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.