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!