Ali Mahfooz profile picture Ali Mahfooz 4 years ago
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5th Anniversary CTzen Autobiography Blog - Part 1

5th Anniversary CTzen Autobiography Blog - Part 1 - Blog

Firstly I’d like to apologize for the delay in publishing this post. I had to deal with family and financial issues while I was writing about the blog. Everything in this blog is purely my interpretation of experiences leading to the consequences later in my life and has been depicted in a near chronological order of the events occurring. All the key events and details are quoted or highlighted in bold fonts. You can skip Part 1 of the post to read about my journey to Car Throttle and my vision for the community in Part 2 of this blog post.

Yes, it has been 5 years since 6th April, 2013 I’ve been on Car Throttle as an official regular user and became a loyal member. To mark this special day and my birthday, I ought to write a blog celebrating my years on Car Throttle by discussing my journey on and before it, my plans for the future of the community, my passion for cars, writing blogs, amazing childhood memories, sorrows, secrets… and of course the usual face reveal.

I’ll start off by introducing myself. My name is Shaik B. Ali Mahfooz. I was born on 20th October, 1992 in a metropolitan city of Hyderabad in India - now an HQ to IT companies like Google, Facebook, Wipro, Qualcomm, DLF and Apple. My lineage originates from Turkey where in the 16th century, our ancestors from the Ottoman Empire overheard the progress of economy and wisdom research in India which was dominated by the Mughal Empire at the time, migrated here and settled with the people of the India.

Just 2 months after my birth, I got my passport and we moved to Saudi Arabia where my father worked as a Civil Engineer. There was a lot of job boom at the time (1980s to 1990s) when the government decided the issue visas to allow people to work there as the oil rich nation decided to export oil to the world for the first time which gave them a lot of money investment and job opportunities. My dad decided to join the boom and take the opportunity.

How My Interest in Cars Started, My Past and Favorite Cars

The highway from Duba to Tabuk looked similar to this. Our old Cressida easily became a victim of the heat.
The highway from Duba to Tabuk looked similar to this. Our old Cressida easily became a victim of the heat.

How My Interest In Cars Started:

My interest in cars started when I was around 2 or 3 years old. I remember seeing out of the window of our apartment late at nights before going to bed. There was an empty road in front of our apartment where I’d see cars speeding past by. The sensation of speed and the noise of engines revving high past our apartment made me awe as it was an amazing sensation just listening to the roar of the engines. Most of the cars were 80s American, Japanese and Australian made cars like the Chevrolet Caprice, GMC Suburban, Toyota Camry, Hilux, Land Cruiser, Prado, Nissan Altima GTS-R (Also known as Cefiro in Australia) and occasionally some Mercedes-Benz like E-Class, SEL-Class and the S-Class.

At that age, I got my first toys as well. Most of them were these large LEGO like bricks and some toy cars. But my attention quickly turned towards shiny objects like screw drivers and pliers and hammers. Dad decided to teach me a bit how to use those tools after figuring out how they worked, I went on to assemble and disassemble chairs and some electronic stuff. It wasn’t too long before I figured out how to use those tools and went on a rampage disassembling any screw I saw in my path. My parents decided that I was turning too ambitious with those tools and so for my safety, they decided it would be safer to imitate with those tools. So they got me a safety vest with all the plastic screw drivers, pliers and even plastic nuts, bolts and even a safety helmet for me to go rampage on it instead. Nonetheless, I got some toy cars and got creative by making my own with most of the others from large toy bricks. One of the unique brick pieces was the 4-wheeled chassis brick which would serve as a base for building cars on. This was my earliest memory of me building cars and taking deep interest in cars.

My past:

At the time when I was born, we had a white 1983 X60 Toyota Cressida. Also known as the Toyota Mark 2 Corona in other markets. It was a boxy car that had just the basic equipment like A/C and a radio… which didn’t work because it’s antenna was ripped out. That didn’t matter much because there wasn’t anything special to listen to on the radio in that country at the time anyway.

For the middle-eastern market, the Mark 2 Corona was sold as the Cressida 2nd gen.
For the middle-eastern market, the Mark 2 Corona was sold as the Cressida 2nd gen.

This was dad’s third car which he bought it after selling the Subaru Brat pick-up before I was born… which allegedly didn’t have working front brakes. So he relied on the handbrake to make do the most of the braking. He sold it and bought a second hand Cressida after he got married to mom.

The Subaru Brat pick-up was one of the weirdest cars my dad own before I was born.
The Subaru Brat pick-up was one of the weirdest cars my dad own before I was born.

