Friday, December 29, 2006

Army Fatigued

A few days ago, I called my friend Alex at his office. His secretary, Sarah, answered the phone and said, “Sorry, but Mr Alex is on reservist!”

I was astonished. “Again? But he just went!” I could almost feel Sarah shrug over the phone.

The call raised a question that had been bothering me for a long time now.

“What exactly is it that people do when they’re on reservist?” I asked my flatmate Amanda over lunch at Lau Pa Sat. “And, more importantly, why do they need to go so many times?”

Amanda sniffed and said that they probably did whatever a bunch of men would do whenever they get together. “Like not wash their underwear for days on end!” she clarified quickly when Barney Chen looked up from his laksa with interest.

For her part, Saffy thought reservist was just an excuse for getting out of work.

“I swear to God, but every time I need something done in the office, someone will always say, ‘Oh, cannot. I got reservist all of next week!’ I mean really!” Saffy complained. “How big is this island? How much defending do we need anyway? And it’s so unfair that girls don’t get to do reservist! I wouldn’t mind some quality me-time of my own away from the office!”

Barney said it was also very unfair that he held a British passport. “I have so much to contribute to the Singapore army!” he rumbled. “For starters, I’d completely redesign those uniforms! Jazz them up a little. And everyone would wear Prada boots! How chic would that be?”

Amanda muttered that letting Barney into the Singapore army would give new meaning to the phrase, army camp. Barney turned pink with pleasure and sipped harder on his sugar cane juice.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ab-solutely Fabulous

Just the other day, I was at the dentist, flipping through a men’s magazine and trying hard to ignore the piercing whine of the drill that flooded the waiting room in full stereophonic splendour, when I came across a full page ad of a man’s stomach muscles. Ordinarily, I would immediately flip the page on point of principle. I mean, what kind of a sick world do we live in that people actually have to torture themselves and do sit-ups just so that they can have funny looking bumps on their stomachs?

But this ad was different. Next to the picture of the bronzed stomach, glistening with sweat, was a small bottle of lotion. “Ab Rescue!” it said proudly on the ad. It promised firmer, tighter, smoother looking abs in just 8 weeks. Just by rubbing the stuff on your stomach, Ab Rescue promised a 20% immediate improvement in skin tightness. All thanks to the product’s special thermogenic formula. I had no idea what a thermogenic formula did – the ad didn’t say – but it sure sounded impressive.

I'm ordering a bottle as we speak. Hopefully in two months time, I too could be on the cover of Men's Health in all my airbrushed glory.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Laugh Tracks

Complete strangers are always accosting me at the bus-stop and demanding to know when the 8DAYS column will be turned into a sit-com. "Should be very funny, what!" exclaimed one stalker. "We want to see Saffy's breasts!" another one told me recently.

"From your lips to God's ears!" I always mutter to them as I shield my eyes from the bright flashing pops of the paparazzi lurking in the bushes.

Ahh, the price of fame.


The truth is, discussions about turning the Saffy and Amanda saga into sit-com have been going round and round since time began. Amanda wants to have nothing to do with the project, but Saffy is insistent that only she can play herself. Meanwhile, draft scripts have been written, rewritten, rejected, tinkered with. Potential actors have been mooted.

And on it goes. It's painfully dull. I just want to skip the whole process and fast forward to the Emmys red carpet.

For a sneak peak at the draft script, watch out for the upcoming issues of 8DAYS. Just stop bothering me on the bus!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Turning Japanese

I'm a big fan of Japanese supermarkets. If it’s one activity that I look forward to all week, it's shopping day on Sunday. I park my beloved adopted mongrel dog, Pooch, with our neighbour, the melodious Lydia Kumarasamy, for a few hours of mutual spitting and growling at her evil black cat, Achar. And then it’s anchors ahoy for Isetan’s basement supermarket.

For a few happy hours, I wander down the brightly lit aisles, fingers trailing along the boxes, bottles, packets and assorted tubes. Picking up. Examining. Sniffing. The fruits section alone has me pinned to my tracks with their dainty melons and beautifully boxed apples. The hand-baskets start to overflow.

I've been coming here for years now and I guess one of these days, I'll finally understand just what it is that I'm actually buying. Because everything in here is labelled in Japanese. Other than the fruit and vegetables, I have no idea what we’re buying. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, there’s a special promotion and they play a very helpful video. In this way, Saffy was once saved from potential mishap after she’d bought something in the mistaken belief that they were hi-tech facial cotton pads, but on close scrutiny of the accompanying video, it transpired that she’d actually bought a powerful brand of kitchen scourer. “Well, it’s all white and fluffy looking!” she exclaimed later, delicately wiping down our oven with said scourer. “This stuff is amazing! They really should do something similar for the face!”

And since everything is written in Japanese, it means that the girls are spared the dreaded caloric count and fat details of assorted food products. Firmly subscribing to the view that what you don’t know can’t possibly be fattening, they fill baskets with assorted packets of chips, chocolate and soft drinks. As Amanda once pointed out with penetrating insight, “I personally don’t know any fat Japanese! Do you?” To which Saffy agreed that she too didn’t know any, all of which meant that if the food product was Japanese, it followed that it must also be slimming.

Meanwhile, being the hypochondriac that I am, I can usually be found in the household section, marvelling at the amazing spread of cleaning agents and chemical solvents. Endless rows of bottles, slick, streamlined tools, boxes of powders – each beautifully packaged, the only clue to their contents being a cutesy picture of a smiling doll or a porcelained skinned Japanese lady, a mop in one hand and product in the other. The instructions are in Japanese, and so too, I happily imagine, are the warning labels.

I sometimes way-lay unsuspecting Prada-clad Japanese tai-tais (how long does it take them to get dressed each day?), presenting them with a bottle of chemical solvent and a questioning look. After a few minutes of confused sign-language and very fractured conversations that involve a lot of Hai’s and Domo’s, we will establish that we are actually talking about a bottle of sesame seed mayonnaise and that we are not, as I had previously believed, in the household section, but rather the salad aisle.

“Ah, so!” Mariko-san will declare, beaming with pleasure that we’d got that sorted out. There’d be a bit of low bowing and embarrassment on my part. Later, as she’s having lunch at Les Amis, I imagine Mariko-san regaling her girlfriends about her ridiculous encounter. “I know that guy!” exclaims her best friend, Sakura-san, laughing behind her manicured hands. “Were there two women with him? They’re always buying boxes of oven scouring pads!”

“Ah, so desu-ka!” Mariko-san tinkles. “They’re so strange! I think one of them is called Sarfie. I once saw her inhale an entire packet of taro chips at the check-out counter. Can you imagine the fat? More salad, Sakura-san?”

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fat Chance

In the continuing saga of dating in the third millennium, nothing gets both men and women more worked up than the question “Do these [insert item of clothing] make me look fat?”

It looks very innocent, this question. A simple sartorial inquiry that invites a flippant, off the cuff response. A simple Yes or No answer. But oh foolish is the person who believes this. Because, and you heard it here first, there is no right answer! And along with “Have you stopped beating your wife?”, it’s certainly not a question that can be answered with a simple Yes or No. A lot of footnotes and appendices are required.

And note that the question is only ever asked by a woman or a gay man. In the entire history of humanity, no straight guy has ever looked at his bum in the mirror and wondered, “Do these pants make me look fat?” It’s just not a question that figures large in the straight universe.

Saffy once asked me this very question. "Do these jeans make me look fat?”

In my defence, I was very distracted at the time, so I wasn’t really paying much attention. I looked up briefly, looked at Saffy and replied casually, “Uh. No. You look fine.”

“You hesitated,” Saffy said, her face a little strange.

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yeeees,” Saffy drawled. “You did. You said, “Uh”.”

“Which is a word.”

"That conveys the impression of hesitation,” Saffy said, her bosom slowly inflating.

And much as one barely senses the moment that one has taken a wrong turn somewhere on a dark deserted road, it occurred to me I had, quite without intending to, ventured into very unfamiliar territory. I hesitated and tried a little back-pedalling.

“Well, you look fine,” I said encouragingly and gave Saffy my most winning smile before turning away, hoping she'd go away.

"I may look fine,” Saffy began from the back of my head, “but you still haven’t answered my question. Do I look fat in these jeans?”

“Absolutely not!” I said firmly.

Saffy huffed. “But you didn’t say no the first time I asked! I do look fat in these, don’t I? Oh dear God.” She turned on her heels and marched to her room. A few seconds later, I heard Amanda ask, “Why aren’t you dressed yet?”

Saffy’s reply rang through the apartment. “I was dressed, but then Jason said my bum looked fat in these jeans, so now I have to change!”

“I said that she looked fine!” I yelled. “I never said anything about fat or bums!”

“You hesitated!” came Saffy’s voice.

