Monday, September 18, 2017

All in White

As anyone who has taken a quick break from catching Raticates and Squirtles on Pokeman Go will tell you, the world has turned a particularly nasty shade of crazy. You just can’t do anything without coming up against something or someone who is out to get you.
            Case in point is America where if you’re born in a certain country, it’s not guaranteed that you will be allowed out of the airport and that they won’t send you back on the next flight out.
            “Is Singapore on that list?” Saffy said the other day, demonstrating once again the appalling lack of depth of her reading material.
            Amanda rolled her eyes. “If it is, you can be sure a lot of Singaporeans will be screaming blue murder about their children not being able to go back to their expensive schools after their Easter vacations.”
            Saffy nodded, her bosom inflating without much enthusiasm. “Seriously, what is the world coming to? You can’t go anywhere anymore. Or do anything. Sharyn says she bought a tray of water-colour paint for her kid in Hong Kong and packed it in her cabin luggage, but at the airport, the security people said it was liquid or gel and she had to leave it behind. I mean, how are you supposed to bring down a plane with water-colour paint?”
            As Amanda pointed out recently, you can’t even go to London these days because the air there is so toxic that 10,000 Londoners die each year. “Can you imagine it?” she said, lifting her eyes from her iPad on which she was reading the dreadful statistic. “The air quality on Oxford Street is apparently as bad as Shanghai’s! You go into Selfridge’s for a bit of shopping, you come out and collapse from a fatal asthma attack!”
Leave it to Sharyn to put things into patriotic perspective when she arrived that evening with a da-bao dinner of char kway teow and packets of rojak from Old Airport Road’s hawker centre. You could tell she was still sore about having to surrender her daughter’s water-colour.
“So siow, those airport people!” she huffed. “If, hor, I put all the tube of paint into my toiletry bag, then can go true. But because I put in the original box and carry separately, sah-dun-ly cannot. How they can anyhow do such ting, I oh-so do not know!”
“It’s a crazy world, we live in, Shazz,” Amanda told her, returning to her favourite theme. She opened a white Styrofoam box. “Oh, I love this rojak!”
“Yah, boy. Better stay home in Singapore and don’t go oversea for now. At least in Singapore, when the gah-men is crazy, somehow, got make sense, one!” said Sharyn, card-carrying PAP member since 1982. As Saffy once observed, if the PAP gave out the government equivalent of PPS memberships, Sharyn would have been a lifetime Solitaire member a long time ago.
“We really must stop using all these Styrofoam boxes,” Amanda murmured as she stood back and looked at the white rafts currently floating on our dining table. “This is all going into landfill and they’ll never decompose.”
            “Oh, yah,” Sharyn said. “I remember you don’t like, but today I rush from work to get to Old Airport Road and I forgot to bring my own container. Sorry, hor.”
            “I really should write to the Prime Minister and tell him,” Amanda said in a tone of voice that suggested that she and Mr Lee were on WhatsApp terms.
Saffy looked up from her plate of rojak, crunching noisily a particularly fresh mouthful of cucumber. “I the-riouth-ly…” She paused and chewed faster and swallowed and tried again. “I seriously think the PM has more important things to worry about than the biodegradability of hawker food containers!”
“That’s probably because no one has actually brought it up with him!”
By now, Saffy’s attention, never the sharpest knife in the kitchen, had wandered off into a whole different train of thought. “Actually, I wonder if the PM has actually da-bao’d anything. Surely he has people to do that sort of thing for him. And surely,” Saffy went on as another thought occurred to her, “he wouldn’t eat his rojak out of a Styrofoam box? I always imagine him eating off white fine bone china!”
Amanda couldn’t help herself. “Uhm…why white fine bone china?”
“PAP colour, mah!” Sharyn sighed in a tone that said Amanda’s Harvard education had been criminally wasted on her.
Saffy pointed her fork at Sharyn. “What she said,” she mumbled through a mouthful of char kway teow.

