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.