Monday March 1, 2004

The things we do


Malaysians probably hold the record for setting the most number of domestic records. Whether it is the longest, tallest or biggest, we must have them all, or so it seems. But do the feats listed in the Malaysia Book of Records – now in its eighth year, with its Gold Edition due out tomorrow – represent real achievements?
WHAT motivates Malaysians to reach great heights? And what possesses them to attempt crazy things just to get themselves into record books?
If you’re one of those naysayers who have been discrediting the Malaysia Book of Records (MBR) for attempts at making the largest dodol or the longest yow char kwai or performing the longest backward walk, think again. Long before the MBR came into being, people around the world have been attempting all kinds of feats to get themselves into the hallowed annals of the Guinness Book of World Records.
While we have Malaysians walking backwards for the longest distance, making the largest Jalur Gemilang out of computer diskettes, making the biggest basket of popcorn, climbing staircases backwards, creating the tallest ais kacang, and all manner of stunts, the Guinness Book has its share of seemingly frivolous acts. Consider these:
A 3.3m x 5m pizza shaped like the map of Peninsular Malaysia, prepared by Carrefour Seberang Jaya's salad bar department staff in October 2002.

Britain’s Garry Turner clipped 153 wooden clothes pegs to his face on Aug 3, 2001. Adam Hall of San Francisco moonwalked the greatest distance in one hour (it must have made Michael Jackson very proud). On Oct 29, 1988, a British sports agent ate three Jacob’s Cream Crackers in a record 49.15 seconds.
And then you have mass participation records such as the largest chicken dance (a crowd of 72,000 chickens ? I mean, dancers), largest pillow fight, largest snowball fight, largest bubble-blowing, largest teeth-brushing, and the mother of all – the largest simultaneous whoopee-cushion sit (1,372 people, gasp!).
Just as record-breaking can inspire and entertain, it can also draw negative comments and harsh criticisms from all quarters, which is why the MBR draws such disparate comments from people. It may be fun to, say, watch someone break a record by juggling a ball non-stop 5,680 times, or climb up 2,058 steps backwards, or see a group of people try to create the longest yee sang. But some people question the validity of such acts, whether they really contribute to anything or not.
Recently, a letter published in The Star (“Senseless feats of no benefit to students,” Comment, Feb 13) complained about the pointlessness of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)’s latest record-breaking feat: 300 of its students barbecued 4,000 satay sticks, standing in a row that stretched for 90.6m. UKM also holds the record for the “longest lemang cooking line” where 500 students and their parents stood in a 119m line and cooked lemang. UKM was also responsible for the longest Jalur Gemilang on the Great Wall of China, when a group of its students went to China and unfurled a 2km-long flag along the wall.
In the letter, the reader wrote of the lemang feat: “I cannot understand why a group of university students would want to waste their time and university funds to achieve a ‘feat’ that, in my opinion, requires no talent, no intelligence, no special skills and no stamina. Would it not be better to send the students for projects that will improve their marketability?”
Others seem to share the same sentiment when it comes to local record-breaking feats.
Student Randy Khoo, 21, says: “I think the problem is that everyone wants to break records and this has made the MBR ‘jatuh standard.’ It inspires others to be kiasu and strive for fame and recognition blindly.”
Tallest fruit tower at Tanjung Aru, near Kota Kinabalu in July last year.
Asked what kind of records he would rather see, he replies: “It should be a record that no one else can recreate ? a record that money can’t buy.”
Writer Suzanne Lazaroo, 25, has this to say: “If excellence is confined to breaking records that are meaningless and unproductive, then the MBR is already providing that kind of inspiration. Unfortunately, that’s not the kind of inspiration anyone really needs.”
But she also admits that “those records that combined record-breaking with doing something for people, such as giving to charity, were quite memorable. There have been a few of them.”
Software engineer Raja Muhammad Badiuzzaman Raja Chulan, 28, thinks that the MBR does represent the Malaysia Boleh spirit and is inspiring. But he wonders if Malaysians are aware of what Malaysia Boleh truly represents. “Do they just enjoy watching the record-breaking feats but do nothing to improve the Malaysia Boleh spirit in themselves?” he asks.
But he does feel that feats such as the longest lemang and biggest mooncake are nothing outstanding apart from the huge effort and money spent on them, as anyone can do the same thing. He feels technological achievements would be more remarkable and worthy of global recognition.
Certainly, some of the achievements listed in the MBR are noteworthy, such as M. Magendran’s and N. Mohandas’ climb to the summit of Mount Everest on May 23, 1997, the first Malaysians to achieve that feat. They took a huge risk as many had lost their lives in similar expeditions. But achievements such as this are few and far between. Instead, almost every day, you can find news about a record being created, whether it is the biggest, longest or largest.
A 13.73m-long Jalur Gemilang made from soft drink cans by students of Sultan Ibrahim Girls School in August 2000.
Mohandas does agree that the MBR inspires people to break records and get their names in the book.
