Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Separation Anxiety

A few days ago, my friend Jane rang to tell me she and Peter were divorcing.

“It’s just not working out,” she sighed. “We can’t even stand being in the same room together anymore.”

First of all, what do you say to someone who’s divorcing a man she first dated way back in high school?
“They’re getting divorced?” Amanda gasped, her pretty eyes wide.
“Is that even legal in Singapore?” Saffy wondered aloud.

Who saw this coming? No one. If Barack and Michelle Obama had been born Chinese, they would have looked like Jane and Peter. If they weren’t actually such nice people, you’d have hated them and looked for the nearest staircase to push them down. She was tall and pretty with long lustrous ebony hair, and was captain of the netball team. He was tall, buff with a perpetual tan as well as being captain of the hockey team.

Everyone loved them. When Peter’s mother died in our third year of high school, all the cleaning ladies showed up at the funeral crying hysterically. And you could just tell that, one day, they were going to live in a house with a garden, a dog, and a SUV filled with gorgeous children who played the violin and had IQs in the high 100s.

After high school, they went away to university, Jane to Cambridge to study medicine, and Peter to Oxford to read philosophy. And when they got married on a beach in the Maldives…well, my point is, divorce was never on the cards for these two.

“What do you mean they grew apart?” Amanda demanded. “How is that possible? He’s gorgeous!”

“Jane says she feels suffocated by Peter,” I reported.

“That woman is crazy! I’d give anything to be suffocated by Peter!” Saffy sighed, her magnificent bosom swelling at the fantasy.

For days after, it was all the girls could talk about. Much of the discussion centred around the idea that – in spite of the Tiffany commercials to which they were both hopelessly addicted – love might not, in fact, be forever. After all, if anyone was going to make it forever, it was meant to be this Golden Couple. And if this was the case, that love was just a momentary lapse in judgment, it then threw into question the whole point of dating and looking for Mr Right. Especially if after all that work, everyone was going to end up in some stuffy, expensive lawyer’s office dividing up the assets, planning visitation schedules for the children and then, if you were like Madonna, starting the whole dating process all over again.

As Saffy observed with her usual penetrating insight, “How depressing would that be?”

A few days later, the girls had afternoon tea with Jane. To their surprise, she looked radiant. “It’s such a relief to finally admit that we’re not right for each other,” Jane confided. “He was just irritating the hell out of me!”

Amanda looked flustered. “But, but…But you were so much in love!”

Jane rolled her eyes. “You’ve obviously never been married. Love doesn’t last. It’s replaced by routine. Because what nobody tells you is just how much hard work a relationship is! And when you have kids, you’re lucky if you even have two minutes of quality time together. I think I’ll take some time off, go to Bali and meditate. I need some me-time, I think,” she said wistfully.

Saffy looked pained. This was obviously not what she wanted to hear because it made her wonder just why she spent each Friday night primping for a date and the following week waiting for the guy to call her. As she later posted on Facebook: “If it’s all going to end in divorce, I should just take up a cookery course. It would be so much more USEFUL!”

Meanwhile, I had a drink with Peter. He too looked rested and relaxed. “I can’t believe we stayed married for so long!” he grinned as he gulped down his beer. I said that divorce obviously suited him. “You bet. I’ve been on three dates this week!” he grinned, while I choked into my gin and tonic. “It’s good to be back on the market!”

“He’s already dating?” Amanda squealed. “But he’s just gotten divorced!”

This morning, Saffy headed out to get a new outfit. “Uhm, I need new clothes,” she explained vaguely, while Amanda picked up the phone to book a facial. I’m thinking I should warn Peter. He won’t stand a chance. But then, it’s his fault for getting divorced in the first place.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

High Resolution

So it’s nearly the end of the year as I write this. I’m still in London, I’m still cold, it’s not even 4.30pm and it’s already pitch dark outside. So I’m staying indoors and thinking about the new year.

Soon, it'll be 2010. A brand new year. And a brand new decade. Which is as good a time as any to assess my life so far. I do this every year. I look back. Take stock of what I did right. What I did wrong. Get depressed. Get drunk. Wake up the next day with a hangover and swear I’ll never do anything that stupid again.

I remember there was a time when I’d get on a bus, look around me, and smugly realize that I was the youngest person on board. The Future stretched ahead of me. And it was filled with Plans. Big Plans.

One year, I came home from school and told my mother that I wanted to be an astro-physicist. She looked up from the mahjong table, her hands not missing a beat as she clicked and clacked the tiles into neat stacks. “I bet you can’t even spell the word!” she said.

My sister Michelle says it’s a miracle that none of us turned into homicidal maniacs with a penchant for home-made explosive devices.

Looking back, I see my mother’s point though. Between the ages of seven and 17, I changed career plans the way Madonna changes her hair colour. Who could keep up?

When I was 8, I wanted to be a doctor and discover the cure for cancer. Two years later, I wanted to be a paranormal investigator. And when I was 13, I watched an illegal DVD of ‘Speed’ and told my father that I was going to be a bomb-disposal expert. My mother overhead the comment and said, “But you’re colour-blind! Guess what’s going to happen when you snip the wrong coloured wire? Kaboom!” Her fingers, dazzling with diamonds, danced in the air.

The day I graduated from Law School, my mother was practically catatonic with sheer happiness. “Finally!” she said to me in the car on the way home from the graduation ceremony. And that’s all she said. But I knew she was proud as hell because the children of her mahjong kaki told me they were sick of their mothers coming home and berating them for being such useless layabouts when May-Ling Hahn’s son had become a lawyer.

The day I announced I was leaving private practice to become a freelance writer, my mother didn’t attend her afternoon mahjong session. All her friends were convinced she had died and called the police.

These days, when I get on the bus, I realize I am no longer the youngest person on the bus. Sometimes, kids call me “uncle” and I suddenly realize that the big Future that once stretched ahead of me is now in my Past.

But the bigger question is this: What have I done with my life? If I got run over by a bus today, would my last thought be: “I’ve had a great time, I have no regrets! Oooh, what’s that bright shining light?” Or would it be: “Are you kidding me? I skipped dessert and now I’m dying? Oooh, what’s that bright shining light?”

I think I’ve done well, especially this past year. I’ve written for a whole bunch of magazines. My editors seem to like me. Well, they’re returning my calls – and, in Singapore, lemme tell ya, that’s a big deal. Sure, I’ve not made a whole tonne of money, especially compared to my legal days, but I make enough to pay the rent, go on holiday and still have some left over to stash away for a rainy day.

My flatmate Saffy thinks I’m over-analysing things. “Listen,” she said the other day, her fabulous bosom straining over a super tight tee-shirt that declared ‘My eyes aren’t here!’

“This whole taking stock in the new year’s is too depressing. Life’s too short. You gotta live it, grab it by the balls and hang on! That’s what I do!” she said with immense satisfaction.

“Yes, and you wonder why your dates never call the next day!” Amanda sighed.

Saffy giggled and waved her napkin at Amanda. “No, I’m serious! You can’t control your destiny. Every day is Life’s way of surprising you. What you do with that surprise is up to you.”

Amanda later said that just when you thought you were totally done under-estimating Saffy, she turned around and surprised you with depth.

Me, I’ve decided to call my mother more often. And to stop taking the bus.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Clean Break

The other day, my friend Patricia came over to lunch. I stirred a spoonful of sambal belachan that my Auntie Wai-ling had given me into a pot of oil, threw in a handful of spaghetti and ten minutes later, set a plate of sambal pasta before her.

“Mmm, this smells divine,” Patricia sighed with pleasure. You can always spot a Peranakan girl a mile away. Then she extracted a tissue from her pocket, picked up her fork and wiped it.

I blinked. “What are you doing?”

She looked up and caught me staring at her polishing my clean fork. “Oh!” she said giggling. “Sorry, lah. I forgot where I was!”

Later, I recounted the story to Amanda who said that obviously Patricia had not had a home cooked meal since forever, if she had such an ingrained reflex action. “Poor thing! What on earth are her parents doing all day?” Saffy said she’d have scratched out Patricia’s eyes.

“I’m sure she didn’t mean to be insulting,” Amanda said reasonably.

Saffy’s bosom inflated. “I don’t care. I’ve never liked her. And I don’t trust her. She’s too thin and pretty.”

If nothing else, the episode reminded me that we live in a germ infested world and that for many people, you just can never be too careful or too clean.

Whenever she returns from an overseas trip, Amanda will carefully wipe down her luggage with a dish cloth rinsed with Dettol. As she once pointed out, “My suitcase might be Prada, but it’s spent a lot of time with other crappy pieces of luggage in the airplane hold, and who knows where they’ve been? Cheap hostels and filthy Third World pavements, I’m sure.” She shuddered delicately.

I bring my own towel whenever I travel. People laugh at me, but I really don’t care. All I can say is that the next time you’re at the hotel’s check-in desk, take a good look at the other guests and then imagine wiping your face with a towel that they’ve been using.

And, as Saffy once pointed out – speaking as someone who’d been on more than a few dirty weekends with horny boyfriends in her life – who knows what else they’ve used the towel to wipe down?

And when I get into my hotel room, the first thing I do is wipe down the telephone, remote control, light switches and toilet seat (in that order) with my trusty Lysol disinfectant spray.

Meanwhile, it used to confuse all of us why Saffy took such a long time in the toilet. “What have you been doing in there!” Amanda once cried when Saffy finally emerged from the toilets at the Shaw Centre cinema. “We’ve missed the opening credits!”

“I had to find a clean toilet! Some of the stalls had remnants in them, and some of them were wet! Really, I want to see how these people live at home! Do not tell me that they leave puddles at home too. One of the toilet seats actually had foot-prints on it! Do you mean that someone was actually standing on the seat?”

“I told you to go when we were at the Grand Hyatt!”

“But I didn’t want to go then! And this is another reason why I can’t go on a holiday to China!”

But according to Saffy, what takes longest is the lining of the toilet seat. After selecting the most suitable cubicle, she will carefully lay strips of toilet paper onto the seat. “Ideally, you need a cushion about three layers deep,” she explained. “You’d need more if the toilet paper is one of those cheap, useless tracing paper squares. And when I’ve done all that, I can sit down and relax.”

“But Saffy, you’re just peeing!” Amanda said, her voice rising several octaves. (I’ve always said you can tell the woman has a Type A personality. You can’t look that good and naturally air-brushed without being in tight control of your life.)

“Peeing cannot be rushed,” Saffy replied serenely, like a yogi dispensing life-changing wisdom.

A few days ago, Patricia rang to apologise for wiping down her cutlery at our lunch. “I’m so embarrassed when I think about it! I didn’t mean to imply that your kitchen was dirty. It’s a force of habit from always eating in a hawker stall.”

