Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Facing Facts

For the last two years, I’ve been spending less and less time on Facebook. Nothing makes you realise how strange the world really is than scrolling through your feed during a political crisis. Someone posts an inflammatory article or writes a very politically incorrect comment, and I think, “Huh. She really believes that?”
            “She said that?” my sister Michelle PM’d me once.
            “She’s posted two articles like that in the past three days!”
            “How is she our mother?!?”
            And now, it turns out that so much of what we were reading on Facebook at the time simply wasn’t true. It was made up or heavily tweaked by other users.
            “So bad, hor?” Sharyn said the other day over a breakfast of roti prata at Lau Pa Sat. “Why they must make story up, har? Dey all very free, issit?”
            “I wonder what else is fake?” Saffy mumbled through her mouthful of economy bee-hoon. “Maybe David Bowie is really still alive?”
            “No, I’m pretty sure that one is true,” Amanda said, her eyes misting over at the mere mention of her All Time Favourite Singer.
            “How you know?” Sharyn said. “Maybe he and Carrie Fisher have affair and run away and hide on his private island?”
            Saffy, Amanda and I paused chewing, three sets of eyes staring hard at the wrought-iron rafters of Lau Pa Sat as we imagined Princess Leia exchanging witty jokes with Ziggy Stardust whilst sipping margheritas under a palm tree.
            Saffy’s bosom trembled. “As far-fetched stories go, I’ve heard worse.”
            “Yah what!” Sharyn said, warming up to her theme. “How you know Russia did not kidnap them and Whitney Houston and that whole jing gang and replace them with loh-bot like in Westworld?”
            Amanda turned to Saffy, widely acknowledged from Sengkang to Serangoon as the country’s leading Sharyn Whisperer.
            “Robots!” Saffy said.
            “But that doesn’t make any sense, Shazz,” Saffy said. “What would Russia replace them with robots? They’re already dead!”
            Sharyn sighed. “Put in the coffin, lor! Aiyoh! Some time funeral got open casket, mah! Cannot anyhow put dummy inside, right?”
            And then a few days later, the whole Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. For a whole week, Amanda was glued to her newsfeed as the full extent about how personal data of 50m Facebook users had been harvested and sold to a company that then manipulated the information to influence the US election.
            “My God!” she sighed at one stage. “And that’s just the US and this one company! Who else has this information been sold to?”
            Saffy’s Instagram feed that morning had a meme that said: “On reflection, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to give Facebook all my personal information in exchange for seeing a picture of what my cousin had for dinner.”
            “Yes, but Facebook also owns Instagram!” Amanda told her.
            “We’re so screwed,” Saffy sighed. “And not in a good way.”
            My 13 year-old god-daughter Mina doesn’t know what the fuss is all about. When I FaceTimed her, she shrugged. “I’m on SnapChat. Facebook is for old people,” she pouted, a comment I found particularly inflammatory and dangerous considering she’s the principal beneficiary of my extremely small estate.
            Anyway, this morning, in protest, I deleted my Facebook account. I had to read several online articles on how to do it, and I had to click through several barriers, but I did it. At first, I felt a bit of a panic. How will I get in touch with all my friends? I thought, but then I realized that in the two years I’d been drifting away, I’d been staying in touch just fine.
            “What, you just deleted it? You didn’t deactivate it?” Amanda asked.
            “Nope. It’s been practically deactivated all this time, and I’ve not missed it at all, so I just hit delete!”
            “But you delete, then how I get in touch with you?” Sharyn bleated.
            Saffy’s bosom inflated. “Hello, you see him practically every day!”
            Sharyn turned pink. “Oh, yar, hor?”
            “Oh my God Shazz, I swear one of these days you’re going to give me a heart attack!”
            Meanwhile, the world hasn’t come to an end. None of my 359 Facebook friends have sent frantic messages wondering if I’d died. Saffy says this only just goes to prove that you really could count on one hand all the real friends you have in the world.
            “No, lah, I must need two hand, at least,” Sharyn said even as she mentally ticked names off on her fingers.