“Whatever they want to do, they will go out and do it,” he says. “Whether it is something logical or not, is another matter altogether. But it definitely inspires people to try and outdo each other.”
However, Mohandas says he would like to see the MBR being more discerning in its inclusion or exclusion of records.
“Compared to the Guinness Book, the MBR seems less particular about its entries, and it seems like anything can be entered into the MBR,” he says. “To be entered into the Guinness Book, the record attempt must be of excellence or something that is near impossible to achieve.”
But then, shouldn’t the records also be meaningful?
“If it wants to do something meaningful or something that is good for the country, then the MBR should consider choosing only the best rather than approving just any attempt,” says Mohandas. “There is no distinction between achievements of true excellence and the more simplistic records.
“They should have different categories to distinguish between international achievers and those of high excellence, and the other records.” Mohandas also complains that most of the records in the MBR are simplistic and do not require real effort.
“I would like to see Malaysians break world records, things that are near-impossible to achieve, or dangerous,” he says. “I would also like to see more achievements in sports, such as an Olympic gold medal. I’d like to see achievements of higher calibre, rather than just the biggest Jalur Gemilang or things like that.”
Another MBR entry, Albert Yeap, 46, who holds the record for skipping across the Penang Bridge, feels his feat is a real endurance test.
“I’m a skipping enthusiast. I used to skip to keep fit when I was working on a ship. It was a challenge because the Penang Bridge is one of the longest bridges in the world. It’s an achievement because I don’t think anyone would want to attempt it.”
Yeap feels the MBR is like a “little brother” to the Guinness Book, and comparisons between the two should always be made.
“If a record does not stand up to the Guinness Book’s standards, then we should not have such a record in our book. We should look towards the Guinness Book to see what kind of records are considered real achievements and what the whole world would like to see. We should look at records from a global perspective.”
David Tay of Kuching, whose son Chong Wii holds the record for the highest stair-climbing with toes bent inwards (660 steps), feels the MBR is a source of motivation. “I think it is quite meaningful because it gives motivation and encouragement for people to show their talent,” he says. “Some of the records may not be excellent in nature, but they are still a form of motivation.”
Chong Wii, 13, attempted the feat when he was only nine. He was inspired to do so after seeing an American break a record climbing down stairs using his hands on the Guinness Prime Time TV show. Tay says he is proud of his son’s achievement.
“When he grows up, he can see his name in the book, and it will give him encouragement and confidence in everything he does.”
Ludicrous or meaningful? That is the question that needs to be answered when it comes to local record-breaking. The yardstick is not difficult to define, yet record-breaking in Malaysia still takes on all forms regardless of whether they are of real substance or not.
Academician Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Khoo Kay Khim warns that if we are not careful, the MBR could descend to the level of ludicrousness. “If a record is to be meaningful, then it must address an important subject,” says Khoo. “If somebody has really achieved something that’s worth talking about or remembering, then by all means. But do not get to the point where it gets very ridiculous. I think we are in danger of doing that.”
He also feels that the whole Malaysia Boleh rally cry has been grossly misinterpreted.
“It actually means that we can compete with the best in the world,” he explains. “It doesn’t mean you can do something about which nobody cares. People have to begin to realise that Malaysia Boleh should mean Malaysians can compete against the best in the world. That is what Malaysians should aim for.”
He feels that record-breaking should be seen in a more serious light and not as just a fun thing in which any kind of record is allowed time and space.
“This is the challenge that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is posing to the nation,” says Khoo. “If you say that Malaysians are as good as everybody else in the world, then you must be in the position to compete against the best in the world. Take sports, for example. Malaysians should try to achieve major successes at the Asian level. We should not be talking about the SEA Games anymore.”
Khoo adds that there is still light at the end of the tunnel: “The Malaysia Book of Records has a chance of becoming something very meaningful, but it has to address subjects that are really more important.”
But what, in his opinion, drives Malaysians to make the longest, biggest, tallest and break records at dizzyingly silly levels?
“They want to take the easy way out,” replies Khoo. “It’s not difficult to make the biggest dodol, but it is very difficult to win the 400m at the Asian Games. So when somebody says he or she has achieved something, then you’d want to see that effort was actually needed.”
Khoo also warns that there is the danger of becoming like the one-eyed man who is king in the land of the blind.
“We are great only if we can take on others,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s like the term that Tun Mahathir used once upon a time – jaguh kampung (village champion).”

Click here for a more recent story on the subject.