For days afterwards, it was all I could talk about. “Ooh, you should never attempt to answer that question!” cooed Barney Chen. “Don’t go anywhere near the bum unless you know what you’re doing. Like I do,” he added with a loaded look.

“You hesitated. Fatal mistake,” said Karl, my best friend. “It’s like a legal contract. Clause 16 – Hesitation shall be taken to imply fatness and unattractive bums and no further correspondence shall be entered into. The second worse question is ‘What are you thinking about?’”

“Well, all I know is that I’m never going to answer that question ever again. Saffy hasn’t spoken to me for days. It’s ridiculous!”

“Which isn’t necessarily such a bad thing,” said Karl, unhappily married man.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Wrong Number

I really don’t care how many people I offend out there, but…I loathe telemarketers.

There. I said it. The world didn’t come to a crashing halt. The phone lines haven’t rung off the hook with irate companies complaining. In fact, I with they would call to complain because I’m so ready to give them an earful.

This is how it always turns out. After a beastly day dealing with unreasonable editors and ungrateful flatmates, I crawl into bed, relieved that until dawn, I can finally have some peace and quiet. I plump up my pillows with a happy sigh. I reach for the TV’s remote control and flick through all the shows I’ve taped on Smart TV. I’m two minutes into “Smallville” when the phone rings.

And this is how the conversation normally goes…

Me: Hello, Jason speaking.
Caller: Ah, hello? Hello?
Me: Yes?
Caller: Can I speak to Mr Jason please?
Me: This is he.
Caller: Ah, hello? Mr Jason please!
Me: This is Jason speaking.
Caller (sound of paper shuffling): Ah, I want to speak to Mr Jason Hahn. Not Mr Jason Speaking.
Me: Are you trying to sell me something?
Caller: Ah, Mr Jason, ah. Did you fill in a competition form at Uzbekhistan Shopping Centre recently?
Me: Why?
Caller: Is your IC number S4939393Z?
Me: Maybe. Why?
Caller: Ahh, congratulations Mr Jason! You’ve just won a great prize, but to claim it, you must come down to Uzbekhistan in the next one hour, hor and then…
Me: Well, if I’ve won something, why don’t you just send me the voucher.
Caller: Uhm, sorry, hor Mr Jason. You must come down to claim this prize.
Me: It’s nine o’clock at night!
Caller: So you don’t want to claim the prize, is it?
Me: Well, it’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just that…
Caller: OK. [click].

Who can sleep after such an aggravating phone call? It's hateful. Just hateful!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Arty Farty

Recently, the little apartment that I share with Saffy and Amanda has been filled with the soaring strains of Puccini’s famous opera, Madame Butterfly. Amanda had decided that seeing as we were all going through a very dry dating patch (“It’s a desert out there!” she declared. “I’m this close to becoming a nun!”), this was as good a time as any to brush up on our culture.

“We’re not getting any younger,” she pointed out with penetrating insight. “Besides, I’m so sick of Saffy’s Boney M CDs. If I hear ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ one more time, I’m going to scream.”

Which explains why Maria Callas is blasting her lungs out on our tiny stereo, causing poor Pooch to spend his days cowering under my bed. As Saffy once observed during a particularly strident aria while peering at the CD cover, “I wouldn’t want to get into a fight with this woman! She scares me. But I’m loving her eyebrows!”

“She’s dead!” Amanda exclaimed.

“I’m not surprised,” Saffy replied smoothly. “You would be too if you had to hold a note this long!”

A few days ago, Amanda came home waving tickets to a performance by an experimental dance troupe. “They got rave reviews on the Internet! They’re cutting edge and avant garde! Ooh, what should I wear?”

It always worries me when something is described as avant garde. From experience, this usually means that you won’t understand a thing that’s happening, but you never admit this as other people will look at you sideways, pitying you for your lack of appreciation for the fine arts.

As it turned out, I was right. The theatre in the Arts House was half filled with people I immediately recognised as art snobs. The women came wrapped up in shawls while the guys wore all black and looked like Hugo Boss sales assistants, trying to look important by constantly checking their handphones, just in case President Bush was trying to call them for an urgent meeting. Meanwhile, Saffy was fidgeting with her underwear.

“Remind me never to wear G-strings ever again!” she hissed loudly. “Who the hell invented these things? Is this thing going to start soon? I want to get home in time for Amazing Race!”

Thankfully, the lights dimmed and the show began. Well, I use the word ‘show’ very loosely, because even now, I’m not quite what happened.

Eight women in white flowing dressed came on stage. The soundtrack started playing some weird sitar twanging music that vibrated so deeply my teeth hurt. Then the women swayed while a guy dressed in pyjamas weaved in and out of them. They swayed some more and then the music stopped, the lights dimmed and the next group of dancers came on.

“What happened?” Saffy asked bewildered. “Is that it? Is the show over?”

“Shhh!” Amanda hushed, looking rapt.

The second act involved the dancers walking very quickly around the stage while little white pieces of paper floated down from the ceiling. This time round, two guys in scrappy T-shirts came out and sat on boxes and played electric guitars; but it wasn’t anything I’d heard recently on the Top 40.

“Are they supposed to be here?” Saffy whispered urgently. “I’m not getting this at all!”

And so it went. Two hours of women either swaying on the spot or running breathlessly around the tiny stage, accompanied by tuneless twanging music. I tried to find a plot. Maybe the girls were waiting for a king? So who was the guy? Maybe he was an elf? Was Pooch OK? I worried. And when it was finally over, no one clapped. This was because we weren’t sure if it was actually over. Maybe the silence was also part of the show.

“Well!” Saffy announced as we emerged into the warm night. “That was without a doubt the biggest waste of my time! Ever! I’m not paying you for those tickets, Amanda!”

“I thought it was brilliant!” Amanda said stoutly. “It was incredibly moving!”

“Moving, my ass! It was incredibly stupid!” Saffy huffed pulling at her G-string as she struggled into the cab.

Later, back in the flat, as I gave Pooch a cuddle and Amanda got on the Internet to post her glowing critique of the show, Saffy defiantly inserted her Boney M Greatest Hits CD into the player and turned it up full blast. “What a stupid waste of time!” she muttered as she skipped to her favourite track.

“Ra-Ra-Rasputin!” she began singing off-key happily, “lover of the Russian Queen!”

And just like that, I think we’ve heard the last of Maria Callas. God rest her soul and her eyebrows.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Money Shot

In the ever shifting seasons that we call life, one question continues to haunt me on a daily basis: Just how the hell am I going to make a million bucks and retire before forty?

It’s a question that occupies much of my waking hours. I plot when I brush my teeth. I scheme as I plotz my way to the bus shelter. I concoct elaborate plans as I schluff into the office along with the multitude, and my brow furrows with effort as I schlep home with the rush hour crowd.

My flatmate Amanda has been giving some serious thought to the matter of early retirement funds.

“But do you think that one million dollars is enough?” she asked the other day at breakfast in our little apartment, her pretty oval face wreathed with fiscal concern. “It won’t buy you a loaf of bread these days!”

“Especially if you shop at Cold Storage!” Saffy interrupted with a snort, remembering her recent grocery expedition.

I asked Amanda how much she thought I’d need then.

“At least twenty million,” she said without hesitation. Saffy choked into her morning coffee. “No, seriously! That’s like the bare minimum. A nice house these days will cost you at least one million, say. Then a car and driver is half a million. Then you will be traveling first class, so that’s about a hundred grand already, if you assume ten trips a year. And you have what,” her inbuilt brain calculating, “18.4 million left. You gotta have a house in London, so that’s easily five million gone and a little pad in New York, take away another four million. Which leaves you, uh, 9.4 million of spare change.”

By this time, Saffy’s eyes had glazed over and she later said that it bothered her that there were women like Amanda around who could be so ridiculously beautiful and still have minds like steel traps.

“So, say you put that 9.4 into a 5% interest bearing account, and that’s what?” Amanda continued rhetorically, “$470,000 interest a year. How could you possibly live on $470,000 a year? A half decent necklace from Cartier easily costs you that much already!”

Later as we were washing up – Amanda had headed out for her Pilates class – Saffy said that at this rate, chances were she’d be seeing out the end of her days in a trailer park. “If I’m lucky!” she said, her famous breasts trembling with fear. “More likely, I’ll be living in a cardboard box under the Sheares Bridge! Will you come and visit me?” she asked as she put a plate away.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Dirty Talking

A few days ago, my flatmate Saffy was in her office pantry complaining to our friend Sharyn about the taxi-driver who’d taken her to work that morning. I set out, below, the gist of the conversation as reported to me by Sharyn, who’d immediately picked up the phone to call me.

