Sunday, May 27, 2018

Cold Storage

I was recently WhatsApping my friend Jaja in London when she asked how the weather was. I immediately replied that it was freezing.
            “But how can that be? It’s the tropics, no?” said Jaja, who is French and therefore makes everything she says sound super sexy simply by adding a ‘no?’ at the end of every sentence.
            “It’s the monsoon! It rains all day and the temperature drops to like 22 degrees.”
            On the screen, her image looked astonished. “Twenty-two! But 22 is so hot, no?”
            “It’s freezing, Jaja!” I assured her. “Last night, I slept with all the windows closed and under three layers of blankets! My friend Sharyn wears thick socks around the house!”
            Jaja frowned. “That can’t be right. Are you sure you haven’t mixed up the thermostat or something? How can 22 be cold? You’re exaggerating, no?”
            “It’s cold, Jaja!” I repeated.
            Amanda says she’s stopped telling her overseas friends about our wintery weather. “It’s just too embarrassing. People think I’m completely loony. But really, they have no idea how cold it’s been!”
            I remember the first summer I spent in London. We’d just started emerging from a particularly long and difficult winter. It had snowed endlessly. The sun would rise weakly around 9am and never get beyond a dim light through the day on account of the constant pall of clouds that cloaked the world in a perpetual gloom. It was always 10 degrees but it felt like five. At 4pm, it was dark again. By 7pm, I felt I was ready for bed, but I hadn’t even had dinner yet.
            “I can’t wait for summer!” everyone would say as they trudged through the short cold grey days of alternating drizzle and snow. This is what hell must be like, I thought, peering out through the window, wondering if I would ever see the sun again.
            Eventually, spring came around. The flowers started pushing their way up through the frost as the days got longer, but the thermostat rarely went beyond 15 degrees on a good day. I switched from thick woolen scarves to thick silk scarves, and put on a thick jumper instead of my usual Uniqlo thermal vest.
            “Oh, it’s so nice to be warm again!” everyone said. Privately, I rolled my eyes.
            Then one day, I looked outside the window and saw that the thermometer read 25 degrees. In the parks, the English took off all their clothes to lie supine on the grass like beached whales.
            “What are they doing?” Saffy asked me. She was wrapped up in a padded parka, a knitted scarf and a hat.
            “They’re sunbathing.”
            “But it’s freezing!”
            “The English consider this sweltering.”
            “Shut up!”
            My friend Tony joined us for lunch. He walked in wearing shorts, tee-shirt and flip-flop. “My God, it’s so hot!” he announced, his voice like cut crystal on account of a childhood spent in very expensive boarding schools where his classmates had been the sort of people whose parents are usually seen on stamps or who wave from the high balcony of their palace.
            “I am so cold!” Saffy said, warming her hands around a cup of hot chocolate.
            “It’s just suffocating!” Tony went on. “How are you wearing all those clothes?”
            When Jaja heard we’d had lunch with Tony, she practically swooned. “Oh, I just adore him! He’s so sexy, no?”
            Saffy looked doubtful. “Really? I barely noticed, I was so busy trying to keep warm!”
            “But this is a heatwave, Saffy!” Jaja said, a statement which Saffy greeted with shrieks of laughter. “No, I’m serious! Someone in the West Midlands died of heatstroke! Stop laughing! Why is she laughing, Jhay-son?”
            “You people kill me!” Saffy hooted. “Twenty-five degrees is what I set my air-con to in Singapore! You don’t die of heatstroke at 25!”
            Years later, when the thermostat in our little flat in Singapore showed 22 degrees and we were indoors shivering in socks and cardigans, the memory of our first heatwave in London kept us all amused.
            “That woman did not die of heatstroke!” Saffy insisted.
            “That’s what the newspapers said.”
            “Fake news.”
            Amanda said it’s a wonder the Brits stayed in Singapore as long as they did. “They must have really suffered in this heat.”
            “Hey, what ever happened to Tony?” Saffy asked suddenly.
            “I think he married Lady somebody or another.”
            Saffy sighed, her bosom deflating. “Imagine if I’d spent more time on him instead of my hot chocolate. I could have been married to Prince Harry by now instead of that Markle woman.”
            “Yes, so close!” Amanda told her.