Most of my earlier childhood was spent mostly in the northern province of Saudi Arabia, specifically in the cities Rafha, Jizan and Duba. I don’t specifically remember how long were we in those cities for so I’ll be vague with the years I’ll be mentioning. Rafha was the city near the Iraq border where I spent most of my earlier childhood and went to a private tutor elementary school before I ended up with a sister in 1994 when we moved to Jizan, a city that was located near the Yemen border as dad got transferred by the company to work on another project by the company. There was no school there for immigrants in that city so I was being home schooled by mom. Dad then got a job transfer again and we moved to a coastal town of Duba along the sea coast near the Jordan border. Dad was consistently being transferred from one border to another because of the availability of high pay as these jobs had a lot of risks especially with the desert heat and a lot of job openings but very few people applying for it. And with no internet access at the time and the lack of opportunities available, any job that was put up on the board at the office was the only opportunity dad had to move forward.

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We settled in the city of Duba for quite a while and while we lived there, I got my hands on my first ever pedal powered car and my first bicycle. While the pedal car got a little too small for me really quickly, I moved on with my bicycle. There was a really wide open road in front of our apartment where I’d ride my bicycle as fast as my legs could take me. It was one of the most thrilling experiences I had as a child growing up. There were very few buildings around our house at the time and a local school adjacent to our apartment. The house owner lived right next to our apartment and there was a small shop right across the road. Not many people lived in this town so there were a lot of empty lands at the time but it was nice to see the sunrise that would happen right in front of our apartment which I remember asking my parents to wake me up before sunrise so I can see it.

Virtual World Wonders and My First Favorite Car:

A year after moving to Duba in 1995, we got our first computer - An Intel Pentium 2 processor computer which my dad bought after learning how to operate a computer for the first time through one of his office associates. The Intel computer line up was really popular and was spreading throughout the world fast as it had easy usability and extreme levels of flexibility for job applications.

What PCs looked like during my childhood time period.
What PCs looked like during my childhood time period.

At the time I was introduced to my first ever video games - Road & Track Presents Need For Speed, Skunny The Squirrel series demo games, Mechwarrior 2: 31st Century Combat, Speedboat Attack and some other games that I don’t remember their names well. My favorite being the Road & Track presents Need For Speed which was a 3D racing game with street circuits inspired by the European highways and country roads, a concept which I found to be intriguing and very addicting as compared to the track racing at the time as it was a game with a different twist - licensed cars, which not many games had done at the time combined with the concept of street racing in supercars and sports cars on public roads. This rebellious concept grew on me quickly and I absolutely adored this genre of arcade racing.

It was in this game, I would discover about the first sports car name that I’d remember for a while, the Ferrari 512 Testarossa. It was fascinating to think about it that games back in the time featured first person view with lots of animations such as gauge needles, lights, manual gear shifter animation (briefing showing in a box) during gear shifts and rear view mirrors. All this was considerably advance for the time to run on a computer system that had maximum of 2 cores, RAM memory in megabytes and virtually no graphic cards at all. Other cars I know were the Supra Mk4, Hyundai Coupe (1st gen), Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 C4, Dodge Viper RT/10 and Porsche 911 Carrera. These were some of the sports cars whose name I can recall now from playing the game back then.

Other games I remember having were educational stuff like JumpStart educational games learning case kit complete with activity and skills practice books of each grade with series from Toddlers, Pre-K, Kindergarten to 5th Grade and featured other learning disciplines such as Typing, Spanish and 1st and 2nd Maths and Reading respectively.

Each subject the game focused on helped me learn in a fun and creative way even before I started school and had a major impact on how I would learn and understand each subject.

In 1997, our family would welcome my little brother. My brother from the beginning was partially into cars because of my earlier expose to them. So at times I’d share my toys with him and at other times, I won’t as he’d break them or disassemble whatever I would make out of LEGOs, the very first time I got myself hands on one. It was a small set of a red and a blue racing truck. In spite of my efforts to keep the toys away from my brother didn’t work out either. Any time I would be away visiting the construction site with dad, he’d grab hold of them and disassemble completely. But despite his annoyance, I didn’t give up and kept building whatever came to my mind.

My very first LEGO set I got when I was 7 years old.
My very first LEGO set I got when I was 7 years old.

The combination of LEGOs bricks and the virtual way of learning had challenged and set a tone for my creativity and learning curvature.

And on the topic of being away with my dad on construction sites, I was always fascinated by the large earth movers. Anything from heavy duty cranes, pan scrapers, backhoes, skid steer loaders, bulldozers, graders and tipper lorry/dump trucks that I saw at the site would make my day. The reason being these machines were gigantic in size and had multiple axles, something which I didn’t see on cars on the road at the time.

Any machinery that had larger than normal or more than 4 wheels made me intrigued as a kid like this Grader.
Any machinery that had larger than normal or more than 4 wheels made me intrigued as a kid like this Grader.

After my brother’s birth, we went back to India, where we stayed at one of our relative’s place. Over there, I was exposed to my first gaming console from SEGA. I remember playing a racing game on it which had the option to select engine types and I would at times I would go with the engine that I had seen in my dad’s Cressida - a cylindrical air filter carb design which I would select it plainly because from my memory, that was one of the very few engines I had seen when our Cressida had broke down.