Saffy: What is wrong with the taxi drivers in this country?
Sharyn: What? Why?
Saffy: There should be a law against people like them!
Sharyn: What? What?
Saffy: The taxi driver this morning? Out of the blue, he asked me to guess his age.
Sharyn: Ah! And then?
Saffy: So I said, forty.
Sharyn: Ah! Then?
Saffy: And he says, no, I’m fifty-two.
Sharyn: Wah! So old, ah!
Saffy: No! That’s not it!
Sharyn: Oh. Sorry, ah! And then?
Saffy: So he says, guess how I stay so young? And I said, how?
Sharyn: Ah!
Saffy: He said he ate a lot of ice-cream!
Sharyn: Really, ah! Can stay young like that, meh?
Saffy: I haven’t finished my story yet!
Sharyn: Wah, so long one, your story. I got work to do, you know.
Saffy: So then I said, oh really? Then he turns around and stares at me and actually goes through the motion of licking an ice-cream and then he winks at me! Oh. My. God! The sicko.
Sharyn: If don’t lick, how to eat ice-cream otherwise?

As Saffy later complained to me at home, the Vatican should investigate the inexplicable miracle that Sharyn had ever managed to find her way out of her mother’s birth canal.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hazing Facts

As I write this, I’m coughing so hard my throat is going to shoot right out my mouth and splatter against the laptop screen. I’m imagining a very vivid tonsil version of “Alien”.

Outside the window, I can normally catch a fine view of treelines and hi-rise HDB flats. But for the past two days, the sky has turned a mucky grey and it’s as if the landscape has been wiped with a fine mist. It kind of reminds me of the time I visited Xi’an to look at the Terracotta Army and we were all marveling at how romantic the silky mist made the whole city. Then the tour guide turned around in the bus and gave us her best gap-toothed smile. “No, not mist. Is smog!”

Of course, what we’re having in Singapore isn’t smog. It’s a haze. And I love the fact that apparently none of it is considered extremely hazardous to our health.

“Will someone please do something about this haze?” Saffy croaked the other morning at breakfast, her eyes red and runny. “My allergies are killing me!”

“You know how the Russian royal family used to have their winter holidays in St Petersburg?” asked Amanda, who is currently reading about the Romanov massacre for fun. “We should go somewhere every October. I can stand it! All my clothes smell of smoke!”

Which led Saffy to later wish that Amanda would, “for just one second”, live in the real world. “We have jobs!” as she so penetratingly observed before dissolving into a fit of coughing and sneezing.

Yesterday, my friend Barney Chen rang. “I hate this haze! My throat is so sore!” he immediately complained, coughed wetly and added, “and not in a good way either! My hot date last night? No happy endings, I could barely speak. I so need to move countries.”

I told him to get in line – Amanda was already on the frontline.

And this morning, Saffy stuck her head out the window as the skies opened and dumped heavy sheets of rain. She squealed and shot back inside. “That smells disgusting!” she croaked. “Tell me this isn’t acid rain!”

“How are our clothes going to dry like this?” wondered Amanda, head of housekeeping, even as she flipped TV channels to Discovery Travel. Her eyes glazed over as she watched an episode on mega-yachts bobbing on a silvery blue ocean, the sky above the colour of crushed sapphires.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Bitch is Back

My friend Barney Chen called this morning. He'd just returned to Singapore after a trying three days working on a project in Phuket.

JH: Hey, you're back! How are you?
BC: I hate my clients! I swear the Dalai Lama would be a total bitch if he had to deal with my life!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Holy Hell

This morning, I came out of my room to find my flat-mate, Amanda, sitting on the lounge room floor. Around her was spread a whole pile of magazines, newspapers and catalogues, all brightly festooned with coloured Post-It notes and carefully penned notes.

“Ugh!” I said in greeting as I schlepped into the kitchen. Mornings are never a good time for me. As I made myself a strong cup of coffee, Amanda began nattering about something. Ten minutes later, as the caffeine kicked in and her annoying mosquito whine took shape into words that my morning brain began processing, it finally occurred to me that she was talking about presents and wrapping paper.

“There’s so little time left,” she was saying. “And I suppose we should also think about getting a tree.”

“Tree, what tree? Owww!” That was Saffy, coming out of her room with her eyes sealed shut with sleep-crust and promptly banging into the dining table.

“The Christmas tree, of course!” Amanda huffed, tossing her lustrous hair. Even at that time of the day, the woman looked like she’d just stepped out of a page from Vogue.

Dead silence. I blinked, my brain suddenly feeling very heavy. Saffy peeled open one eye and stared at Amanda in horror.

“Are you talking about Christmas?” she whispered in hushed tones. “But it's only September. Why are you talking about Christmas?”

Amanda looked prim. “I like to get an early start!”

I felt faint. Christmas? I don’t like Christmas. The thought of shoving through the throngs of aggressive shoppers, wait in line, panicking that I’d exceeded my VISA limit, hauling bags of useless junk back home. And then, when I had a lovely pile of presents nicely wrapped and ribboned, it would always occur to me to wonder if I’d left the “For Sale” stickers on the coffee mugs I’d so carefully wrapped.

As for Saffy, Christmas is always an opportunity for her to open the bottom drawer in her cupboard and drag out all the presents that she’s been given the previous Christmas and then spending a stressful few days trying to decide how to recycle the presents.

“Oh God! I can’t remember who gave this to me,” she said last Christmas, holding up a coffee mug (with the words ‘I can’t be fired! I’m a slave!’). “I want to give this to Amanda, but I think she gave it to me in the first place! What’s with people and coffee mugs anyway? It’s such a senseless gift. And look, it’s still got the “For Sale” sticker on the bottom!” I carefully looked the other way.

It’s little wonder that every year, both Saffy and I erase the entire month of December from our memories, until Anal Amanda reminds us. Meanwhile, Saffy, both eyes now firmly open, glared at the pile of newspaper clippings and catalogues around Amanda, as if hoping that everything would just burst into flames and Christmas would be called off.

“I was thinking of getting Pooch a dog-collar from Gucci!” Amanda said brightly.

“Are you mad?” Saffy exclaimed, her formidable chest rising sharply. “That dog leads a better life than anyone else in this flat! Jason feeds him foie gras. He sleeps all day in an air-conditioned room. And now you want to get him a Gucci dog-collar? Are you mad? Oh, hello, good morning, Pooch!”

My beloved adopted mongrel dog trotted into the room, attracted by the rising voices of panic. I scooped him up and took him into the kitchen for his breakfast. Standing there in the dim kitchen, the sun slowly creeping over the neighbouring hi-rise buildings and watching Pooch bury his face into his bowl of roast chicken, it occurred to me that maybe a Gucci dog collar would actually look quite good on him. It’s hard buying presents for dogs. Especially since they don’t drink coffee in the first place. And certainly not from coffee mugs anyway.

“Look!” Saffy moaned to Amanda in the living room. “How about I pay you to do my Christmas shopping for me? Oh, go on. You like shopping after all. How about it?”

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Wu's The Man?

These days, you can’t spin a simple pirouette without twirling to a stop in front of someone jogging down the road. Every day on the bus, I spy a caravan of people, in various states of distress, pounding the pavements. After careful observation, I’ve managed to group these joggers into two categories.

Group A are the super-fit freaks who subscribe to Men’s Health, eat nuts and worship Dr Atkins. You can spot them a mile away because they’re usually wearing nothing, all the better to show off their tight abs and sweaty skin. If you were to interview them, chances are they will tell you that they used to be fat kids.

Group B are those who are jogging only because their doctor told them if they didn’t, they won’t make it to the next National Day celebrations. They usually look grumpy, have pale skin, wear tank tops two sizes too big for them and have collapsed comb-overs. They are also usually the ones who wear giant jade and gold rings and drive a Mercedes.

Meanwhile, it’s a no-brainer as to which category Allan Wu fits into.

The other day, I received a frantic call from my friend, Barney Chen.

“Oh my God, oh my God!” he yelled down the line. “You’ll never guess what just happened?”

For those who came in late, Barney Chen is the male version of my flat-mate, Saffy. He loves Barbra, Bette, Cher and Donna and thinks that Britney has flushed her golden career down the toilet. I hope I don’t have to spell it out for you any further.

I stared at my computer screen and hunted for the Spell-Check button, the phone cradled under neck. “Uhm,” I said absent-mindedly. “ABBA is getting back together.”

There was a still pause on the other end of the line. “Don’t tease me like that!” Barney eventually said. “No! Listen! I’m in a cab and we’re zooming down Tanglin Road and suddenly, we passed Allan Wu jogging!”

I looked up from my screen and frowned into space. “And?”

“And he was topless!” Barney breathed into the phone. “Good loooord!”

“Barnes, Allan Wu is always topless!” I said. “Just pick up any issue of 8 DAYS and he’s got no clothes on. Which makes me wonder why they pay for a stylist at these shoots in the first place. What’s there to style?” I mused.

“Well, I think he’s hot!” Barney said firmly. “But it should be illegal for him to be running around naked in public like that! It’s not right. It could cause a serious accident!”

“Maybe he knew you were coming?” I ventured.