Amanda said at least Patricia hadn’t put a packet of tissue paper on our dining room chairs. “But otherwise, such good manners!” she said with approval.

“I still don’t like her,” Saffy said stubbornly. “I bet she’s the kind of girl who rushes her peeing.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cold Comfort

You probably can’t tell, but I’m writing this while sitting in a very cold flat in London. Incredibly, my sister, who lived here for years, says that there’s never been any heating. She says every spring, summer, autumn and winter she complained to my parents, but they always refused to send over a cheque to install a new heater.

“You complain every month?” I once asked her. “Even in summer?”

Michelle sniffed and said that it’s always cold in London and that summer happens just one day a year. Too bad if you’re out of town when it happens. “Last year, summer happened on a Wednesday. This year, it was yesterday.”

So, this morning, with the thermometer reading 5 degrees, I wrapped myself up in every piece of clothing I could find in the flat and added a blanket, trudged downstairs and knocked on my neighbour’s flat. This cranky old biddy answered the door.

“Who is it?” she demanded.

“Sorry, Mrs Lord, it’s me, but is your heating on?”

“Go away! I have no spare change!”

“It’s Jason, Mrs Lord! I live upstairs!” I shouted, suddenly remembering that not only does Mrs Lord have advanced dementia, she’s also stone deaf. “I’ve been coming here every summer since I was three. I once peed on your couch. Remember?”

The old cow scowled at me. “Please go away! I’m not interested in your Scientology rubbish!” Then, she slammed the door in my face. The breeze from the force made me even colder.

I don’t know what it is with the English and the cold, but they just don’t seem to notice it. You just have to wander the streets and you’ll see people walking around in thin shirts and flimsy jackets. They don’t seem remotely cold, I think enviously, as I wish I’d worn a fifth layer of thermal underwear.

(The English also don’t believe in umbrellas. It could be pouring and people just walk around hunched over. The weirdest thing is that they never seem to get wet. Meanwhile, the only people scurrying around with an umbrella are the Asians. The slightest hint of precipitation and the Asian will pop open an umbrella. If you go to Chinatown when it’s raining, you’re at risk of getting your eyes poked out by an umbrella. It’s just like being in Singapore which is why I feel very much at home in Chinatown. Even if the dim sum is generally rubbish.)

So, anyway, I’m cold. It’s the dead of winter in London, the heater doesn’t work and I’m cold. I tried whacking the heater with a spanner like they do in the movies, but no joy. And of course, since the heater is connected to the boiler, there’s also no hot water.

Have you ever taken a shower when the ambient temperature indoors is 5 degrees and every time you open your mouth to say “Aiyoh”, the air is frosty? If you haven’t, you should really try it one day. It’s character building as my mother would say.
“I’m convinced we’re adopted,” my sister said to me the other day when she rang to see how I was surviving. “She would never put up with this, but somehow, we’re expected to! We should report her to the police.”

In spite of myself, I giggled at the image of our mother wearing blue prison overalls and slumming it in the slammer. In my defence, the cold does strange things to people.

“I’ve had to shower in the gym down the road,” I reported, my teeth chattering only slightly. “Thank God someone has kept up the membership fees on that place! How did you survive here all these years?”

“Don’t get me started,” Michelle said grimly. “Why do you think the linen cupboard is stacked high with hot water bottles?”

All I can say is that I will never again complain about the heat. Saffy Skyped me morning to say that it was nice and warm in Singapore. “Lemme tell ya,” she said, her ample bosom inflating with an unexpected 3-D quality, “if I’d been one of those early pioneer explorers, England would never have been found! Why would anyone voluntarily go and live there, I wonder? And there’s no fried beehoon there, right?”

I paused and thought. “No, not that I know of.”

Saffy sighed. “There you go then. I couldn’t live there. My constipation would just turn to a block of solid ice inside me, and I’d topple over and die!”

Amanda SMS’d me: “How does Saffy turn every conversation around to her problems?”

I’m so cold, I really don’t care anymore.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Waxing Lyrical

Call me So Last Century, but I’d never been terribly bothered with waxing. Why bother, I asked: it’s an exercise in abject futility since the hair will grow back faster than you can say “Simon Cowell”.

So here’s the thing. If you read trashy gossip mags with the same religious devotion that I do, you’ll have seen those photos of Simon’s suddenly all-white, fuzz-free hands. One minute, he had Hairy Gorilla paw, and the next, it was all gone. It’s all over the newspapers in London and it’s all anyone can talk about. Iraq War? Debt crisis in Dubai? Child poverty? Global warming? What?

I know people who get waxed with the regularity you would normally associate with the Pope and Mass. Any sign of hair, and they’ll wax it off. No area on the body is off limits. Nostril hair, ear hair, between the eyebrows, on the back of fingers, arms, back (and all the other body parts that rhyme with ‘back’ – you go figure it out), legs, toes. And of course, the va-jay-jay.

My flatmates Saffy and Amanda have spent a small fortune on waxing their bodies; though, in Saffy’s case, she has almost no body hair to speak of (none that are visible to polite company, anyway), so I figure she shows up at her waxing salon every two weeks just for a chat.

“When was the last time you got waxed?” Amanda asked me the other day at lunch.

“Since never,” I said smugly. “And think of all the money I’ve saved!”

Amanda’s pretty nose wrinkled as if something had crawled under our dining table and died. “It’s a wonder you’ve not been deported.”

Just then, her handphone rang. She clicked it on and even before she could bring it to her ear, I could hear Saffy’s scream: “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!”
“Saf, calm down!” Amanda instructed sternly. “What’s happened? Uh huh. Uh huh. Yes? Uh huh. Ooh, that’s nice. Uh huh…Oh. No! What?...Ohmygodohmygod! How did that happen? Stay there, I’m on my way!”

I could tell that something wonderfully dramatic had just happened, but Amanda was practically incoherent as she grabbed her handbag and rushed out the door, all the while shouting, “Ohmygod!”

“Why is there always so much drama in your flat?” Karl asked me later over drinks.
“Isn’t it stressful?”

“Only if it involves me. But it’s all great material for my column. I swear you couldn’t make this kind of thing up,” I said as I proceeded to tell him what happened.

It turned out that Saffy had arrived at her waxing salon for her bi-weekly Brazilian. Only this time, she’d decided that she wanted to try something new. Just her luck that her regular wax therapist was on holiday and she was assigned a new girl.

“From China!” Saffy said darkly much later. “She might as well have been from the North Pole for all her comprehension of English!” Apparently, she’d told Xiao Wei that she wanted to prune her South of the Border into the shape of an upside-down triangle. She even drew a diagram and shaded in the triangle. “This is what I want!” she told Xiao Wei, while stabbing the paper with her pencil.

Xiao Wei peered at the diagram and nodded. “OK. I can do.”

So Saffy lay back and day-dreamed of, as she tends to do these days, Robert Pattinson while Xiao Wei got on with the job. And when she announced that she was done, Saffy sat up with great satisfaction and peered down. There was a pause. Then she started screaming. And she didn’t stop screaming till Amanda arrived.

“Look what she did!” she shouted and promptly dropped the towel she was wearing. Amanda gasped. Poor Xiao Wei was, by this time, a blubbering mess. “But you say you want a triangle!” she cried.

“Yes, but I want hair in the triangle!” Saffy screamed back. “You’ve done the opposite! That’s why I shaded in the triangle! To show where I wanted hair! Why would I want to have a hairless triangle? Who does that? Can we sue? I want to sue!” she shouted at Amanda who was still staring at Saffy’s oddly landscaped va-jay-jay with horror.

“Imagine if Saffy had done IPL instead!” Amanda later told me. “At least it will all grow back eventually.”

But Saffy still wants to sue even though the salon has offered her free waxing for life. “What if I’d been prepping for a hot date?” she asked. I wanted to add, especially if that hot date had been Simon Cowell, but the look in Saffy’s hunted eyes stopped me.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Comfort Zone

Relationships are funny things. When you’re single, you spend every waking minute wishing you were in one and stressing that you’re going to end up alone and living in a cardboard box under a bridge. And when you’re finally in one, you catch yourself – usually as you’re putting up the laundry, or screaming at the kids – wistfully thinking about the good old days when you were single and fancy free.

My mother always says that if she had her life all over again, she’d never have gotten married. And at some stage in our lives, she’s said this to each of my brother, sister and me: “You know, as I was lying there on the operating table trying to push you out of me, thinking that I’d rather be dead, I swore to myself that I’d never do it again. Ever! And look how much you’ve ended up costing us!”

I think she probably said it out of some misguided sense that she was helping us in some way, by imparting a valuable life lesson in staying single, footloose, and debt free. My sister has since spent her whole life complaining to her therapist: “My mother always considered me a cost centre! Seriously, it’s a wonder I’m not a bigger nut case!”

Meanwhile, as soon as he was able to walk, my brother tried to put as much distance as he could between himself and our parents. When he was 8, he sneaked out of the house and was found a mile away hiding under the table of our local pub. And when he turned 20, and got his hands on the first installment of our grandfather’s trust fund, he packed up a tiny rucksack and went trekking in Nepal.

“He’s so ungrateful,” my mother will complain to all her mahjong kaki. “Not even a postcard on my birthday.” On cue, her tai-tai friends will cluck, though I know for a fact that Mrs Yang recently disinherited her daughter on the dubious grounds that she’d married an Australian man, while Mrs Tang’s husband is having an affair with his twice divorced Indian secretary, so they should be the last people to be casting stones, if you ask me.

“This must be why I’m still single,” my sister moaned to me on Facebook the other day.

Which reminded me of the conversation my flatmate Amanda had with her girlfriend Sheryl.

Sheryl had been single for the longest time, but one drunken evening, at her firm’s end of financial year party, she woke up to find herself in bed with her boss. There’d been a lot of flirting going on over the course of the year and between the canapés and the champagne, inhibitions were shed and assorted sins were committed.

The morning after, Sheryl and her boss assessed the situation and decided that they rather enjoyed each other’s company and what they did after office hours was really nobody’s business but their own. Within six months, Sheryl had moved into his apartment. And on the eight month, he proposed. But here’s the kicker: she told Amanda over afternoon tea that though she’d told him that she loved him at least a million times, he’d never actually said it back to her.

Amanda blinked. “What, like never never?”

“Never,” Sheryl said firmly. “Sometimes he’ll say, ‘Aw, that’s sweet’. And the other day, he said, ‘Thank you’.”

Amanda gasped. “Oh my God! Do men still say that?”