Dad’s favorite car:

During this time in Duba, dad worked for a consultant company that specialized in thermal power plant facilities. Larger cars to the masses were still a luxury as there wasn’t an affordable option other than a Isuzu Trooper diesel which was the only “larger” option available at the time. Also, affordable cars weren’t exactly built to tackle the desert heat, which meant they’d mostly end up with vapor lock or the engine would overheat as cooling wasn’t sufficient to cool against the desert heat. We had our cousins (Dad’s younger brother to be precise) live in a city relatively close to where dad was working, Tabuk. This city was located at quite a significant distance. During holiday seasons, we’d go and visit our cousins and stay there for a few days or they’d come over and stay over at our apartment. In the early days when we first moved to Duba, we used our Cressida to get to Tabuk. The highway first starts off along side the sea shore and then sweeps into the desert valleys where our Cressida would start struggling. When dad bought the car, it was already in a very, very used state and wasn’t worthy of highway driving. After a few kilometers into the valley, the Cressida would overheat and start to jerk. This is because of vapor lock. The heat in the deserts would cause abnormally high temperatures inside the engine components and would eventually cause the fuel to evaporate in the carb. Getting to the city would’ve been a great challenge itself with a slow and a very aged car.

Naturally, it was a wiser to take a newer rental than to take a 10+ year old carburetted family sedan that was bound to die on the highway… in the middle of the desert. But the problem was that most rentals were beaten up and the extra surplus charges were bound to be slapped on if it were driven over a set mileage given by the company, so they were expensive for us even by our standards by then as well. And considering this was a town we were living in, not many rental companies to choose from either. So to avoid stalling on the highway in the middle of the desert mid day every time, dad turned to his Jordanian boss, who owned the then new 1998 J100 Toyota Land Cruiser GX, which dad asked to be leased for family trips to Tabuk. The boss would generously hand over the LC keys as my father was one of the key members in the company in terms of trust, communications, experience and had contributed to the profits to the company. In exchange, dad got the best financial advises and the keys to his boss’s Land Cruiser when needed.

5th Anniversary CTzen Autobiography Blog - Part 1 - Blog

I remember being in the back of the LC on our way to Tabuk on the highway and even at speeds over 120 km/h (75 mph), there wasn’t much road, tire or wind noise in the cabin. Even though this was an entry level variant with grey wool interiors and basic luxuries like roof A/C vents for rear passengers, 6-CD and cassette player, it felt like a big roomy and comfortable cruiser on the highway. Compared to our Cressida, the LC felt ages ahead in terms of technology and was more safer than our Cressida. Once over there in Tabuk with our friends and family, all of us would go out to amusement parks and hang out.

The high speed stability, great off road-ability, great comfort, large roomy interiors and the infamous brand that was recognised for reliability made the Land Cruiser dad's favorite car.

Moving To A Major City, Starting My School Life, First Interactions With Mobile Phones And Dad Changing Cars.

The large lanterns are one of the attraction of the city.
The large lanterns are one of the attraction of the city.

All these years, we had a private tutor at home as these distant locations had no educational premises for immigrants as the local syllabus was only aimed for the national population and in their own mother tongue Arabic only. This was a concern as my parents thought that because by this stage I was home schooled till 1st grade and my sister till Kindergarten standards, my parents decided that if we needed proper higher education, we need to go to a proper school.

By 1998, our parents had decided that me and my sister were old enough to go to a proper school and get elementary education rather than continuing on with the private tutor lessons. So my parents made the call to move to the urban city of Jeddah, a city located in the mouth of the Red Sea just off the coast off the West coast of Saudi Arabia. It was a city full of job opportunities and educational institutes for all Asian nationalities and also a great place for art and artists to express themselves. Naturally, my father decided on moving into the big city as it had all the facilities and convenience for our family as well. Dad was able to transfer and find himself major projects to work on such as universities, mansions, office building and other complexes in the company as a Civil Engineer.

The King Fahd fountain still holds the record for the tallest fountain in the world.
The King Fahd fountain still holds the record for the tallest fountain in the world.

We visited Jeddah a year prior to moving there and did apartment hunting while staying at my cousins place. During this time period of late 90s, all Asian origin immigrants would live in certain areas together like the old Jeddah (origin flourishing of the city), Sha’rafia - another older part of the city where Asian Immigrants ran businesses in street side shops, Ba’ladia - also another old part of the city where immigrants ran smaller businesses and shops and lastly, if you were a well paid immigrant, then enjoying the luxury of living near the Asian school itself was one of the biggest relief as a parent, which my father was fortunate enough to be a part of. This area was known as Al-Azizia - Known for having multiple Asian consulates and Asian educational institutes, this area was considered to be the golden goose for apartment leasers. Hence the rents and living standards in the area were high and because dad was really well paid, he could afford to live in this area for the sake and benefit of our convenience.

Historic district of Balad still houses the buildings from the late 18th and early 19th century.
Historic district of Balad still houses the buildings from the late 18th and early 19th century.

