Wednesday, January 07, 2015

N68
Shopping Mall in Marilao, Part II:
Of Slalom Events and Car Culture


Random thoughts on challenging the Third World vs. First World dichotomy.

13th of January 2007
Marilao, Bulacan, PHILIPPINES


Written in: Calgary, Alberta, CANADA, 8 years after the fact!
Composition: A further exploration of a previous post.
Previous Post: Erik Matti's On The Job (2013) 


As Cousin Marco shut the door of the hand painted, latero-formed doors of his backyard talyer special Toyota Mini-Cruiser, he remarked, "You know, they sometimes hold Slalom events here. We should go watch it sometime".

He may have even joked that I should give it a try.

Not in Marilao, though from an event held by the same organization.

Ah, yes, Slalom. Also known by its complete name: Autoslalom. In Japan it is called Gymkhana. In North America, it most closely resembles its fat bloated cousin who goes by the name Autocross. If Philippine Slalom/Gymkhana were ballet, full of pirouettes, spins, and twirls, Autocross1 is square dancing, for North American squares.

Of course I'm just being sarcastic when talking smack against Autocross - it is the one motorsport I have done extensively and have actually done well enough to win trophies in. I was (and am) proud to have some semblance of driving skill in it - and for a brief moment as we walked from the Minicruiser, across the parking lot, under the hot noonday tropical December sunshine, through the glass doors of SM Marilao, and inside its airconditioned glory, I did entertain the vague notion about how I would like to try Slalom in the Philippines too.

Me in my Lancer Evolution I-III. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada


CONTINUED...

Cousin Marco and I had driven to Marilao, Bulacan, because I wanted to treat him to some Pizza and Beer, go shopping at the Mall, and of course, the ulterior motive for me being that I wanted a ride to my Tito "Boy's" place. He was more than glad to go for a drive and spend some time together, away from his Law Books and notes.

As we settled on our huge family-sized pizza - divided between the two of us - I remembered I was there as a tourist, borrowing a room in my Uncle's house, hitching a ride in my Cousin's battle-proven homemade SUV, and that I had no possessions but the contents of two suitcases, a backpack, and a satchel. Thousands of kilometers away in Canada, the car I used for this type of racing sat in storage. Even if I wanted to, I could not participate in Slalom/Gymkhana during the time I had in the Philippines.

But other than that, I almost totally convinced myself that given the chance, I'm probably going to kick ass in Slalom/Gymkhana too!

Must've been the heat that started screwing with my brain, because looking back now, there was no way I could have excelled in Slalom/Gymkhana as a newcomer to the discipline, despite my Autocross experience. Sure, any racing experience does count for something. For instance, I may be less likely to make rookie mistakes such as not looking ahead, not knowing what to do when the car breaks traction sideways, and just the mere handling of nerves and keeping your fear/excitement under check to keep from overdriving. But watch any footage of Asian Slalom/Gymkhana, then check out North American Autocross for comparison, and the differences I mentioned earlier are quite apparent, to the point that I'm inclined to call them as two completely different sports.

Probably the best Gymkhana vid out there.

More than the actual tighter layout and demanding elements of Gymkhana (the aforementioned pirouettes, spins, and twirls), there too is the difference in mentalities. I have noticed that Autocrossers - at least the Autocrossers in Alberta - seem to be so oversteer averse, that they don't know what to do once a car starts sliding. My good friend, Q, has already written a great deal about this, saying:
"When I occasionally rode with people who were better and more accomplished drivers than myself, I noticed that some of them drove with a style very similar, but often much more precise than mine.  I also noticed that others of them had horrendous car control but excellent awareness of the cars limits, putting together stunning lap times by staying very close to the limit and never exceeding it.  Should the limit be exceeded though, these drivers had the ability to shock me by spinning or going off in situations that seemed easily salvageable.  I found that hardly admirable, even if they could beat me up on the clock..."
North American Autocross is lamer, is the point I'm trying to make.


In fact, I find a lot of other car related things here in the so called First World are surprisingly lamer than things over there, in the Third World.

As I told Cousin Marco:

Trucks and SUVs: The late 1990's and early 2000's was the beginning of the SUV craze in North America. This was (still is) especially true in Alberta during the time when we had just recently arrived. However, despite the proliferation of SUVs, we were quite surprised that not one of the manufacturers we followed ever released four door/dual cab/crew cab pickup trucks. They would not come until a decade later. In short, North American pickup truck ownership trends are 10 years behind from the rest of the world.

First World?  Hah!  More like, late to the party.