But the best part was a recent declaration of ‘I love you’ by Sheryl, to which her boss slash fiancée replied, “Thank you. I feel very comfortable with you!”

Of course, the minute Amanda left Sheryl, she immediately speed-dialed Saffy.

“What is wrong with men?” Saffy wanted to know. “Why can’t they just say ‘I love you’ back? These are not difficult words to say! It’s a total of three lousy syllables.”

The subject haunted the girls for days and formed the subject of endless threads on Facebook. The unanimous female verdict was that men were basically scum. The hostile level was high until Peter calmly tapped out a comment: “Yes, but is this guy cheating on your friend, S? Does he physically, emotionally or verbally abuse her? Because if he doesn’t, then why are all you girls so hung up on whether or not he will say ‘I love you’?”

“Who is this Peter guy?” Saffy asked.

“He’s a friend of Marlene’s,” Amanda replied after she checked.

“Is he straight and single?”


“He makes an interesting point,”said Saffy. “I’m intrigued.” Later that night, she sent Peter a ‘Send Request’ friend app. “Maybe he’d like to get comfortable with me,” she said, hopefully.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On the Blink of Extinction

These days, I try not to blink. Because I’m scared that, if I do, it’ll be New Year’s Eve, and there’s no way in hell that I’m ready for that yet.

Someone needs to tell me: How could it possibly be the end of the year already? Where did 2009 go? I actually remember it just being 1999. Back then – and excuse me if I sound like my grandmother – everyone was really excited about the year turning 2000. Y2K was on everyone’s mind. No one wanted to fly on New Year’s Eve just in case, when the clocks struck midnight, all the computers shut down, and Superman can only be in so many places at the one time.

Imagine if all the computers shut down today. Half the world’s population would drop dead from instant Facebook deprivation.

I started 2009 with so much hope and promise. There were so many projects I wanted to do. It was such an exciting time, though Amanda later pointed out that it was probably the champagne breakfast that made everything look so glossy and rosy.

“I’m going to brush up on my French,” I said on 1 January.
“Oooh, mais oui?” Saffy cooed. “Well, I’m going to lose three kilos! I am determined to fit into my skinny jeans again!”
“I’m going to find a boyfriend who adores me!” Amanda sighed blissfully.

Twelve months later, I can barely count to ten in French while Amanda is still wasting her time with the Cockroach, her long time on-again, off-again insectile looking boyfriend. “This is so incredibly depressing,” she said recently, her luxuriant hair vibrating with anger and missed opportunities. “Why am I still with that incredible loser? Why am I not working this out? I must be missing something. Because, seriously? I deserve a whole lot better. I’m beautiful, goddammit! And this kind of crap does not happen to beautiful people!"

To which Barney Chen posted on Amanda’s Facebook wall: “Oh yes, it does. Just look at Madonna!”

Meanwhile, Saffy…Well, let’s just say, it’s not looking so good in Saffyland.

She wandered into my room the other day, her face white as snow. “It’s not possible,” she breathed quietly. “How did I put on an extra two kilos? I’m supposed to lose three, not put on another two!”
“Well, you have been going to a few parties.”
“But I don’t ever eat anything at those parties. I just drink the free booze!”

I didn’t have the heart or nerve to tell her in person, so I went onto Google and emailed her several links to articles detailing the calorie count of your average Cosmopolitan, and gin and tonic.

This morning, Saffy announced that from now till January 1, she’s not eating any solids. “I’m just going to drink water and eat celery sticks,” she said with the kind of grim determination you normally associate with people who are about to get a face-lift and tummy tuck.

Amanda pulled a face. “Celery sticks? Why celery?”

“Because they have no calories in them. Apparently, you use up more calories just chewing them. So, it’s a win-win situation,” Saffy said. There was a haunted look in her eyes.

Not so random memory: When we were kids, the new year was such a magical event. In my books, it was way better than Christmas. Because somehow, in the space of seconds, we left behind the present. Yesterday, last week, last month, two seconds ago, last night…all these events suddenly, magically, became something called “last year” at the stroke of midnight. It was the coolest trick.

But marking the passing of another year is cool only when you’re five and the days seem so much longer. These days, I wake up, stumble into the bathroom, blink, and it’s the end of the day, and I have no idea what I’ve done all day. And increasingly, it seems to me that it’s not just the days that are disappearing without a trace; it’s also the years. At this rate, I’m going to be wearing adult nappies, hooked up to a respirator and eating jelly because no one can find my dentures.

“And the last words you hear won’t be ‘Good night, see you tomorrow’ but ‘Switch him off!’” Amanda said grimly.
Saffy says she doesn’t care if those are the last words she hears. “As long as I’m thin and can fit into my skinny jeans, you can say whatever you want to me just before I croak it!”

So no, I’m not looking forward to New Year’s Eve. I’m not ready. Which is why I’m not blinking.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Facing Facts

So after the longest time of holding out, I’ve finally succumbed to the Dark Side, otherwise known as Facebook.

“I don’t need to stay in touch with 500 people I don’t know,” I would tell anyone who asked. “I have trouble staying in touch with the two people I already live with!”

“Please don’t tell anyone you’re touching me!” Saffy SMS’d me once.

But one rainy Sunday, when there was nothing on television and I’d already read my latest copy of 8DAYS from cover to cover, I found myself signing up for a Facebook account. Just to see what the fuss was all about. And also because you know something is not quite right with the universe when your mother emails to ask why you’re not on Facebook.

People must have installed some kind of a ‘Jason is now finally on Facebook!’ alert, because within minutes, messages began popping up on my screen. Many, from people I’d not seen or heard from for years. And quite a few from what I was convinced were complete strangers, possibly stalkers or potential mass murderers looking for fresh new victims.

Surely they couldn’t have been waiting for me to sign on, I wondered.

“Wah, what took you so long?” Melinda Goh wrote.

I sat for a while wracking my brain trying to remember who the hell Melinda Goh was. Absent mindedly, I clicked on the ‘Confirm’ as friend button, figuring I’ll work it out eventually. Later that night, after watching ‘Single White Female’ on DVD, I got up out of bed, logged onto Facebook and removed Melinda Goh.

“I can’t believe you’re actually on Facebook! Welcome!” Jenny Tan fluted across the internet.

“Post something on your Wall!” Darren instructed.

I stared at the screen a bit longer. And then picked up the phone.

“I don’t know what to say on my Wall!” I said to Saffy.

“Hang on, I’m coming to your room,” Saffy said as she opened my bedroom door, a little breathless from the exercise of walking 15 feet. She flopped down in the chair next to me. “Really, how you ever evolved from a tadpole, I’ll never know. Just say anything!”

“Like what?”

“Just say, ‘Sunday blues’ and then hit ‘Share’!”

“And what would that do?”

Saffy’s bosom deflated. Obviously, I was a lost cause. “You don’t have to do or say anything meaningful!” she sighed. “Facebook is just an excuse for people to waste time and be sociable! It’s sharing whatever is going on with you right now. I just posted a YouTube link about a Rottweiler puppy with the hiccups.”


“I thought it was cute. It’s just like a diary where you record things that interest you, or just reflect your state of mind at the time. Only all your friends get to read about it.”

“And that’s fun?” I asked.

“Sometimes, it’s better than sex,” Saffy replied firmly. “Ooh look, there’s your mother! She’s got a lovely profile picture! All that bling! Let’s see how many friends she has,” she said, her fingers clicking expertly over the keyboard. “375!"

My sister wrote to me (on email) saying that it was really depressing that our 60 year old mother had more friends than her three children combined. I replied it was really depressing that I still hadn’t posted anything on my Wall besides ‘Sunday blues’ which generated 35 comments, most of which ranged from the inane (‘Ya, me too!’) to the positively imbecilic (‘Sunday got colour, meh?’). That last one was from Melinda Goh, before I removed her from my friends list.

My cousin David posted a picture of a traffic jam that he was stuck in. I commented that I hoped he had both hands on his steering wheel, and as soon as I hit ‘Share’, I realized how much that made me sound like my naggy Aunt Carla. I spent the next day tortured that I should have included a smiley face in my comment.

I somehow wonder if I’ve missed the boat on Facebook. I still don’t get it. All my friends seem to spend their whole lives on it. I was at a dinner the other evening and Mike would whip out his Blackberry every time a course arrived and tap on the keyboard for a few seconds. After a while, I asked, “You’re not Facebooking this dinner are you?”

“Please,” he said, sounding just like Simon Cowell. “Facebook is so yesterday. No, I’m Tweeting!”

Just what I need: another stupid social networking tool I have to learn and then abandon two seconds later. Call me a tadpole, but I think I’m going back to posting letters.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Fatal Attraction

Anyone who’s been a date recently will know that it’s a cruel, vicious world out there. If you thought the slave gladiators fighting the lions in the Coliseum had it rough, you’ve not had to deal with the pain, humiliation and sheer nervous stress that come from spending a few hours with someone you like. And might possibly like a lot more if he/she would only agree to go on a second date with you.
It’s especially worse for women. For some reason, bum dates just seem to wash off men. It must be a superior genetic code encoded in our DNA that was left over from our cave days. “Bad day hunting for a mate? Not to worry, just go across the valley and club one over the head and drag her back by the matted hair. Oh, and while you’re at it, can you bring back another mammoth? We’re running low for winter. Cheers, darling!”
But give a girl a bad date and she falls to pieces.
“Why hasn’t he called?” Saffy screamed the other night. It was a full 48 hours after her first date with the delightfully named Bip Lim. Which, as Amanda pointed out, was not unexpected. “You can never trust someone whose name sounds like a Korean appetizer,” she said firmly.
Apparently, Saffy’s trolley had crashed into Bip’s in the spice section of Cold Storage. She took the location of the first meeting as a good sign. He was, according to Saffy’s breathless description, tall, well built and impossibly handsome.
“He’s an ABC!” Saffy said, her eyes shining. “Do you know how rare it is to find an unattached ABC in this town?”
“Sorry, is that Australian or American?” Amanda asked.
“American! He’s incredibly sexy. Have I said that already?” she Skyped Barney Chen who immediately asked if she was sure Bip didn’t bat for the other team: “Because in my considerable experience, ABC men who are tall, well built and impossibly handsome are…well, me!”
Saffy replied that the entire time they were chatting in the supermarket, his eyes were glued to her breasts. Amanda pointed out that meant nothing, adding, “Arthritic dogs can’t take their eyes off your breasts. I sometimes can’t take my eyes off your breasts!”
I really don’t need to tell you the rest of the story. If you’ve ever been on a date, you’ll know the scenario by heart. But for those of you innocents out there who still believe in fairy tale romances, sit up and pay attention to these cheat notes because you’re going to need them one day.
Bip asked Saffy out on a date. She spent the next week in a state of extreme sexual tension. She bought a new dress and borrowed Amanda’s Jimmy Choos and Bottega handbag. She had a facial, manicure, pedicure and a head to toe Dead Sea mud body exfoliation. Four days before the date, she stopped eating any solids and by the evening of the date, she was exhausted, malnourished but thin.
The instant she got back from the date, she disappeared into Amanda’s room where they went over every single second of the evening, covering everything from what Bip wore, to word for word recitations of what he said and what his facial expressions were as he was saying them.
The next day, Saffy kept her handphone glued to her side and checked it every two seconds for a missed call or a message from Bip. By lunchtime, she was a complete mess.
“He’s probably busy in meetings,” she told Sharyn.
“He’s got a very stressful job,” she Facebooked all 345 of her friends.
“Maybe he lost my number?” she asked Ah Chuan, our cleaning lady.
“You don’t think he’s been in an accident, do you?” she asked me.
“I have a really bad feeling about this Bip Bam Bong,” Amanda muttered after the first 36 hours had come and gone without a squeak from Saffy’s date. “You’d think though that she’d recognise the signs by now. This isn’t her first date!”
But here’s the thing: dating is a bit like giving birth. It can be so freaking painful. But once it’s over, and you’ve recovered, you kind of forget how icky it was the first time round. So you go again. And again. It’s not that you never learn, but I figure it’s nature’s way of making sure you keep dating, when the natural instinct is just to stay home for the rest of your life. Otherwise: hasta la vista to the human race.
Saffy says she doesn’t care. She’s decided to grocery shop online.
She’s also been crying a lot.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Talking Heads