Amanda says it’s totally crazy how she’s friends with some people.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Reality TV

The other day, Saffy said at the rate we’re going, we’ll be discovered five years from now, sitting on our couch, just three puddles of liquefied decomposed mess.
            Amanda looked up from her horoscopes in the current issue of 8DAYS and frowned. “That’s really gross. Why?”
            Saffy’s chest expanded. “Hello, have you not noticed that we’ve not left this flat in two days?”
            Amanda cocked her head. “It’s the weekend. There’s no office to go to!”
            Yes, but don’t you remember we used to go out during the weekend? We went to parties! We went clubbing. We had dinner. We went to the movies. We went out! Now, we just sit at home all day and watch Netflix!”
            Amanda hesitated. “Yes, but there’s so much to watch!”
            Which I guess is kind of Saffy’s point.
            Ever since Amanda signed up for Netflix and gave us all access to her account, all we’ve done is sit in front of our laptops and binge-watched one show after the other.
            You know how sometimes you’re at a restaurant and you look around and you see a table full of friends or families who are literally not talking to one another because they’re all busy on their phone?
            Well, that’s what’s happening in the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda. Hours go by without any human interaction. Well, that’s not exactly true. Like yesterday, this happened.
            I was in the armchair. Amanda was on one end of the couch and Saffy on the other. I was deep into episode four of season two of Orphan Black. Have you seen it? It’s a mind-trip, let me tell you. One actress plays, like, ten clones with ten different looks and personalities, and they’re all totally different.
            I knew Amanda was watching The Crown because she’d mentioned it at breakfast five hours ago, but no one really knew what Saffy was watching because she said she had just finished Suits and was about to start something else.
            God, those guys are cute!” she said, pursing her lips with dissatisfaction at the idea there are cute guys out there whom she’s never going to meet simply because she has the misfortune of being happily attached to the lovely Bradley who kisses the ground she walks on. “I also want to have Jessica’s wardrobe!”
            Nobody dresses like that in a law office,” Amanda said. “If you’re going to watch fantasy, you should watch Stranger Things!”
            I said I’d just finished that in a marathon eight episode binge.
            Amanda sucked in her breath. “Wasn’t it so good?” she asked.
            So good,” I confirmed. “That Winona Ryder!”
            Saffy carefully wrote down the name of the show in her phone. “OK, I’ll get onto that as soon as I’ve finished The OA.”
            Oh? Is that any good?” Amanda asked, shifting in her seat.
            I have no idea,” Saffy said. “I just started it. It’s a bit weird. Nothing is happening but I keep watching it because they surely can’t have made a show where nothing happens?”
            Yeah, they can. The first four episodes of Sense8,” Amanda pointed out. “The only reason I kept watching was because the guys are so hot and then suddenly, bam!, they’re all having sex in an alternative dimension! It’s fabulous!”
            Saffy put that down in her phone too.
            And that was literally the end of our interaction for the next five hours. At one stage, I briefly surfaced from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and was conscious of my flatmates shallow breathing, but then I went under again. And when I resurfaced, it was because Saffy let out a long slow moan. “Oh my God, what just happened?”
            Amanda and I hit pause on our screens and looked up.
            Saffy sighed. “I just finished The OA! What the hell just happened? Was any of it real?”
            Which, as it turns out, is one of the unsatisfactory things about three people watching three different shows at the same time. You can never really talk about it. Though, as it turned out, Sharyn had just finished The OA, too.
            Aiyoh, that OA, ah! So cheem, ah, I tell you! At first, in Russia, then sah-dun-lee in heaven, tok tok so cheem, I get headache!” she said, as she unpacked the da bao dinner she brought over that night.
            But what do you think happened in the end?” Saffy pressed.
            Aiyoh, how I know? I now scare to let my chil-ren eat in the school canteen! That last scene - wah lau ay!” 

