Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fino & dandy.

A while ago I visited Vietnam, and had the opportunity to hire a Honda
@125 scooter. The Honda @125 is a beautiful machine. Elegant, simple
and based on the classic Italian scooter design, but modernised in a
distinctly Japanese way to bring the look firmly into the present.

I loved it so much that I made every effort to import one into Thailand, but the centuries-old hatred between Siam and Vietnam meant that there was literally no legal way to get a Vietnam-made vehicle into this country.

I spent many months cursing motorbike manufacters in Thailand for
their sad offerings that would not have been out of place in 1970s
Poland. No design, no style, no attempt to make anything other than a piece of functional equipment: designed clearly for people who (the
manufacturers obviously presumed) only needed to get from A to B and
who didn't give a moment's thought to how things looked.

My rabid resentment at a total absence of attractive Thai-made
two-wheeled transport options became so bad that I began to question
the very Thai character. Vietnam had at least one beautiful scooter,
and that scooter was to be seen everywhere in the country, attesting
to decent taste among all levels of Vietnamese society. Thailand had
nothing of the sort, and led me to begin formulating unattractive
theories about the comparitive qualities of the Thais in relation to
the Vietnamese, which it would be best not to go into too deeply here.

My dark formulations came to a swift end, however, some time a few
months ago. While waiting at a red light in Bangkok in the trusty
Fortuner, an elegant, cute, quirky scooter trundled between the lanes
of cars and came to a stop ahead of my car at the front of the queue.
For a second, I wondered if the rider had found a way to get around
the insane import regulations and managed to get an @125 here. But
upon looking at the atom-like logo on the back of the bike, I saw that
it was not a Honda model but something from Yamaha.

It was the Fino. A scooter following the perennial design of the
original Vespa, but with clean modern lines and a gimmick-free
appearance. My view of the Thai motorcycle industry - and by extension
all of Thailand - changed for the better immediately.

Last week, on a trip to the beachside resort of Hua Hin, I took
advantage of the few days off to hire a Fino. Scooting along the hilly
country roads west of the seaside town, I developed a bond with this
delightful machine. Its two-tone paint job and quirky customised
tartan seat only made it more desirable. So much so that when I got
back to Bangkok yesterday, the first thing I did was to go to the
nearest motorbike dealer and put down the stack of thousand baht notes
required to ride the thing home immediately.

My new Fino is parked, Hanoi-style, inside the ground floor of my
apartment building, next to the staircase. Its gorgeous all-white look
matched perfectly the white singlet and stripey white shorts I was
wearing today while scooting about the neighbourhood.

All is right with the world.

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