We returned back home in Duba after spending more than a month of stay at our cousin’s apartment in Jeddah, finding the right apartment for us to move in there the next year and start me, my sister’s and brother’s school life. Once back home, we began packing and moving our house after our return and within a few weeks, we moved everything to our new apartment in Jeddah and began our maiden voyage in my dad’s boss’s Land Cruiser LC200 with him at the wheel for the last time traveling to Tabuk where we catch our plane to move into the big city.

My school life would begin here, at International Indian School - Jeddah, a large and historically old school that was first established in the 1960s as Indian Embassy School in the capital city Riyadh and then has branched out in other parts of Saudi Arabia over due time. For admission purpose, I didn’t had any previous records of verified educational qualification certificates, so I had to give an aptitude test in the school which somehow I passed. This meant that I qualified for 2nd grade admission based on my age at the time.

The International Indian School Jeddah was the second largest school for Indian immigrants students in Saudi Arabia
The International Indian School Jeddah was the second largest school for Indian immigrants students in Saudi Arabia

School Life and Changing Cars:

At the beginning of 1999, we arrived in Jeddah and got settled in our little apartment. We stayed at our cousin’s place again while dad got a rental car - a green Nissan Sunny B15 which I remember as a kid getting excited over thinking it was our new car dad had bought when moving into the new city. But our Cressida was still being brought in via cargo truck to the city. So for the next few days, we had the little Nissan Sunny to go around the city. Then one late evening, dad called us outside. Gone was the Sunny and replaced by our old Cressida. I kinda felt sad a got a bit teary eyed because all those days, I thought that the Nissan Sunny was a “new” car dad had bought, not realizing it was a rental but there was a surprise that I didn’t expected.

I mostly remember the rear end from my memory of what our dinky green Sunny looked like.
I mostly remember the rear end from my memory of what our dinky green Sunny looked like.

I started my schooling in March 1999. Wake up at 7 in the morning, wait for our bus (every bus was allocated an area to pick students from and ours was #31, the drivers with whom I got familiar with over time) at 8, be in school by 8:30, start class by 9, leave school by 3 and then return home by 3:30. This was my routine everyday for the next 10 years. My sister would start her school slightly late at 9 but end early at 2:30 meaning she’d always be at home earlier than me. My youngest brother would start his schooling a few years after me.

International Indian School - Jeddah Girls Branch. This is where my sister studied after her Kindergarten completed at my branch.
International Indian School - Jeddah Girls Branch. This is where my sister studied after her Kindergarten completed at my branch.

After a few months of getting settled in our new house, one weekend dad took us around in the old part of the city and showed us a sky blue coloured 1992 XV10 Toyota Camry GL. It had a minor front bumper damage and the paint was chipped off but would later get a new bumper. This Camry was owned by one of my dad’s friend who worked as an Electrical Engineer. He sold it to us for a very reasonable price but unfortunately he would pass away fighting cancer. Dad stopped aside the Camry and said that this is our new car. At the time, buying anything new in the country was relatively cheap and affordable as wages were still going up.

5th Anniversary CTzen Autobiography Blog - Part 1 - Blog

From 1999 to 2005, me, my sister and brother lead the typical elementary/primary and kindergarten school life. In this span of time, we kept visiting our home city in Hyderabad, not just for summer vacations, but invest any bonuses and savings into buying properties and real estate dad earned since 1982. This meant that when we’d move back to our home country, we would be financially stable and have a place to live.

So far our lives were going normal in the country. Living in Jeddah meant we were close to the sea again. This meant that on every weekends, we’d go to the beach first, play, walk along side the shores and then go a shopping mall or a grocery store and then come back home (Thursdays and Fridays were weekends in the country at the time). This was our daily routine pretty much throughout the year.

My First Interactions With The Early Electronic Gadgets and Technology:

Around in 1999, dad got his hands on his first ever mobile phone which was given to him by his friend that sold us the Camry. It was a yellow little Siemens mobile phone (don’t remember the model) that had basic functions and some games in it. The screen was black and green and was quite small but heavy and durable as well. Every time my father got back home from work, I would take the phone and play some games on it and then return it. Most of the games on it were usually snake or space shooter like. Battery life was also not too much of a bother either as the lack of functionality in it made the battery last for almost more than a day.

Siemens M35i. While I don't remember what model was our first mobile phone, it certainly was very yellow and black.
Siemens M35i. While I don't remember what model was our first mobile phone, it certainly was very yellow and black.

It wasn’t until March 2001, dad decided to buy his own mobile phone. And iconic it would turn out to be, the Nokia 3310. Still sporting the black and green screen which were common at the time, but it was cheaper, had better features such as SMS, contact phone book entry upto 100 entries along with names, long battery life, good service, simple to use UI, creative design, durability and convenient to use. No cameras, no bluetooth or sensors… it was a simple and easy to use phone that many who just needed a phone for communication. What was a surprise was me was the sheer amount of money we had to pay for mobile services. After registering the phone with the Telecommunications authorities, we could make calls and send SMS text messages. This registration and authentication of the services had cost us somewhere in 5 figures (I don’t remember the exact amount) to get the SIM and it’s services authorized by the local telecommunication services and authorities.