Forget about the Virgin Birth. There are enough mysteries in this world to fully occupy all our waking hours without having to deal with the parentage of someone who may or may not have been who Dan Brown says he was. Like how telephone marketers just seem to know to call at exactly the most exciting bit of Desperate Housewives. Or why some people still think it’s acceptable behaviour to clip their fingernails on the bus.
But the greatest mystery is The Female Problem. This is not to be confused with The Male Problem. Because this is what The Female Problem looks like:
Amanda: I’m so angry with Jason.
Saffy: Oh my God, why? What happened? Tell me everything!
Amanda: Well, I’m having a hard time at work as you know. The case is [Blah, blah, blah. You don’t need to know what the case is about. She’ll spend the next 10 minutes talking about how difficult the case is. That’s all you need to know.]
Saffy: That’s terrible. How do you balance all this with your social committees and gym classes?
Amanda: That’s the thing! Men think we just get out of bed looking the way we do and that children just grow up by themselves, and the food magically appears on the kitchen. And [Blah, blah, blah. The next ten minutes are about how without women, men would just fall over and die.]
Saffy: Then what happened at work?
Amanda: Well, you know my colleague, Anna? She’s the one who went to SCGS and thinks she’s superior to the rest of us just because we went to JC, and [Blah, blah, blah. The next ten minutes are about what a first class bitch Anna is with long detailed examples.] And the worst thing is, she’s been trying to sabo me from the moment she joined my team.
Saffy: But why?
Amanda: Well, on her second day at work, she showed up in this Prada dress. You know how last year Prada was really big on lace and [Blah, blah, blah. Ten minutes on Prada’s 2008 Fall collection]. So, I said, “Wow, they must have given you a big starting salary!” I was just saying it like a joke, and she gives me this dirty look and ever since then, she’s been very snippy.
Saffy: Wow, so sensitive.
Amanda: I know, right? So, today, this is what happens [Blah, blah, blah. You know the drill by now.] I was so angry. I came home and told Jason about what happened at work and the first thing he does is say, “Oh, why don’t you just report her to your boss!” And I was, like, what is wrong with guys?
Saffy: Don’t you just love how they go charging in and try to save the world?
Amanda: Every single freaking time! It’s so annoying!
Meanwhile, this is how The Male Problem unfolds:
Jason: Hey.
Karl: Hey, buddy. How’s it going?
Jason: Alright. Amanda’s in a bit of a mood with me.
Karl: Oh. That time of the month?
Jason: No. She had some problem at work. One of her colleagues is being mean to her. Said some things about her and is making her life difficult. I told her to report the bitch to the boss. And then she got mad at me.
Karl: Oh. Man, that sucks.
Jason: Tell me about it.
Karl:Want a beer?
Jason: Sure.
So, here’s the thing. It’s a mystery how women are able to make a 24-hour period stretch into a week. It’s the only way to explain how they get so much done in a day. My mother always said that if you want a job done, give it to a busy woman. It’s true. No one knows why this is so. It just is.
And the other thing is that as busy as they are, they will always, always, always have time to talk about the problems in their lives. They love to talk about problems. Not just theirs. Anyone’s. Including their 567 closest girlfriends’. Talking soothes them. It makes them happy, secure, fulfilled and connected. To get the same feeling, a man would need to discover the cure for cancer.
What a woman does not need is for a guy to tell her the solution to her problem. She already knows what the solution is. She knows what to do. She doesn’t need you to tell her. She’s probably already done it. You’re just meant to nod and look sympathetic. Remember that the next time you open your big mouth and try to be helpful.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Art Attack

Here I am, gentle readers, in Paris on a little vay-kay, as they say, with the parents. We’ve rented an apartment just behind the Pompidou, that wonderfully designed modern art gallery with all the coloured plumbing and electrical piping on the outside of the building. Which means that every day, when we emerge from the apartment and head for a morning café and pain au chocolat (why does even a chocolate croissant sound sexy when it’s in French?), the Pompidou is the first thing we see.
And you know it’s got modern art inside, because in the vast cobble-stoned entrance, there is a giant column about ten metres tall, on top of which sits an enormous gold flower pot.
When Saffy saw the pot a few years ago on our first trip together to Paris, the first thing she said was, “Seriously? An empty flower pot? Painted in gold? Someone got paid to make this?”
That’s the thing about modern art. It always excites such extremes in opinion. In most cases, you either love it, or you hate it with a passion. Which is not the case with something like the Mona Lisa. I’ve yet to come across someone who’s said, “The Mona Lisa? That piece of crap? Seriously? Someone got paid to paint that?”
I remember once wandering around an art gallery in London and found myself standing transfixed before one of the pieces for at least ten minutes. After a while, I looked around, searching for a hidden camera, or just waiting for someone to pop out and sing, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”
Because the exhibit in question consisted of a little plinth on which was balanced a scrunched up ball of white paper. That was it. It wasn’t folded into a delicate origami. It wasn’t painted. It wasn’t festooned with holograms or painted with tiny images of the Mona Lisa. It wasn’t anything. Just a scrunched up ball of what was probably photocopy paper. It was the stupidest thing I’d ever seen.
Just then, two people came up behind me. One of them gasped. “Oh my goodness!” she said with the kind of accent you don’t normally hear outside of a Merchant Ivory movie. “That’s astonishing!”
“Isn’t it?” her companion said. “I think it’s one of his most moving works! His grasp of motion is just flawless, I think!”
I had to check that they were looking at (and talking about) the same exhibit I was looking at. Again, I glanced around with a nervous smile for the hidden cameras. Mentally, I berated myself for not seeing why that bloody ball of paper was so moving. I felt like an artistic Neanderthal.
That’s why modern art makes me nervous. I find myself unable to express an opinion about anything just in case I expose my horrible ignorance about the subject. What if I say I like something only to find that all the arty farty people think it’s revolting? Or, worse, what if I really hate that oil painting and it turns out to be one of the most important pieces in the artist’s catalogue?
And now, years later, I found myself in the Pompidou in a state of nervous artistic tension. Saffy SMS’d me from Singapore: “I can’t believe you’re putting yourself through all that rubbish again!” One thing you can say about Saffy is that she never has any doubts about herself. If she decided tomorrow that the world was flat, she’d have no trouble sleeping.
I stopped in front of a painting and I swear, I had a mini nervous breakdown. I use the word ‘painting’ loosely because there was – how do I put this precisely? – nothing on the canvas. Not a scratch. Not a daub of colour. Not a pencil dot. It was just a white canvas.
In my mind, I imagined the artist going down to his local art supplier, picking up a fresh canvas frame and then going straight to his art dealer. “Voila!” he says, as he hands over the canvas. “My latest work! It’s called ‘The Transition of Volatility’. It’s my best work so far!”
The art dealer looks at it and whispers, “My God, this is revolutionary!” before he slaps on a $1m price tag on it. A few days later, some sap from an art gallery comes along, takes one look at it and declares, “My gallery simply must have this! It’s such an important work!”
And so here I am standing in front of an empty canvas hanging in one of the world’s most prestigious art centres, and I’m still waiting for someone to tell me that it’s all a big fat joke.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Home Alone

Ask anyone who’s been single a long time about what she fears most and, chances are, she will tell you (if she’s honest, or failing that, drunk) that the one thing that keeps her awake at night is the thought that she might die old and still single. And by old, she usually means 40 years of age. (Ask a teenager, and he’ll tell you old is 30. He, of course, has no idea and part of me so wants to be around with a video-cam when he hits 30.)
It’s one of the cruelties of each passing year. And it really hits home when you’re filling in your personal details on the website and you get to the bit about your birth date and you find you have to scroll down for what seems like an eternity before you get to your year of birth.
And then it occurs to you that somewhere out there, like that Linda Rondstadt song, there are actually some people who were born in, say, 1997. That was the year ‘Ally McBeal’ first aired, way before Calista Flockhart was in ‘Brothers and Sister’; Lucy Liu was a nobody; and ‘Friends’ was still a fresh TV show. Especially when you remember that Jennifer Aniston hadn’t even met, married and divorced Brad Pitt yet. For these 1997 babies, 30 isn’t going to happen till 2027, by which time, you’re going to be…
Well, the thought doesn’t even bear thinking about, really.
But then, one dark night, when it’s storming outside and you’re stuck at home watching an illegal download of ‘Flashforward’, your thoughts turn to time and what you would do if you could predict your life 6 months from now.
“I’d better not be single,” Saffy threatened. “I’ll kill myself if I’m still living with you two!”
Amanda and I looked at each other.
Saffy said, “What? Why are you looking at each other like that?”
Amanda coughed. “Well, we’re not quite sure how to break this to you,” she began gently. “It’s just that, well…”
I’m a firm believer in ripping off the metaphorical bandage. “Amanda’s being sent to her Hong Kong office to work on that case of her’s for two months, and I’m going to London for a month with my parents. On holiday. It’s going to be horrible, but they’re paying for it. So, uhm…” I trailed off in the glare of Saffy’s disbelief.
As she told her best friend Sharyn the next day, “God almighty, those two might as well have just stuffed a pillow over my face, killed me and then shoved me down the rubbish chute! How can they leave me alone for two months! What kind of inhuman people are they?”
“Aiyoh, they not your husband, what! How can you stop them from going?” Sharyn said reasonably.
Saffy puffed up. “Excuse me,” she said in a chilly tone. “You don’t go and leave your poor single flatmate alone for months on end! If I wanted to live alone, I wouldn’t have had flatmates in the first place!”
“You come stay with me, lah!” Sharyn offered brightly though, as Saffy later reported, you could tell it was only a half-hearted offer. “I’m sure she thinks I’m going to seduce Alvin!” Saffy said and added, “In his dreams!”
“It’s only for a couple of months, Saf,” Amanda said desperately recently shortly after Saffy suddenly burst into tears at the dinner table.
Saffy sniffed into her tissue. “The scary thing is that I could trip and fall in the shower and nobody would know I was dead! Nobody! And by the time the smell from my rotting body seeps out into the corridor, it will be too late!”
“Pooch will call for help!” Amanda said. “He’s very clever!”
I coughed. “Uhm, I’m sending him to a dog hotel.”
Saffy looked up. “Good idea. Because I so don’t want him around when I’m lying there dead!” she declared. “He’ll probably start snacking on me! By the time you guys come back, I’ll just be a pile of neatly sucked bones!”
Amanda looked down at her beef stew, and pushed the dish away from her. Saffy sighed. “This is just great! I’m single and about to die alone, and without having had sex in nearly 8 months! I might as well be back at home living with my parents. Where is the justice?”
That night, she fed Pooch an extra serving of dinner. “I need all the time I can get for the emergency crew to get to me!” she told him. He never even looked up from his bowl.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mass Communication

