Ignoring The Brand Bigots

I’ve not been having a great time with caravan / camping forums and groups lately. It seems when i proffer information for essentially altruistic reasons, some bigoted old prick wants to go me for no reason other than affirming their self importance. You’d be forgiven for thinking that I appear a little angry. I probably shouldn’t get as angry as I do about the topic of this post, but I really have been driven to being incensed by a prevailing attitude on caravan and camping groups and forums. Campers Way is designed as a resource for low income survival and as a place where alternative views can be expressed. However, this blog has to reach those who it’s relevant to, or else I’m just wasting my time

I post on groups and forums as a means of trying to get useful information via Campers Way posts, to those who might be struggling on low incomes. Many low income earners use such groups and forums, which is certainly a good thing. I also must add that the people who run them, generally do so with very good intentions. Unfortunately they have no effective means of eliminating the bullies and ‘brand bigots’ and empty vessels make the most noise. So there lies the problem. People who don’t rely on low incomes, can very often act like complete arseholes and unfortunately their disdain appears to be firmly focused on those who are on low incomes!

Let’s take an example:
Question – I’m a single mother with a 3 year old, travelling on a budget. Fridge space is limited. Can anyone recommend a reasonably priced “Esky” in which I can keep fresh vegetables at a reasonable temperature.

That seems like a very reasonable question. Some vegetables perish very slowly in cool dark conditions and their gradual deterioration does not promote the growth of harmful bacteria. A good, frugal way to economise on fridge space.

Enter Over 65, Akubra Wearing Bearded Man!

Answer: We have a 96ft Ozbastard  semi lunar surface caravan with a “Megacool 2000, 872 Litre fridge, which runs from it’s own dedicated nuclear reactor and sends me a text when I need a beer!!! If you can’t afford one, you shouldn’t be on the road. It’s Un-Australian!!

So I exaggerate somewhat, but you get my drift.

A lot of us are on the road because it’s our only choice. I’m not complaining about my own situation and I’ve managed to forge a good life by understanding frugality and through resourcefulness. There’s an increasing number of people who can’t possibly afford to be in the housing market. The Commonwealth Government refuse to soil their statistics by recognising us as homeless, whilst at the same time many financially buoyant people who travel by choice, think we’re on ‘holiday and shouldn’t be, because we can’t afford to be.’ I’ve commented on innumerable groups and forums about reasonably priced camping. Time and time again I’ve met a wall of ignorance; “If you can’t afford to be on holiday, stay home.” They have absolute no idea of the……..and the…. Well, they absolutely no fucking idea to be perfectly frank! 

There’s a mean spiritedness in this country that belies the Australian character that inspired me to call this country home. There was a time when people really did respect “the battler;” those who survived contrary to what the system threw their way. These days the idea of “the battler” is one who battles to be part of the system. One who drowns in a stagnant pool of debt for things they don’t need. Debt that does absolutely nothing but prop up the banking system and lavish the wealthiest 1%. There are a lot of angry people whose anger is elicited by their struggle to maintain a lifestyle that they don’t actually need. Instead of blaming the system, they blame those who manage to traverse it.

How can people who are forced out of the housing market, possibly stay at home when they don’t have one. We can’t live in non existent public housing. We can’t “camp” (as it’s often called) in one place, because of ridiculous time limits. That’s why we travel and why the hell shouldn’t we. Many of us are disability pensioners, others are itinerant workers who work where they can. Whatever we may be, there’s a mean spirited middle class who not only don’t get it, but don’t want us around them. These are often the people who frequent online groups and forums, utterly incapable of proffering advice to anyone who’s economic resources are limited. 

A lot of people are lost in time. Many still believe that brands still mean something. Indeed some still do, but the sad reality is that since the global manufacturing shift, many are simply just names. Regardless of what the reality may be, people develop emotional attachments to brand names and nothing will convince them to shop around. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s indeed their choice, however their advice can be somewhat misleading, when it comes to value for money.

Let’s look at fridges. Whilst I won’t delve into the Megacool 2000’s thermonuclear technology, I will look at better known and equally lauded brand; Engel

Engel and Honda in the “do as I say, not what I do configuration

The first point I should make is that I personally believe that Engel products are indeed excellent. I have owned the same 40L fridge for over 20 years and it’s still humming away in the back of my Land Rover.

The first thing many people associate with Engel, is that it’s an Australian brand. Engel is indeed an Australian company, but they have never manufactured a fridge in Australia, which is probably why they were so good in the first place! Engel were smarter than that and contracted production to Sawafuji Electric Co Ltd, Japan. Whilst there were once urban myths about the inferior quality of Japanese manufacturing, the truth is that the Japanese have been close to the world’s best manufacturer of electronics for decades. Classic Engel fridges are testament to that.

Japan is a first world economy and like most manufacturers around the globe, Japanese manufacturers saw the economic benefits of off shore production. Like many other Japanese companies, including motor vehicle manufacturers, Sawafuji Electric also moved production off shore. Now Engel fridges are not only an overseas product, they’re also one of many Chinese manufactured products.

