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 cafĂ© 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!”