updated 14 Jul 2014, 04:57
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Fri, Jun 27, 2014
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Throwing a fabulous kids' party is serious business
by Lee Mei Li

Dressed in cobalt blue aprons, the participants raided the mystery boxes before them. To their surprise (and amusement for some), each carton held the strangest ingredients: a Granny Smith apple, bacon, instant noodles, seaweed and a block of cheddar.

Despite the presence of stern-faced judges watching their every move, the amateur chefs went about "burning" bacon and dicing cherry tomatoes in their own inventive ways. The culinary journey, which began with exclusive invitations tagged with wooden spatulas, marked the birthday celebration of 12-year-old Maya Edlin, who wanted a cosy MasterChef-themed party for her closest friends.

Organised by party planning outfit Coochicoo, the intricate do, complete with cakes done up in cheese smorgasbord style, was held at The Cooking House in Desa Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur.

It cost Zahara Shahriman, 48, "a fortune" to host the bash for her daughter.

Just the year before, Maya had celebrated her 11th birthday à la Harry Potter's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in the company of magic and spell-seekers like herself.

The famed Platform 9¾ made an appearance at Shangri-La Hotel in Kuala Lumpur just for the day, where 25 young guests were treated to cauldron-shapes cakes, mugs of Butterbeer paired with broomstick-shaped stirrers and an enchanting wand-making class.

Like many parents today, Zahara does not mind splashing thousands of ringgit to celebrate her youngest daughter's birthday.

"When my daughter decided she wanted a Harry Potter-themed party for her 11th birthday, we knew we wanted it to be as authentic and atmospheric as it could possibly be, as we both loved the books so much and had practically lived in its magical world for five years! We knew we wouldn't do justice to the theme if we just had those pre-printed plastic plates and balloons.

"Instead, we wanted to have a party that would transport Maya and her friends to Hogwarts and Harry Potter's magical world and that's how we got Coochicoo to come in," says the homemaker, who wasn't at all shocked at the sum incurred.

"The parties weren't cheap and you can't expect them to be with this level of attention to detail, quality and service. But I think it's worth it because you will have the memories of these celebrations for a lifetime. I felt stress-free and really happy on those two occasions because my daughter was so happy. I think Maya feels very, very lucky and grateful to have had these amazing parties. She also knows that we will only throw these parties if she's been a well-behaved, good and hard working girl throughout the year," Zahara adds.

The bigger the better

According to Coochicoo founder Jokee Tan, the trend of elaborate children's themed parties has been on a steady rise since she first entered the scene in 2011. Coochicoo organised about 20 parties a year, and their clients willingly pay up to RM10,000 (S$3,900) for a three-hour soiree, and sometimes in celebration of one-month-old babies.

"Gone are the days when parents are just happy with a nice cake and fancy decor. Most of my clients are now looking for a themed party with a twist - an experience that the whole family can remember for a long time to come; something that could take months of careful planning to execute," says Tan.

She has done various theme parties - like a retro kedai runcit (sundry store), a Parisian Barbie Day, (all "Frenched" out in pink and comes complete with a mime artist), a rainbow fairyland, a toyland of wind-up robots and the woodland "forest and friends". Mind you, most of these parties are for children under five.

In the past six months, founder of event planning company Decor Fairy Winnie Poh, 34, has worked on 15 children's parties, with themes ranging from a miniature Disneyland to jungle safari and Transformers.

"Clients who have already decided on throwing a party will usually book up to eight months in advance of the celebrations," says Poh, who charges between RM1,000 and RM15,000 per event.

The bill can rack up quite quickly for parents who "want it all" - customised cake, entertainers like clowns and magicians, add-on activities from face-painting to sand art and booth games and the services of a professional photographer.

While Zahara feels that elaborate parties are better suited for older children (who can appreciate them better), mothers like Yvonne Chai, 33, have no qualms about throwing expensive dos for her beloved children from as young as one-month-old. The managing director of an automotive company has since hosted five parties for her daughter Andree Gan, four, and son Andrae Gan, one-and-a-half.

Of all the parties, Andrae's vintage toyshop-themed celebration for his first birthday boasted the most elaborate set-up.

It was held in an eatery that was completely transformed to resemble a scene from of Mr Margorium's Wonder Emporium. Chai has splurged tens of thousands of ringgit on her children's parties but she regards it as money well-spent.

"I don't think a lot of my friends can accept how much I spend, so I usually don't share the costs with them. I think there is a kind of social pressure for parents to give their kids the best that they can afford. For me, throwing my kids a big party is another way for me to relive the childhood I never had."

Julea Goh, 35, has since hosted four parties for her daughters Hayley Tan, six and Cassidy Tan, three - two of them with freelance party planner YeeSend Chan of Party Me, and two more with Coochicoo.

Last year, the IT consultant went all out to throw a carnival-themed party for her eldest, transforming a restaurant in Bangsar Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur into a fairground filled with fun booths to play "toss the ring", throw balloon darts and order popsicles.

Goh likens these elaborate children's parties to the extravagant wedding events that Malaysians have been acquainted with in recent years.

"After the wedding, the next phase in your life has to do with becoming a parent. So naturally, if you've had a grand wedding, you'd want a grand celebration for your children's parties as well.

"After experiencing the wonders of hiring a planner for my wedding, I was naturally inclined towards hiring one to hash out my daughters' parties. Of course, I'd love to be able to host the parties myself but it's just too time-consuming.

"Having someone else plan my events makes me feel like a guest attending my own party and that allows me to focus on the more important things, like enjoying myself at the party," she says.

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