Now let’s have a look at Chinese manufacturing. I’m in no way a fan of the manner in which Australian manufacturing industries have been reduced to virtually nothing, but I’m not going to generally condemn Chinese manufacturing. This is a culture of master craftspeople we’re talking about. They were crafting fine furniture and erecting complex architecture when the average Western plebs were starting the shave the right-angles off early wheel designs. 

There is certainly no reason to doubt the Chinese ability to make some really good stuff. Where Chinese manufacturing has come into question, is by means of very dubious products  that were made primarily for their massive, not very well paid domestic market and of course a growing export market via online sales. The reason that many such products are indeed of dubious quality, is because they are made using extremely low end manufacturing processes and with virtually no quality control, in order that they’re very, very cheap.

Sawafuji Electric on the other hand, would certainly contract much higher end manufacturers to manufacture Engel fridges, under fairly strict supervision. I’m sure that there’s also strict quality control procedures in place. Whether this manufacturing shift is a success, remains to be seen. The newer Chinese made Engel fridges appear to be of exceedingly high quality. The question is will they still be humming away in the backs of cars, more than 20 years after they were purchased. 

It’s interesting that products such as Engel fridges, haven’t come down in price, despite their manufacturing costs being reduced to a fraction of what they were when they were manufactured in Japan. One can hardly blame them for that. Another aspect of the global manufacturing shift has been a huge increase in competition. When I bought my Engel in the 90’s, there were possibly 3 noticeable players on the portable fridge market. Twenty odd years on, there are scores of them. If a company like Engel dropped it’s retail prices in accordance with manufacturing overheads, the product might not be able to withstand the inherent reduction in sales figures brought on by increased competition. I’m not sure what their sales figures are compared to the 90’s, but today’s market is significantly bigger and my hypothesis is based on market share. 

Engel’s top range tends to be a fair bit more expensive than their competitor’s products, but they have also retained a very good reputation. At the end of the day however, not everyone can afford to pay for reputation.

That brings us to the manufacturing buzzword of the new millennium: OEM.
Original Equipment Manufacturers are companies that have contracts with branded companies, to manufacture and badge products. Let’s stay on the subject of fridges. For some manufacturers it might not be economically worthwhile contracting a Chinese factory to custom make their fridges in the manner that Engels are made. OEM manufacturers make products in huge quantities and sell those products to better known companies, branded as their product. The greater the buying ability of the branded company, the more economically viable it is to pay OEMs to customise the appearance of their fridges enough to make them appear somewhat more unique. However, customisation is generally no more than cosmetic and under the surface the fridge is indeed the exact same model as those sold under a number of different brand names. 

One of Australia’s biggest selling portable fridge “brands” is manufactured in exactly this manner. From what I can gather, their products are as reliable as they might have been in the past. My point is not about quality. Let’s not be unfair to OEMs; some of them make quality gear. There’s an example of an OEM compressor fridge being sold in Australia under the name of Lumik via ebay. The Lumik 50L fridge retails for around $450, whereas the same fridge, equipped with the same Danfos compressor, sells for over $700 as a better known brand. over $250 is a big chunk of cash for absolutely nothing, especially since in some cases, Lumik’s Australian distributor offers a longer warranty. Brand Nazis will tell you that the Lumik product is “Chinese Rubbish,” whilst singing the praises of the same product, branded differently. My recommendation is do your research and save your money. 

Brand loyalty is a funny thing. I once owned a brewery. I often had people come into our retail outlet and ask if we had anything that tasted like VB. On the rare occasion that I didn’t possess enough energy for a sarcastic response, I’d question why they might have such a loyalty to VB (Vile Brew). Time and time again, middle aged men would tell me that they drank it because they always had and it’s what their father had drank. I’d ask them from whence they and their fathers had hailed. Being located in NSW, the answer was most often Sydney. The trouble was, VB was a very minor packaged brand in Sydney until the 1990’s when Carlton United re-launched it as an age old brand and distributed it on tap for the first time in NSW, to claw back from the disastrous failure of Fosters as a domestic brand. A lot of middle aged men’s father’s must have done a lot of searching around inner Sydney to find the beer to which they developed such loyalty all those years before it was widely distributed and heavily marketed. 

Fosters itself is an interesting story. Following the success of a barely similar version brewed under licence in the UK, Fosters had a brief taste of success on the domestic market. Even after it’s domestic demise, Carlton continued to brew it for export, largely to Asia and the USA. I have had many conversations with people pertaining to how terrible Fosters is and that ‘foreigners think it’s Australian beer, but Australians would never drink it’: “It’s un-Australian!”

On more than one occasion, that conversation took place between myself and someone drinking their favourite beer, Crown Lager. What incidentally was Crown Lager labelled as for export at that time? You guessed it.