“Oh, I was about to, believe me!” Barney said darkly. “He has no fat on his body! That Li-lin is so lucky! Do you think he lives around Tanglin? Maybe I should start stalking him!” he added brightly, his dull day suddenly filled with promise.

Later that night, I recounted the story to my flatmates, Saffy and Amanda.

“I would never date someone who jogs!” Saffy announced, comfortably beached on the sofa while balancing a plate of spaghetti on her stomach.

Amanda snorted a laugh. “Yeah, right. Allan Wu shows up at our door and asks you out on a date and you would say no to him?”

Saffy pursed her lips and lifted her eyes towards the ceiling, clearly thinking of the probability of the event and the different possible reactions. “Well, alright,” she conceded. “If Allan Wu asked me out, I’d go. But we’d have to do something about Li-lin. Pack her off to a nunnery or something. She’s so lucky! But as a general rule, I think there’s something desperately sad about people who jog! It’s like, get a life already!”

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to stay in shape,” said Amanda with the calm virtue of someone who, through a combination of genetics and insanely high metabolism, has never needed to step foot inside a gym in her life.

“Shape, schmape!” Saffy said easily as she spooned a last forkful of spaghetti into her mouth. “Joggers always look miserable! Have you noticed? No one is ever smiling. And their outfits all look terrible! And I’ve never actually gone up close to one, but I’m thinking that they can’t be smelling very good either!”

There was a brief silence as I mentally took notes for this post. This is such good material! I thought to myself. Meanwhile, Amanda and Saffy’s eyes had acquired a distant glaze that had a distinct whiff of sex about it.

Eventually, Amanda murmured, “I’m thinking about how Allan Wu would smell after his jog.”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” Saffy said happily as she held up her empty plate to her mouth and licked off the remaining sauce.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bag It

Question for the day: Why do so many Singaporean men walk around in public carrying their girlfriend's handbags?

Newsflash...It's not cute. Dump the bag and while you're at it, dump the handbag.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The L Word

I was at a party the other day and overheard this delicious slice of conversation between two supposed happily married men...

Man 1: I think someone said they're lesbians.
Man 2: Get out of here! They're not lesbians. They can't be lesbians!
Man 1: Why not?
Man 2: Well, for starters, they're really pretty!
Man 1: Apparently, they're called lipstick lesbians.
Man 2: Really? Man, I need to get out more.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Six in the City

Hello pets,

Here's a snippet of an email from my publishers...

Hi Jason!

Congrats! You'll be thrilled to know that "Table for Three" is at No. 6 of Singapore's Best-seller Fiction list (as of last Sun, 3 Sep 2006, The Sunday Times)!!

Tell your family, friends and strangers!

Thank you all for your support. Meanwhile, I'm in and out of Singapore for the next two weeks, so my apologies if the reading material is a bit thin on the ground. To tide you over, pick up the latest issue of 8DAYS.

Be good now.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Game, set and match

I read the funniest article the other day. It's an old piece by Martin Amis, "Tennis - The Women's Game", collected in his anthology "Visiting Nabokov". If you're a tennis fan, you'll get the humour. If you don't know your Sharapovas from your Pavlovas, trust me that it's very funny. Here's a morsel...

The contest [between Canadian number one, Helen Kalesi and Monica Seles] looks elegant but sounds barbaric. Helen is a 'grunter', and Monica is a 'whoofer', emitting a duosyllabic shriek with each contact of ball and racket. 'Uhh!' 'Ugh-eh!' 'Uhh!' 'Ugh-eh!'

Jimmy Connors started the grunting, with his legendary 'Hworf!' Then, as Clive James notes, Bjorn Borg responded with his own nordic variant: 'Hworjf!"

The next evening, under the lights, little Monica plays Chris Evert, who knows a thing or two about child prodigies, having traumatised them by the dozen year after year...Chris steps forward, sternly smiling, as straight and crisp as the pleats in her skirt, and shining with money dignity and hardened achievement. 'Mm,' says Chris as she strikes the ball (for Chris is no whoofer: more a gentle moaner). 'Mm.' 'Ugh-eh!' 'Mm.' 'Ugh-eh!'

It's a date!

I personally don’t remember this – I’m too young – but I’m told by unreliable sources such as my Mother that back in her day, people didn’t go on dates with random people they met on the dance-floor of clubs or in the jam section of their local Cold Storage.

“They were match-made!” my Mother says with the enormous satisfaction of a goose that’s just laid a perfect egg. “They didn’t know who they were marrying till the actual day of the marriage. I'm telling you, those marriages lasted! Not like today when people divorce after a few badly cooked dinners!”

My Mother’s edgy, modern world-view eventually caused my sister Michelle – who loved Barbie dolls and had fantasies of a white wedding gown from the age of three – to grow up in horror at the idea that one day she might be shuttled off to just such a marriage. She moved out of home at the first available opportunity.

“It’s a wonder I didn’t develop an eating disorder!” Michelle now recalls.

“I don’t know why people aren’t match-made anymore,” my Mother said the other day during a long distance call all the way from New Zealand where she and my father are spending their days milking cows at a farm-stay. She was completely oblivious to the fact that she herself had married Father over the furious objections of their respective parents. Her father promptly had a heart attack during the tea-pouring ceremony.

“Let the experts do all the work and background checks first,” Mother added with the firmness of a seasoned field agent. “These days, so many people who are just not meant to get married get married. Like your cousin Ai-chun. I give that marriage one year! Her mother and I never trusted that husband of her’s!”

In the little apartment I share with Saffy, Amanda and my beloved adopted mongrel dog, Pooch, the dating issue has reached a new fever pitch.

One breakfast recently, Saffy suddenly announced that she was going to try a dating service.

“My friend Valerie just signed up with Lunch Actually,” she said. “Apparently, they screen the candidates and then send them out on a series of lunch dates. It’s a fabulous idea!”

“They’re here in Singapore?” Amanda piped up. “I saw them once on Oprah! I want! I want!”

“I’m so sick of this whole dating thing!” Saffy puffed, her legendary bosom shifting in its own gravitational field. “Every one of my last five dates has been a complete loser. What a waste of my time! From now on, my motto is ‘Let someone else do the dirty work!’”

According to the girls, the new millennium is all about outsourcing. Why struggle with something when there are plenty of experts who do this sort of thing every day? After all, as Amanda – the original Material Girl – pointed out with such penetrating insight, you wouldn’t clean a toilet by yourself, would you? You pay a maid to do it. Ditto dry cleaning, catering, facials, massages and telephone directories. So, the logic goes, why try to find the perfect man by yourself? Just pay someone like Lunch Actually to lead you down the rose-petal strewn garden path.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the dating spectrum, in a world where boys like boys, my friend Barney Chen prefers to meet his dates on-line.

“It’s a lot easier,” he once told me. “All the candidates’ pictures are up on display with vital statistics. You just pick and choose. It’s a smorgasbord!”

“And that works?” I asked, ever the dedicated journalist.

“Well, there are some losers out there,” Barney admitted, “but it’s just like going grocery shopping. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, just don’t put it in your basket! As it were. Heh!”

Saffy said that she tried on-line dating once. “It was a disaster! They all want to see your picture and in every one of my pictures, I look fat! There was this one time,” she said, shuddering at the memory, “I came across a picture of a guy that I thought looked cute. So I e-mailed him. ‘Nice profile!’ I said and the next day, he replied, ‘Thanks. But you’re not my type!’ I was crushed for days!” Saffy sighed. “Men can be so cruel.”

Amanda says that the dating scene is traumatic and humiliating enough without having to go through the indignity of posting a picture up on the web. “It’s like you’re at a meat market!”

“But paying someone to set up a date with you at a restaurant isn’t?” I asked.

“Well, you have to eat, right?” Amanda said reasonably. “If Valerie gets married within a year, I’m so signing up!” she murmured even as she uploaded a touched-up picture of herself onto the Net.

My Mother would die.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Starry Eyed

After much anguished soul searching, Saffy and Amanda and I have come to the terrible conclusion that the only way that we will ever be able to retire rich at an age where we won’t yet need to be hooked up to a respirator and a wheelchair is to take on new careers as porn stars.

“Hah? You siow, ah?” Our friend, Sharyn, was horrified, the piece of chocolate mousse falling off her fork. Around us, the café clientele turned in our direction.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Saffy said comfortably. “We get paid to do something that we’re not getting any of right now. Well,” Saffy paused and considered a thought, “maybe Amanda is getting some, but I’m not and judging from the sounds coming from his bedroom, I’m sure Jason isn’t either.”

“Thank you, Saffy,” I said stiffly.

“I’m just saying!”

“How like that?” Sharyn moaned. “Can go to jail you know!”

“Minor details!” Saffy said airily. “We’re thinking cheap production values and quick shoots in Batam, haha, followed by a drive through at the bank to deposit our cheques! We’re going to make a fortune. Hey, maybe you should join as an extra!”