5th Anniversary CTzen Autobiography Blog - Part 1 - Blog

In 2003, dad’s big bonuses meant we could go to another country for vacations instead of just going back to India directly. We headed over to Dubai where my mom’s sister resided. There while shopping for some souvenirs, he decided to upgrade from his workhorse Nokia 3310 to the newer spec of colour display and camera phones. He went with the Nokia 3650, a phone with a circular base and the number keys arranged in a circular pattern giving it a classic phone dial effect. It was also loaded with new features that would become standard in the mobile phone industry today such as Bluetooth, MMS (Multimedia Messaging Services), 3G network and a feature that would become ineffective in today’s tech world - Infra red wireless transmission. It required an external Infra Red module connected to the computer via USB and a software installed via the included CD. This allowed transfer of documents, music, videos and other files from the phone to the computer easy without the need for a large external port (which were yet to become standardise even back then). But the big catch for me was the camera on the back. It was a first for a phone to feature a camera that gave the freedom to take photos on the go and record videos upto 10 seconds. A pretty big deal back then even though it had just a 1.2 MP camera. These phones ran on Symbian 60 series software which was the Nokia’s own developed software for their phones which saw a colour display for the first time on a phone display and gave a bigger freedom of user interaction. And with Nokia’s tradition, it had the snake game in it as well. This time, in colour with Bluetooth multiplayer mode.

5th Anniversary CTzen Autobiography Blog - Part 1 - Blog
Nokia 3650 - One of the first mobile phones to feature a rear facing camera and 3G network services. The black triangular shape on the side was the Infra red transmission receiver. And it was really THICK!
Nokia 3650 - One of the first mobile phones to feature a rear facing camera and 3G network services. The black triangular shape on the side was the Infra red transmission receiver. And it was really THICK!

At times, after coming home from school, I would take dad's phone, play around a bit and give it back to him. My addiction with mobiles phones at this stage was minuscule as I didn't find the technology too addictive. Even though there was the internet, it was rather expensive and loading times would takes minutes to load up. So we barely used the internet on the phone. Instead there was a 'pay card' system that gave a certain amount of data limit to browse the internet on the laptop.

And then there was the laptop - an IBM ThinkPad T20 series which in itself was a compact way of carrying a computer with an external power supply - a concept that my dad told me at the time as being “futuristic” as laptops would be very common thing in the near future as they’ll be easy to carry and be able to execute the same tasks as a computer with similar efficiency. A standout feature of the ThinkPad laptops was IBMs signature nub in the middle of the keyboard called the ‘TrackPoint’. This essentially worked like a mouse pad where you never had to lift your finger off it when using it. It was easy to use - simply press down on it and push move the finger in the direction you wanted the cursor to go. This was an interactive hardware technology I found to be very intuitive and getting used to it quickly made other stuff such as the touch pad which came along later a little harder to use. This laptop was then later passed down onto me as my first laptop. Even though this was around in 2001, the ThinkPad had Windows 98 which stayed relevant for some time for a while even though the O/S was nearing it’s end cycle.

IBM ThinkPad T20 series was one of the earlier laptops I got to experience as a kid.
IBM ThinkPad T20 series was one of the earlier laptops I got to experience as a kid.

The “Big” upgrade:

By 2001, our Camry was also quite beaten up and had developed issues. It had done quite a significant mileage (I think it was around 110,000 km when we bought it and had 150,000 by 2002). Above that, we were a tall family and the Camry wasn’t quite going to accommodate us three mid teenagers sitting in the back in the long run. So dad decided to buy an SUV or a Minivan. He looked at the used car market for the Land Cruiser he once drove back in late 90s but to avail little to nothing as they were either rather expensive or cheap but in really bad shape, nothing in the middle that existed.

Ultimately, he gave up the idea of buying a used one and asked his close friends and office co-workers for advice on buying a new one. There were several considerations like the Honda Accord wagon, Odyssey minivan, HR-V, CR-V, Toyota Rav4, Fortuner (Hilux based SUV), Nissan Pathfinder, X-Trail and the Terrano II.

After a year of car shopping, taking advises from his friends and co-workers, he decided to buy the 2000 R20 Nissan Terrano II entry level variant in dark red. A 4x4 wagon built for the EU market but had limited sales in Saudi Arabia. It was powered by Nissan’s KA24E inline 4 engine. Yes, the very KA series engine line-up that powered the infamous 240SX was also powering our dinky wagon. However, this engine was detuned to be economically affordable.

Our 2002 Nissan Terrano II.  We purchased it back in 2002 and had it running till today.
Our 2002 Nissan Terrano II. We purchased it back in 2002 and had it running till today.