Fast Track

The other evening, I caught up with my pal Ann at Coriander Leaf.
            She arrived in a blaze of this season’s Versace and a slight whiff of Chanel No.5. Dumping her bag (Dior) and her cardigan (Miu Miu) on the chair next to her, she sank into the seat and moaned. “I’m exhausted and I’m so hungry! If you presented me with a slab of filet mignon now, I don’t know whether I’d eat it or sleep on it!”
            “Why are you so exhausted and why are you so hungry?”
            “I had meetings all morning, and then I had back to back meetings in the afternoon, and then somewhere in the middle, I forgot to have lunch!”
            I frowned and stared at Ann. Without warning, my mother’s voice spoke up inside my head.
            For those of you who’ve not yet had the misfortune of meeting my mother, it helps to know that she always says that people say the most ridiculous things. And, according to her, the most ridiculous thing anyone has ever said to her was: “Do you machine wash your underwear?” Mother says what made the question even more unfathomable was that the person asking it was the sales assistant at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in London.
            “Not that it’s any of your business, dear,” Mother murmured, “but I have people who do my laundry. So I don’t really need to know whether a machine is involved.”
            The sales girl turned pink. “No, madam, I ask only because our new ‘Lacie Thongs’ are quite delicate and they really should be hand washed.”
            “Wait a minute,” Amanda said when I told her this story over afternoon tea. “Your mother. She shops at Victoria’s Secret?”
            I sighed. “Oh don’t ask me why. She follows the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show religiously every November. She knows all the model’s names and, I don’t know, maybe she feels if she wears their bras, she’d look like Adrianna Lima or something!”
            “I love your mother,” said Amanda, not for the first time wishing my mother was her mother, instead of her real life mother who, from what I’ve heard, is a real witch.
            “Aiyoh, so bad! How can you call people liddat?” Sharyn said, shaking her head with disapproval.
            “No, Sharyn,” Saffy said. “Amanda’s mother really is a witch. She prays to the full moon, makes dream catchers and reads tarot cards.
            “Hah? Where got? I thought Amanda mudder is the legal counsel at X---?”
            “By day, she is. But on the weekends, she moonlights as a spiritualist!”
            Sharyn was agog. “Really, ah? How come I doh know?”
            Amanda looked martyred. “I try not to speak about it, Sharyn.”
            Saffy said the idea of my mother being asked if she hand-washed her delicates was going to keep her entertained for days. “I mean, anyone looking at the woman could tell you that here is someone who probably doesn’t even know where her kitchen is in her house! Some people have no sense.”
            Which then reminded me of my dinner with Ann the previous night.
            “What I don’t understand,” I said, “is how anyone could ever forget to have lunch! I mean, it’s twelve thirty, one o’clock. You have lunch. What’s there to forget?”
            “I always forget to have lunch!” Amanda said, a statement Saffy said she simply couldn’t wrap her head around. I nodded, pleased by the solidarity.
            “Although,” she went on, “I must say the jury is still out on this intermittent fasting thing that Sharyn has gotten me on!”
            Her best friend perked up. “Issit working? Have you lost weight?”
            “It’s only been a day, Shazz! But I feel thinner! That’s got to count for something, right?”
            Apparently, how intermittent fasting works is that you have dinner and then you don’t eat anything till lunch the next day, the idea being that you do a mini-fast in between.
Amanda looked skeptical. “And what’s that supposed to do?”
“Fine-tunes your metabolic rate!” Saffy said with confidence. “Or something.”
“Yah, yah! Fine tune!” Sharyn said, her thick glasses magnifying her eyes to such an extent, she looked like a particularly deranged Chinese Minion. “I lost tree kilo orredi!”
“That’s probably the dumbest diet I’ve ever heard of,” Amanda announced.
Saffy’s bosom inflated. “It’s not a diet, it’s a fast!”
Amanda looked unconvinced. “It’s a farce, is what it is!”
Saffy replied she couldn’t wait to drop two sizes and fit into a Victoria’s Secret ‘Dream Angels Stars Ruffled Corset Top’. “That’ll show you!” she told Amanda, even as she reached for another ang ku kueh.


