Ardie Ong is a city kid in the bustling center of Negros Occidental, the sugar capital of the Philippines.
Some might call him a big boy obsessed with his toys, like guns and pick-up trucks or utility vehicles that look like terra firma versions of moon or Mars rovers.
Or padayaw (show-off) cars as some anti-capitalists would call it.
But Ardie Ong is a big boy to begin with, younger looking than his 30 plus summers, a businessman who can sell anything, from toothpicks to battleships.
Hip, urbane, sometimes impish when he banters with friends at the shooting range.
“Nan,” he would often respond in the Hiligaynon equivalent of “there you go” when he favors a point or to emphasize one.
Sometimes, he would say “ato bala (remember that)?” a seemingly cryptic phrase that dovetails as an answer to any question, totally contextual, sometimes indicative of how much two friends have had their shares of adventures (or misadventures) or mischief.
And Ardie loves adventures.
Raised in the concrete jungle of Bacolod, a city of half a million that is becoming more urban by the day, he yearns for wide, open spaces, unpaved roads, grassy lands and mountainous terrain.
Romantic, nostalgic sceneries, a New Age-ish return to Nature.
But romantic notions of Nature also come with bugs, insects, wild things that bite. “Ewww, so itchy” some collegiala would say.
And then the boulders and the mud.
The mud, especially. Indeed, one cannot embrace the beauty of Nature without its inconveniences.
Offroading or overlanding is a recreation, a fun means that has gained followers, mostly urbanites wanting to break free from the ratrace and abandon the stacks of papers, cheques and vouchers that seem to glower at them every day.
Ardie was one of those who tried to escape the urban jungle, hying off to less beaten paths using his Toyota pick up trucks, stock cars at first until the trail made him decide that he had to have upgrades.
Which of course starts with planning to communications but in terms of vehicle upgrades, Ardie, already experienced in the overlanding field, says it usually begins with suspensions and upper control arms that control handling stability and alignment.
Asked about cars, Ardie was sure in his answer: Toyotas.
For after market improvements, Ardie chooses suspensions from Dobinsons, the Australian brand founded in 1953 by blacksmith Reg Dobinson.
It was first known as Dobinsons Welding, now Dobinsons Spring and Suspensions, which to Ardie is a preferred choice of those who are into overlanding or offroading.
He also prefers Hardrace Upper Control Arms that control handling stability and alignment.
This hobby, however, has led to a business, making Ardie a dealer of Dobinsons products and a lot of other products from Hardrace to Tough Dog, Opposite Lock, Offroad X and HardRace, among others.
Since he was 21, he had been making his hobby a business.
To him, however, it is not just a businesss.
It is a passion to offer people a destressing opportunity, to offer them a moment, even if brief, to forget the worries of the world.
THE ONLY CHOICE: DOBINSONS
But why Dobinsons?
To Ardie, the Dobinsons brand stands for handling, safety, ride wuality, load carrying capacity and vehicle control – words that sound like a marketing pitch for Dobinsons.
Except that Ardie did not learn that marketing pitch from some brochure.
He knew about it on the trail when control, handling and safety were on his mind as his truck was pitching, jumping, and yawing through some rough terrain that looked like the surface of the moon.
Or when he was going downhill, a cliff to his left and an elevated position to his right that could hide rebels ready to ambush or kidnap targets of opportunity like him.
Ardie proved it with his life, lived to tell the reliability of the products he offers to others.
And while some in Negros, the island of polar opposites, would scoff at what he does as a rich kid’s game, the products he sells a waste of money, Ardie first responds to it like a marketer.
“It’s not just for the rich, the price points we offer are from mid to high end,” he says.
Then that impish smile.
“And it makes me happy.”