Sharyn squealed and spilled her cappuccino. “Cannot, lah!” she begged Amanda.

“I think you’d be a natural, Sharyn. Can you imagine it?” Amanda asked, sadistically stretching out the moment. “I want to shoot my scene in the Louis Vuitton change rooms!”

Not surprisingly, my friend Barney Chen has been taking the idea seriously. “I want a piece of the action!” he said firmly. For the past few days, he’s been obsessing over an appropriate stage name and working on the script for his debut performance, which largely involves a gym, skipping rope and a medicine ball for props.

“I think my new stage name should be Miss Pussy Poh Pan Ping!” he announced recently. “And I’ve moved the opening scene of my movie to the back of a bus! I’m thinking the 105 as it zooms through Orchard Road. There’ll be a crash shot of the aunties at the bus stop as the camera cuts to me and Marc!”

In spite of herself, Saffy was intrigued. “Who’s Marc?”

“He’s that cute French chiropractor who’s been fixing my back, but I’m so wishing he’d fix something else while he’s in the area!” Barney growled, his perfectly trimmed eyebrows knitting together in sexual frustration. “I have to keep thinking of my mother and grocery shopping lists whenever I go see him!”

“Uh huh.”

Later, over dinner, Saffy wondered why it was that gay men’s love lives always seemed so much more exciting. “Maybe it’s a case of penis envy!” she said with a pensive look on her face as she laboriously cut up her veal sausages. “Although I have to say that I’ve been giving some thought as to what exactly it is that lesbians do!” she added, her fork pausing halfway to her mouth as she gave the matter further attention. “There was a Will and Grace episode on this very topic. What do they do?” Saffy asked the world at large.

Amanda frowned. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I sometimes wonder about you, Saf,” she said. “I really think there’s something wrong with you. And I mean that in a kind and loving way!”

Saffy’s question, however, lingered in the air and she was determined to get to the bottom of things, as it were. “Ask Barney,” she instructed. “I’ve seen him hang around with some rather manly looking women before.”

Barney was incredulous. “Are you seriously asking me to go there? If I wasn’t gay before, I definitely would be by the return journey!” He shuddered and smacked his head several times to clear the images.

“Anyway, I’m too busy right now,” he said with determination. “It’s all about me at the moment. Marc’s receptionist is called Winkie Chau. I’m thinking that maybe that could be my new stage name.” He cleared his throat and rumbled in his best MC’s voice, “Ladies and Gentlemen! And now, direct from his sell-out Vegas tour, Ms Winkie Chau! And then,” he continued in his normal baritone, “I come out singing a medley of Gloria Gaynor and Diana. What do you think?”

I hesitated. The thought of a six-foot-two muscled giant in a tight sequined outfit and big hair lip-syncing ‘I am what I am’ took the imagination down unfamiliar paths in the mind. And I wasn’t quite sure I’d brought cold weather clothing for the trip.

“Ooh,” Barney said, eyes shining, “maybe I could be the opening act at the new casino! I’m telling you, my act will put this country on the map! They’ll be talking about it for years!”

And here I was thinking about a career-switch to porn.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Farting at the Ritz-Carlton

Much to the amusement of Amanda and me, Saffy has recently taken a real shine to a guy in her office.

“Jeremy?” Amanda laughed when she heard about it. “That weasel from your office?”

Saffy puffed up, her heroic bosom straining against her tight tube-top. “Excuse me, but you’re talking about my potential future husband. For your information, I happen to find him very attractive!”

It wasn’t a particularly convincing act. Saffy’s type tends towards the Nordic look – tall, blond, muscled, blue-eyed, chisel jawed and usually with lots of vowels and consonants in their name like Birkeland and Grundtal. Kind of like the models in an Ikea catalogue. Jeremy Chin, on the other hand, is mousy thin, bad-skinned and somewhat height challenged and definitely not Nordic.

“Not that I think you shouldn’t date short people,” Amanda said, her brow wrinkled, “but all your boyfriends have been six feet and above. Jeremy is about four feet tall! You might as well get him to clean your shoes while he’s down there!”

“True, but he’s got a nice manner about him,” Saffy said firmly. “Besides, he’s just about the only straight and single guy in the entire office! Do you have any idea what a rare thing that is in this town?”

A few days ago, I was reminded of Saffy’s predicament when I was in a lift in Takashimaya. As I patiently watched the numbered lights shift between floors, the two office girls next to me were in full conversation mode about the perils of millennial dating.

“So, your date how?” one asked the other.

“Aiyohh!” came the reply. “You know, ah, he had to fart on our first date in the Ritz-Carlton hotel.”

The other girl squealed. Instinctively, I held my breath.

“Some more, he so cheap skate, one. We pay half-half for dinner.”

“Hah? How like that?” You could feel the outrage factor ratchet up in the little lift

“I also say! I ever go on a date with someone like that, everything half-half, even the coffee! But after two times, I say bye bye! Udderwise, cham ah, I tell you.”

“Yah, lor,” her friend said in companionable sympathy as the lift arrived on the ground floor and they got off to tour the Shisheido counter.

When I told Amanda, she sighed. “See, this is what we single girls have to work with. I’m telling you, it’s a lousy stack of cards. If the guys are already farting on the first date at the Ritz-Carlton, can you imagine what they’ll be doing after ten years of marriage?”

I could tell by her furrowed brow that Amanda was trying to imagine it, but even from my perspective, it was not a pretty picture.

Meanwhile, in the cold, harsh, sober daylight, Saffy is wondering whatever possessed her to think that Jeremy Chin had suitable genes to contribute to her unborn child. “He’s a lovely guy,” she said at breakfast this morning, “but the reality is that I’m practically a midget and he’s not that much taller. Our kids would be microscopic!”

Then as she slowly munched on her cereal, a thought occurred to her. She turned to Amanda. “Why don’t you go out with him?” she suggested. Amanda actually hiccupped. She had not seen this one coming. “No, really!” Saffy said, warming up to her theme. “You’re what, seven feet tall? Your kids would have a great chance of turning out with average height.”

“Are you insane?” Amanda spluttered. “I’ve already got a boyfriend!”

“Cockroach?” Saffy said referring to Amanda’s insectile on again-off again beau. “Puh-leeze! He’s an unemployed bum,” she said kindly. “Jeremy, on the other hand, has great career prospects and when you’re a little drunk, he’s actually quite attractive! And I’m sure he won’t fart at the Ritz-Carlton!”

And no, I’m not making any of this up.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


There are, in a writer's life, few things that are more inspirational (or depressing) than coming across a perfect piece of prose. Where every word belongs, every sentence has a purpose and the entire piece, from beginning to end, mends seamlessly.

For a long time, I felt John Irving's "Hotel New Hampshire", David Sedaris' "Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!" and Terry Pratchett's "Small Gods" fit the bill.

But then came the day I read Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain". As a technical piece, this short story is humbling. That it also resonates on every emotional level...well, the rest of us who claim to be writers might as well be mere journeymen.

Here's one of my favourite passages:

"Later, that dozy embrace solidified in his memory as the single moment of artless, charmed happiness in their separate and difficult lives. Nothing marred it, even the knowledge that Ennis would not then embrace him face to face because he did not want to see nor feel that it was Jack he held. And maybe, he thought, they'd never got much further than that. Let be, let be. "

Saturday, August 19, 2006


My sister, Michelle, rang me this morning from London: a trans-Atlantic call filled with sobbing tears and wails. It seems that in a fit of misguided good intentions, our Mother had spring cleaned and sent Michelle a childhood photo album.

“It was filled with pictures of Prince!” my sister hiccupped between heaving sobs. And just like that, the ghosts of the past all came flooding back, joyful and painful all at once, almost tactile in their intensity.

This is my first memory: I am three years old and my sister is five and we’re playing in our garden with Prince. We’re laughing as he pushes us into the grass, jumping back and forth with a wide stupid grin on his face. My face buried in the newly shorn grass, I inhale the warm green. This is also the first memory I have of being completely happy.

In the distance, our Mother sits on the porch gossiping with her sister as they pluck a huge bowl of bean sprouts for lunch. Their low murmur floats across the lawn, washing over us as we lie on our backs, the thick leaves prickling our exposed arms and legs. High above, a dome of sky, the colour of crushed sapphires. Then, Prince looms over us and pushes his nose into Michelle’s face. It’s wet and unbearably ticklish and she shrieks in laughter.

When my father first brought Prince home, Michelle had just turned four and it was her birthday present. I have no memory of the event; the faded photographs that Michelle scanned and emailed to me show a small brown bundle of fur lit by two soft moist eyes. The pet shop claimed he was a pedigreed Alsatian but Father had his doubts. Prince did not have a shred of aggression in him, barking only at mealtimes when we emerged from the kitchen with his food-bowl.

