Fri, 24 Jan 2003

Gearing up for another big party

Hendarsyah Tarmizi and Rita A. Widiadana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, Denpasar

Less than a month after all the year-end festivities, partiers, gourmands and shopping maniacs will have another big event to celebrate on Feb. 1, the day Chinese communities around the world mark the Lunar New Year, known here as Imlek.

Although there is still one week to go before the Year of the Ram, Chinese New Year fever has already hit shopping centers in Jakarta and other cities. Red and gold-colored New Year's greeting cards, lanterns and other Imlek-related items are on sale in every major mall.

The festive atmosphere is also evident in hotels, cafes and restaurants, which have hung colorful decorations and ornaments displaying the Chinese lucky character "Fu".

For Indonesians, this year's Chinese New Year will not only mark the coming of the Year of the Ram, the symbol of warmth, understanding and creativity, but will also mark the first time the Chinese New Year has been a public holiday.

Chinese-Indonesians, who comprise about 5 percent of the population, were previously restrained from celebrating the Lunar New Year publicly and with all the trimmings, such as traditional lion and dragon dances.

Imlek was regarded as a family affair until former president Abdurrahman Wahid removed restrictions placed on the celebration of Chinese culture early in 2001. His successor, President Megawati Soekarnoputri, declared the Chinese New Year a public holiday earlier this year.

With the ethnic Chinese now free to celebrate the holiday with no restrictions, it is natural that hotels and entertainment centers alike are more serious than before in their preparations for the celebration of the New Year.

"Besides offering a special room rate, we also are offering a special Chinese menu before and after New Year's Eve," Mandarin Hotel public relations manager Dhaneswari Retnowardhani told The Jakarta Post. "This year, Imlek will be celebrated as cheerfully as possible."

Two days before New Year's Eve, the hotel's lobby and restaurants will be decorated with Chinese ornaments such as lanterns, good luck characters and scrolls to give guests a taste of Chinese culture, she said.

The Mandarin is not the only hotel in Jakarta that is doing up the New Year with special events and menus.

The Crowne Plaza Jakarta, JW Marriott Jakarta, Jakarta Hilton International and the Sari Pan Pacific will also be celebrating the Lunar New Year with special programs.

"We are trying hard to make this year's Chinese New Year celebration more lively and cheerful than before," Crowne Plaza marketing services manager Tati Haryo said.

Although the Crowne Plaza will not have any special room packages for the holiday, the hotel's Branda Cafe, Semanggi Lounge and Cake Shop will offer a wide range of Chinese goodies from Jan. 30 to Feb. 7, Tati said.

Crowne Plaza also will offer a Lucky Draw for diners in the Banranda Cafe, with a grand prize of a trip to Hong Kong with two nights accommodation at the Grand-Stanford Inter-Continental.

"The hotel's restaurant will also be giving away ang pau," she said.

Other hotels and entertainment centers in other major cities across the country, particularly on the tourist island of Bali, will also be celebrating the Chinese New Year.

A number of hotels and resorts on Bali will offer special Chinese New Year packages in an attempt to lure Chinese- Indonesians to the island.

However, some hotels are pessimistic that these packages will be enough to lure visitors to the island, which has suffered from a major tourist slump since the deadly bombings in October.

"Honestly, this year's celebration of the Chinese New Year in Bali will be quieter than previous years because of the bombings and the upcoming trials of the bombing suspects," said a public relations manager at a star-rated hotel in Bali.

However, Deddy Sasmita, the Hard Rock Hotel Bali's marketing and communications manager, expected his hotel would be fully booked during Imlek.

"We offer a very special and unique Chinese New Year package that we call the 'Like China' package," Deddy said.

The package will give guests a number of exclusive privileges, including a special rate of about Rp 750,000 for a minimum of a two-night stay. The package also includes daily breakfast for adults and two children.

The "Like China" package provides other benefits such as free entrance to the hotel's swimming pool and beach club, free use of the fitness center and access to the L1 Rock Kids Camp.

"What's more important, guests will receive two fashionable Hard Rock Hotel Classic T-shirts and a book of shopping vouchers."

The "Like China" package is valid from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3, 2003.

During the Chinese New Year celebration, the Hard Rock Hotel's Gamelan Restaurant will serve a special Chinese New Year's buffet dinner. A vast selection of delicious Eastern dishes will be served for only Rp 125,000.

"We are expecting guests from Jakarta, Surabaya (East Java), Semarang (Central Java) and other big cities in Indonesia," Elleanora, public relations manager from the Discovery Kartika Plaza Hotel, said.

She said the hotel was offering a special Chinese New Year's package for only Rp 1.37 million for a two-night stay.

"The package is very special for those who want to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Bali," she said. The package, she said, includes daily buffet breakfast for two people, dinner for two people on New Year's Eve on Jan. 31, with a Legong dance performance.

The Melia Bali Villas and Spa resort, situated in the exclusive Nusa Dua enclave, has prepared various activities for the month of February.

Anastasia Liyadi, the hotel's marketing and communications manager, said to welcome the Year of Ram, the Melia Bali was offering a very attractive special Chinese New Year's package. The package costs only Rp 1.8 million for a four-day stay in a superior room, including American breakfast for two adults and one child below the age of 12 and one dinner buffet at the El Patio Coffee Shop.

"This package is very competitive," she said.

The offer is valid from Jan. 30 to Feb. 10.

To add to the fun, on the Chinese New Year guests can enjoy a Chinese New Year dinner buffet at the El Patio Coffee Shop for Rp 130,000 per person, plus a 50 percent discount for children below 12 years of age.

The Bali Intercontinental Resort in Jimbaran, Bali, is also offering special rupiah packages -- Jimbaran Super Deal and Jimbaran Luxury Deal -- for the Chinese New Year.

With such competitive and attractive packages, Bali's hotels and resorts expect the Year of the Ram to bring prosperity to the island's tourist industry.

All these special packages will undoubtedly liven up the holiday, but the most important thing is that hopefully the Chinese New Year celebrations will further cement the relationship between Chinese-Indonesians and native Indonesians. Gong Xi Fa Cai, or happy Imlek.