FEATURE STORIES

I Shall Return: to what?

I Shall Return: to what? image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Tito F. Hermoso | posted August 31, 2010 15:15

ASX Fun in an Air Force Base

I wonder if the USAF's pilots that used to live in the neat bungalows in Fontana ever imagined this: a Filipino motoring columnist, doing the Pacific Rim's first launch of a product from a Japanese company that built the planes that dropped bombs on Fort Stoltenberg, as Clark Air Field was once known? I wonder how a sentimental visit of the same USAF officer would turn out if he had to enter a Chinese style sentry gate, observe metric speed limit signs with Chinese characters and an ochre Macanese style colonnaded hotel with a casino and a water park? And if he rented out the same bungalow, now tended with border plants, concrete curbs and pavement, would he mind if the street corner is named Beijing, never mind Edinburgh? Would he be bowled over at the reception lobby with its pilastered balconies, pillars and a domed canopy painted with a mural of clouds and blue sky? What was 'Nam and the Korean War for?

Rip off internet charges in this day and age

Jimei, a HK gaming and resort company, operates Fontana on the perimeter of the former Clark Air Base. If the name seems familiar, Jimei also operates Fort Ilocandia. Happily, the amenities of the villas of Fontana are far better - the bathrooms are new - new tiles look far better than tired marble. I may not have TV in the room but I have a kitchen, living room [where the TV is] which opens into a barbecue patio with a lawn, 2 more bedrooms and another bathroom. Plus a driver's room. The nerve though to charge 250 bucks for 24hour internet, when 500 bucks can get you a prepaid USB modem.

Mitsubishi looks better than anything German or French

Today is the launch of the Mitsubishi ASX. Its a crossover, which means its based on a Lancer wearing a unique body that is happy mix between a tall SUV and a long station wagon. Its a well resolved shape, making the BMW X3 look clumsy and the Mercedes B-class corpulent. Mitsubishi is very good at elegantly engineered proportions. This engineering carries over into its marketing. Being more spacious than a Lancer, the ASX will be competing with similar sized SUVs - Hyundai Tucson, Kia Soul, Sportage, Suzuki SX4, etc. With 4x2, 4x4, 5-speed manual or 6-speed CVT spec, its priced slightly above the Lancer. The 150hp 2.0 MIVEC petrol engine is the sole engine.

My way with a Foton View

With stuff to iron out at home, I elected not to join the 11AM departing Mitsubishi shuttle bus from Balintawak, even though the shuttle itself is Mitsubishi's latest sleek Rosa mini bus. Instead, I brought a mini-bus of my own: a 15 passenger Foton View. It looks like a stretched and chromed Chinese version of the Hi-Ace model of ten years ago. And it runs on a vintage Isuzu donated turbo diesel that clatters like the way diesels used to 30 years ago. Its been years since I did a proper double de-clutch shift as the View's shifter and clutch were so stiff, I was near to leg cramps. It was fast but even at 120km/h, 23km/h short of its top speed I couldn't hear a Barry Manilow medley over the engine noise. The price to pay for independence. But at least I drove at my own pace, through alternating dry and wet scenery.

Hot and humid

It was typically humid day and Clark, even under a haze was hot too. At least my first stop was at the Holiday Inn Mimosa's Mequeni cafe. The place is too nice to be called a Holiday Inn if you ask me. Most Holiday Inns are those cold low ceilinged boxes, bland restaurants, bland everything where the only interesting going on is the night's conquest of a co-conference attendee who turns hot with a rising bar tab. Like George Clooney in "Up in the Air"?

Swank

The colors and well decorated interiors of the Holiday Inn are like the Swissotel chain. The buffet had 3 stations. Nestle sugar free ice cream too. It wasn't as extensive as the Makati hotels but there were large prawns, crabs, dimsum, roast chicken, Thai dishes - the kind that the fly-in-gamble-fly-out Chinese gambling crowd expect. What was gloriously delicious was chopped pork in barbecue sauce. Even the french onion soup was good.

Gaming keeps alive

After lunch we left the wooded Mimosa section to check in at Fontana. Our bungalow was in the Beijing section but they are all cookie cutter the same. There are some blue moldings and cornices on the garage applied on the exterior but they're still low rise American suburbia types. In our country, it seems that resort hotels complexes linked to Casinos like Thunderbird, Mimosa, Fort Ilocandia and Fontana manage to stay afloat.