The KA24E engine in the Terrano II sold with the 2.4L inline-4 was a OHC with 3 valves per cylinder and added fuel injection. This was an engine designed way back in the 1980s and served it’s purpose in several other Nissan line-up of cars. The engine produced a measly 124 bhp and 197 Nm powering the rear wheels with a second diff lock shifter for 4x4. It was slow, the ride was bumpy and the ride was crashy. More so, it had no ABS, TCS, airbags or any safety features as rules in the country didn’t mandate a car from having any safety features in it at the time. The Terrano II was a body-on-frame construction meaning even in the early 2000s when Nissan was shifting to making all their line-up of cars a unibody construction, the Terrano II was one of the last vehicles to be built on a body-on-frame construction architecture when dad bought it. For dad atleast, this was the tip of the ice berg of getting a family vehicle for everyday use and utilitarian purposes.

In 2005, our parents decided to move up into a slightly bigger apartment from where we were living in. Dad had a very excellent pay this time around for an immigrant so he decided on moving into a slightly bigger house as well. And by the end of December (30th December to be precise), we moved from our old apartment into a newly constructed one.

Major Influences, Deciding On My Career And Changing Times

The Need For Speed: Most Wanted BMW E46 M3 GTR was a big inspiration for me and remains as one of my favorite cars even today.
The Need For Speed: Most Wanted BMW E46 M3 GTR was a big inspiration for me and remains as one of my favorite cars even today.

By 2006, I had finished my elementary school and started my secondary education. By this stage of economic development, the country was reeking in a lot of cash, stock market were starting to boom and development was taking place at an unprecedented pace. Around the same time, Sony was set to unveiled the PlayStation 3 which I was looking forward to very much but that didn’t launch until November. Dad had set a challenge for me and my sister before our finals that whoever scores the highest, will get the PlayStation 2 (the usual parental tactics), and ultimately my sister scored higher than me by a small margin which meant that she got the PlayStation 2. Because dad was familiar with the cheap stuff, he took us to an old mall where jail broken gaming consoles were being sold for least price with the five assorted games offered as a bundle. Because internet was still a new thing for us, information and news about any particular product didn’t spread to us nor did we know how to surf the internet very well. So the PlayStation 2 Slim had caught us a bit by surprise even though at the time, it had been on the market for a few months. This PS2 was essentially a modded to run pirated CDs which dad agreed upon buying it as he didn’t wanted to spend $70 on buying some original copy video games for us all the time. A pirated video game at the time would cost us around $5.5. A much more reasonable cost as opposed to the originals which carried a hefty import charges on it at the time.

5th Anniversary CTzen Autobiography Blog - Part 1 - Blog

Major Influences:

Because mom and dad wanted us to concentrate on studies more often (obvious typical Asian culture), we didn’t get much time to play. But during weekends, we had a decent gaming collection to look forward to. One of the biggest influences that a video game has had on me was Need For Speed: Underground and Need For Speed: Underground 2. Our Nanny visited us in Jeddah in 2003 and stayed at my mom’s youngest brother’s place. Mom decided to stay with Nanny for her entire visit. And that’s where I first got to experience NFS: Underground and got in depth with the customisation and tuning culture.

The tuning aspect of NFS: Underground got me very excited. To experience just how many components can be changed to create a car that's as fast as any supercar of the time and still be an ordinary car with everything being changed to be very unique to everyone's taste. This craze of tuning culture got embedded and had me excited a lot pursuing my curiosity to more on how it all works.

Underground was a simple arcade racing game featuring mostly cars of JDM category. Even though the game had featured just some cars in it, all of them could be deeply customized. Everything from the exterior like bodywork, colours, vinyls, window tints, wheels, lights, exhaust and spoilers to the internals such as engine, ECU, nitrous oxide, suspension, brakes and weight reduction can be changed to enhance the performance of the cars. Even though this was an era of “ricing”, I enjoyed every bit of it nonetheless. It was also the first racing game with a story mode I experienced. Even though the story was a bit cheesy, it did feature an antagonist to chase after and accomplish a status.

The music too played an important part in setting the tone for the gameplay and setting my taste in music like Rob Zombie, Static-X, T.I, Lil Jon & The Eastside Boys, Queen of The Stonage and Junkie XL just to name a few. Some of the artists which I would see them in future franchise titles. And that's how my love and interest in music started.

Before Underground, there was High Stakes, Porsche Unleashed and Hot Pursuit 2 which I was lucky enough to play at my friends and relatives place which I later ended up buying sometime later. The thrills of being chased by cops in supercars while competing in a race to the finish line was the peak of thrills in a casual racing genre which I missed it in the Underground titles. Something which returned in one of my major influences - Need For Speed: Most Wanted.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted 2005 was an arcade racing game I bought it for PS2 that I took rather seriously after completing Need For Speed Underground 2 on PC. I started out playing casually, but eventually over time, I became obsessed with racing tactics and sim racing etiquettes. This was purely because of the protagonist’s car - a 2004 E46 BMW M3 GTR. The concept of a GT3 racecar being used for street racing and evading cops was unheard of and completely OP at the time. While Underground and Underground 2 mostly focused on night street racing, style, glamorizing and personalizing your car, Most Wanted focused on evading cops, getting notorious and having thrilling experience with an arcade racing physics set in an industrial city with a sepia tint giving that dusky industrial look to the city and landscape and outlaw racers roaming across the city. But the E46 M3 GTR in the game had left me inspired even more so especially with it’s racing pedigree and it’s P60B40 4.0L V8 N/A engine soundtrack. I had always lusted after such GT3 cars even though I had never seen any motorsports events associated these cars displaying their potential.

