TV SMITH's Dua Sen: Invasion Of The Body Testers
TV Smith's Dua Sen
TV Smith's Dua Sen. The politically incorrect irregular columnist combines his idiosyncratic observations and tangential commentary into a blog...


by TV Smith

One weird Friday evening, local satirist TV SMITH ( was swept into an unexpected social event that offered lessons in the art of quick appraisals and snappy decisions...

The sun was almost gone and the cicaks were feasting on a delectable buffet of insects spread around the circular fluorescent tube. As I stirred my kopi-o, something seemed amiss outside the coffee shop. Scores of people who half-survived the Friday traffic tangle were seen popping out of cars and motorcycles parked in the most chaotic manner. Others were showing up on foot, clad in faded sarongs and hole-ridden Pagoda T-shirts. Through the hazy air imbued by fleeting twilight and waking streetlights, they appeared like movie zombies hopping from foggy graves.

Curiosity got the better of me and I quickly hopped along in synchronicity to the mysterious and silent invaders. At the end of the increasingly crowded trail, I came face to face with the newly crowned queen bee of national cars. The new Proton Gen.2 was being put on display at showrooms throughout the country, unveiled to the general public for the very first time. When I arrived, hundreds of people were already glued to two glistening cars, a scene reminiscent of the hoo-ha surrounding debuting (car) models at motor shows. There were no leggy promoters in shrunken outfits in that open-air showroom though, just two besieged salesmen with kretek cigarettes and tutti-frutti 70s neckties.

Having no intention to tango with car re-possessors again, I kept myself busy at a non-participatory level. However, I was to be blessed with observing one of the most peculiar Malaysian behaviours; the static test-drive, seen in its most refined form.

After having fought his way to the driver’s seat, a burly potential buyer stared at the instrument panel with unflinching concentration, similar to that of a fighter pilot. Like a man high on the addictive odour of a new car interior, he rocked the gear stick maniacally and floored the gas pedal repeatedly. Then, suddenly there was movement on the steering wheel. As if by instinct, he flashed the high beam repeatedly and sounded the horn in rapid rhythm. That did not chase away those funny, distorted faces pressed against the windscreen but it cleared his doubts on the performance of the much-awaited car. Within minutes it was over, the surly-faced driver emerged from the stationary test drive flashing a tacit smile of approval.

Not all were satisfied though. There were cries of disapproval and disbelief from the highly demanding crowd, not of the car, but the manner that stranger test-drove it. No tests were done on the handling (or flap-ability) of the sun visors or the maximum recline of the front seats. No, that lame stranger was just skimming through. He didn’t even fasten the seat belt, adjust the rear view mirror nor inspect all the hidden storage compartments in the car. How can a man make a RM50,000 purchasing decision without all those mandatory tests, frustrated would-be car buyers wondered in disgust.

Nobody wondered why the ignition key was missing in the first place. For safety reasons, I was told later. At any one time, there were about a hundred heads stuck deep into the engine well. A three-year-old girl was spotted crawling underneath the vehicle, inspecting the undercarriage on behalf of her parents. Another motoring expert was seen peering into the exhaust pipe like a learned astronomer attached to a high power telescope. One guy sniffed the radio antenna like a stalk of rose.

Meanwhile, a mutiny was brewing around the other display car parked a short distance away. People were horrified and angry that the blue-coloured model was not displayed with its hood up like the red one. Serious buyers were put off by the fact that they were unable to ascertain the colour compatibility of the engine compartment with that of the new Campro engine. The harassed salesman explained that there were others who wished to view the styling and aerodynamics of the new body without any protrusion.

No, the crowd was not convinced, the hapless salesman was pushed aside and the bonnet ripped opened in seconds. Then, as if on cue, a gruff mechanic-looking type in mechanic-looking overalls wearing a scarred motorcycle helmet pushed his way forward. There was an eerie hush of silence as he pulled out the dipstick and inspected the colour of the engine oil. We all waited with abated breath as 90% of the purchasing decision hinged on the colour coordination between the engine oil and the upholstery. Fortunately, the results were acceptable and the sales manager cancelled his call to the riot squad.

For those not lucky enough to get into the hot seat, there were other equally important tests to conduct on the car’s exterior. The most common was the time-tested tradition of kicking the tyres. I always thought that Malaysian drivers kicked the rubber to gauge the air pressure but I was misinformed all along. Someone in the know pointed out to me that the action was to assess the road-holding capabilities of a car. One guy and his extended family of 16 were pushing and heaving both ends of the car in an attempt to stress test the suspension system. The poor car bucked like a bronco horse but it held its ground.

Another specialist was busy on the scene. Possibly, a metallurgist with exceptional hearing skills, he knocked and tapped every square millimetre of the body. His knuckles and ears, tuned like sensitive scientific instruments, scanned the metal for hidden defects as he evaluated safety issues on the spot.

The expert and his legions of volunteer research assistants opened and slammed close the doors a million times, only to make one obvious pronouncement; the bumper could be plastic...

This article also appears in print and online in today's StarMag (The Sunday Star).

© 2004 TV SMITH
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