Posts tagged ‘memory’


I wanted to grow up and be the Dean Martin version of Matt Helm

15.07.2011

As a child growing up in Wellington, there were a few TV series that shaped my beliefs about being grown-up in the occident. The first I’ve written about before: The Persuaders, which is in part where this blog gets its name. I’ve probably mentioned Return of the Saint elsewhere, not to mention the plethora of TV detectives and cops. It’s the old-fashioned idea that good beats evil, and that one man can make a difference.
   But there was also one movie that appealed to me. Tonight I watched, for the first time since the 1970s, The Wrecking Crew. This was the final Matt Helm spy pic starring Dean Martin, and it’s amazing what sticks in your memory from age five, when this was aired on television. Considering my memory goes back to c. nine months, I realize remembering stuff at five is not that remarkable, but I surprised myself at what visuals I recalled, nearly perfectly.
   It may have also shaped my idea that when you rescue the girl, you have to sing like Dean Martin. If anyone wants to lay blame somewhere for my impromptu crooning at parties (or, more embarrassingly, at restaurants), this is where it all started. This is also why I sing ‘Everybody Rock Your Body’ to the tune of ‘Everybody Loves Somebody’.
   As a child, I had no idea there was a series of Matt Helm films. So, as a teenager, I began renting them or recording them off telly. When I saw Murderers’ Row air on TV1 in 1982, I set the video recorder to tape it, but could see nothing from it that I remembered from the first time I watched a “Dean Martin spy flick”—I could not remember the title of what I had seen in 1977. At five, I actually didn’t care.
   Then there was The Silencers, actually the first movie, rented at the Kilbirnie Video Centre around 1990. Hmm, still not the one I saw.
   I then rented The Ambushers, the only other one they had there—still not it.
   So, by process of elimination, I knew it had to be the last one, The Wrecking Crew—or I could not trust my memory. Finally, thanks to DVD, over three decades on, I was able to relive what I saw as a five-year-old—and it was this one after all.
   This gives you an idea of what piqued my interest as a child.

The Wrecking Crew
1. That the bad guys had a Mercedes W111.

The Wrecking Crew
2. Elke Sommer. Probably not due to the fact that I was a perve at age five, but that she was the model flogging Lux soap on telly at the same time. (If I was a perve, then I would have noticed Elke’s very low-cut dress in her first scene. Then again, I remember the dancers from The Monte Carlo Show, but I was eight by then.)

The Wrecking Crew
3. Dino punching some guy in a Merc and running off.

The Wrecking Crew
4. This set, meant to be the interior of a train.

The Wrecking Crew
5. Villain Nigel Green’s trap door on his getaway train.

The Wrecking Crew
6. Dino making sure Sharon Tate didn’t fall through.

The Wrecking Crew
7. Dino making sure Nigel’s stuntman did fall through.

   I presume I knew who Dean Martin was probably because of my mother, who explained it—this was back in the day when parents made sure that what you watched was OK before they went off and prepared dinner. I can’t remember what was on the other channel, but I must have enjoyed this sufficiently to have stayed with it—and there were no remote controls for Philips K9 sets.
   Might have to watch it again tonight. It was genuinely ridiculous, but certainly better than The Silencers (whose theme you still occasionally hear on Groove 107·7 FM here in Wellington) or The Ambushers. Watch out for the second-unit actors on location and the fact that Dino and Sharon Tate stayed firmly in Hollywood; the fake grass on top of padding which moves when Dino pushes down on it; the director’s expectation that we could believe Dino’s character could build a helicopter from bits in a few minutes; and the really bad ride Mac (the boss) has in his Lincoln Continental.
   I’d still pick Murderers’ Row as the best one of the lot, thanks to Ann-Margret being very groovy, Dino’s Ford Thunderbird with rear lights that doubled as a dot-matrix display, the Lalo Schifrin score, and Karl Malden being evil.

