Saturday, December 25, 2010

Weight Watching

As part of their new year’s resolutions, my flatmates Saffy and Amanda have embarked on a diet. I’m not exactly sure what this diet is called, but it involves a lot of carrots and celeries.

“Apparently, a celery stick has no calories at all!” Saffy said the other day as she crunched with great energy. “In fact, you burn up more calories just by chewing the stuff! It’s wonderful. All the top models do it!”

“But why are you trying to lose weight? You’re not fat!” I said.

As Saffy later posted on Facebook, it’s comments like this that illustrate the vast gulf between men and women: “When it comes to weight, you can never trust the opinion of a guy!”The post excited a lot of comments, the quality of which ranged from probing (“Yar, lor!” from Sharyn) to sublimely sexist (“Can u post before and after pix?” from Karl).

For women, the act of losing weight is a sacred event. They approach it with the kind of dedication and focused single-mindedness you rarely see outside of an episode of “America’s Next Top Model”. The actual loss of weight is an event that ranks way up there with a High Holy Holiday.

Amanda says the whole weight loss drama is all the fault of men.

“Do you think I’m starving myself just so that I can fit into a size one dress?” she asked rhetorically recently, while chewing slowly on a crusty, day old slice of bread with nothing on it. She’d read somewhere that chewing slowly helps trick the mind into thinking that it’s eating a lot, so you get full quickly on very little.

“No, I don’t,” she went on. “I starve myself so I can fit into a size one dress in the hope that some worthless guy will find me attractive enough to ask me out on a date. If my whole life wasn’t genetically coded to finding a man, marrying him and having children just so I can stop listening to my parents bitch and moan about how all their friends’ children are married with children, I would be eating corn chips for breakfast, I’d be the size of a tip truck and I’d be wearing sweat pants all day!”

The idea of Amanda in sweat pants occupied us for days. Saffy said that she didn’t even think Amanda had anything in her wardrobe that remotely resembled sweat pants. “It continually astonishes me that she has such a tough time landing a guy. I mean look at her!” she exclaimed, her magnificent bosom swelling with incredulity and added, staring at me accusingly, “You could lose a few kilos yourself, you know!”

Meanwhile, the dieting continues. Six times a day, before and after each meal, the girls weigh themselves and laboriously record the results on a clipboard.

“I’ve lost 20 grams!” Amanda said with great triumph the other day. “Another fifty grams, and I’ll officially be a size two!”

“It’s so unfair!” Saffy moaned. “I’ve gained half a kilo! How is that possible? I’ve just been eating celery sticks for days!”

Last night, we were watching a documentary on BBC about parasites and suddenly Saffy sat up on the couch.

“Oh! A tapeworm! That’s what I need, a tapeworm!”

From the corner of the room, my slumbering beloved adopted mongrel dog Pooch lifted an eye and cocked his ear.

“What do you need a tapeworm for?” I asked.

“To lose weight, of course!” Saffy exclaimed. “If I ingest a tapeworm, it’ll basically sit in my digestive tracts and eat up all my food!”

Amanda frowned while I recoiled deeper into the couch. “You know,” she began, “you’ve come up with some really weird ideas, but this one is truly the grossest!”

“No, really, think about it! It just needs to hang around inside me for a week or so, and then I’ll just take a pill and flush it out!”

“Please don’t tell people I know you,” I begged.

But by now, Saffy was tripping happily in her parallel universe where she was as thin as Kate Moss and as popular with the boys as the new girl at a strip joint. “I wonder though where I would get a tapeworm! A hawker centre? No, the government would have been onto it like a tonne of bricks. They’re so disgustingly efficient, I can’t stand it.”

“Why don’t you try licking the sidewalk?” I said sarcastically.

Just then, Saffy looked up and turned towards Pooch. She had a gleam in her eyes.

Amanda and I said, at the same time, “Oh, you must be joking…”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Decent Proposal

My friend Janette recently embarked on a long distance relationship.

To hear her tell it, the whole thing is entirely uncharacteristic of her. “I don’t like surprises and long distance relationships are so risky, not to mention expensive!” she said recently over lunch, adding, “I like predictability and stability. It’s why I became a chartered accountant.”

Later, Saffy said it’s also why Janette has been single for so long. “Who dates chartered accountants?” she asked rhetorically, managing to both insult millions of otherwise inoffensive career number crunchers while completely side-stepping the fact that her own dating track-record has been far from earthshaking.

But back to my lunch.

Janette met Joshua at Zouk. “We were with different friends, and we were dancing on the dance floor and somehow he ended up stepping on my Jimmy Choo’s. It was so romantic!” she said. (“Who goes to Zouk these days, unless you’re a fetus?” Saffy asked.)

Amid the deafening thump-thump-thump of the music, Janette gave Joshua her phone number and went home that night to dream of their first kiss. The next day, he called, which, according to Saffy and Amanda, breaks every single rule of dating.

“You’re meant to wait at least three days!” Amanda said with disapproval in her voice.

“He was only in town for two days!” I pointed out.

“Then he should have called from Hong Kong. That shows he’s serious. If a guy calls you the very next day, it just means he wants only one thing from you, and it’s not going to be to borrow your ‘Mad Men’ box-set!”

Joshua asked Janette out for coffee. They did the usual exchange of CVs. He’s English, went to a posh boarding school and works in an American law firm in Hong Kong.

(“So, he’s filth!” Amanda said.

“That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?” I said.

“No, no. All caps. F-I-L-T-H. Failed in London, Try Hong Kong!"

