By Ian McIntyre
THE New Year of 2024 was kicked off in the grand fashion by the country’s oldest resort – Shangri-La Rasa Sayang & Spa Resort when the hospitality giant threw a wedding reunion for 27 couples to mark its 50th-anniversary celebrations recently.
For the past 12 months, the property has been painstakingly tracking down 50 couples who wed there in view that the resort is regarded as one of the preferred venues to tie the knot before family and friends due to scenic Batu Ferringhi beachfront and gardens.
Although, the response was warmth, only 27 couples managed to attend the special tribute to the grand lady of Penang’s hospitality and to them for staying married.
Ask any local hotelier and the opportunity to gain employment at Rasa Sayang, was considered a gold star standard in making their mark in the world of hospitality.
The resort’s long-serving director of communications, Datuk Tunku Suleiman Tunku Abdul Rahman and his assistant Fiona Lee together with several other staffers conducted extensive research to reconnect with the couples.
They used various platforms from tapping their archives, social media to emails, the local media and the traditional fixed-line telephone calls.
The couples were located all over the world but only one from Hong Kong, Mr and Mrs Chong Min Onn managed to make it for the dinner on January 5th at its ballroom.
In the end out of the 50 couples, the resort reached out, 27 couples managed to grace the occasion before a beaming area general manager Markus Christ.
Among the couples who provided interviews were Mr and Mrs Michael Gua, who threw a banquet for their guests in 1983.
Gua is exception, as he was a staffer at Rasa Sayang before joining the national carrier flagship – Malaysia Airliners (MAS) where he rose through the ranks to become a country manager, serving in various countries including Argentina’s capital – Buenos Aires.
Gua, a former student of the famed St Xavier’s Institution spoke of his unique experience of marrying in the same resort he was working briefly in 1973.
He then shared his experiences as a globe-trotting airline manager, who established various networks across the globe for the once-thriving MAS.
“Through former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, MAS was the first airliner in the south-south countries to have direct air linkage with a Latin American nation.”
Now happily retired in his hometown of Penang, Gua said that Rasa Sayang will forever be etched as a memory due its impact on both his personal and professional life.
Another couple was Mr and Mrs J.P. Wong, a veteran travel trade member, who used to manage the 1926 Heritage Hotel in town before it was closed.
Wong is also into publications, having manage a printer and design company.
Wong got married in Rasa Sayang in 1984, shares his secret for staying married for up to 40 years to the younger couples.
He says much listening and tolerance. as well as giving in and giving up.
Emcee Gilbert Khoo entertained the guests with his historical anecdotes for the couples, some celebrating up to 49 years of marriage.
He recalled how the men went dating those days with the hair cream “Tancho,” which managed to keep the hair in proper shape despite the strong winds here.
Music was also provided by the local evergreen band – “Colour Phases,” whose members are as old or even older than the couples marking up to 49 years of union.
The gathering was historical in nature, as Rasa Sayang celebrated 50th years of hospitality fund, not to mention its enthralling food and beverage tastes.
In 1973, the resort was one of the main leading hotels in Penang, and barely months after its opening, it hosted the first major event for Penang where the then George Town municipality council signed an agreement with the City of Adelaide Council to forge a sister-city ties between both townships.
The sister city relationship is now also celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The founder of Penang as a colonial territory for the British Crown, Francis Light had his oldest son William Light found Adelaide 50 years later after 1786.
Today, renamed as the Shangri-La Rasa Sayang after Malaysia’s richest man, business magnate Robert Kuok Hock Nien’s Shangri-La Hospitality Group purchased it, the resort continues to stay competitive despite the arrival of more than 10 five-star properties.
In 1973, it was named simply the Rasa Sayang Resort. Famed for its Minangkabau dark brown timber roof, the resort has become a stately home to thousands of guests – from celebrities, and royalty to global leaders and community personalities.