And so my time in the UK comes to an end…
As of now I’m pondering how unlikely it is to be the owner of a small “collection” of 4 Alfa Romeos, 3 of which my family are completely unaware of, on the verge of leaving a country that I have resided in for 5 years, with the immediate future as insecure and ambivalent as it could be, all when I’m 26. Guess you haven’t met too many of those, right?
For reasons unknown, I have a natural affinity towards cars. As a 3-year-old kid I would plead for the latest Automobilemagazine issue whenever mother and I pass by the newsagents, and tinker with the Tomica / Matchbox cars on a lucky day. Growing up, peers find their entertainment and interests in various cartoon and anime characters and paraphernalia, and later the electronic gadgetry in the guise of portable gaming consoles during the late 90s / early 00s, while I mainly indulged myself with carspotting in the streets and in all the media available back then, and opting for anything remotely related to cars in all facets of daily life, be it homework, art, or at times trivia such as dinner or seat choices. I used to believe that the relationship between man and machine as found in cars and driving is the most ordinary, and have been puzzled by the lack of fundamental automotive knowledge and general indifference among my social spheres.
In retrospect this could hardly be further from the truth. Coming from a modest family in Hong Kong, we never had the luxury of owning a car, while save the occasional passing comment on the styling on the latest Merc / Beemer from mother, the topic has almost always never gained any ground in the household. Cars might be daily necessities in many parts of the world, but in HK the car is seen as a status symbol, with often prohibitive running and maintenance costs due to the city’s property prices and legislation. Not that such is seen as a severe handicap anyway, as public transport is surprisingly cheap, convenient, and efficient (to be discussed in a separate post). From time to time friends who show a reasonable interest in cars happen to be nearby, but the majority are what I describe as the “supercar-fixated” and nothing more than mere attention-seekers where value is only in and no more than the brand prestige.
Ferraris are “cool” and “sexy” but how about its historical ties with Alfa Romeo, and its colourful rivalry with Lamborghini and Ford? The German Big 3 are so renowned in luxury and refinement, and for the past 3 decades have been heavily involved in sports saloon and hot hatches, but who actually cares about the Alfa Giulia, the Alfasud, or the Lancia Delta? The distorted reality of HK’s car “culture”, much like its art and entertainment, are carefully concocted and censored by the industry leaders to spoon-feed the consumers in their respective target markets, in order to sustain the economically-driven, high-flying model of entrepreneurship, almost always seen as the ultimate success story for the masses in Asia’s World City.
Further down the line I was fortunate enough to meet some proper petrolheads who displayed clear curiosity, who took a deeper analytical approach and later on worked their ways to become proper mechanics, clocking up valuable experience with specialist garages for Japanese cars and supercars, or even bus and coach operators. These, however, are few and far between; meanwhile, across the generations in most East Asian societies, the oily, dirty garage mechanic still very much carry the stigma of a lowly occupation, coupled with the very real threat of harsh working conditions and low pay, it is unsurprising that scarcely any pursue such as a career. My said friends, despite their professional knowledge and experience, are sadly not exempt from this stark reality.
It is therefore unsurprising that over the years I struggled to find common ground — admittedly I am fairly opinionated when it comes to cars, but for good reason. Coupled with the recent turn of events, it dawned on me that putting such in writing might spark some interest that might in turn cascade into a sea change of the attitude and awareness towards cars. In this series it is not my intention to be patronising and to redefine “the good, the bad, and the ugly” in terms of engineering and design — after all nobody would listen to the subjective opinion of a 26-year-old; rather I’d like to examine and discuss cars and anything associated with an open and inquisitive mind, to invite readers to participate in this quest of understanding the automotive sphere, and the wider dynamics with society, history, and culture.