Bargain by free trade deals

By afternoon, we had the Japanese give us a briefing at the Palms Bar, another grandly decorated part of the Fontana clubhouse/hotel. Over tall glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice, Portuguese custard tarts and chicken pies, we relaxed as the presentation unfolded. The ASX, though smaller than the Outlander, takes over its role as the compact SUV for Mitsubishi. The recent effectivity of the Japan Free Trade agreement has decreased the prices of most cars with big engines. Lexus and Pajeros with engines bigger than 3-liters are now anywhere from 800,000 to 1.2M cheaper. By 2013, 2-liter cars sourced from Japan, like the ASX, will be in for the mark down treatment. Mitsubishi, in reaction to changing consumer tastes also announced the axing of the Grandis station wagon and the reduction in the markets where the Outlander is sold, with the Philippines being one of them. Pursuing the cars were a largish group of journalists. New faces from FM talk radio were with us and young ones were of the fairer sex with youthful innocent faces wearing apparel that was anything but innocent.

Panizza and more

After the briefing on the Amazing race we will hold on Friday, we piled onto the Rosa to head for dinner at C Fine dining. Arriving there, we just missed the new Sec of Finance - Ces Purisima - who was hustled to another dining room while we occupied the largest function room. The Chris Locher dinner - C Italian dining fare - bread dipped in Parmesan and basil olive oil balsamic sauce - turkey with capers and cream - 2 kinds of Panizza with arugula and alfalfa - Angus beef shanks stew - roast chicken on mashed potatoes - butter soft chunks of fish that looked like Mahi-Mahi - tiramisu - fruit platter and Italian espresso. After lingering for a while, we were off to one of the Fontana bungalows where Mitsubishi had more vino, brewskies, cashew nuts from Antipolo - near the Cainta assembly plant - chips, more banter and poker.

No espresso in the morning?

At least the mornings here are 26 degrees cool, and this particular morning was not humid. A good night's sleep was the reward and prep for the day as the American standards of air conditioning in the bungalows are unbeatable. Breakfast was at the Palms Bar which also has a domed sky mural for a ceiling and an island bar. The food was so so, not even Capangpangan special - dry scrambled eggs, over soyed Bistek. Skin toasted fried hot dogs was OK. Coffee was disappointingly instant. What I do is to get tea and haul lots of creamer sachets to create my own Hong Kong milk tea - which has quite a following in China. No Equal or Splenda? Fuggedabowtit.

The 4 challenges

The briefing was for the 4 challenges. The first was like an Amazing race treasure hunt. We were to have an in-car marshal who will verify with digital image all the 6 places we've been to with a photo. The object was to do everything in one and half hours. Exceed that and you are disqualified. The other objective was to do so with the shortest possible distance. So we were all supplied xerox copies of E-Z maps.

Yes, captain

My team captain prides himself in knowing Clark well and even brought along his hand held GPS navigation. One of the marshals reminded us that the navigation, unless updated, would hamper our time in our Amazing race. Needless to say, the map was fine by me.

Clues and directions

We could go about it any order we want but the winner would be the one who does it in the shortest distance. First stop was Fontana. No sweat. Then Nayong Pilipino next to Clark Expo. Then the Clark Picnic grounds, which, was confused by many with the Picnic grove. Map reading and a sense of direction, it seems is not a strong cultural trait. We had difficulty looking for the Orchid farm because of the Map's fine print.

Shopping privileges and death marker

Then a photo of the Pure Gold duty free. The significance of this isn't lost to us as several generations of the Filipino elite, always hungry for tax-free, whether smuggled or legally duty free, found a sense of privilege when they can shop, duty free in this American air base. The next photo stop was a nice part of Clark, just past Mimosa. Its the original Fort Stoltenberg parade grounds. A grassy knoll, about the size of several polo fields, lined with shady Acacias and 2 storey officer's homes. The main Clark Development Corp Office occupies the old Air Base HQ. We paid homage on the the spot where President Manuel Roxas, grandfather of Mar, died of a heart attack at a flag raising ceremony in 1946, our first July 4 Independence day after World War II.

When sense triumphs over GPS

The next stop is the gigantic SM Clark. At this point, the incessant recalculating of the GPS navigation was costing us time. We had one more stop. The Orchid place in the far North of Clark - high up in the lahar created hills by the Sacobia River banks. In an act of desperation we quit the Navi and referred to the map which seem to point that the shortest route was not through the main M.A. Roxas avenue but through a network of roads parallel to DMIA. The GPS kept insisting we go west to the perimeter fence.