Other cars featured in the game such as the McLaren Mercedes SLR, Lamborghini Gallardo, Dodge Viper SRT10 and the infamous Porsche Carrera GT entered my list for the favorite dream cars

Other major influences of automotive culture were the The Fast And The Furious franchise. The first movie, The Fast And The Furious was a decent watch showcasing JDMs, tuning, rice modifications, illegal street racing and heist. It caught my eye plainly because of the cars and the car culture in it. It premiered back in 2001 when dad asked me to watch with him on TV. The influence was that I became a bit obsessed with street tuned cars… particularly with the representation of JDM and Muscle cars in it like the modified 1992 A80 Toyota Supra Twin Turbo and the 1970 Dodge Charger R/T driven by Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, both cars and actors would remain on my list of favorites for a long time.

The Fast And The Furious when it came out in 2001 already had some affect on what I would see cars as.
The Fast And The Furious when it came out in 2001 already had some affect on what I would see cars as.

Followed by it’s sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious which showcases Brian O’Connor’s 1999 BNR34 Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 at the beginning, the car was a sensation with it’s RB26DETT inline-6 twin turbo engine sound (even though a lot of replicas were used across in the movie). The influence of Need For Speed Underground series “experiencing” the R34 in an arcade game and realising it’s dominance and the cool factor then seeing it again doing the same thing in the movie instantly sealed it my most desirable car from my dream cars list.

More influence was also poured in from my father as well with his obsession of James Bond. While I see Pierce Morgan as my childhood era of James Bond, dad had seen almost every James Bond movie ever released, so he was familiar with almost every actor portraying the famous MI6 agent from the Ian Fleming’s books. Particularly, the cars used in the movie for stunts and the gadgets were the ones that intrigued and entertained me the most which he’d though would make a good watch since I loved cars so much.

While Licence To Kill didn’t really feature any car related action, the Kenworth semi-trucks actions certainly did make up for it. I remember skipping most of the movie just to watch the truck action at the end. Then there were the three Bond movies - Golden Eye, Tomorrow Never Dies,and The World Is Not Enough where instead of starring the expected Aston-Martins, there were the BMWs which apparently were part of a three movie deal that didn’t quite provide the entertainment Aston-Martins did. ‘The Golden Eye’ featured a BMW Z3 E36 which was had a small screen time and wasn’t much worth watching from a cars perspective, the racing between the classic Aston-Martin DB5 and the Ferrari F355 made the movie worthwhile to watch though. While ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ featured a BMW 750iL E38 armored, the car park action showcasing all it’s gadgets in true James Bond fashion made up for most of the action. However ‘The World Is Not Enough’ starring the BMW Z8 E52 showcases some of it’s gadgets, moves a few feet backwards and then gets cut in half made it a bit of a disappointing watch. However Die Another Day which starred the Aston-Martin Vanquish with its famous invisibility cloak alongside the Jaguar XKR with all their gadgets and the action on ice lake made it the best car action in a Bond film I would’ve watched for a long time to come with the Aston-Martin Vanquish later entering into my most favorite cars list.

Pierce Brosnan and the Aston Martin tie up is what I see as my childhood James Bond growing up in the 90s and 2000s.
Pierce Brosnan and the Aston Martin tie up is what I see as my childhood James Bond growing up in the 90s and 2000s.

Another pop culture influence from my childhood past was Herbie, the Volkswagen Beetle. I remember watching an older movie of it back in the late 90s with my family and the latest one from 2005 starring Lindsay Lohan. As a kid, I never fully understood the concept of a talking car but it made me love the Volkswagen Beetle even more.

Herbie Fully Loaded starring a young Lindsay Lohan was one of the most entertaining movie and memorable movies that I watched with my family.
Herbie Fully Loaded starring a young Lindsay Lohan was one of the most entertaining movie and memorable movies that I watched with my family.

I started saving up for the first time in 2000. I didn’t realise how much I would save up but because I didn’t bother too much and the first thing I ever bought with my savings a year later was a green Hot Wheels Racing cargo truck with a yellow BNR32 Nissan Skyline GT-R R32. At the time, I was really impressed with the name of the car itself as this was the very first time I’ve seen a Nissan Skyline GT-R. The only other time I’ve seen it was in a used and exotic car Craigslist magazine from Dubai. This was another passion I have - Collecting car magazines and reading about the cars journalists get to review. I’ve always found this job fascinating and getting a sense of character on how a certain automobile felt like to drive. My very first magazines were when I found tucked away in a box in Jeddah - these were car magazines from India dating all the way back to 1998. While they weren’t all that many, this was enough to implant an interest in automotive magazines in me.