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Posted in cars, culture, humour, interests, New Zealand, TV, USA | 3 Comments »


How will Chevrolet go down in Korea?

25.01.2011

Last week, GM announced it would drop the Daewoo marque, as it has done through Europe, in its native Korea, in favour of Chevrolet.
   The company will also be renamed GM Korea, a name it once had nearly four decades ago.
   While most will think this makes sense, so GM can concentrate on unifying its Chevrolet brand globally, I have to play devil’s advocate.
   We know that GM opted to use Buick as its first brand in China in the Communist era because it had generated a lot of goodwill prewar. And it worked: Chinese people, somehow, knew that Buick was a quality brand, even though there were very few cars in China in the 1930s. In the 1990s, 60 years on, Buick sold pretty much everything it made through its joint ventures in China.
   This might be due to Chinese people valuing history and a sense of brand loyalty in an era where foreign brands were still fairly new in the People’s Republic.
   What about Korea? Of course, South Korea is no stranger to brands and consumerism, but where does Chevrolet fit? Is it as well placed as Daewoo, which has seen years of financial disgrace as a car company?
   If we took the Chinese experience, then we might look at the last car GM sold as a Chevy in the Korean market:

Image:Chevrolet_1700_Wagon.jpgChevrolet 1700. 1972–8 (prod. 8,105). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. F/R, 1698 cm³ (4 cyl. CIH). Holden Torana (LJ), made by Saehan of Korea. Essentially a facsimile of the Australian original, but for an unusual station wagon model that looked more like an Opel at the back. Robust, but a failure on the Korean market, thanks to a perception that it was thirsty (the oil crisis did not help; Korean engines were generally smaller at this point). In theory replaced by facelifted Camina in 1976, though it ran alongside it.

   Not exactly a success. The supposed successor, the Camina, sold even fewer, despite having a smaller engine.
   If Koreans had the same conditions as the Chinese, then this one model sold as a Chevrolet in Korea will instil negative brand associations in the Korean market.
   Daewoo hasn’t exactly had the history of Buick. It emerged as a car marque only in the 1980s, taking over from Saehan, so it may well be disposable. It’s also not like Datsun of Japan, which had plenty of years established worldwide. Nor is it like other storied GM brands such as Vauxhall and Holden, which are restricted to one country or one region.
   Koreans have also seen major brands such as Goldstar, or Lucky–Goldstar, become the much simpler LG. Walk around Seoul and you see plenty of KFCs and Pizza Huts.
   But there’s still a part of me that says a nation that has very few expatriates might just prefer their locally made cars to have local brands.
   Koreans have a perception that foreign brands invite the tax authorities to investigate you, which is why so few people buy non-Korean cars there. So how will Korean-made and Korean-developed, but foreign-badged, cars go down there?
   It hasn’t been done with rival brands Hyundai, Kia, Ssangyong or Samsung, the latter two having foreign owners.
   GM will have to be careful how Chevrolet is marketed, to ensure that it’s perceived, at least in Korea, as a Korean brand that just happens to have an American home and a French pronunciation. Because if there’s one thing branding can do, it’s to make people overlook the actual country of origin in favour of the perceived one. This is why Japanese giants such as Suntory sell fruit juices in New Zealand as Just Juice, Fresh-Up or Bay Harvest—brands with histories in New Zealand—and we do not see Bill Murray on our airwaves getting lost in translation in a commercial.
   Sure, Daewoo has been owned by GM for years, so every car buff in Korea knows that the name change means nothing. Some of the range—the Alpheon and the Veritas, for instance—hail from China and Australia. But the everyday person in the street might be a bit more comfortable buying a Daewoo Alpheon than a Chevrolet Alpheon—because no one really wants the revenuers sending a letter saying they’re going to be audited.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, marketing, New Zealand, USA | 3 Comments »


