The digital reincarnation of a national bestseller by KIT LEEE (now known as ANTARES)

Friday, November 2, 2007

The 4WD Phenomenon

Once upon a time meeting a Jeep or Land Rover on the road was an event. You always wanted to know who the lucky occupants of these vehicles were, living such rugged lives on the frontier. It could be a brave little band of policemen just back from a dangerous jungle patrol, or a group of young soldiers sharing a few jokes and a cigarette in carefree camaraderie; or some vegetable farmer taking his litter of mischievous kids to the village schoolhouse. Sometimes you might even catch a glimpse of trussed-up wild boar with nasty-looking tusks or a glassy-eyed crocodile - dead but still scary = and you'd notice the hunter's double-barrelled shotgun propped up against a mud-spattered window.

Then you grew up and became an executive and bought yourself an Isuzu Trooper or Mitsubishi Pajero. And now when another 4-wheel-drive pulls up beside you at the traffic lights, you don't bother to look. Because you'll only see a couple of overfed schoolkids from Alice Smith or Fairview smirking at you.

The 4WD* Phenomenon marked the beginning of the New Affluence when the decade brashly introduced itself as the Exciting Eighties. It was a time of entrepreneurial derring-do and corporate swashbuckling. Advertisements projected the up-and-coming young urban professional as a real man of action - equally at ease behind the wheel of a BMW or a 4WD. He could see himself powering over the mud-tracks of construction sites and oil-palm estates; he also had fantasies of somehow finding the time to take his girlfriend (or his photogenic little family) on wonderful camping trips in the wilds. Besides being a good investment, image-wise, the New Generation 4WD came with lots of nifty extras: plush seats, air-con, hi-wattage stereo (with turbo-bass), servo steering, power windows, the works. At last you could combine feeling comfy with looking rugged!

Only problem was, these trendy new 4WDs didn't come cheap at all. They were just like the high-priced Swiss knives you see on sale in department stores: you simply must possess one, hang the cost. But actually use it? And risk losing or breaking it? After a couple of joyrides along some old logging trail, most 4WD owners would begin to feel a little anxious about preserving the paintwork on their new toys. They'd experience actual relief when when they found themselves safely back on the toll highway.

The more determined outdoorsy types eventually formed their own off-road 4WD Club, organising group outings into trackless jungle and across the most terrifying terrain specially chosen for the challenge. A sort of Hash House Harriers on wheels, inspired by TV ads promoting adventure wear (but mainly sponsored by a tobacco company anxious to associate its product with rugged masculinity). Saturdays would see huge convoys of these modern-day cowboys in their tank-like vehicles with grotesquely oversized wheels, roaring through remote Orang Asli villages and churning up dirt tracks - just for the hell of it. Jungle-bashing taken too literally - makes one wish sometimes that the jungle would bash these upmarket Mat Rempits who prefer to conquer rather than appreciate nature.

Other 4WD owners, nonetheless, seem perfectly content to be seen cruising to and from Hock Choon supermarket with their families comfortably insulated in their air-conditioned Pajeros and Range Rovers from the riff-raff below. Yup, it's a jungle out there.

Alice Smith and Fairview - two exclusive private schools in KL.
Hash House Harriers - a cross-country runners' club started by afew expatriates aa a healthy means of working up a massive beer thirst. The idea proved so popular the HHH has now gone international.
Mat Rempits - Malaysian rebels without a cause on whiny motorbikes, many on the Umno Youth payroll (so they can be used to create havoc at political rallies and intimidate opposition voters).

*In recent years the term 4WD (4-wheel-drive) has been superseded by SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle).

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