This might come as a shock to some people, but I actually remember a time when people actually corresponded with letters. It was quite relaxing actually. You wrote what you had to say to the other person, slipped it into the envelope and posted it. Then you forgot all about it for weeks on end, until the other person replied eventually. In the office, once you’d sent off your stack of letters, you still had time to knock off early and go grab a game of golf before dinner.
These days, I don’t actually do any real work till after lunch as it takes me that long just to get through all my emails and catch up on Facebook. That’s the trouble with instantaneous communication. There’s just not enough time. You send a note, and two seconds later, you get a reply. So you feel compelled to write a reply, and a reply comes shooting back. And on it goes. And before you know it, it’s time to retire and cash in your CPF. And you’re left with the haunting feeling that somehow you kind of should have done more with your life instead of hitting that ‘Enter’ button 5000 times a day.
Meanwhile, your boss wants that report filed while you are on leave. “Surely they have internet at that resort? You can do some work while you’re there, right? And we can call you on your handphone?” (Bosses can be total assholes, but that’s a topic for another column.)
And then there’s Facebook. My cousin David spends his whole life on it. Every minute, he’ll update all 589 friends with what he’s doing. But it’s not as if he’s telling us how he’s saving his world, or how the negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol are going. Instead, they range from the stupid (“Need to pee”) to pseudo-philosophical. “Why?” went one of his posts. This elicited 34 ‘Comments’, and 20 ‘Likes’, which led me to wonder whether I was missing some hidden code. “Why what?” I asked him on e-mail. I got a smiley face in reply. A few minutes later, he posted “Things are turning to prime time!” I stared at that post for a bit, and then removed him from my friends list.
And a few weeks ago, Amanda asked me if I was on Twitter.
“Seriously,” I replied. “Why do I need yet another mode of communication? I can barely keep up with what’s going on in Facebook, and last time I checked, I have 45 new emails.”
Amanda sniffed. “Email is so last century! Nobody emails anymore except to send documents.”
According to Amanda, these days, you can’t get ahead if you’re not on Twitter. Something about condensing information to its bare essentials and then transmitting it to an exponential database. “You never know who you might meet this way,” she said wisely as she tweeted on her Blackberry that she was living with someone who wasn’t on Twitter. “I’m a follower of Oprah, Paula and Ellen. I really feel connected to them!”
I peered over her shoulder as she scrolled down to a recent tweet by Paula Abdul: “Just got back to the hotel after a day full of meetings. I haven't slept! Early night for me. Love you all”.
In spite of myself, I asked, “Where is she?”
“London. She was supposed to be there earlier for Simon’s birthday party, but then she got sick and her doctor stopped her from getting on the plane.” As I later said to Saffy, it sounded like Amanda was in daily BFF contact with Paula.
Saffy shrugged. “Well, I’m following Ashton and I can see why Demi is in love with him.”
I blinked. “Ashton who?”
The bosom inflated. “Ashton Kutcher! Please keep up! I’m also following Anderson Cooper. I keep hoping he’ll get more personal like where he’s going to have dinner, but his tweets are really so deadly boring. All he ever talks about is Afghanistan and the Gaza crisis. I’m sorry but a crisis is the fact that I’ve not had sex in three months!”
I’m still holding out on Twitter though. As it is, I’m now looking at my Facebook friends with the kind of critical eye you’d use to decide who to throw off the lifeboat. I can barely keep up with correspondence on email. Do I really need more friends?
Saffy told me this morning: “Keep this up and you’ll be that guy who dies alone in his bathroom and doesn’t get discovered till the smell seeps down the corridor!”

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A piece of cake

Of course, it all started with the movie “Julie & Julia”, surely the year’s most gastronomically entertaining movie starring Saint Meryl. All that outrageous flirting with French food for two hours must have short-circuited my good judgement because as soon as I emerged from the cinema, I was suddenly seized by the urge to bake a chocolate cake.
Don’t ask me why a chocolate cake, because as far as I can remember, while there were any number of soles, chopped onions, lobsters and boeuf bourgignons, no actual cakes were involved in the movie.
On the way home, I stopped by Cold Storage and stocked up on the ingredients I thought might go into a chocolate cake. Chocolate was a given, but I spent a long time in the baking aisle trying to decide if it was plain or self-raising flour I needed. And then just when I had finished tossing a coin, I saw a row of all-purpose flour which confused me even further. I ended up buying all three on the assumption that it was better to be safe than sorry.
“You’re baking?” Saffy said when I arrived home with my grocery bags. “Do you even know how to bake?”
“I’m sure it’s very simple!” I said airily as I got onto the internet to look for recipes.
The River Café recipe got my attention if for no other reason than the fact that it was called ‘15-minute chocolate cake’.
“I like that it only takes 15 minutes to cook!” I told Saffy as she peered over my shoulder at the laptop.
“Do we even have a bain-marie?” she asked.
I paused. “The more important question, I think, is whether we even know what a bain-marie is?”
I think it would help at this point to note that I grew up in a household where the boys were not encouraged to step foot into the kitchen. To this day, I think my father only has a very vague idea of just where the kitchen is in our house. But I’m nothing if not an optimist. “How difficult can this be?” I asked Saffy. “You just follow the instructions!”
So, I calmly set a bowl on top of simmering water. All while wondering what ‘simmering water’ looked like. “I guess it means it’s not boiling,” Saffy hazarded. By now, and much against her better judgement, she was absolutely involved in the whole crazy project.
First, I mixed half a kilo of chocolate with nearly an entire block of butter.
“Oh my God, there’s so much butter in a chocolate cake?” Saffy breathed in horror. “Is that why it tastes so good?”
In a separate bowl, I whisked six eggs. (“Six!” Saffy shrieked. “This is a cholesterol nightmare!”) Or at least, I tried to whisk. Most of the eggs went spraying all over the walls.
At one point, I stared at the yellow mess in the bowl. “The recipe says firm peaks. Do these look like firm peaks to you?”
Saffy leaned in to look. “Does that sound rather sexual to you? Or is that the whole point of chocolate cake?”
I decided to wing it and began folding the eggs into the chocolate, while Saffy boiled a kettle of water.
“This is a really complicated recipe!” she complained as she watched me laboriously scrape the mixture into the cake tin, set it into another baking tray and then pour the hot water into the tray. “Are you sure we haven’t misread it?”
“Don’t stress me, Saf,” I instructed as I covered the tray with some tinfoil and popped the whole thing went into the hot oven. We closed the door with a satisfying thud, set the timer for 15 minutes and waited anxiously.
At one stage, Saffy said, “Seriously, wouldn’t it be easier to just call Awfully Chocolate and get one delivered?”
“We followed the recipe exactly!” I said. “It’s gotta work.”
And of course it didn’t work. This was why my mother never allowed boys in the kitchen. Something about our DNA completely ruins all food. Including chocolate cake. Because at the end of 15 minutes, we pulled the cake out and stared at it. After a while, Saffy said, “Is there supposed to be a thick layer of oil on the top? And why does it look like gravel?”
We drained the oil, cut a piece and tentatively had a bite. And spat it out.
As I tipped the whole sorry mess into the trash, Saffy reached for the phone and hit speed dial. “Hello, is that Awfully Chocolate?” she announced crisply before adding to me, “So much for Saint Meryl!”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mandarin Oriental