The amazing race

It was the point of no return. Its either we trust the map or the Navigation. But not confuse both by following one now, and then the other later. No, no, no. Its the worse of both worlds. The driver's doubts slowed our pace to the point that we got to the Orchid farm with barely 5 minutes left to expire in our total allotted time of 90 minutes.

Heart breaker

From here I took over the driving, taking the Sacobia zig zag upward at 90km/h, down the winding hill road at 120km/h, crossing the Sacobia Lahar channel bridge at 150km/h, speeding through Expo and Clearwater down to Fontana at 160km/h. Our very skinny girl marshal braced herself, forgetting to deduct points for my speeding. We were at the Fontana gate with 2 minutes to spare. Only to lose it as the Innova driver ahead of us took forever to submit an ID to the gate guard. We got to Fontana, late by 2.30 minutes. Disqualified. Our team captain was shaken. Later we were to learn that we won the shortest distance - 28km, while the organizers plotted 27km. Runners up to us did 34km, 39 and most did 42km. But we were 2.30 minutes late. Disqualified.

Economy and racing

Fontana's buffet lunch was nothing great so I proceeded to hitch with another car to get to my cottage and prepare for check out. Loading the Foton View, I returned to the main villa to get ready to drive to the Speedway. This time the competition for the 2nd challenge was not just plain fuel economy which many of the media people were used to. There was a time penalty. So the key is to drive smoothly and "straighten" the curves by using the racing line. The media people were so overconfident that they were even taking curves in neutral, not braking but letting the tires screech into the turns till kingdom come while scrubbing of speed. The result was a disaster for them - instead of doing the lap in 2 minutes, most did 2.40 seconds. They did get 8kms per liter/ but they were disqualified. Those drivers who drove gently, but still using the racing line for smoothness, no tire screeching, no cheating in neutral, did 6.2kms/liter and 1.40 seconds per lap, and my figures were not far from the winner who did 6.4kms/liter and 1.55 seconds per lap.

Real and significant shopping simulated

The third challenge was to do a parking lot slalom cum gymkhana - which mimicked a supermarket multi-stop and park errand where you stop, parked and got off to get boxes from a tent, then repeat the routine for the next tent. The slalom was tight right angle turns like what you find in mall parking lots or small market towns. Very realistic, even if the path was lined orange cones and rubber tires and speeds were 1st gear only. Thats not all. With all your shopping done, we were to complete a 12 box puzzle. I did the fastest lap but we lost 2 minutes figuring out the photo which was a big mural of the dashboard.

Music trivia

The last challenge was another timed competition to name the 25 tunes in the AUX plugged USB and identify the 10 features of the car in a written exam, all done in the confines of one ASX. Thanks to our young OJT girl member who knew all the songs of the rocker set, she identified most of the songs, while the captain and I only knew the APO Hiking Society songs.

Wonderful

Overall, the ASX was an easy car to enjoy because the high seating position and the big glass area made "sightseeing" natural. The suspension has that nowadays rare long wheel travel tied to full independence in the rear. This makes the car not only ride well, but handling feel is enhanced as the body tilt in corners transmits real time weight transfers and stimulus to drivers who enjoy taking curves fast but neat, with a minimum of tire scrub. And the agility of the tall car in the Gymkhana slalom disproved what many of the pundits say that EPAS, or electronic power assisted steering, is "life" less. In the end, we still lost because of our disqualifications for going over time in the economy challenge and the amazing race, but it was hell of a fun way to do so.

Bond theme plays

After the prize awards in the panoramic 3-storey Marlboro VIP kiosk bar, a couple of my colleagues rode in my 15 passenger Foton View. Crunch shifting through the busy NLEx we arrived at the Mitsubishi Balintawak dealer where I dropped them off to join the home bound Friday EDSA crawl that begins just near Embassy Gardens to my home. That took 40 minutes, but at least my clutch foot didn't get cramps this time. Hot and humid, I had to rush a shower and change as that night my wife and I were to join a Bond themed party in Corinthian Gardens. So I had to dress like 60's Bond - think Sean Connery in Dr. No in a Don Draper-Mad Men suit and my wife had to dress like a Bond girl. But that's another [fun] story.