December 6, 2003

Longest, tallest, largest: Malaysia gets its just desserts

It was the eve of the retirement of Mahathir Mohamad, but Kuala Lumpur's New Straits Times had a hotter story on its hands than the departure of the veteran prime minister. "Carrefour charts two more Malaysian records," declared the front-page headline in the paper's City Life edition.
With due pride and gravitas, the story reported that staff of the French supermarket chain's Mid Valley Megamall store had notched up two remarkable feats: the biggest California handroll (1.89 metres tall) and the biggest Mexican bun (70 centimetres by 20 centimetres).
For the team at Carrefour, this was just another day of record-breaking achievement. Among the chain's 12 other standing national titles are tallest vegetable tower, tallest biscuit-tin tower, largest potato bread and largest pizza in the shape of a map of Malaysia.
Lest the sceptical or envious try to challenge the chefs' latest assent of the culinary Everests, officials from the Malaysian Book of Records (MBR) were on hand with tapes and scales.
For some, the MBR might seem a poor cousin of Guinness World Records, a piece of plagiaristic puffery from a country not distinguished for much apart from the world's tallest twin towers and Asia's most provocative prime minister.
But for Malaysians this is serious stuff. Barely a week passes without breathless media recording another milestone.
Much of the enthusiasm can be explained by the blessings given to MBR-style exploits by Malaysia's now retired record-breaking prime minister (22 years in the job, 14,591 anti-Western diatribes, three sacked deputies, no apologies).
"The records reflect the dedication of the men and women who braved all odds to realise the spirit of Malaysia Boleh [Strictly Malaysian]," Dr Mahathir declared when the book first appeared in 1998. "The MBR is the answer to the Government's call towards nation-building and to strive towards a developed-nation status."
Dr Mahathir has his name on two entries. He was guest of honour at the dinner attended by the largest number of people (25,000) and last year he and his wife were part of the landmark 50-hour, non-stop koay teow noodle frying event.
But it seems not everyone is imbued with the "boleh" spirit. "Most of the so-called records are outrageously ridiculous," spoilsport David Ong wrote to the New Straits Times.
"The longest sandwich, simply by placing sandwiches next to one another, and the longest (undrinkable) pouring of tea from the rooftop of a hotel - this is only a waste of valuable time and money."
Then again, who can argue with a country that pulls the biggest puddings, the biggest sponge cake (2125 kilograms), the longest chocolate Swiss roll (60 metres), and the biggest slab of coconut confectionery (six square metres)?
Just desserts, really.