Then, there were the Toyota Landcruisers, Nissan Patrols, and Mitsubishi Pajeros I so dearly dreamed of one day owning in the Philippines, before moving here was ever in our plans. The choice of the UN, International Aid Groups, Freedom Fighters and Terrorists alike, they too were nowhere to be found here.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-URy9sq9O7G0/U07e1-Vu-NI/AAAAAAAAA_g/2Pg629el6d4/s1600/80SeriesLanc%2B001%2B-%2BCopy.jpg
 Dad, with probably our favourite Landcruiser generation.
Full disclosure, that's not his... but he did drive it.

Speaking of nowhere to be found...

Cool Models: The Lancer Evolution IV RS was released in the Philippines right before we left. Although a very limited release - something like 20 or so - the fact that the venerable, WRC winning iteration of the Lancer chassis was ever released there for public consumption was quite something to me, as a kid who was a huge fan of the car. More than that, grey market imports also meant that I had been seeing the previous generation Evo I-III, the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, as well as many other roadgoing versions of real Japanese championship winning platforms in the streets of Metro Manila.

Yet when we moved to Canada in 1997, we were disheartened to find out that Subaru of North America only released boring naturally aspirated iterations of their cars. Heck, even in Canada, where we get so much winter, they only had the tamer (lamer?) AWD systems, often devoid of front and rear LSDs. The Lancer Evolution was only released in the US by the time it was in its eighth generation, in 2003. And even then, it was severely watered down! Oh, and not to mention it was actually illegal to import to Canada, so we had to wait until the Evo X to ever see a formally released Lancer Evolution in here.

First World? Hah!!  More like, boringcarworld.

There were (and are) many other exciting and amazing cars that were so popular in Asia, yet unreleased here. Those examples I cited above, however, stand out. Bottomline: None of the cars I really wanted and fantasized about as a kid were here.

So, speaking of what I wanted...

Car Culture: Small, fun, tossable Japanese cars were (still are) derisively known here as rice burners, rice rockets, and many other vaguely racist shit pointing out their Asian-ness. I don't actually rag on Muscle Cars, yet Muscle Car guys at the time would rag on (they still do) what I loved and liked. Never mind that the proven Japanese racing platforms I was so enthusiastic about were factually better as technological achievements: They had better build quality; had better efficiency and had better horsepower per liter ratios - remember, we were talking about the 90's when the  Mustang Cobra pumped out 240hp and felt like a loose agglomeration of parts flying in close formation, whilst the 4 door Lancer Evolution platform had won WRC championships and whose streetgoing version kept evolving, from 240hp to 276hp.

First World? Hah!!! More like, stuck-in-an-old-design-philosophy-world.


Now, it might seem weird that I was using racing and car culture to segue into a rant about the foolishness of the usual assumptions concerning the First World vs. Third World dichotomy, but this was one of the topics Cousin Marco and I discussed over Beer and Pizza. It was in fact, an oft repeated topic during our many drinking sessions.

Kwentong inuman, ba'ga.

In fact, let's pause and talk about the implications of this topic for a second.

That even the most immature, materialistic, and consumeristic aspirations I had growing up just weren't to be found here, undermined my adjustment in Calgary even further. Of course you could say that, in the end, material things shouldn't matter in determining what makes a home. But that would be missing the point: I thought then that everything I wanted in life just weren't to be found anywhere in Alberta. Since I was already disappointed by so many other things, this further contributed to my disappointment at our having moved here.

Ironic, considering all those times my Filipino friends and I would talk about cars during my first visit to the Philippines, one thing always becomes clear: It seems to me as though Filipinos have internalized that the "West" is at the center, and they are at the periphery. (See: Center-Periphery Relations).

My childhood friends in the Philippines, upon hearing that I race and play with cars as a hobby, always have this image that I must be as cool as the guys they used to see in American magazines such as Import Tuner, Super Street and Sport Compact Car. They think that because those rags came from "The First World", where I had then been living in all this time, I therefore must be living the car life as portrayed in those magazines. Just as I had written before:
"In the Philippines, I was cool again. In fact, I was way cooler than ever before. Everyone assumed I was rich or had money, even though I wasn't and I didn't. Everyone assumed I was highly educated, even though I only had a Broadcasting Diploma around that time. Everyone just thought I was bigger and better in every way possible. Being 'westerner' kind of imbued me with a halo of sorts, as though I were a step above Filipinos. Just as Laurel Fantauzzo says in her essay, 'Under my Invisible Umbrella', 'I was top one-percenting for the first time in my life.'"
What they don't realize is that Calgary is just another periphery to that center of North American car culture that is Southern California. If that place is Mecca to worshippers of all matters related to car tuning, then Calgary is just a backwoods rednecky place, a few years behind in terms of trends and innovations. Again, as I said in the same previous entry:
"This is not [a big center]. 17 years ago, before Calgary's most recent oil boom, this was not recognized to be a place where trends in Canadian fashion, culture, business, politics, or even the arts originate. Metro Manila on the other hand, is virtually the epicenter for everything that happens in the Philippines, and is also a big player in many issues concerning South East Asia - and I lived a mere 30 kilometers or so from its epicenter."
In terms of cars and car culture, Metro Manila is a very large centre in its own right, with more consumers, more car buyers, and more car enthusiasts than Calgary2. If they take any cues, they do so from the same place So Cal takes its JDM cues from: Japan itself!  

