Our new columnist is a physician who is also a certified petrolhead and one of the Torque team’s core contributors.
HI. My name is Yongyao and I’m a vehiculoholic. For my first column in Singapore’s No. 1 automotive magazine, I shall talk about… wanton mee.
This delightfully simple dish is a monument to hawker cuisine. A pure, unpretentious concoction of yellow noodles, succulent dumplings and just a hint of tangy spice. Not a single ingredient in there has a fancy-schmancy pronunciation unrelated to the way its name is spelt. It’s usually pretty cheap, too.
Sure, a three-star Robuchon degustation at someone else’s expense is fantastic once in a while. Mostly though, there is no meal more satisfying, nor one as soothing to a frazzled constitution, than the elemental goodness of wanton mee, enjoyed in an unassuming corner of Chomp Chomp Food Centre in your slippers.
Unparalleled beauty in simplicity, I say.
Speaking of frazzled constitutions, I love being a physician. But occasionally, when patients do badly, work gets to me.
Our cars are nestled in the dim flicker of a dungeon, and the exit to the hospital carpark is quite literally a hole in the ground.
Sometimes, ejecting oneself from that orifice like a phoenix bursting from rancid bowels can be one of life’s most liberating, consoling feelings.
That euphoria is anticipated and relished, for delivering me to my wanton mee escape is the perfect vehicular metaphor for the dish itself.
My engine-at-the-front, power-to-the-back, analogue, manual-transmission, delightfully simple, little Mazda MX-5.
DELIVERING ME TO MY WANTON MEE ESCAPE IS THE PERFECT VEHICULAR METAPHOR FOR THE DISH ITSELF – MY DELIGHTFULLY SIMPLE, LITTLE MAZDA MX-5.
For years I have struggled to articulate a response to the derisory cynicism of my mechanically agnostic family.
Like trying to explain the colour blue to a blind person. Now I can just toss them the key. For in that fuss-free, featherlight machine are the essences of driving pleasure, distilled.
The reality of rear-wheel-drive has been over-romanticised a bit. A playful squiggle of the buttocks, a fistful of opposite lock, balancing the car “at the limit of grip”… that’s the theory anyway. These heroic actions live but in your own fantasy. Outside of a racetrack, within the confines of speed limits and good sense, it’s not advisable.
Just a few months ago, some genius in his Toyota 86 squealed his way around a U-turn and immediately got Stomped.
Even BMW, flagbearer of the rear-drive mafia, tuned two generations of its 1 Series for understeer, and is now giving up altogether on the layout for its family hatchback.
Ah, but when your car is the size of a shoe and weighs next to nothing at all, you can play.
When every action is met with a minutely titratable answer, that romance comes alive. It takes a car like this to make you realise how much pointless extra ballast every other car has.
Like wanton mee, it makes you realise you don’t need big power or big money to have the purest of fun.
Even small suburban streets become vast expanses of tarmac. You can pull off a hint of a drift so subtle, nobody knows except the tips of your fingers.
To my wife in the passenger seat, I look just like any other driver, except with hairline mercilessly revealed by the wind.
Between the machine and I, though, is a vibrant conversation conducted through my hands, my feet, my bum and every sensory organ.
It is these minute tweaks of the throttle, shimmies of the steering, shifts of the car’s weight performed instinctively, subtly and continuously, that ignite the pleasure centres in my brain.
Remember what it was like to be five years old and everywhere you went became a playground?
The teeny, tiny MX-5 puts you back in that mind. Every road a canvas, every journey an adventure, every gap an improvised goal posted with schoolbags. The constant dull ache of life disappears.
IF THE MX-5 ROADSTER COULD RIDE IN A SUPERSIZED CONVERTIBLE OF ITS OWN, IT WOULD STICK ITS HEAD OUT WITH ITS TONGUE WAGGLING IN THE WIND – THIS HERE IS A WEAPONISED CORGI PUPPY.
This egghead drives a Mazda roadster and has egg noodles on his mind – just like the columnist.
It should be mandatory that all learner cars be MX-5s. As a vivid educator in the mechanical nuances of driving, there is no better car.
Here’s the kicker, though. The Mazda MX-5, when pushed all out, gets a bit unruly.
Unlike a Porsche Boxster, it doesn’t treat its inertia like free speech in the DPRK, to be ruthlessly clamped down on with extreme prejudice. The little rascal is happiest at 7/10ths, the kind of commitment level of an enthusiastic commute.
I like that. It speaks of a car designed for fun rather than meaningless lap times.
So, its mass is allowed to come out and play. Yet, because there’s so little of it, the mass works with rather than against you, lolling about playfully and leaning the car into your inputs.
Come sudden time to change direction, it gleefully darts around, squeezing a giggle from your lungs at the sheer comedy of it all. Then the bonnet wings rise and fall in your peripheral vision to exaggerate the sense of motion further.
“Who’s a good boy?… Who’s a good boy?”
If the MX-5 roadster could ride in a supersized convertible of its own, it would stick its head out with its tongue waggling in the wind.
This here is a weaponised corgi puppy. All small and cute, and loveably growly, and madly scrabbling at the ground, threatening to choke on its own energy. To go home to, there is no more spirit-lifting thing.
So there you have it. A car spoken best about in metaphors. A mode of expression in the vastness of the English language at once vividly expressive and conveniently ambiguous on detail.
That’s true love, for all flaws are resolutely excused or ignored. Pure, unassuming, perfect. The automotive equivalent of wanton mee.