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.”