I remember 1973 more clearly than Sam Tyler

07.01.2010

I read a blog post tonight on my friend Jen’s Tumblr, about a memory that goes back to when she was about three or so. But she wondered if it was accurate.
   I believe it was, because for me, by age three I had over two years’ worth of memories. I have met two people in my life who can remember back, clearly, in a temporal, linear fashion, to before we were one. When we discuss this, our first comment to the other usually is, ‘No one believes you, do they?’
   Many doubt us, saying, ‘You must have heard that from your parents,’ or ‘You must have seen this in a photograph,’ until we start telling the stories.
   I wrote on Jen’s blog:

I have a few vague memories similar to this prior to nine months, and they are dream-like, almost like flashes. I assume the human mind does not string events together in a temporal fashion at earlier ages, so we recall them as unclear glimpses rather than moments that are anchored to past and future events on either side.

   I don’t know if studies have been done about this, about why those early memories are not stored. The above is only a theory, but I have a hunch it is right. We are not taught the concepts of past and future as babies, so we don’t store anything in a linear fashion. Why I began to earlier than most, I do not know. No single event triggered it.
   I usually tell people I began remembering when I was nine months old. That’s only a rough date, because at that age I had no concept of what a month was. The date does come from photographs, but that’s all I will give childhood photography. The rest is down to my own mind.
   The story that usually convinces people in regular conversation is this one: learning to walk. It was not my first memory—that was one of those “flashes” that I alluded to in the quote—nor was it the first one that I can trace right back. But I think most people will agree that getting on to your two feet should be quite a memorable event.
   I was a late walker and a happy shuffler. If we put the average baby learning to walk at around age one, then I was still shuffling at 15 months.
   My friend Tim, who remains in contact with me to this day, is younger than me by just over three months. His family came over to visit and he had just started walking. I believe I retold this to him when we were in our late 20s. Sadly, he does not remember it and cannot corroborate the events.
   I had already put up with encouragement to walk for ages (again, at this point, I had no concept of ‘months’, but it must have been) so, naturally, there was a lot of ‘Oh, look at Tim, he’s walking! Isn’t he a good boy?’
   My thought, because at this point I had attempted to walk (and fall) numerous times was: ‘This is peer pressure. I’m not doing it. Look, I can get across the room shuffling more quickly than he can walk. It’s safer, and it’s a known quantity. Just because everyone else is doesn’t mean I should, and so what if I don’t?’
   I should note that the thought was not structured as language, but as impulses, which, really, is the way most of us think. It’s only in recounting the event that we stretch it into comprehensible sentences. I also did not say this; if I did, it probably was as infantile babbles.
   And I could get across that room more quickly. Shuffling 1, walking 0.
   If you think back to when you were five or six, or whenever it was when you first began your set of memories, you might remember that inner voice of yours. It’s your own Jiminy Cricket. It’s not a weird voice telling you to do evil stuff, but your thought process. You know, the one talking to you right now as you read this. And I’m willing to bet that that voice has remained identical all these years in your own mind.
   For the fellas, that means that when your voice broke, it didn’t suddenly change. It’s as though it was the same all along.
   And that’s the voice I had at 15 months.
   It means that even at age one, I was a stubborn so-and-so.
   I should also mention that I was on “the leash” (which demeans us both). And from personal experience of being the leashed, it is bloody painful on your armpits when you get dragged up. It’s only natural for your parents to not want you to hurt yourself and they jerk you up. But by 12–15 months, you’re used to the pain of falling and you know how bad it is. In fact, the pain of falling was preferable to the pain of being yanked up. (In the 1990s, I went to Plunket to tell them of my experiences, and begged them to never recommend the leash to parents.)
   The leash might well have made me more rebellious than I normally would be, but eventually, as anyone who knows me today, I eventually learned to walk. I was about 16 at the time and wanted to pull chicks. Only kidding.
   Soon after (again, I cannot give you an exact time-frame), I discovered that I could run. Fast walking. And I loved it. (Driving on the autobahn gives the same thrill.)