“He’s a useless guard-dog,” my Grandmother announced the moment she laid eyes on him. “Wherever did you find him?” she asked my father. She, of course, fell in love with him and, for the rest of her life, she would fish dog biscuits from her handbag.

By the time he was one year old, Prince towered over us. Standing up, we came up to his ears. He followed us everywhere as we wandered around the house, poking our heads into the kitchen for a snack or just sitting on the porch, drowsy with the tropical heat, him lying on the cool slate panting with effort while Michelle and I lay our heads on either side of him. And when we started school, each afternoon, he would always be there waiting at the gate, ears and tail alert, eyes searching the school bus and then doing a little dance when we got off.

Another photograph: he’s just been washed, his fur freshly brushed. Michelle had borrowed Mother’s hairdryer and blow-dried him for an hour till he had the canine equivalent of an Afro.

“Oh God!” Mother exclaimed when she saw her daughter’s handiwork.

“Smile!” Father shouted as we threw our arms around Prince, who immediately bared his teeth in a wide grin. For a dog, he was incredibly vain, recognizing the camera and always smiling on cue.

Prince died of cancer at the age of nine. He outlived my Grandmother who, even as she died, kept asking if she still had a pack of dog biscuits in her handbag. Father buried Prince in the garden under the Angsana tree where Prince had spent so much time happily digging up the lawn till there was only a big sandy patch. “What is that stupid dog looking for?” Father shouted after Prince had dug up a big hole, a spot that, ironically, years later, would be his final resting place.

Michelle spent the better part of a year moping, breaking down in floods of tears whenever she saw a puppy or, God forbid, another Alsatian straining on its leash as it dragged its owner for a run. I don’t think she ever recovered, which may explain her hesitancy around my beloved adopted mongrel dog, Pooch, whenever she comes to visit me.

And now the photographs and a phone call.

“He was so cute!” Michelle said. “Remember how he followed us everywhere? How he’d just sit outside the toilet door and wait.” Here, she paused, her voice trailing. “It was like he had all the time in the world.”

When I finally hanged up the phone, I picked up Pooch’s leash and rattled it to attract his attention. He came running, tail wagging, ever happy for an excuse to go for a walk. I stooped down to give him a big hug, and as he squirmed, I whispered into his ear, “Poochie, Prince says Hello.”

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Book Mark!

Another shameless plug coming up...

The second book, "Table for Three: More Tales of Saffy and Amanda" will - so the publishers tell me - be available from Borders and Kino from tomorrow; and in all major bookstores by next weekend.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Things I Learnt from a Dog

Over the years, I have had my fair share of dogs. Each came with his or her own unique personality. Some were lazy good-for-nothings that were really just furry foot-stools in disguise. Some were so hyperactive they needed a sedative mixed in with their breakfast in order to see the day through. Some were needy and clingy, and some just wanted to eat all day.

But all of my dogs seemed to share common traits that I have come to think of as basic canine values. Values that, in this topsy turvy time of our’s, we humans could stand to learn a lesson or two from. And in so doing, perhaps we may end up in a slightly better world.

1. Everybody loves a good hug.
2. If you see a puddle, splash in it.
3. Love your family unconditionally.
4. To your enemies, be vicious unconditionally.
5. It’s always a good time to get a massage.
6. Be unwaveringly loyal.
7. Sniff first before you say hello. You might not like what you smell.
8. Clean up your plate and then look around for seconds. You never know when the next meal may be coming.
9. Be grateful.
10. Be patient with children. They don’t know any better.
11. If all else fails, a little growl and bared teeth will usually sort out an unpleasant situation.
12. Regard every tree as an opportunity to pee on.
13. Never pee on the furniture. For some reason, people tend to get a little upset.
14. There’s no problem in the world that can’t be overcome with a nap.
15. Assume everyone is your friend.
16. Until they give you reason to decide otherwise. (See No.7.)
17. If you stare long enough at a person, eventually they’ll weaken and give you a snack.
18. Assume that everyone thinks you’re cute.
19. And know that you are.
20. Be sad when saying goodbye.
21. Greet with enthusiasm.
22. Stay close to the ones you love.
23. Be alert in the presence of food.
24. There’s never a bad time to tell someone you love them.
25. Always be up for a long walk.
26. Especially if good friends are coming along.
27. Always say hello to everyone you meet. (But see No. 7.)
28. Wave when saying hello.
29. And good-bye.
30. Smiling at everyone is a cheap way to get what you want.
31. Sometimes, bad things happen even to good dogs.
32. But that doesn’t mean you have to obsess over it.
33. And sometimes, it’s good to clear the mind with a nice, deep-throated bark.
34. Not all cats are your enemies.
35. But approach with caution.
36. Or better yet, let them approach you.
37. You may see nothing wrong with licking yourself in public, but not everyone shares the same opinion.
38. It’s natural to fret when you don’t know where your loved ones are.
39. Always make time to stop for a quick chat.
40. The vet is not a good place to be.
41. But he will make you feel better.
42. Usually.
43. Take every opportunity to show someone how much you love them. A smile, a lick, a wave. It all works.
44. When you gotta go, you gotta go.
45. Sleep soundly. Tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Speak Good England, Please

I like to sleep on the bus, though my friend Matt loathes people who sleep anywhere in public. I’m still not quite sure why this so. After all, if you don’t sleep, there’s not much to do on the bus. Especially if it doesn’t have a TV screen. Speaking of which, has anyone else noticed that they only have Chinese and English shows on the bus TV? There are no Malay or Indian programmes. I guess this is because Malays and Indians in Singapore do not take the bus. They must walk everywhere.


The other thing I like to do on the bus apart from sleeping is to eavesdrop on people’s conversation. I was lucky enough to overhear this golden moment the other day on the 58 to Bishan:

Girl on handphone: OK, lah, we meet you after the church service. Otherwise very crowded, lor! I’m with my brother! Yah. Bye.

(She turned off her phone and turned to her brother)

Girl: That was Gerald. I’m not being mean, but you know hah, I don’t think his relationship with Siew Fern is going to last.

Boy: Really, ah? Why?

Girl: They come from different worlds! She’s English educated and he’s Chinese stream. How like that?

Boy: Cannot, meh?

Girl: Not say cannot, but…she like use vocabulary words, you know!

Boy: (Silence, which his sister took as an encouraging sign to continue.)

Girl: For example, he don’t understand what she mean when she use the word ‘croaky’!

(I could feel her radiating satisfaction.)

Boy: What?

Girl: Croaky! You know, like when you say, ‘Ay, why your voice so croaky, hah?’

Boy: What?

Girl: Your voice…how you say…Like ‘Why your voice so croaky, today?’

Boy: What?

Girl: Like your voice go…kack, kack, kack! (She actually hacked out a cough.)

Boy: Oh! Got word for that, meh?

Girl: Anyway, he doesn’t understand vocabulary words like that. How the relationship can survive?

(Just then, a promotional scene for Peter Pan, the stage show, came on the bus TV. It was in English. Not Malay or Tamil.)

Boy: What show is this?

Girl: Dunno, is it Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Boy: Maybe…oh, no, it’s Peter Pan!

Girl: Oh, yah.

(Silence settled in as they watched the commercial. Then…)

Girl: Ay, who wrote ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’?

Boy: Was it Shakespeare?

Girl: Yah, I think so. You study before, right?

Boy: I think it’s a bit like ‘Days of Our Lives’.

Meanwhile, I was in the seat in front of them frantically memorizing this conversation and cursing myself for not bringing my notebook and a pen. I missed the rest of it because just then, the Junction 8 stop pulled up. The instant I got off the bus, I rang my flatmate, Saffy.

“Write this down, word for word!” I instructed her and began dictating.

“ ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is like ‘Days of Our Lives’?” Saffy gasped. “What version are they teaching these kids in school! It sounds so much more interesting than that boring old crap they made us learn in drama class!”

“Shakespeare is not boring old crap!” our other flatmate Amanda retorted later that night when I replayed the conversation on the 58. “He is a genius!”

“Why are you using the present tense?” Saffy demanded, her twin-peaked chest inflating provocatively. She’d had a bad day at the office and wasn’t about to be bullied at home. “He is dead and he wrote boring old crap! All they do is talk, talk, talk! Sometimes they play a song and then they talk some more! If you could bottle the boredom energy from watching a Shakespearean play, you’d make a fortune selling it to insomniacs and manic-depressives!”

“How can you say that!” Amanda squealed. I felt the temperature in the apartment drop a few degrees. “Romeo and Juliet was full of action!”

Puhleez,” Saffy said, disdain dripping like acid. “That’s only because Baz Luhrmann changed it beyond recognition, added an ass-kicking soundtrack and Leonardo di Caprio was in it!”

“I’m talking about the Franco Zeffirelli production with Olivia Hussey!” Amanda huffed, Elizabethan outrage leaking from every pore. “That was a fine rendition of pure, emotional love, one of the best artistic interpretations of the Bard’s masterpiece!”