            My mother says people like us are the reason Trump won.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

I See Dead People

As anyone will tell you – and by anyone, I mean, of course, my mother – the world is full of unexplained phenomena.
            “Like Donald Trump,” she said the other day on FaceTime. “Isn’t it just amazing how he keeps emerging from one scandal after the other completely unscathed? How is that possible?”
            “I’ve given up reading the news,” I said. “It’s all bad news and invariably, I’m so stressed and demoralized, I can’t sleep!”
            “Funny you should mention that, because lately, I have had the worst insomnia and Master Lee thinks it might be caused by Third Aunt’s box.”
            I paused. On the screen, Mother could see I was hesitating. She sighed. “Third Aunt Sook Chen? My mother’s third sister? The one with the really really bad breath?”
            “Oh, her! What about her? And what box?”
            “Well, she died last month!”
            “Oh dear…”
            Mother shrugged, the very image of ‘whatever’. “She was ninety-nine! She always hated me because I married your daddy and she’d wanted her daughter, my cousin Chin Lee to marry him. But I got to him first! Anyway, they’re literally all dead now!”
“Who are?”
“Third Aunt’s children! Including Chin Lee. They’re all dead! They gave up waiting for her to die so that they could inherit!”
“Wait, cousin Chin Lee is dead?”
“Seven years ago! Don’t you remember?” Mother sighed. “It was so tragic. She was playing mah-jong for 24 hours straight one Chinese New Year. At 7am, one of the tiles fell to the floor, so she bent over to pick it up, and all the blood rushed to her head and she had a major aneurism. She was dead before anyone could say ‘pong’!”
I was astonished. “Oh my God! How did I not know that?”
“Because you never call!”
I ignored the blatant Trumpism. “So who inherited?”
            “Her five grand-children in London and San Francisco! Can you believe none of them went to her funeral?”
            “What’s this about her box?” I am nothing if not a pit-bull when it comes to details.
            “Oh, so she left me a little cedarwood box. It’s the prettiest thing. I think it’s quite valuable, but ever since I picked it up from the lawyers, I’ve not slept properly at all! Master Lee is pretty sure the box is causing it. He keeps telling me to get rid of it, but how can I just get rid of a family heirloom like that?”
            Of course, when I later repeated the story, the first thing Saffy asked was, “Who’s Master Lee? This story is so confusing!”
            “He’s our family feng shui master!”
            “You have a family feng shui master?” Saffy asked. “How do I not know this?”
            “Mother says he says the box might be carrying spirits or ghosts that have now set up home in the house!”
            Amanda shuddered delicately. “That is probably the scariest thing I’ve heard all year!”
            “You sure it’s not the position of her bed?” Saffy asked. “Didn’t your mother just redecorate her bedroom?”
            I stared at her in surprise. “How did you…”
            “She posted the pix on Facebook. We’re Facebook friends.”
            Leave it to Sharyn to put her own spin on the matter. “Aiyah, how come your mother so superstitious and believe in feng shui, one? I don’t believe in feng shui. But confirm she cannot sleep because of your mudder Third Aunt ghost!”
            Saffy blinked. “Wait, how do you believe in ghosts but not feng shui?”
            Sharyn charged on. “She angry with Jason mudder, mah, for stealing her son-in-law. So she come back, lor!”
            “Uhm, I don’t think so, Shazz,” I said. “She was ninety-seven and had dementia. The nurses said she died peacefully in her sleep.”
            “How they know?” Sharyn demanded.
            “How they do they know what?” I asked.
            “How the nurse know she die peacefully in her sleep? If she got dementia, she can’t say anything, right? And if she die in her sleep, maybe a ghost come and take her?”
            “A ghost?” Saffy asked. “There’s another ghost?”
            Sharyn waved her hand. “Haiz! You know, hah, the world got a lot of ghost one! Got one time during Ghost month, one ghost come at night and sit on my chest! Wah, jialat, boy! I so scared, I scream and scream, but got no sound come out.”
            “You sure it wasn’t your husband sitting on you, Shazz?” Amanda asked.
            “Choy! You think, what? ‘Fi-tee Shade of Gray’, issit? So old, still got husband sit on me, meh? Is ghost, lah!”
            Saffy says she can’t decide which image is more disturbing.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Half Baked