Dead Certain

Netflix is scary. You watch one film and suddenly, it suggests other movies you might like.
Usually, when friends say to me, “Oh, I watched such and such the other day. It’s exactly your kind of movie!”, invariably I blink.
“It’s a movie about a kid with a physical disfigurement. How is that my kind of movie?” I will say, having giving the matter some thought.
            “But you liked ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’!”
            Saffy says that as she gets older, it takes a lot for her to be surprised about how stupid some people can be. “What does a movie starring Julia Roberts have in common with a movie starring a shirtless Chris Pratt?”
            “I am Grooooot!” I told her. That evening at dinner, we were still laughing.
            Netflix, on the other hand, is eerily precise. I watched one old episode of ‘Friends’ and the next thing I knew, I was binge watching ‘Riverdale’. Which, three flicks later – ‘Jessica Jones’, ‘The Danish Girl’ and ‘A Korean Odyssey’ – had morphed to ‘Whitney: Can I Be Me?’
            “How did you get from ‘Riverdale’ to ‘Whitney’?” Amanda asked the other day?
            “Teenage angst to adult issues of death, violence, unsolved mystery, infidelity and sequined outfits to adult themed documentary!” Saffy said in a tone that suggested Harvard sure could have done better by giving a law degree to someone else; someone, if it wasn’t already clear, other than Amanda.
            “Such a sad movie,” I said. “What a waste of a great voice.”
            “An amazing funeral, though,” Amanda sighed. “I want Kevin Costner to give the euology!”
            Saffy pursed her lips. She looked doubtful. “Really? I want Harrison Ford at mine!”
            Amanda’s eyes lit up. “Oooh, yes! Good choice! Now there’s a man who gets sexier the older he gets! Who else would you want?”
            “I get two eulogies?” Saffy said.
            Amanda shrugged. “I don’t see why not. It’s not like we have any Friday night plans.”
            Saffy’s bosom inflated. “Well, in that case, I want BeyoncĂ© to sing. Anything from ‘Lemonade’! Maybe all the tracks!”
            Amanda clapped her hands. “Ok, ok! I want the Prime Minister to follow Kevin Costner!”
            “Mmm, yes!” Saffy swooned. She turned to me. “Who would you have at your funeral?”
            I said finding someone to speak at my funeral would be the least of my problems. I’d be lucky if anyone showed up in the first place.
            Saffy shot Amanda a glance. “Wow! Way to spoil Friday night role play!”
            “It’s true!” I said. “I can barely get anyone to commit to lunch! What makes you think they’ll come to my funeral?”
            “I’ll come,” Saffy said.
            Amanda stuck her hand up. “Me, too!”
            I rolled my eyes.
            The next day, over a breakfast of economy mee at her desk, Saffy asked Sharyn if she’d come to the funeral.
            Sharyn paused in mid-inhale of her beehoon and raised her eyes. “Whose funeral?” she mumbled.
            “Mine!” Saffy said. “Oh my God, you’re choking! Here! Sip some water!”
            Sharyn waved her hands frantically, like she was trapped in a glass box filled with mosquitoes. “Aiyoh! You are dying?!”
            It took a while, but she calmed down eventually, though not without the occasional moan. “Why you must say such tink, har? My heart cannot tahan stress, you know!”
            “You are such a drama queen, Shazz!” Saffy said. “It’s going to happen eventually, so it’s always good to be prepared. So…would you come?”
            Sharyn’s eyes misted. “Choy! Of course, lah! But not for a long time, ok?”
            Saffy whipped out her phone and tapped Notes. “OK, so you’re confirmed. That’s five so far!”
            “Har? You are taking RSVP now, ah?”
            “Amanda says she’ll need numbers for the venue and catering.”
            Apparently, Sharyn later posted on Facebook a cryptic note that said, “Some people!”
            Amanda told me that over the past two days, her phone has been ringing non-stop. “Saffy’s been WhatsApping people, and asking if they’ll come to her funeral without any context!” she complained to me. “Who does that? No wonder they’re all frantic!”
            “But why don’t they just ask her?” I said.
            “Because she sent out those messages just before she got on the plane to New York! So when they didn’t get an immediate reply, they panicked. They all think she’d dead!”
            When she arrived in JFK and turned on her phone, Saffy was immensely gratified by the number of frantic messages that appeared in a long, intense download.
            “You may need to book the Ritz-Carlton ballroom for my wake,” she WhatsApped Amanda.