Fast Forward from 2006-2007 to today (2015) and my first impressions of Calgary's depressing car culture is being proven right: Whereas there has not been a sanctioned automobile racing event within Calgary's city limits since 2011, racing is alive and well in and around Metro Manila's environs. From Slalom/Gymkhana in rented parking lots, Hillclimbs in national parks, Drag Racing in strips both temporary and permanent, as well as two world class road-racing facilities within an hour's drive (without traffic) from the Philippine capital - I can't help but feel envious at how much racing really happens back in "the motherland"3.


I could understand how my Filipino friends in the Philippines, as well as my Calgarian friends, would meet that claim of "car related things... in the so called First World are surprisingly lamer than things... in the Third World" with a sense of incredulity. After all, in order to have beer and pizza, we drove in a homemade Minicruiser full of flaws and quirks. It is a testament to just what passes for road-legal over there4.

But just because poverty is rampant over there, doesn't mean everyone is poor. Just because we drove in a crapcan of an SUV, doesn't mean Cousin Marco's dad, my Tito Nato, doesn't have another, better, vehicle4. And just because shitty vehicles proliferate in the roads over there, doesn't mean there aren't any amazing tuned racecars capable of winning racing championships. It's time we all get away from that dichotomy of the "First World" vs "Third World". The sooner we shed our presumptions of homogeneity (eg. "everyone in the west has got it made", and "everyone in the developing world is poor"), the sooner we can create a better world. As dysfunctional as the Philippines is, I keep finding out that it's always full of pleasant surprises.




-----------

Future Post: Thoughts on Racing With Legends

Related Posts: A Short Visit to Meycauayan
                              Our Old Jeep
                              Erik Matti's On The Job (2013)
                              [A really long story about what it was like to be new to Calgary]

Further Reading: An Interdisciplinary model of Centre-Periphery Relations, Thomas Zarycki
                                






NOTES:


1.) Autocross vs. Gymkhana vs. Slalom vs. Autoslalom: It's probably more interchangeable than I let on, but I mostly speak of the most popularly used terms. Ie. Although Philippine Slalom organizers and participants would use "Slalom" most of the time, they often also call it Autocross. As well, while North American Autocross organizers would call their events "Autocross", they too have often used "Slalom" - as evidenced by my video taken during the Super Slalom in Saskatoon. 

Yes, I drive a RHD car in Canada.


2.) "Metro Manila is a large Centre":  It's a little and a lot like my previous rant of how, even though (or because?) California has Hollywood, Canada's film industry is utterly crushed by American cultural imperialism.

Yet my Filipino friends and family living in the Philippines associate the moviemaking that goes on in that one part of one state in the US as typical of what happens in this continent. "It's all North America!", they think.  "It's all 'The Western World'", they assume. I even get lumped in on it whenever I say that I am a graduate of Broadcasting. More so now that I have the self title of "Researcher, Writer, Director" for an independent documentary film.

Little do they know I'm about to crash and burn.

...and that on a daily basis, the Philippines - Metro Manila in particular, where film/broadcast/media jobs are concentrated - moves up in my shortlist of places to move to. 


3.) Envious of the car culture in the motherland:  Another reason for me to envy the motherland is how, seemingly, it's waaay easier to make a documentary about motor racing over there. Here I am, struggling in every way possible to make a documentary about Alberta's Motorsport Heritage, yet, someone already made a documentary about the Philippines' racing history!


It's just the ultimate expression of everything I've been trying to say all this time: Everything I seem to WANT, DESIRE, and ASPIRE towards is just bigger and better over there - yet, WE were supposed to have moved here, in the "First World" in order to have a "better life".  


4.) "What passes for road legal": Tito Nato did have a factory built Toyota Tamaraw FX during that time. So, the Minicruiser was just the usual utility truck for hauling things you wouldn't want to put inside the "better" car. Nowadays, he has a Mitsubishi Pajero.




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