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Valar Qringaomis

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Malaysia Boleh Memperbodohkan Sendiri

The World Record-Breaking Capital

"From the dangerous (most days spent inside a box with 6,069 scorpions) to the inexplicable (most faces captured on a phonecam) and the outright banal (first independent tire-testing facility), not a week goes by without a record-setting event somewhere in Malaysia. The country might just be the world record holder in holding records.

The efforts are chronicled in the Malaysia Book of Records, a compendium of 2,005 of the country's bests, firsts, biggests, and longests. Many attempts are so outlandish - most time spent cooped up in a vehicle - that they're regularly slotted into the "wacky news" segments on newscasts around the world. To Western eyes, the country seems like a nation of attention-hungry circus freaks. But in Malaysia, the desire to build the largest tea bag or gather the most twins at a single location is a form of national pride...

An excellent nationwide highway system was constructed and is now filled with Protons, Malaysian-made cars driven by people who can't afford Japanese or German vehicles...

The call to excellence somehow got translated into setting the record for creating the highest stack of cans in 15 minutes...

[The Malaysia Book of Records is] also a manifesto for global peace. "If the whole world was trying for excellence, it would be the perfect world to stay in," he says, "because we would no longer be talking about fighting. We'd be talking about breaking records." Perhaps instead of disarming Iraqis, the US should be encouraging them to play checkers underwater.

The day-to-day operations at MBR's publisher are handled by Sujatha Nair. When she signed on four years ago, Nair was skeptical about her job. But when she witnessed the attempt for the longest grill of satay (a Malay kebab), she saw how seriously her fellow Malaysians take records. "I saw the work put into it: 5,000 students in the hot sun, all sweaty," she says. "Some of them were in tears"...

Penang has the largest pizza in the shape of Malaysia and the siblings with the most extra toes...

The idea that Malaysia's national image is burnished by, say, having its citizens parachute a car onto the North Pole doesn't sit well with everyone. One woman in a Kuala Lumpur suburb put it this way: "It's a waste of time. It doesn't mean anything." A letter in Malaysia's New Straits Times lamented, "Here we are, a nation gearing itself for Vision 2020, proud of our largest Hari Raya greeting card or the longest performance of a lion dance"...

In the southwestern city of Melaka, a man stands under a banner that reads MALAYSIA BOLEH! Four coconuts are set out in front of him. This is kung fu master Ho Eng Hui; he pierces coconuts with a finger faster than anyone else in Malaysia.

He addresses the crowd, describing boleh. His voice fills with emotion, and he frequently points to his heart. The spirit of doing the best you can, striving for achievement because you are Malaysian, he says, is the driving force behind his art.

He passes around a coconut for people to inspect. He shows his index finger, cruelly bent from previous coconut penetrations. And then he pauses to pitch a bottle of red-colored oil that supposedly eases pain, stimulates muscles, and saves marriages.

After an impassioned riff on his special elixir, the boleh spirit summons him. He emits several screams and jabs his finger into the shell over and over until it punches through, splattering coconut milk everywhere...

Told about the coconut triumph later, Nair shrugs. "I know a guy who can do it faster," she says. "He just hasn't had time to set up the record."
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