            Out of curiosity, Amanda emailed the hotel. So far, there’s been dead silence.

Recycled Plastic

When I was in school, I had lots of friends. I never had any fear of starting a new school because usually by recess, I would have already made several lifelong friends. Granted, when you’re six, two months is considered a lifetime, but there you are.
By the end of the first week, I knew everyone on the school bus. By the end of the first term, I had started making friends with the kids in the next grade, and was on nodding terms with the kids in the lower grade. And by the end of the year, I was picking up compost tips with the school gardener, chatting up the lunch ladies in the school canteen (in the faint hope that they’d add more fishballs to my mee-pok), and getting the low down from the security guards on which teacher was sick that day.
This is not to say that I was a particularly popular kid in school, but more to stress that when you’re that age, you have no inhibitions, hang-ups, or social phobias, so everyone you meet is just another person to chat to and a potential lifelong friend.
A few weeks ago, someone sent me an email. Whilst I normally delete emails from people I don’t know, he short preview for this one said, “I sent you…”, which, seeing as it was in the midst of Chinese New Year, made me think I’d been sent a lovely hamper. So, I opened the message only to find it was from a random person I’d met at a party the week before, to say that she’d sent me a LinkedIn request.
I rolled my eyes and hit ‘delete’.
“Why am I even on that stupid thing?” I complained to Amanda at lunch.
She adjusted a fold on her new season Gucci blouse. “Oh, who knows? It’s all just too much. I honestly cannot keep track of anybody or anything these days. The other day, I sat down and worked out that I have accounts with Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Meets Hangout, Skype and FaceTime!” Amanda paused, her eyes wide with disbelief. “I mean, what is that all about? Why am I contactable through so many channels?”
“I can’t remember the last time I emailed a friend, to be honest,” I told her. “I don’t even know your email address!”
            “And that’s the thing,” Amanda went on, “what’s the point of the actual telephone line? The only people who telephone me are those annoying bank people! Oh! And I have 2,000 followers on Instagram and I really only know, like, ten of them personally! So, who are the rest?”
            “BeyoncĂ© has 112 million followers!” I said.
            “Oh my God,” Amanda sighed. “What does that even mean?”
            Later that night, Saffy said she is now at an age when she has no interest in meeting any more new people. “My dance card is full!” she said, her fabulous bosom swelling like an over-excited bullfrog. “I don’t need any more friends!”
            “Except maybe Woffles Wu!” Amanda suddenly said.
            Saffy paused. “Why Woffles Wu?”
            Amanda looked vague, her eyes shifting sideways. “Well…you know…maybe…”
            Saffy gasped. “You’re thinking of getting something done! What?!”
            Amanda waved her hands. “Nothing! Nothing! I’m not being serious! Just….you know…I do wonder whether I might need a bit of fillers or…stuff!”
            The next day, on our way to the train, Saffy said it amazes her that someone like Amanda would even think she needs anything done to her face. “I mean, her skin is flawless! Although…I have to say that it would be fun to sit down with Woffles for a little consultation. Say…” A contemplative note slipped into her voice. “Aren’t you friends with him?”
            I could see where this was going. “Never met him!” I said firmly.
            “But your column is just on the next page to his!”
            “I don’t know him,” I insisted.
            Saffy’s voice slipped into a lower register – the one she normally uses when she spots an Australian lifeguard at the bar. “But it would be so easy for you to get in touch with him, no? Ask him to drinks or something? And we’d just, you know, tag along?”
            “Saf,” I said patiently. “I barely have time for my own friends. I’m not wasting any time making new friends just so you and Amanda can get discounted Botox treatments!”
            “Actually, I was hoping for free Botox treatments,” Saffy admitted, her voice returning to a normal register. “I’m so poor these days!”
            When she got to the office, Saffy sent Woffles a LinkedIn invitation. If he’s sensible, he’d delete it.