion.

There really was a pleasant vibe to the whole thing. Less slick and smooth than Singapore’s space age fest, but charming. Street food classics like goreng pisang and kuay teow were available of course but also fancy New Zealand meats, conveyor belts of sushi and very agreeable gelato.  

There was a sort of casual mixing of races and ages that is sometimes hard to find in Singapore.

Crucially, there were events and amenities at every price range. Six-ringgit kuay teow and RM400 cigars — if that’s what you wanted. 

In Singapore, I find too many of the formal events and the bars and spaces around them cater for people who spend and spend a lot. 

Out at Puteri Harbour, you cold have a gala time with a handful of ringgit.

And despite the low price, there was a well thought out range of events and performances in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil... and even a few in Spanish, Portuguese and Korean for good measure. 

It all felt very inclusive, safe and well organised. 

Families milling about while drinking sugar cane juice or eating ais krim potong. Bursts of Man Yao (Chinese electronic music) and Malay rap... there was something pleasantly Malayan about the whole thing. 

And by this I mean something that embodies the best of our region - a mix of food and cultures in a laidback tropical style.

It was a great showcase of Malaysia’s potential. 

And while people will always ask which is better, Singapore or Malaysia – the truth is you can’t compare a relatively small event in JB with Singapore’s multi-million-dollar extravaganza.  

Just as you can’t compare the city state with a neighbour 300 times our size. 

But at our best, both Singapore and Malaysia reach back to an older stratum of Malayan culture. It’s not easy to define – but it is important and I definitely think it has something to do with ais krim potong

But whatever it is, I hope the next decade has more of it... here’s to a truly Malayan decade everyone! Happy 2020.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.