This is one of the more popular magazines - Auto Trader UAE features all the used exotic super cars, sports cars and specialty vehicles for sale in the most pristine and inspected condition.
This is one of the more popular magazines - Auto Trader UAE features all the used exotic super cars, sports cars and specialty vehicles for sale in the most pristine and inspected condition.

My curiosity grew and I decided to buy my first car magazine - Auto Trader UAE, in it were some reviews of some new cars that released at the time and there was a plethora of used sports cars, super cars and muscle cars for sale. The column in the magazine had briefly described the R32 GT-Rs features like the 4 wheel steering, all-wheel drive, on-board computer and it’s relatively low price was a huge attraction for me. At the time, internet was still a distant thing for us as we just got hold of the dial-up modem connection and the method to extract information was awareness and technology restricted. Hence I relied on local, UAE and EU car magazines for my daily feed of information on the latest cars releasing at the time.

This chain effect from car magazines transferred my interest in reading about them over to car shows to hearing them seeing them perform on camera. Living in a desert country that was developing at the time, car shows were rarely broadcasted which is why when I had the chance, I was fortunate enough to watch two of the most popular shows - Top Gear UK and Fifth Gear. While I couldn’t watch the entire series, I did get to watch the earlier episodes from 1999 to 2001.

Fifth Gear was a great TV show documentary about cars that I first saw on TV around 1999 and 2000.
Fifth Gear was a great TV show documentary about cars that I first saw on TV around 1999 and 2000.
The reboot of the Top Gear UK from 2002 was also another great show that I loved watching as a kid. Though I missed a few years of watching some of the series until 2008, I managed to catch up to most of the series then.
The reboot of the Top Gear UK from 2002 was also another great show that I loved watching as a kid. Though I missed a few years of watching some of the series until 2008, I managed to catch up to most of the series then.

Deciding On My Career:

After witnessing the sports cars, muscle cars, super cars, tuned cars and show cars around in the city of Jeddah I lived, experiencing them in video games and reading about them in magazines, watching car shows, playing and experiencing with LEGO bricks, it became clear that I wanted to be an automotive designer and engineer. I asked my dad about it and while he supported me in my decision, my mom wasn’t convinced with my decision as an automotive engineer wasn’t exactly a common choice people selected back then. While I still had doubts about this career path I had chosen, I was still adamant that I can be an automotive designer and engineer. I remember telling my dad I want to be an “automotive civil engineer” as I had not heard much about other fields of work and he laughed at me and pointed out that there are two designations within the automotive industry namely the designer and the engineer to which I said that I wanted to be both.

Another key factor that influenced me in my career decisions was Formula 1 and then reigning champion of the sport, Michael Schumacher with his consistent victories in the sport. While there was no airing and broadcasting of Formula 1 in the country, the news, images and sounds of Formula 1 cars, the podium celebrations did inspire me a lot to look up to a sporting hero. While not knowing a lot about motorsports at the time, Formula 1 was just the start of interest to get me into the world of motorsports even though there was no news or information that I had about it, nor the idea of using the internet for sourcing the news came to my mind either. Nonetheless, his wins and dominance inspired me to be a racing driver even though there were no access or facilities available in the country to get into motorsports. As a result, my only way to practice to be a racing driver was through playing racing genre video games which no one in my family liked or appreciated. However, their pessimism didn’t bother me too much as I remained adamant in my dreams even as there was no guide or instructions to drive a car even in video games using racing etiquettes.

Michael Schumacher's consistent wins with Ferrari inspired me a lot to look up to be a racing driver.
Michael Schumacher's consistent wins with Ferrari inspired me a lot to look up to be a racing driver.

The Need For Speed franchise, the racing genre of video games, The Fast and The Furious franchise, the articles and reviews of cars in car magazines and car shows, LEGO bricks, the toys that I owned , the car culture in the city, the dominance of Michael Schumacher in Formula 1, all contributed in deciding and inspiring me to look up to be an automotive designer and engineer and be a racing driver as well.

Changing Times:

2005 marked the end of my upper primary school education and by May 2006, I started my lower secondary education in the very same school. Except now because we had shifted our house to another location now, me and my brother had to change our school bus as well from #31 to #41. Although on Thursday (Thursday and Friday were considered weekends at the time in Saudi Arabia), my bus remained #31 which meant that I could share my stories with my old bus driver again. The start of secondary education also meant that dad became stern towards us with our time dedicating towards education and wanted us to concentrate on studies more rather than just playing video games, reading magazines or involving in any entertainment activities.

This concludes the Part 1 of my blog post. You can read about the rest AND see my face revealed in Part 2 of this blog post.