I blinked. This was new. Amanda only ever used the words love, pure and masterpiece in the context of the latest Dior and Givenchy collections.

Meanwhile, Saffy was not about to let a little change in linguistic direction derail her momentum.

“I honestly did not understand a thing you just said,” she said primly. “Please don’t use your vocabulary words on me!”

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Answering the Telephone 101

Hello! Welcome to my very popular class on ‘Advanced Techniques on How to Annoy People on the Phone”. This week’s lesson is Basic Telephone Etiquette. Let’s begin.

Lesson 1: Never answer the phone with your name or the name of your company. Because if you did, that would immediately clarify for the caller that he or she has called the correct number. A simple, bored ‘Hello’ delivered in a flat, emotionless tone is precisely the right note to take. Remember, a complete lack of interest in the caller is the message you are trying to convey.

Lesson 2: Never say more than you have to. For instance, if someone asks, “Yes, hello. Is that, uhm, Cannon Ball Events Management?”, the proper response is “Yah?” and nothing more. Some beginners will add, “Can I help you?” This is the wrong response as it creates the incorrect impression that you actually care about the caller’s needs.

Lesson 3: Monosyllabic answers are key to the success of any telephone conversation. In fact, the preferred response to any question is “Yes”. For example: -

Caller: Hi. Is this Monogram Pte Ltd?

You: Yes.

Caller: Do you have Model XYZ?

You: Yes.

Caller: How much is it?

You: Yes.

Caller: No, how much is it?

You: Yes.

Caller: I don’t think you’re very bright. Let me speak to someone else. What’s the name of your supervisor?

You: Yes.

Remember, your goal is to encourage the caller to hang up.

Lesson 4: If the person that the caller is calling for is unavailable, there are a number of possible responses. One is “Not in”. Another is “He outstation”. My preferred response is “You call back.” Studies indicate that most will not call back. This is your ultimate goal, because you do not want to be bothered with a return call. Especially, since this is not your company and you could care less if it folded up tomorrow.

Lesson 5: Some callers will be very rude and persistent. They will insist on leaving a message. Such situations call for some psychological finesse. You must create the impression that you are diligently taking the message, when all the while you’re surfing the Net with one hand and scratching your bum with the other. To do this, you say, “What’s the message? Uh huh, yes, uh huh, how do you spell that, uh huh, great, I’ll give Mrs Kwan that message when she comes in.” Hang up the phone and get on with Google-ing that hot guy you’re going on a date with tonight.

Lesson 6: Pretend you don’t speak whatever language that person is speaking in. The ideal response is a shrill “Hah?” So, for instance, most callers will speak in English. This is your cue to say, “Hah?” and then mutter something in Hindi. If, by pure bad luck, the caller is fluent in Hindi, switch immediately to Hakka. Studies show that the odds of someone actually being able to speak both Hindi and Hakka are one in two gazillion. If all else fails, shout, “Hah?” several times at the top of your voice. And then hang up.

Lesson 7: Install an automated phone system. This is an established favourite of all government departments and banks and is guaranteed to ensure that all frivolous calls are screened. Buy only the best system. How do you tell if it’s the best? The easiest way is to check the number of options that are available for each command. The rule of thumb is – the more the better with the most commonly used option at the end. Eg, “For Latin, press 1. For Swahili, press 2…And for English, press 55.” Important note: if the system you are looking at has the following option, “To speak to an operator, press 0”, put it back on the shelf. Speaking to an actual operator defeats the whole point of an automated phone system.

To summarise this lesson, this is what a good phone conversation should sound like:

You: Hallo.

Caller: Oh, hi. Is that Power to the People Pte Ltd?

You: Hah?

Caller: Uh, is that Power to the People?

You: Yes.

Caller: Can I speak to Buay Ta Han?

You: He not in.

Caller: Where is he?

You: Out station.

Caller: Can I leave a message?

You: You call back.

Caller: When?

You: Yes.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Wrinkle in Time

My flatmate Amanda hates people who lie about their age. I know this because the other day, she exclaimed, “Oh, I hate people who lie about their age!”

And then, as if that statement didn't quite convey the full extent of her displeasure, she added, “It shows such little self-growth!” She spent the rest of our lunch ranting about how shallow some people are.

Personally, I don’t know what the big deal is. Everyone I know lies about his or her age. I myself have been 28 for the longest time. And this year, thanks to the miraculous age-defying effects of SK-II, I’m turning 27.

My own mother has been 55 for years now.

“I don’t see why I need to tell people how old I am,” she once sniffed as she inspected an application form for a credit card and firmly ticked the 50-55 age box. “It’s all so intrusive. Shouldn’t my credit history be more important than my birth date?”

“You’d rather tell complete strangers how much money you have than to tell them your age?” I remember asking at the time.

“Oh darling, don’t be naïve!” my Mother said calmly. “I have no intention of answering any of these questions truthfully. I lied on my marriage certificate, you think I’m going to start telling the truth on a credit card application? Really, you young people!” she laughed and, for weeks after, entertained her mah-jong friends with the story.

And then the day I turned 26 - just a couple of years ago – I found myself filling up a contest application form. One of the boxes required me to tick a box for my age. Without even thinking about it, I ticked the 23-25 box.

“How is it that you’re only 24?” Saffy asked me the other day as she read a bio I’d written of myself for a magazine. “If you’re going to lie about your age, can you please be a little more realistic?”

This from a girl who tells every man that she’s ever dated that she’s still a virgin.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I’ve never understood people who like to tan. Especially those who devote entire days slowly roasting away on the blindingly hot sand. To me, it’s quite possibly the worst case of wasting-your-time since the invention of the bikini thong. It’s like, why bother? You might as well stick your head into a microwave. It’s faster and less time consuming.

My mother, who has spent her entire life indoors or hiding under a silver reflective umbrella, brought up her children to run screaming for the shade like well-dressed vampires at the first hint of solar activity. As a result of which she has flawless skin.

“You have such lovely skin!” complete strangers will tell her, marveling at her porcelain complexion.

“That’s because I stay out of the sun, dear!” Mother will tell them, while discreetly looking at the wrinkles on their faces. “As you should too! And you shouldn’t frown so much.”

“Your mother is just plain weird,” my flatmate Amanda recently told me as she got ready to go downstairs to our pool for a session of sun therapy. From the depths of our sofa, I mumbled, a little distractedly, into my latest issue of Men’s Health, “If you say so…I’m sure these stomach muscles aren’t real! What freak has eight-packs?”

“And anyway,” Amanda continued as she surveyed her latest Tomas Meier bikini in our lounge room mirror, “a nice tan goes with every outfit.”

“So does melanoma,” I muttered as I mentally did five sets of sit-ups. “I’m sure these pecs are computer generated!”

Just then, my friend Barney Chen walked in through our front door, dressed only in the skimpiest of Speedos and baby oil. Briefly, I wondered what mode of transportation he’d taken our apartment and why he’d not been arrested for indecent exposure. He took one look at Amanda and growled, “Girl, you look fabulous! You know, you really should lock your front door. A rapist could just walk in and ruin your day. And why are you reading that magazine?” he asked me, pausing for breath. “Everyone in there has been airbrushed!”

For the past three weekends, Barney and Amanda have - since discovering their mutual adoration for the sun - been tanning buddies, gently pushing each other to reach richer shades of mocha. “She’s amazing!” Barney rumbled to me after the first session. “She really knows how to work that sun-bed!”

But, I protested, what was the point of a tan, which was really slick marketing spin for severe skin damage? “You get all wrinkly and leathery and how unattractive is that?” Apparently, I am the only one who has this opinion.

“I wish I could tan,” Saffy said, coming out of her bedroom. She stared at Barney and Amanda with the kind of deep envy she normally reserves for honeymooners and Heidi Klum. “Five hours in the sun and all I’ll get for the effort is coral pink. It’s just not fair!”

“Come down with us anyway,” Barney said kindly. “You never know, you might meet your future husband there, which P.S. is why I’m currently wearing the flimsiest of Speedos in my wardrobe. You like?”

Put on the spot, Saffy hesitated. “It’s, uh, it’s, uhm, it’s very figure hugging!” she said eventually. Later, she wondered to us how anyone with Barney’s assets was able to walk in a straight line, to which Amanda replied that it was Barney’s boyfriends that she worried about.

After Barney and Amanda had gone downstairs, Saffy settled into the sofa next to me and channel surfed while eating Ben & Jerry’s straight from the tub. “It’s not fair that I can’t tan. And it bugs me that you,” she turned to me accusingly, “have perfectly good tanning abilities but here you are indoors.”

“I don’t want wrinkles,” I said comfortably. “It’s the one neurotic hang-up I’m grateful my mother passed onto me. When I die, I want people to walk past my coffin and say, ‘Gosh, he looks terrific for 98!’”

Saffy looked at me sideways and frowned. “You are so weird, you know that? You and your entire family!” she pronounced.