   I then remembered thinking, ‘If someone had told me that I could run after I learned to walk, I would have done this ages ago [or, at least, in the past]. Why didn’t someone tell me?’
   Even at a time when we are not supposed to understand language as it is constructed, I am convinced infants actually understand any language as impulses, probably picking up vibes. They can reason, and it means that parents should be clear in explaining everything to their children, even at a very young age that they cannot remember back to.
   But it shows me that at around 12–18 months, I had a clear idea of ‘the past’ being the time when I was being encouraged to walk.
   The memories may well have been triggered by another phenomenon: the need to begin schooling at age two, as was common in Hong Kong.
   We are expected to attend kindergarten from 2½, and it’s not what occidentals associate with that term.
   We are talking nightly homework and getting graded. Sucks, I know. You don’t get much of a childhood, though there were really cool tricycles there.
   The idea is that if you don’t get into a good kindy, you don’t get into a good primary school, which means you don’t get into a good college, which means you don’t get into a good university. Therefore, in Hong Kong, in the 1970s, it was important to get the right start in life.
   However, to get into a good kindergarten, you have to sit an exam. Solo. With the examiner in the room in front of you.
   This would have been around two, and in the period before, while you are still one, you notice your parents buy join-the-dots puzzle books (I could count by this stage, thanks to my grandmother) and books with the alphabet.
   This was not exercising my mind: this was serious swotting.
   Because of the kidnapping of infants by Red Chinese back in those days, we also have the ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ message drummed in to us. By this point, my parents and grandmother were rationalizing with me, adding, ‘Because if you do, you might not see us again.’
   You can imagine that being abandoned by your mother with the examiner in a room is a pretty traumatic experience, because it goes against the whole anti-stranger thing.
   It didn’t make it easier that the bloody exam was not alphabet recitation or joining the dots.
   Maybe this is why, to this day, I still have nightmares about not having studied for an exam, though usually it’s set at law school, and it’s often constitutional law. (Thank you, Prof Palmer. Ironically, I did quite well with Sir Geoffrey’s exam.)
   The exam was putting shapes in to holes: the one Frank Spencer had to do when he joined the RAF.
   I eventually did it, crying through the process, but I guess at the end of the day, it was about the result and not the means. And I could see my Mum again.
   So by age two, most kids in Hong Kong had to rely on some form of memory, and when I was younger, I usually credited that with why mine went so far back. However, I wonder if others from the same place can report the same.
   Or, for instance, can actress Alicia Witt recall that she recited Shakespeare on That’s Incredible at age four? Considering her profession today—musician and actress—she must be blessed with a good memory, one that she’s had to exercise for a longer time than most.
   Emigrating to New Zealand in 1976 might have triggered a new set, because of the then-unfamiliar surroundings.
   I have a photographic memory, and I can tell you that the first car that went on the other side of the road as we left Wellington Airport on September 16, 1976, three days shy of my fourth birthday, was a Holden.
   There were few Holdens in Hong Kong but I remember the shape of the station wagon and finding out the brand later.
   It’s a little obsession I have always had, long before I even came to New Zealand.
   If anyone who worked at the Fiat dealership on the corner of Victory Avenue, Homantin, Kowloon, in 1975–6 remembers a two- to three-year-old who could tell them which was the 124, the 127, the 128 and the X1/9, and what years they were registered, then that was me. I still regret missing the launch of the 131, which was scheduled to take place in late September–early October 1976, but the cars were in the showroom, covered up.
   The dealership is no longer there, nor is the kindergarten, otherwise I would be asking Fiat Hong Kong for photographs of the launch event. It must have been the first launch to which I could have gone to, and had to miss.


Above The corner of Victory Avenue and Waterloo Road. At the far right, cut off, is where the Fiat dealership would have been. The laundry was there in the 1970s.

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Posted in cars, general, Hong Kong, interests, New Zealand, Wellington | 3 Comments »