Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production


Made in USA by UrbisMedia ©2006

Made in USA by UrbisMedia ©2006

I drive a BMW.   It’s the best damn car I ever owned. [1] I bought it because it combines Italian design and German engineering; not because of the time when I placed my keys once on the counter of the café I frequent and the comely lass barista said “Oh, you have a ‘beemer’” with an intonation that implied she would jump in the back seat with me for a little roll in the leather as soon as finished my doppio macciato con Viagra.   Beemers can produce that sort of anticipation.

Imagine my astonishment when I read in the International Herald Tribune that China will soon be producing beemers.     China! Beemers! Made in China!   The article said “ In the latest sign of China’s manufacturing ambitions, a major Chinese company, hand-in-hand with the Communist Party, is bidding to buy a car engine plant in Brazil from DaimlerChrysler and BMW.”   They plan to disassemble the plant and reassemble it in Chongqing.   In no time at all they will be shipping the shiny new ao ing u 325s down the Yangtse to Wal Marts all over the world. My horribly inaccurate translation for the name of this new BMW would be The Fighting Silver Dumpling, but given the alternate translations that Chinese words can have, Bao Ming Wu could also mean Your sister needs breast implants , or Summer clouds sing of thy beauty. [2]

Don’t get me wrong here.   I’m not bashing the Chinese about this.   They can build cars.   A couple of years ago I was giving some lectures at universities in Beijing.   I was provided a driver, an interpreter, and a Jeep Cherokee.   The Jeep was made in a plant just outside Beijing; you couldn’t tell the difference between it and one made in the USA.   They make Buicks in Shanghai, too.   These people are ready to claim their century.   They’re about ready to be the world’s third largest economy and they aren’t going to sit in their richshaws and let history record them as the people who invented paper, fireworks, and moo goo gai pan.   We can’t blame them for really taking anything away from us because this is obviously a case of tri-fold outsourcing.   Ask yourself, what the hell was a venerable German car company doing being teamed up with an American company that used to make a piece of crud called the K Car and having its engines manufactured in Brazil.   It probably was just China’s turn.

I don’t mind as long as that Italian design and German engineering don’t get dropped in the Pacific off the coast of Taiwan.   My beemer is over a decade old, still looks more in style than most cars on the road, and everything still works.   Take the security system, for example.   You put your own code in with a four-button panel.   If a thief tries to start your car it won’t start and, after three tries, the horn (this is no prissy Japanese car horn, either) goes off for 30 seconds and a Wermacht infantry division shows up and arrests the thief for summary execution.   OK, I’m just kidding about that last part.   But the system will also not let someone break a window, and if you even lean on the car, and happen to be Polish, the alarm goes off again. (Just kidding about the Polish; no nasty emails please, Wadislav). [3] 

So, will the Chinese keep this intricate and exquisite BMW engineering?   I wonder.   Remember, they have been making plastic toys that end up in landfills in less than a year.   No, I think that the Fighting Silver Dumplings   might exhibit what Deng Xiao Peng might have called “German engineering with Asian characteristics.”   Remember, the most salient thing one notices about the Chinese is that . . . well I have to say it . . . they’re always eating.   The Germans don’t put stuff like trays and cup holders in their cars; Europeans in general don’t care to eat in their cars.   So the Chinese are likely to go to school on the Americans.   No Chinese wants to be stuck in traffic for more than 30 minutes (roughly the interval between the 14 meals in a Chinese day). [4]   There will definitely be a fold-out dim sum tray reachable from the driver’s seat.   The tea jar holder will be standard equipment (that’s the pickle jar with the floating tealeaves and the screw-on top), but a steam kettle plug will be optional.   That’s enough distractions to make any Chinese driver even more dangerous, so the GPS system will not be available, but replaced with a one cubic-foot ash tray.

I anticipate a 2007 roll out on the 325e Special Egg Roll Edition, with the new rice cooker (noodle cooker for the northern edition) in what used to be the glove box.   The Wu Series, and Qi Series are sure to follow with such features as the “lazy susan” table so passengers can share dishes. And, there will be a standard “one-child only” safety seat.

I’m betting that the Bao Ming Wu will be a big hit with Chinese girls, too.   I can’t wait to saunter into a Starbuck’s in Nanjing Road, drop my beemer keys on the counter and order a Mocha Valencia.   That pretty little barista will spot them and look up at me with eyes brimming with desire and say “ Nihao tai Meiguoren guy I see that you drive a Fighting Silver Dumpling.”

“I sure do, little Lotus Flower.   And it’s the one with the new Peiking Duck Roaster, too,” I’ll reply, as her delicate little hand fondles the key to pleasurable East-West relations.

©2006, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 2.23.2006)

[1] And I was born in WWII and from the newsreels and grew up with the false notion that all Germans were Nazis.   Anyway, if NASA could hire Werner von Braun to build them a rocket I was entitled to own a German car if I wanted.   My first one was a 1963 VW Beetle, and then I had a Vanagon.   I wish I still had them both.

[2] If hitting a baseball is all in the way you “break” your wrists, the right meaning in Chinese is all in the way you pronate your tongue.

[3] I’ve screwed up a couple of times and forgot my code, and here is where German engineering can be a touch over-engineered.   After the horn blows for 30 seconds you have to disconnect the battery, wait 5 minutes for the computer to reset, then re-connect the battery (the horn blows again for 30 seconds) and then you wait for 15 minutes for the computer to count down to where it says “input code”.   That done, you can enter a new code and drive off to the relief of people within a half-mile radius.   If you screw up that procedure at any point you have to call a guy named Gunter in Munich who will give you a completely different procedure in German.   OK, I’m only kidding about the Gunter part to show that I can pick on Germans, too.

[4] And stuck in traffic is what they are going to get.   Beijing just opened its 5th ring highway when I was there last.   It looked like it had been there for ten years.   The traffic was already close to LA levels and they still have 1, 327, 657, 228 people who want to trcade imn their bicycles for cars.