It always amuses me to think that, once upon a time, someone actually stood at the bottom of Mount Everest, looked up and said, “You know what, I think I should climb to the top of that.”
            My sister says it’s very unlikely that this person was ever one of our ancestors. “Can you imagine Mother climbing?” she asked me once when we were about 12 and stuck at home, utterly bored, during the school holidays.
            “She climbed up to the second floor at Tiffany’s yesterday,” I observed.
            “Well, that’s different,” Michelle said with a cynicism she’s never outgrown. “The diamonds are on the second floor. If there were diamonds on Mount Everest, that Edmund Hilary would never have stood a chance. Why would anyone bother otherwise?”
            This all came back to me a few days ago when Saffy announced at breakfast that she would make biscotti to bring to Carol's dinner party.
            Amanda paused applying her mascara and looked up from her compact mirror. “Saf, you don’t cook,” she said eventually.
            Saffy’s bosom immediately puffed up. “I do so! Just the other day, I made Maggi mee!”
            “You boiled the soup dry and almost set the kitchen on fire!”
            “Seriously, are you still going on about that? It was just a little bit of smoke! And besides, I was distracted by Dr Pimple Popper’s ‘Top 10 Lipomas’!”
            Amanda rolled her eyes and went back to painting her eyelashes, clearly done with the conversation.
            “I just think it would make such a nice present to bring to parties,” Saffy went on. “People are so lazy, they’re always bringing a bottle of wine to a party. I mean, what if you don’t drink?”
            Amanda looked up again. “Am I friends with anyone who doesn’t drink?”
            “Well, I don’t dri…” Saffy began. “Wait, what?”
            Amanda dropped her eyes.
            Later that afternoon, I stood in the kitchen leaning against the sink and watched Saffy struggle with the dough. “Can you believe she said that to my face?” she fumed, completely oblivious to the sprays of ground almond and white dustings of icing sugar all over the kitchen counter and floor.
            “Seriously, why are you doing this?” I asked in as supportive a tone as I could muster. “You could buy a whole box for less than ten bucks at Culina.”
            Saffy blew a strand of hair out of her eyes. “Store bought rubbish! I’m all about being artisanal this year.”
            “Which is what the Culina biscotti are,” I pointed out. “They’re made by real Italians in Italy.”
            “Yes, but imagine how impressed everyone will be when I show up tonight at Carol’s party with a nice little bag of home-made biscotti!” Saffy said, as she struggled to shape the wet dough on the baking tray. “I’m going to wrap it up with a pretty red ribbon like on Martha Stewart’s Instagram!”
            “You know Martha Stewart doesn’t actually make any of those things herself, right? That’s because she’s very rich. She probably doesn’t even know she has an Instagram account. What’s the matter?” I asked, sensing a level of distress on Saffy’s face.
            “Why is it so mushy?” she said, a definite whine underlining her words. “The recipe says it should be a wet dough that I roll into a log! This isn’t a log!” She leaned over her iPad again and read the recipe, her lips moving silently.
            “And add the crushed hazelnuts…Wait! What crushed hazelnuts? There are crushed hazelnuts? What? Where does it say…oh…my…God….”
            I straightened up. “You forgot the hazelnuts?”
            “I forgot the hazelnuts!” Saffy moaned, her entire body now trembling in simpatico with her vibrating bosom. “Oh God…the whole thing is ruined!”
            That evening at Carol’s, as Saffy grumpily set down her bottle of store-bought wine on the kitchen table, Carol said cheerily, “Oh, thanks for the wine, Saf! Here, try these biscotti that Sharyn made! They’re so good!”
            Sharyn turned pink. “Aiyah, pai-seh! It’s nothing, lah! I long time never make, but then, hor, I think nicer bring home made biscuit.”
            “It’s delicious! And I loved the red ribbon! I could seriously eat a whole plate of these! You must give me the recipe!”
            Sharyn flapped her hand, shaken by all the attention and growing steadily uneasy by the intensity of Saffy’s gaze. “Yah, yah, ok. I give you. Actually, hor, is uh…is Saffy recipe I…I use…Ay, Saffy, why you look like that, har? Ay…”