Friday, May 25, 2018

Neck to Neck

Regular readers will know that in the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda, Dr Sandra Lee occupies a spot somewhere between Oprah and Gal Gadot. In other words, you haven’t seen this kind of blind devotion since Saffy first laid eyes on a shirtless Chris Pratt in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’.
Every morning, we diligently tap Dr Lee’s YouTube channel to see what amazing new dermatological problem she’s solving that day. Sometimes, it’s epidermoid cysts that look like chocolate sauce, and others like dried up hard boiled egg. Or, it might be a wobbly lipoma popping out of a shoulder. And on good days, you have a giant infected cyst on a belly that gushes like a waterfall when cut open.
People think our obsession is weird. The other day, Sharyn announced that it really disturbed her she was friends with people who watch the excisions of  pilar cysts while eating economy mee for breakfast.
Saffy looked up from her phone in surprise. “Why? What’s wrong?”
Sharyn stared hard at the image on Saffy’s screen – Dr Lee was busy snipping away at a bulge on some poor woman’s head. “How to eat liddat? Aiyoh!” she sighed. “I got no appetite now!”
Saffy put down her fork, hit pause on her phone and adjusted her bra strap to give her bosom extra room in which to expand. “Excuse me, but aren’t you the one who sits on the loo and watches in-grown hairs being pulled out?”
If Sharyn, famously known in school by her nickname ‘Iron Board’ Wong, could have inflated her bosom with any significant effect, she would have. As it was, she contented herself with an undignified yelp.
“Ay, you dohn anyhow say ting liddat in public, can? Wait, my boss hear, then how?”
Saffy pursed her lips stubbornly. “Well, don’t you?”
Sharyn waved her hands. “Aiyah, where got same? Burst a pimple not the same as pull out a hair!”
“Excuse me.” Saffy’s voice was frosty. “I’ve watched the Instagram videos of that woman you follow…what’s her face… Tweezist or something? That is some serious sickness she’s got going on there! First of all, who has that many ingrown hairs on their body? And secondly, have you seen the gunk that comes out when she pulls the hair? Oh my God, just talking about it makes me want to heave!”
“I don’t think it’s all her hair, lah! Ay, you want ice-kachang?” Sharyn said, demonstrating, not for the first time, her complete inability to fully escalate an argument.
            Later that day, just as Saffy had finished giving me a particularly graphic, stomach churning re-enactment of how Tweezist inserts a needle under her skin to loosen the trapped hair, my phone pinged. It was a message from my friend Don that said: “I suggest you stop watching the zit-popping videos….You should watch neck cracking. More shiok. Make better use of your speakers.”
            “Neck cracking?” Saffy asked. “Is that a thing?”
            “Who knows? It takes a lot to surprise me these days,” I replied as we both went onto YouTube. Within seconds, I was shoving a clenched fist into my mouth to stop from yelling.
            From her supine position on the couch, Saffy’s eyes widened as she stared at her phone. “Oh. My. God. This is amazing! Errrk!” she sucked in her breath as a neck was twisted. “Hey, some of these doctors are quite hot! Wait, are they doctors or chiropractors or physiotherapists? How come they’re all Indians? Oh, he’s cute!”
            Meanwhile, I replied to Don: “Just watched one. Gawd, that’s too scary! Nothing shiok about that!”
            “That’s because it’s not my neck.”
            “Ask him if there’s a Dr Sandra Lee equivalent for neck crackers!” Saffy called out. By this stage, she’d plugged her earphones into her iPhone. “Oh, wow, he’s right! The cracking sounds even better in stereo!”
            Later that night, Amanda said she was not watching any neck cracking videos.
            “But they’re so good!” Saffy told her.
            “That’s why I’m not watching any! You know I have an addictive personality. I can barely keep up with Dr Pimple Popper and Tweezist, so how…”
            Saffy moaned. “No! Don’t tell me you watch those awful videos, too!”
            “Oh, they’re good!” Amanda sighed. “Her captions are hysterical. I think she’s Korean. You have to really admire her technique, she’s so precise!”
            “But the slimy bits at the end of the hair follicle are just so gross!”
            That’s the best part!”
            Sharyn says it amazes her that between the four of us, we actually have seven university degrees.