There are very few western nations in which there’s such a strong beer drinking culture amongst men with such a dire lack of beer knowledge. Yet Australian’s will gladly exalt the virtues of quite possibly some of the worst mass produced beers on the planet. American beers get the biggest hammering, yet the USA has developed the best small regional brewing culture on the planet over the past 30 odd years. The one that grates at me, is “Pommy” beer bashing. Not only is there the widespread myth that it’s drunk warm like tea, there’s also the near obsessive belief that it’s of inferior quality. A centuries old tradition of artisan brewing, maligned by middle aged men who eat Chiko rolls and drink VB!

Much of this applies to the equipment that people rely upon on the road. It’s all very well to recommend the most expensive brand because owning such a product makes a middle aged man believe he can piss higher, but if you can’t afford to purchase such an item, there are endless alternatives that will not result in your social inferiority. It might see you being omitted from the “happy hour” invite list, but that’s probably a good thing. You might be handed a VB and feel obliged to drink it through politeness. Oh my god NOOOOO!!!!

Generators are a classic. You must never dare buy anything but a Honda. Advice often given by people who’s fault it is that generators are a waste of money, because they’ll be the first to whinge every time you crank one up. There’s no doubt that Honda generators are indeed excellent. They’re no longer manufactured in Japan, but Honda do have their own factory in Thailand. I own one, which I was lucky enough to purchase second hand at a ridiculously low price. I’m very happy with it. However, I hardly ever use it. If my choice was to buy a Honda at the market price, or buy one of a number of pretty good Chinese OEM generators that are available for a significantly lower price. Well it’s a no brainer. 

Generators are a back up. The idea is to use them as infrequently as possible. There’s nothing sensible about buying a very expensive brand if you use it infrequently. Yet some people in groups and on forums are vehement in their support of Honda generators. The price difference between a cheap perfectly reliable generator and a high quality Honda, could actually be more than the difference between the price of an unpowered and a powered site for a year. We have to budget sensibly and buy what suits our budgets practically. It really pisses me off that some cashed up people bang on to an extent that they make low income earners feel that they’re inferior, or worse still that they “shouldn’t be on the road!” Those people are idiots who really just want to broadcast what they possess, online!

I’ve picked on the Webber Q barbecue obsession before. I have never known a product so universally possessed by one particular demographic. I am absolutely certain that they’re very, very good at performing the task for which they were designed. I’m also quite happy to accept that they are well built and will last a long time. I have absolutely nothing against anyone owning one. What does shit me beyond belief is that they’re at the centre of some kind of inculcated sausage cremating cult!!! How dare anyone not have one and therefore not be “one of us, one of us, one of us!”

“Engineered in the USA!” That’s the line on today’s Webber products. That’s right. Custom made to very high standards in China. Ironically the Chinese boast one of the most ancient and highly respected food cultures on the planet. There are thousands of unashamedly Chinese gas grill products that will do the job and go the distance as good as any Western appropriation and for a fraction of the cost. That lot know how to cook!!

My outdoor cooking set up consists of an old Australian made folding table, a Chinese cast iron burner and a French cast iron grill plate. It cost me $120 to make and breaks down into easy to pack away, easy to re-assemble, individual components. I can cook anything on it to perfection and I’m bloody fussy about my cooking!

Brand Nazis are everywhere. Try driving an old Land Rover Defender. People will literally make an effort to tell me to my face that I’m “a bloody idiot for driving such a shit heap – all they do is break down!” 300tdi Land Rovers and earlier, employed no microchip technology. They’re very simple cars and extremely robust. They are celebrated the world over as one of the last of the real off road vehicles. Parts are cheap, my car has rarely let me down and it costs bugger all in maintenance, because it’s easy enough to do most of it ourselves. 

I’m not suggesting that Land Rovers are for everyone, I’m pretty certain they’re not, neither do I want them to be. I like them and having been  around them for forty odd years, I know that they are absolutely excellent at doing what their designed to do. I really don’t care what some old arsebadger thinks, just because he owns a Toyota Landcruiser. I’m fully aware that Landcruisers are excellent vehicles and also excellent at doing what they’re designed to do. So just fuck off and leave me alone, because I don’t walk up to you and tell me that you’re a dickhead for owning a Toyota. These cockwombles must have lived their entire lives somewhere that one doesn’t get punched for being a complete gobshite. I have absolutely no idea how they’ve lived so long!

I’m not by any stretch of the imagination attempting to hang shit on people for owning certain brands. As noted; I own an Engel fridge, I own a Honda Generator, I have a collection of big brand quality power tools, because I used to be able to afford them. I’m not for one moment suggesting that people only purchase cheaper brands. I’m simply saying that if you live on the road because you can’t afford to live anywhere else, maybe some of the advice that’s proffered in online groups and forums, might be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s all very well for someone who has a shitload of cash to spend on camping for recreation, to bang on about buying only the most expensive gear. Some of us need stuff in order to survive and we need it right away. That means that we have to buy what we can afford to buy, without going without luxuries such as food, medication and fuel, until we can afford what we’re told we “have to buy!” 

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