Meanwhile, down by the pool, Barney had struck up a conversation with the man tanning next to him and Amanda. “I don’t know how he does it,” she said later. “We hadn’t lain on the deck chairs more than two seconds before this guy, oh hello gorgeous!, comes up and lies down next to us. How does he do that?” she wondered again.

According to Amanda’s report, the man was American, a single ex-pat banker living on the fourteenth floor. “And he’s gay!” she exclaimed when Saffy showed immediate interest. Saffy’s formidable bosom deflated. “Well, of course he is!” she sighed heavily.

“We’re going on a date next weekend,” Barney gloated over the phone that evening. “His name is BJ. And all day, I’ve been wondering if it means what I hope it does!”

Walk This Way

I read this definition the other day in Alan Richman's great book "Fork it Over"

Schluff: A deliberate form of locomotion commonly seen in Mississippi work farms where prisoners' [feet] are restrained by ball and chain.

hich makes me wonder why Singaporeans are so fond of schluffing, especially when wearing slippers and loose fitting shoes. It's practically our national walk.

Saffy's Congee

There are, in this world, two kinds of women: those who can cook and those who can’t. Even then, the line between the two categories tends to blur a little. My flatmate Saffy, for instance, will tell you that she can cook, but upon further questioning, it will become perfectly clear that she can’t. Not unless one considers making congee – and nothing else – knowing how to cook.

“That is cooking! I wish you’d stop defaming me to people!” Saffy cried the other day over the roaring sound of water as she labouriously washed the rice. Our friend Rachel was dropping off her five year old daughter for Saffy to baby-sit while she picked up her in-laws from the airport. True to form, Saffy quickly worked herself up into a state as she suddenly realized that she didn’t know whether she was up to entertaining a child for a period of time slightly longer than The Lord of the Rings.

“Well, you’re the one who’s been begging Rachel for a chance to babysit Sharn,” my other flatmate Amanda said unsympathetically. “Here’s your chance to get clucky!”

“My biological clock is ticking!” Saffy insisted, her bosom trembling with doubt. “I need contact with children!”

Later, she complained to me that Amanda was so unbearably bossy. “Who is she to say that I’m clucky? She’s the one who’s got an Anne Geddes baby on her screensaver! Oh, God, what have I gotten myself into?” Saffy asked suddenly. “What do five year old girls eat, d’you know?”

I told her that I was not getting involved. This was one hare-brained project that she was going to have to do by herself. But by this time, Saffy had turned her considerably short attention span to scanning the recipes in Martha Stewart’s Kids magazine, mumbling, “Cookies, no, too much work! How about tortillas? This looks simple enough, oh maybe not, I have to slice lettuce?”

In the end, Saffy decided to make chicken congee, reasoning that no one could possibly stuff up something so simple.

“She’s cooking?” my friend Karl asked me doubtfully over the phone. “Saffy can cook?” He was thinking of the time Saffy brought spaghetti alio oglio to his pot luck and all of us wound up in the emergency room on account of the severe gastric pains induced by the raw red chillis Saffy had so proudly and lovingly tossed through the pasta.

“Of course, she can’t cook!” I snorted. “I’ve got the ambulance on standby to whisk Sharn to the hospital!” Of course, Saffy somehow overheard this comment over the rush of water as she cleaned the rice.

“I can cook!” she shouted over the roar, her face flushed with the effort of rinsing and draining rice. “My congee is famous! Ask anyone!” she added vaguely.

Half an hour later, Saffy emerged from the kitchen holding up a measuring mug. “I’ve got four cups of rice here. How many cups of water should I use?”

I looked up from my magazine and blanched. “Four cups? Who’s coming to lunch? I’m not eating!”

“Me, neither!” Amanda’s voice sailed out from her room.

Saffy’s brow crinkled with worry. “Is that too much?”

Out of curiosity, I wandered into the kitchen to watch Saffy prepare her ‘famous’ chicken congee. She tore chunks of meat off a roast chicken she’d bought from Cold Storage and threw it into the pot with the washed rice and tossed in a handful of salt while muttering, “Is that too much salt?” She then carefully poured in three cups of water, plugged in the rice cooker and stepped back expectantly.

“How long is this supposed to take?” she asked me worriedly. Within fifteen minutes, a smell of burning filled our kitchen. “Is that supposed to happen?” Saffy screamed, as she hurriedly turned off the cooker.

Attracted by the commotion and smell, Amanda came running out from her room, passing on the way, my dog Pooch who, sensibly, was dashing the other way for the safety of my bedroom.

“What are you doing?” Amanda shrieked when she arrived in the kitchen.

“I’m making congee!” Saffy shouted back.

“Then why does it smell like burnt bak kua in here?” Amanda yelled.

By the time everyone had calmed down a little, Amanda had pieced together Saffy’s recipe. “Three cups of water?” she asked, her eyes wide. “I thought you’d done this before! Four cups of rice needs about eight or nine cups of water to make congee!”

“Are you mad?” Saffy cried. “I’m making congee, not soup!”

We managed to salvage some of the congee for Sharn’s lunch, though later that night, the child told her mother that she didn’t ever want to eat at Auntie Saffy’s again.

“That ungrateful brat!” Saffy yelled when she found out. “I’m never having children!”

A Shameless Plug for My Next Book!

How about that - book two is out end of August. Please mark your diaries!

I'm attaching the press release from the publishers. There's actually a picture that comes with it, but I've not figured out how to do attach pictures just yet. They tell me though that the Marshall Cavendish website has a pix.

Table For Three: More Tales of Saffy and Amanda
by Jason Hahn

Praise for the first book, Asking For Trouble: Tales of Saffy and Amanda

“Hahn has an amazing eye for funny details…The next logical step would be a TV sitcom based on the book.” – The Star (Malaysia)

“Hysterical.” – Lime magazine

“Artful close-up observations about the feminine condition.” – SilverKris magazine

“A fast, funny read.” – Female magazine

About the Book

What makes a happy home?

According to Jason, it’s definitely one that doesn’t include his terrible flatmates, Saffy and Amanda. Between Saffy’s insistence on “airing” herself at the window of their tiny apartment and Amanda’s unique perspective on sun-tanning, life is just a little too stressful. Especially when even his beloved adopted mongrel dog, Pooch, is up for a little discipline.

Each day brings its own unique drama. From questionable tattoo parlours, lecherous old men and the unexplained appearance of a red g-string behind the couch to an unfortunate close encounter with a French woman’s underarms plus the ongoing hazards of MBA (Married But Available) men – the drama just keeps building. And building.

Will it ever stop? Could this life get any worse?

Like you wouldn’t believe….

About the Author
Jason Hahn quit his day job as miserable pond scum (ie, a lawyer) when he realised that life really was too short to be spent helping other people become rich at the expense of his sleep and sanity. As a writer, he misses the money but is hopeful that a bountiful inheritance will save the day. He also hopes to one day be Oprah’s best friend.

Chapter Headings
1. “Who cares why women do what they do?”
2. “All he does is yell and torture us!”
3. “But surely that’s not where the G-spot is!”
4. “But did you have to scream like that?”
5. “You should be on Oprah!”
6. “Isn’t your mother, like, uhm, dead?”
7. “It’s a war out there! It’s every woman for herself!”
8. “You’re amazing in bed!”
9. “Oh what’s the big deal! I’ll be wearing gloves!”
10. “You know what really offends me the most?”
11. “Oh dear, she’s in the Turkey Position!”
12. “How do these things happen to you?”
13. “We guys aren’t complicated that way.”
14. “Oprah is a goddess!”
15. “From now on, it’s all about the Paris Rule!”
16. “My God! Why are you so freakishly strong?”
17. “It’s like Cambodia!”
18. “He’s the only guy I’ve ever had deafening sex with!”
19. “If you’re a thirty-year-old single gal, you might as well be dead!”
20. “Is that any way to talk to your future wife?”

Target Audience
• General and humour readers
• Fans of his first book, Asking For Trouble, and his popular First Person column in
8Days magazine.

Key Selling Points
• Humourous/ tongue-in-cheek
• This book is a sequel to his first book, the best-selling Asking for Trouble
• Prominent columnist/ author who is well known in Singapore and Malaysia

Related Title by Same Author
• Asking for Trouble: Tales of Saffy & Amanda by Jason Hahn

Pub date : End-Aug 2006

Retail price
S$16.00 (excl. GST)

For further information, please contact:
Singapore Office
Tel: (65) 6213 9197
Tel: (65) 6213 9314

Malaysia Office
Tel: (603) 5628 6828


Right, I'm astonished that I have even come so far on this. Technology is not my strong point, but a friend of mine said that even a congenital idiot can set up a blog. Which turned out to be a challenge that even I could not resist.

So, it's done, I've surprised everyone with my hi-tech know-how, and I'm live on air.

So welcome, and watch out for the next post.