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 cafĂ© 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.