Malaysians are generally a modest lot. Except when it comes to trying to get a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.* Suddenly they'll be up and doing the silliest and most extravagant things without the slightest sign of self-consciousness. Like producing the world's longest lemang (a traditional 'pudding' made from glutinous rice and coconut milk and baked in bamboo on a wood fire).
In fact, the desperate desire to break world records has become, in recent years, something of a National Compulsion. Not content with boasting the world's oldest rainforests, the most delicious and interesting variety of food, the friendliest people and the most promising future, we've gone on to baking the longest cake in history (and eating it).
The Guinness Book editors must receive the greatest number of letters from Malaysians. There's an Ipoh chap who claims he has manufactured the world's largest pair of joss-sticks. Among department stores, seasonal displays and decorations have been turned into a highly competitive record-breaking front: already we've seen the world's most spectacular and expensive Lunar Year Dragon in The Mall; and the longest ever continuous stretch of batik strung up in a giant coil on the ceiling of an entire floor at Parkson Grand. We've even had a yogi at Batu Caves making a bid to break the world record for being buried alive the longest. (For all I know he might be in there still.)
The biggest, heaviest, fattest, longest, shortest, most exorbitant! Now the government has got into the act in earnest. Having struck out with the Penang Bridge (which was rated only the third longest in the world) and the Petronas Twin Towers - which enjoyed the status of World's Tallest Building for all of six months before it was superseded by the Shanghai World Financial Centre and, subsequently, Taipei 101 - they managed to save face by getting involved in the single hugest loans scandal in world financial history. An even more resounding achievement followed with the Heavy Industries Corporation of Malaysia - a hapless hiccup that should more than qualify for the Guinness Book as the most monumental entrepreneurial catastrophe ever recorded. (I wonder if the Malaysian defence ministry has submitted for consideration as 'The World's Biggest Kickback' the 114-million euro commission it recently paid out to a private consultant for brokering a deal on used submarines.)
Still, Malaysians can proudly claim to have the best network of roads in Southeast Asia - along with one of the world's highest highway fatality rates. Of course, we can always fall back on the world-record-breaking labour-intensiveness of our civil service. With the daredevil politicking that's been going on, we also stand a good chance of scoring another entry in the Guinness Book: why, our politicos could easily be acclaimed The World's Most Astounding Escape Artists (since Houdini is long dead and that other disaster-dodging hero, Indiana Jones, is purely fictitious).
And now Malaysia is hoping to get listed as the country with The World's Freest Press. Failing which we'll settle for The Barest-Faced Lie Ever Told.
Honestly, though... why can't we relax ('Jangan tension lah,' as any progressive kutu would say) and opt for simply being The World's Nicest Place To Live?
*Indeed, a year after the publication of Adoi!, Malaysian tycoon Datuk Danny Ooi conceived the idea of a Malaysian Book of Records in support of the then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's apathy-banishing slogan, "Malaysia Boleh!" (which translates as "Malaysia Can Do!") - why wait for jealous foreigners to praise our accomplishments when we can now afford to blow our own trumpets?