The other day, Amanda and I were on the 105 bus when a group of secondary school students hopped on.
Yes, Amanda, in all her Gucci and Prada glory, was on the bus, on account of the fact that she’d left her wallet at home, and I had all of five dollars to my name. “How do you even know which bus to take?” she’d asked earlier with great admiration as I lead her out of the Orchard MRT station to the connecting bus stop. “This is a whole other world for me! And you and Saffy do this every day?”
Eventually, she fell silent, somewhat overcome by the novelty of sitting on a real bus while I, lulled by the gentle motion of the bus, fell comfortably asleep.
One minute, there was the kind of complete silence on the bus that can only be achieved by a group of strangers doing their complete best to ignore each other. And the next, I jerked awake. It sounded like Madonna had dropped into your local wet market: screams and shouts, high-pitched nattering, and everyone practically squinting out of thick glasses.
“Oh, no,” Amanda murmured. “What’s going on? Why are there so many children? And why are they all shouting at each other?”
Midway to Toa Payoh, it occurred to both of us that there’s some law somewhere in Singapore which says that it’s illegal for five or more people, or some low number like that, to gather without a permit. I sometimes think that this particular piece of legislation should apply to school children, if for no other reason than to preserve the sanity of those of us who no longer are.
Like a physical wave of sound, the young teenagers swept down the bus, annoyingly secure in their youth and brazen in the safety of their number. To say the least, the conversation was riveting.
Apparently, one girl had just been in a fight with her brother who had called her a bitch. “And then, hor,” she said, her glasses fogging up with indignation, “wo gen ta jiang, ‘Ay, ni bu ke yi anyhow say one, ok?’ Just because ni bi wo da yi shui, cannot, right! You wait I tell our mah-dur!”
“Jialat, lah!” agreed her friend.
“I really hate boys, you know!”
“Maybe he is a gay?” her friend wondered with all the nonchalance of people talking about the weather.
At this point, I whipped out my notepad and began transcribing furiously. You just can’t make up this sort of thing.
“Ay, wo wen ni, hor, this weekend ni yao qu Mary de birthday party, ma?”
“I think is in Bishan.”
“Yao mai present, ma?”
Amanda, noticing that I was busy taking notes, tugged at my sleeve. “What language are they speaking?” she hissed.
“Seriously, Amanda, please don’t tell people that you know me.”
For days after, it was all she could talk about. “It was like I was in some foreign language movie but someone had forgotten to put in the subtitles!” she told our cleaning lady in Mandarin that was, thanks to many summers in language camp in Beijing as a child, pitch perfect. “What are they teaching these kids at school?”
“You need to get out more, Amanda,” Saffy advised severely.
“It’s a scandal!”
“Write to the prime minister,” Saffy said in bored tones, as she flipped her latest issue of Vogue. “He might bring it up at the next G7 Summit. Or whatever,” she added hurriedly, as Amanda opened her mouth to point out the obvious.
“But doesn’t anyone care?”
“Oh, what’s the big deal? Everyone understood each other, right?”
“But it’s not Mandarin!” Amanda’s voice rose several octaves.
Saffy sighed. “Look at this black top I’m wearing.” All eyes in the room swivelled to Saffy’s heaving bosom. “It looks like one of your Gucci tops, but it’s a cheap Shenzhen knock-off!”
Amanda’s eyes narrowed. “What’s your point?”
Saffy was astonished. “I don’t have a point. I just wanted you to look at my top. No one has commented on it so far.”
“How is this country going to record its history if the next generation can’t even articulate a complete sentence in grammatically correct Mandarin?”
“Don’t worry, Manda,” Saffy said soothingly. “It’ll all be on YouTube!”
I said I didn’t care as it was all giving me such good material to use for my column.
These days, every time Amanda comes across one of those “Huayu Cool” ads, she snorts loudly. “It’s a farce, I tell you!” she exclaimed loudly the other day, leading Saffy to tell her, “Listen, do me a favour. Don’t tell people we live together, OK?”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Plane sailing

I know this week’s column is going to make me very unpopular, but can we talk about babies on planes?
It began with a recent night flight from Singapore to London. I was looking forward to a relaxing flight of meals and movies. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but stay with me.
Some people de-stress on a beach. Some take refuge in a bottle of Johnny Walker. Others lie face down on the massage table. Meanwhile, my flatmate Saffy likes to sit with her feet up on the window sill to, as she puts it, “air” herself.
Me, I like to get on a plane on a long haul flight. For 13 blissful hours, no one can get hold of me and bother me with urgent deadlines, give me bad news, or send me stupid 15MB attachments of their ugly restaurant interior.
I don’t get annoying calls from people who want a few minutes of my time to take a survey. And best of all, I don’t have to talk to anyone. Unless you’re on a flight to America and sit next to an American who will usually want to tell you his/her whole life story within the first ten minutes of the seatbelt sign coming on, in which case the best thing to do, I find, is to pretend you don’t speak English.
Of course, the inevitable happens. Struggling down the aisle towards you will be a woman who appears to be some Indian goddess incarnate. Because there’s no way a normal person should be able to juggle, with just two arms, five bags, a stroller, a baby, a box of toys, and three squirming toddlers.
And usually, it’s just the mother. “Where’s your husband?” I asked the woman on that flight to Singapore from London while watching her struggle to unload her nursery and toy shop onto the seat next to me. This broke my golden rule of never speaking to anyone on the plane unless she’s offering me a choice of chicken or seafood. But I couldn’t help but think if I’d been her, I’d have divorced that sorry-assed husband of mine two weeks ago.
She paused struggling with the seatbelt on her three-year old and pushed a strand of oily hair out of her face. “Oh, he’s working back in Sydney. Katie, please stop yelling at me. I’m talking to this nice gentleman. Yeah, I just took the kids to see their grandparents.”
She looked like she was one Dopamine away from a full-blown hysterical fit. So I tried to distract her with meaningless chit-chat: “So once we land in Singapore, you’ll have a two hour layover, and then another 8 hours to Sydney?” In the throbbing silence, I added, “And all these kids are your’s?”
As Amanda later pointed out, “That’s why it’s all about having a full time nanny. If I had to travel with four children without help…well, I just know that will never happen.”
Saffy’s contribution to the conversation was: “I think people just adopt fully grown children. Preferably just as they’re about to be shipped off to boarding school.”
Meanwhile, back on BA11, I was stuck with the horror that came from sitting next to a mother whose four children had clearly never met an Asian mother with a rattan cane before.
“Are they going to remember the occasion?” I asked after a while of watching the child next to me alternate between screaming at the top of her lungs and chewing the inflight magazine.
“Your kids. I read somewhere that children don’t form any long term memory till they’re about four.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t get what you mean.”
I tilted my head and gave her my best Oprah frown. “Well, it’s just that… I mean, was there any point in them meeting their grandparents at this stage in their lives if they’re never going to remember it? Is it worth the effort?”
For the rest of the flight, every time she clambered over me to get to the toilet, I could tell my probing question was haunting her. Either that, or she was wishing there was some safe way she could push me off the plane.
But I didn’t care. And I still don’t. I paid good money to be on that flight. Children get to scream, throw up, cry and run up and down the aisle through the whole night. If I did the same thing, the crew would’ve sedated me and slapped on handcuffs; and once we’d landed, charge me with disorderly conduct. That’s just plain rude.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Flying High

People are always telling me about their hard lives. They really have no idea.
“Oh you know, it's so sad, but my parents just don't understand me,” one friend recently told me at lunch, while I tried hard not to yawn. My parents are frittering away my inheritance playing Black Jack in the south of France, I wanted to tell him. Get over it, I should have said, and while you're at it, you might want to rethink those multiple nose piercings; it’s no wonder your parents can’t look you in the eye. Instead, I told him that it was tough not being understood for your individuality. I'm just that kind of friend.
“Do you think I should get Botox?” said another friend who was worried that her husband was maybe having an affair with his secretary. The thought bubble floating over my head said she might want to start by Botoxing her sharp tongue and then maybe he'd come home more regularly for dinners. Instead, I told her that she might maybe want to think about yoga. Again, I'm just that kind of friend.
What people don't seem to realise that their problems are like butt pimples. They may be painful, but they go away after a while. In the general scheme of things, they are no big deal. Your mother problems, your job dilemma, your financial woes and your waistline bulge...don't waste my time. I have bigger fish to fry.
Like travelling economy class with my two flatmates, Saffy and Amanda. You thought sitting next to the baby was bad.
“I am very uncomfortable,' Saffy groused. Normally, you'd expect that statement from someone who was actually sitting down. Instead, Saffy was trudging down the aisle of the plane, her luggage pulled reluctantly behind her, her fabulous bosom pushed forward even more reluctantly before her.
From behind, a waft of Chanel No. 5 hit me like a dying mother reproaching her son for not coming to see her more often. “Remind me again why I'm in this part of the plane?” Amanda grumbled.
“Because I wanted to stay home and watch bootleg DVDs of Project Runway, while you two wanted to go to New York. Which wouldn't have been so bad,” I added as I waited patiently for the fat auntie in front of me try to decide how to stuff two large suitcases into the overhead compartment, “seeing as for the first time in recorded history, my mother said she'd be willing to fund me a business class ticket, but then Saffy decided otherwise just by showing us her latest bank statement.”
Saffy’s glacial pace came to a grinding halt. Her head whipped around. “Listen!” she snapped, her fabled breasts rising to the occasion. 'For the millionth time, I am not forking over $15,000 just so I can lie flat!'
I was astonished. “You say that like it's a bad thing!”
“I don't understand how people sit back here,' Amanda said when she was finally seated. She rubbed down all the surfaces of her chair and remote control with Dettol wipes. “Just twenty feet away, people are drinking champagne!”
“Which is what my parents are doing right now too,” I muttered. “Drinking away my inheritance. Seriously, that business class cabin was my last chance at the good life.”
“Oh, God, are we there yet?” Saffy moaned to the passing air stewardess.
“Ma'am, we're still on the ground.”
“Oh, God.”
And as I write this, we're into Hour 4 of our twenty four hour journey to New York. It's not been without its little dramas, including a particularly tense moment somewhere over Chiang Mai when Saffy suddenly wondered aloud if anyone had remembered to turn off the gas in the kitchen. By the time everyone had calmed down, Amanda summoned the air stewardess, handed her a Platinum Amex and said, “Move me into First Class. This very instant. Because if you don't, the last words on the black box voice recorder will be 'I'm going to kill her!'
It's incredible how fast people move when confronted with a large amount of money. Within seconds, a grovelling steward materialised and practically air-lifted Amanda into the front of the plane. She never so much as looked back.
“It's so not fair!” Saffy grumbled. “Just because she's a lawyer and earns more than the GDP of a small African nation is no reason for her to abandon her two closest friends! This is turning out to be the worse holiday of my life.”
And, of course, right on cue, the baby in row 26F started to cry.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Weight and see

According to my two flatmates, Saffy and Amanda, guys have it easy. Too easy, in fact.
“It’s true!” Saffy said the other night at dinner as she picked miserably at her salad. “Look at me, I’m eating lettuce leaves while you!”, and here she pointed accusingly at my big plate of pasta, “you are inhaling an entire plate of carbs. Tomorrow, you’ll sit on the potty, and it’s all over! Meanwhile, it’s going to take me a week to digest this carrot stick!”
“We just have different metabolisms!”
“It’s not just that,” Amanda chimed in severely. “Guys have all sorts of advantages. You can roll out of bed and go out the front door looking like a real slob. It takes us hours to look this way!”
Saffy looked at Amanda sideways. “It takes me days to look this way!”
Amanda nodded. “Plus make-up is expensive! So are all our different outfits, handbags, shoes and accessories.”
“Guys think they’re accessorizing if they wear a stupid cheap watch!” Saffy said, her fabled breasts heaving at the injustice of it all.
“And the hair,” Amanda said, tossing her luxurious tresses. “Don’t forget the hair! It doesn’t look like this naturally, you know! I could have sent a child to Harvard with the money I’ve spend on my hair!”
Saffy later said privately that you could have done a lot of things with the money that Amanda has spent on her hair. “I’m sure they could have found a cure for diabetes with just the cost of her conditioner!”
A few days later, again at dinner – this time, in a fancy restaurant out on One Fullerton – we were busy gossiping about absent friends when Amanda choked on her soup.
“My nine o’clock! Nine o’clock!” she gasped discretely into her napkin. I turned to Amanda’s left and drew in a sharp breath.
Saffy immediately looked around wildly. “Where? Where?” she gurgled.
“My nine o’clock, you dumb blonde!” Amanda hissed. “Why do you still not understand directions?”
“That would be straight ahead for you, Saffy,” I murmured.
Saffy’s head swung back and she literally had to stuff her napkin into her mouth to stop from screaming.
It was the Cockroach, Amanda’s on-again, off-again insectile-looking boyfriend. They’ve been in the off-phase now for half a year but in that time, he must have put on at least 15 kilos. As Saffy later told all her friends on Facebook, the only reason she recognized the Cockroach was because of his super thin eyebrows and non-existent lips. “He looked like one of those before shots from Extreme Makeover!” read one of her posts.
Meanwhile, back at the restaurant, what had made us gasp was not so much that the Cockroach had morphed into a truck tyre, but that hanging off his arm was a pretty, little wisp of a girl who gazed up at him with the kind of adoration you only find at a Fann Wong appearance.
“You see, that just proves my point exactly!” Amanda said bravely trying not to look or to show that she cared as the Cockroach and his plaything sat in the far corner of the restaurant. “He looks like a tub of margarine and he’s dating another pretty girl! It’s just so effortless for guys, it’s not fair!”
“How did he get so fat though?” I wondered.
“Imagine if I put that much weight,” Amanda said. “Do you think I would ever find a date in this town?”
“Not unless the guy was blind!” Saffy said, getting into the spirit of the moment. She noticed our looks. “What?”
“There really are two sets of dating rules in this world,” Amanda said, stabbing viciously at her salad. “If you’re a straight and single man, you’re set. Doesn’t matter if you’re ugly and fat. With a woman, you’ve also got to be pretty and thin!”
“And stupid,” Saffy added. “If you’re pretty, thin and can’t string an intelligent sentence together, you’ll always have a date for Friday night! It’s why I’m still single. Men are intimidated by my intelligence! What? Stop giving me those dirty looks! It’s true!”
“Hmm, and his skin is not looking good at all!” I said, pretending to turn around to look for a waiter.
“Did you want me to go over there and accidently spill red wine all over her?” Saffy offered.
“No, we’re going home,” Amanda sniffed, signaling for the bill.
Saffy came straight home and immediately started a Facebook dialogue about ugly fat men and their pretty girlfriends. “Men are pigs!” read one of her posts. “Please tell everyone!”

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Out of Date

My flatmate Saffy says that she is sick and tired of people telling her how wonderful it is that she’s young and single.
“The next person to tell me that gets punched in the face!” she threatened the other day after coming home from a visit to her dying aunt in the hospital. Apparently, Auntie Rosie had reached out with a bony, shaky hand to pinch Saffy’s cheeks and murmured weakly how she wished she was young and single again.
“What a thing to say!” Saffy huffed, her bosom puffing up. “I had to physically restrain myself from reaching for a pillow!”
“Old people can be so insensitive,” Amanda said while arching a perfectly drawn eyebrow.
“I’ll say!” said Saffy, completely oblivious to the sarcasm.
In the world according to Saffy, being young is one thing. But being single is a completely different kettle of fish. There’s nothing fun about being single. Especially if you’ve been single longer than you’ve ever been in a relationship. Being single, in Saffy’s books, is practically a death sentence.
“You do not want to be single!” she told her parents when they told her they were getting a divorce. “You have to go on a lot of dates when you’re single, and let me tell you that they are all dogs out there! And not the good kind either! You have to stay married.”
“But your father and I have grown apart! We have nothing in common anymore,” her mother said.
“Get over it,” Saffy advised. “It’s hell out here for singles. You’re always made to feel like a loser if you’re single.”
“Oh, that’s not true!”
“Spoken like someone who’s not been to a Chinese New Year gathering recently,” Saffy said, bitterness oozing from every syllable. “Or wedding invitations that are always to ‘Saffy and partner’, and if you don’t have a date, they stick you on the loser table of rejects from society.”
“You know, I was single once too and it really wasn’t that…”
Saffy’s bosom inflated to a dangerous volume. “The last time you were single, people still went to the library to look things up! Listen!” Saffy told her mother urgently. “You have got to stay married. It’s bad enough that I have to fight off people like Amanda for men, I am not about to have you competing with me too! No, I am not,” she added, shaking her head firmly.
Saffy’s mother laughed and it wasn’t a pretty laugh. “Dear, do you seriously think that I’m even thinking about dating again? I’ve spent half my life with your father and if I never sex again for as long as I live, it will be too soon!”
“Choy, choy, choy!” Saffy shouted piously and knocked on wood three times. “What a thing to say!”
As it turned out, Saffy’s mother got the divorce she so desperately wanted and within three months, she’d eloped with her divorce lawyer to the Bahamas where they got married on the beach.
Saffy was fit to be tied when she found out. “How the hell did that happen?” she screamed. “That’s not how it’s supposed to happen! That’s so not fair!”
“And your new step-father is cute too!” Amanda said, sliding the dagger in a few inches deeper.
Saffy spent the next few months writing to the Law Society demanding that her step-father be disbarred. He eventually found out about it and said if she kept this up, he was going to get an injunction against her. And when she was told that there was no rule against marrying one’s client, she threatened to write to the Prime Minister. Apparently, the Law Society sent her the PM’s mailing address together with a stamped envelope.
That night, Saffy went to a wedding dinner alone and told all the aunties who said how lovely it was to be young and single that they should just curl up and die. She’s been fuming ever since.
The other day, I came home to find Saffy at the dining table, tapping away at her laptop. “I’m writing a book!” she said without looking up. “It’s going to be about how once you’re married, you can’t get divorced ever. Or remarry. You made your bed, now you have to lie in it. You don’t get to double dip into the dating pool!”
“I think the Roman Catholics got to that rule before you did,” I said, but Saffy wasn’t listening.
“I’m thinking of calling it ‘Back off, Bitch!’ What do you think?”
I hesitated. “Uhm, it’s catchy.”
“And I’m going to dedicate it to my mother!” Saffy said, pounding the keys just a little too hard.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Spring Clean

I live in a pig-sty. The last I checked, I wasn’t a pig, but I live in a pig-sty. And I live in a pig-sty because my cleaning lady has very selfishly decided that she needs to go on a holiday.
A week ago, I came home to find Ah Chuan standing in the lounge room screaming at Saffy.
A complete stranger walking into this scene would have immediately dialed 999. But Ah Chuan is from Canton and having met Ah Chuan’s relatives, I can say with authority that the Cantonese never speak at a volume less than a parade of F16s. Especially if they’re excited and happy. It’s only when they speak in what the rest of the world considers a normal conversational tone that you need to be worried and slowly back away.
Which explains why Saffy’s reaction that morning was not one of fear but plain politeness. That, and a conviction that repeating something very slowly would make the incomprehensible completely understandable.
“I. Don’t. Understand. A. Word. You. Are. Saying,” she told Ah Chuan patiently. “Do. You. Understand?”
Which only served to make Ah Chuan even more excited as she increased the volume. Saffy later said that if I hadn’t show up at that moment, Ah Chuan would have gone silent on account of the fact that she was approaching a volume audible only to God and dogs.
As it turned out, Ah Chuan was taking her 80 year old mother back to Canton to visit her relatives for the last time. “How long will you be away?” I asked her in my fractured Cantonese.
“Four weeks?” Saffy said when I translated. She let the news sink in for a moment. “She’ll be gone for four weeks? But, but who’s going to do our cleaning? Oh my God! Is she allowed to do that?”
Ah Chuan was distraught at Saffy’s reaction. “OH, PLEASE TELL YOUNG MISS NOT TO FEEL UPSET! IT’S OK!” she shouted at the top of her voice. “MY MOTHER IS VERY OLD AND SHE’S HAD A VERY LONG LIFE.”
By now, Saffy was in a right old panic mode. Her legendary bosom heaved like overworked pistons. “I haven’t picked up a mop in the entire time she’s been working for us! I don’t even know where the mop is! No really, she can’t go! Tell her she can’t go!”
I blinked and it occurred to me that maybe I’d translated the wrong thing. So I tried again. “Her mother is going to see her sister for the last time, and…”
As I later told Amanda, it was like telling a joke to an approaching tsunami. “Someone needs to tell her that it’s not always about her!” I complained.
“I don’t see why we can’t just hire another temp cleaner. There are so many unemployed people out there now,” said Amanda, who’s always believed that there’s no problem in the world you can’t solve if you throw enough money at it.
“Saffy doesn’t want anyone else to clean the apartment,” I reported. “She doesn’t trust them not to go through her underwear drawer.” Amanda looked grim.
Which was why on Saturday morning, the three of us found ourselves standing before a bucket of water, a mop and a vacuum cleaner which I was sure we’d attached the wrong way.
It was an odd moment. Like Saffy, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d picked up a mop. It had taken twenty minutes to find the broom closet and another ten to recognize the mop.
Saffy broke the silence. “I don’t know what to do now,” she said in a small apologetic voice. Somehow, she managed to look – while wearing a tee-shirt that declared ‘Make it work!’ – both defiant and embarrassed.
“We’re so pathetic,” I said.
“Clearly, this is not happening,” Amanda decided, as she adjusted her expensive and wildly mopping-inappropriate D&G blouse. “I’m calling a temp.”
That was two weeks ago. Saffy vetoed the first five candidates as potential underwear perverts, while my beloved adopted mongrel dog Pooch vetoed the last two by growling very fiercely at them. “He’s a very good judge of character,” Saffy told the candidates as she shut the door firmly in their faces.
Our flat is now a pig-sty. I’m sleeping over at Karl’s, Amanda has moved to a hotel, while Saffy – in true Alamo spirit – is staying put to guard her underwear. Two weeks to go.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Age Defying

One of the most disturbing things about the passing years is that you suddenly realize that you’re not the youngest person on the bus. There I was on the 105 to Toa Payoh the other day when it occurred to me that I was a good deal older than half the bus population.
“Oh, I can’t stand her!” cooed the 14 year-old SCGS girl to her owlish bespectacled friend. (I know she was 14 because before I really tuned in to eavesdrop, she was regaling one and all about her recent birthday bash at Carls Junior.) “She’s so old, like my grandmother and she’s still jumping around like that. And I think it’s so weird that she can wrap her right leg around her neck!”
“I think she’s amazing!” said her friend.
“But act your age lah, aiyoh! You’re a mother now, you know!”
It took me a few more bus stops and enormous concentration to realize that they were talking about Madonna. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell everyone.
Amanda was outraged. “Madonna is not a grandmother!”
“Seriously, you get the best public transport conversations!” Saffy said, shaking her head. “I just get dirty old men who accidentally brush against me on their way off!”
“And not in a good way, either,” I said. Saffy squealed with delight at my feeble double entendre.
“She’s a role model for all of us!” Amanda said, steering the conversation back to Madonna, and still clearly incensed at the insensitivity of 14 year olds.
I thought of this for days afterwards. I remembered my first tutor at law school was 22 years old. And at the time, I thought, with the insufferable smugness of an 18 year old, how old even that was. And now, here I was well past 22 and still feeling 18.
When did this shift happen? When did our role models start shifting from the teenage, cruxifix and torn lace rebellion represented by the likes of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, to young Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse? More importantly, when did Madonna become old?
I still remember when her “Papa Don’t Preach” came out and there was all that fuss about what a terrible song it was, how it promoted promiscuity and glamorized teenage pregnancy. I would sit at the back of the bus trying to concentrate on my homework while that crazy Goth chick from my Chemistry class Janet Wella belted out the chorus at the top of her voice. “Papa don’t preach, I’ve been losing sleep! Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble deep!” she screeched. (Janet, if you’re reading this, are you on Facebook?!)
All this seemed like only yesterday and we were all clearly the youngest ones on the bus. Now, a continent away, I’m listening to my childhood being cruelly dissected and thrown away by pimply young girls who weren’t even born when Madonna first struck her Vogue pose.
“The little bitches,” Amanda said.
A few days ago, Trevor, a friend from law school, emailed me. “Oh God, I just bumped into Pete the other day. Remember him? He was in our crim law classes. Always walking around in summer with his shirt off to show off his body. Well, he is now HUGE and I mean fat!! FAT face...fat fat...He was with Anna. I went to their wedding a few years ago. She’s so haggard with bad bad skin. I can’t believe they were the glamour couple in school!”
Of course, I immediately Googled Pete and Anna on their law firm’s website. For half an hour, I sat there, mouth open.
“It was like a train wreck!” I skyped Amanda. “I started with their firm profiles and then I just kept clicking on our other classmates. I couldn’t stop. They all look terrible! The guys have started losing their hair and have huge eye bags and the girls look like they have three-dimensional make up on.”
She immediately went online to have a look. “Goodness!” she said after a while. “What happened to these people?”
“It’s stress!” said Saffy later that night. “Your face is the first place it shows. You sit in the office all day and see if the fat doesn’t all congeal around your butt!”
Amanda looked worried. “But, that’s what we do too. Surely, we don’t look like that?”
“Choy, choy, choy!” Saffy spat. “They’re all unhappily married. We’re unhappily single, so the stress doesn’t show. Just in our spirit. Outside, we’re still young and gorgeous.”
Amanda says she’s not taking a chance. The last I heard, she was investigating Botox. “You’re never too young to start,” she reasoned.
“Hail, Madonna!” Saffy intoned.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Clothes Call

The other day, in a rare burst of perceptive insight, my flatmate Saffy observed that you could tell there was a credit crunch going on because our other flatmate Amanda was now picking up her underwear and other delicates from M&S.
“If I hadn’t seen the packaging in her rubbish bin myself, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Saffy said, nodding to herself with satisfaction as she scanned the TV guide.
From the comfortable depths of the couch, I looked up from my book (Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, an Oprah Book Club selection if you must know). “I suppose there’s a perfectly good reason for this, but what were you doing going through Amanda’s rubbish bin?” I asked.
Saffy waved her hand around. “Oh you know,” she said vaguely as she continued to read the TV guide. “Someone needs to explain to me what the hell the big deal about Little Nonya is. I don’t know any Peranakans who speak Chinese so well.”
“You don’t know any Peranakans,” I pointed out.
Just then, Amanda emerged from her bedroom. “Has someone been going through my rubbish bin?” she asked, lifting a perfectly drawn eyebrow and staring straight at Saffy who immediately bristled.
“What, what? Why are you looking at me? Just because –, ” and because it always took a while for anything to register on her consciousness, she paused and blinked. “What are you wearing?”
Amanda beamed. “You like it? I got it today at This Fashion. It cost less than a Starbucks cappuccino!” she said, though I couldn’t help but think that these days, most things cost less than a Starbucks cappuccino.
As Saffy later said, “It was like she wearing a zipper!”
I said technically, Amanda was wearing a dress but Saffy replied that that would be really stretching the idea of a dress, like saying that Cheezels is a food group.
But for the moment, she was shaking her head wildly. “Wait a minute, wait a minute. You were at This Fashion? How do you even know about This Fashion?”
“Excuse me, I wish you would stop making me out like I’m a fashion snob or something!”
“But you are!” Saffy said.
“Well, I was just passing by after my meeting and I happened to notice the dress on the mannequin in the window. Why have I never ever noticed that shop?”
“Because your ensuite bathroom leads directly into Gucci’s dressing room?” Saffy suggested.
Amanda trilled with laughter and disappeared back into her bedroom.
“If that dress was one millimetre shorter, the world would have been her gynaecologist,” Saffy said later to Karl over afternoon tea. She pursed her lips with disapproval while his eyes turned moist.
“You guys lead the best lives!” he said earnestly. “I miss being single!”
“Seriously, you are one bedpan from turning into a dirty old man,” she told him severely. “But the more shocking thing is she’s now actually shopping at This Fashion! She can go on as much as she likes about how great that dress is, but I can sniff a money-saving strategy a shopping mall away. What is the world coming to?” Saffy said, shaking her head.
“It’s a credit crunch,” I said, reaching for another pressed sandwich. “We all have to make sacrifices.”
“Yes, but still. And she’s wearing M&S underwear!”
Karl choked on his scone. “How do you know?” he asked goggle-eyed.
On our way home, Saffy said that Karl must really not be getting any from his dreadful harpy of a wife, Marsha. “Did you see how hot and bothered he got just by the mention of Amanda’s underwear?” she sniffed as she stared down, with affection, at her fabulous bosom as if to point out that Karl had clearly been getting hot and bothered about the wrong woman.
Meanwhile, the kitchen cupboard where we store plastic bags is growing with bags from This Fashion which leads us to wonder if Amanda is single-handedly keeping the store in business.
“I just happen to like their stuff,” she said stoutly the other day. “I wish you’d stop making such a big deal about it.”
But what is annoying Saffy no end is just how good Amanda looks in a $15.95 dress. “The other day, I told her I really liked her skirt, thinking that it was a Miu Miu or something and that she’d let me borrow it and she said it was This Fashion! I bet you if I got into it, I’d look like that woman who sells me fried beehoon! Or, ” she paused and thought, “a cast member from Little Nonya.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

I Do?

Our friend Muna recently got married to her long time boyfriend Nasruddin.

“Seriously, it’s about time,” Saffy said as she inspected the wedding invitation the day before. “They’ve been dating like since before Mariah’s breakdown. And I’m loving the paper stock of this invite. See, this is what wedding invitations should be like!” she said, her ample bosom heaving with approval.

Recently, another set of friends John and Sook Heng had sent out an email invitation which scandalised Amanda. “I hope this isn’t the actual invitation!” she said. In a rare meeting of minds, Saffy also refused to attend the wedding dinner and sent the happy couple a snapshot of her lying on a beach in Phuket and a note that said, “Just prop this picture of me on the seat!”

To all her friends, she complained, “Well, if I’m not even worth a hard copy invite on proper stationery, then they’re not worth the real me showing up.” Which led her best friend Sharyn to wonder to me, “Wah, like that can, meh?”

I sighed and said that weddings always made the girls weird. “Remember that time Saffy poured a whole bowl of sharks-fin soup down the chief bridesmaid’s dress because she made that joke about single women being desperate?” I said happily. “I’m just dying to see what happens at Muna’s. It’s their first void deck wedding!”

A few days later, the three of us piled into a cab to head to Bedok. “I’m not sure I understand the romance of a void deck marriage,” Amanda said, as she delicately adjusted the lace on her latest Prada outfit.

“I think we’re overdressed,” Saffy grumbled as she adjusted her bra strap. I spotted the cab driver flick his eyes back and forth his rear-view mirror. “Please watch where you’re going, Uncle,” I said.

Just then an SMS arrived from Barney Chen on all three phones: ‘I am trying very hard not to slap my cab driver who has CLEARLY taken the long way! Will be late!’

The thing I love about Malay weddings is the whole informality of it all. You usually hear the noise long before you see the actual gathering, but there’s a stream of people in colourful tudungs and sarongs milling around handsome kids clinging to their patient parents. People come and go. Struggle through the sea of aunties and grannies to say hello to the bride and groom sitting on the stage in their finest silks and extravagant make-up. Grab a plate, get served, find the nearest empty table. Sit, say hello to a complete stranger, eat, get up and go home just in time for a repeat of American Idol.

I’ve found that if I don’t dally at a Malay wedding, I can be done in an hour.

Which can be disconcerting to those used to the tedious drawn out drama of Chinese weddings with their ridiculous costume changes by the bride, business card exchanges and endless rounds of half-hearted yum-sings.

“Have we actually missed the ceremony?” Saffy asked as she stood at the foot of the stairs of block 13 and surveyed the organised chaos before her. “And is that Muna over there on that dais? Good lord, her make-up is three dimensional!”

“This humidity is ruining my outfit. We need to sit under a fan!” Amanda instructed as she stepped smartly towards an empty table. I headed to the buffet table. I’d spotted mee rebus.

The novelty of a Malay wedding kept everyone happily engaged, though at one stage, Amanda completely forgot where she was and asked one of the passing maciks if there was a chance she could get a gin and tonic.

“You know,” Barney Chen said as he idly stroked the plastic table covering and stared at the distant couple, “I’m happy for Muna and Nas and everything, but I just can’t imagine beginning my married life under a pink and white tulle tent in a Bedok HDB void deck!”

“I think it’s great. It’s so festive! And think of all the money you save,” I said.

“Meanwhile, it’s only just occurring to me that Malay men are seriously hot!” Saffy said suddenly, as she sat up to concentrate and look around the concrete hall. “Look at the beautiful eyes on that guy over there!”

“Back away slowly, bitch,” Barney warned. "I saw him first."

“How could I,” Saffy said, by now completely in a parallel universe, “with all my extensive dating history, have missed an entire demographic?”

Leave it to Sharyn to be practical when she heard about this. “She eat rendang every day, her constipation how?”