“Janette says he’s a partner. And that he’s gorgeous.”

“So, why is he still single?” Saffy wanted to know. “He should have been snapped up by now by any number of Hong Kong SPGs. What’s wrong with him?”)

“We just clicked, you know?” Janette said as she picked delicately at her salad. “We like so many of the same things. He’s back in Singapore next week for work and we’ve been talking or texting every day. And the best part is that I’ve got that funny butterfly thing in my stomach every time I think about him. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve felt like that?”

That was six months ago. Since then, Janette has been heading up to Hong Kong every month, while Joshua pops down to Singapore every other weekend. A few days ago, on one of his visits, Janette threw a party at her home and finally introduced him to her friends.

The first thing Saffy said to us was: “Oh my God, she met him at Zouk? There are single straight guys that look like him at Zouk? Why are we not there more regularly?”

Amanda sighed into her gin and tonic. “Because every time we go, it’s just a bunch of post-high-school children. Maybe we leave too early?”

“It’s so unfair!” Saffy said as she sent a beady look beaming across Janette’s living room at Joshua who was cuddling Janette. You could tell Saffy was mentally inserting herself into his brawny tanned arms.

All of which has led me to conclude that dating is no different from playing the lottery. You could buy 4-D religiously every week for your whole life and have nothing to show for it except a pile of broken financial dreams. Then, one day, someone who’s never gambled in his life decides to try his luck on a single ticket and ends up winning $10m. None of it makes sense, and if you did try to make sense of it all, you’d probably go mad with anger and frustration.

A few days ago, Janette announced that she’s packing up and moving to Hong Kong.

You could practically hear Saffy’s scream across the island. “He’s proposed? Already?!”

“No, but Janette said it’s pretty clear that the relationship is going somewhere, so she might as well give it a go,” I said.

Janette’s news has fully occupied the girls’ attention for days now. A small part of them burns with jealousy, while a larger part is thrilled at the fairy tale romance quality of the relationship. As Amanda says, it’s proof that love can strike in the most unlikely of places and that there’s always hope. Just when you least expect it.

Which also explains why she and Saffy recently renewed their Zouk club membership.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Snow Blight

Here I am in London.

Stuck.

In the middle of a freaking snow-storm that has turned the whole city into a pretty icing-sugar sprinkled landscape.

Which, translated from its Hallmark sentiments, means that the airports have all shut down.

“What do you mean you can’t leave London!” my flatmate Saffy shouted all the way from Singapore. “It’s just an itsy bitsy bit of snow! It’s barely four inches according to the newspapers!”

“Yeah, well, in this town, four inches is enough to shut everything down! And it’s so cold!” I moaned.

“How cold? Cold enough to wear mink?” Saffy asked, her tone of voice shifting from meteorological outrage to sartorial interest.

“It was minus four degrees last night. Thank God the heaters are working around here. Last year, when my sister was here, everything broke down, remember?”

Saffy says it continues to astonish her that anyone still thinks of the United Kingdom as a First World country. “Public transportation strikes. Students going on the rampage because they have to pay school fees. Airports closing because of a bit of snow. Seriously?”

“I was at Heathrow for hours on Saturday,” I reported, “and then they said all flights have been cancelled, so I had to lug my luggage all the way back from the airport to the flat. It took me five hours! There were no taxis at the airport express station so I then I had to wait for the bus and then the bus stopped a mile away from home because it couldn’t make it up the snow covered streets, so I had to drag everything through the cold! I was so traumatized by the time I got back!”

Even I could detect the ascending note of whining in my voice.

And through it all – the trauma of the crowds in Heathrow, the overstuffed trains packed with depressed passengers, the snail-paced crawl of the bus and the chilly one-mile trudge home on the slushy muddy footpaths – all I could think of was that this sort of thing would never happen in Singapore.

Say what you will about the place, especially if you’re a foreign media or a placard-waving dyed-in-the-wool libertarian protestor, but Singapore works. And if it doesn’t work, the government will find a way. Yes, the result is that the whole place can be a little sterile and safe, but really, give me sterile and safe any day as long as it comes with a fully functional, efficient piece of infrastructure.

My overseas friends, especially those in England, are always rabbiting on about how strict the Singapore government is. “Don’t they cane people for vandalizing cars?” one woman asked me at a dinner party the other day. She actually looked shocked.
When I replied that people who vandalise property should not only be caned, but that they should also be made to walk around in public naked for a month, she gave me a tight smile and turned away and didn’t speak to me for the rest of dinner.

“I would have pushed her face into her bowl of soup!” Saffy said when we Skyped the next day. “Why didn’t you do her some bodily harm?”

“I miss Changi airport,” I said wistfully. “Isn’t it just about the best airport in the world?"

“Totally,” Saffy said. “I was watching the Channel 5 news last night and they were showing the crowds and the piles of luggage at Heathrow and I said to Amanda that you’d never see this kind of nonsense in Changi.”

“Well, it is in the Tropics,” I pointed out.

“I don’t care,” Saffy said stubbornly. “Even if Changi was in the South Pole, things would still be working!”

Just then, Amanda’s face popped into view over Saffy’s shoulder.

“I think you’re going to be stuck there till after Boxing Day! Are you keeping warm?”

I said that I’d barely left the flat except for brief excursions to the supermarket for more food.

“I bet it’s really pretty though, what with the snow and everything,” Amanda said.
“I guess it is, but I’m just praying that the heating holds up. Otherwise, I’d rather just die.”

Choy!” Saffy spat.

So, here I am, in the run-up to Christmas, snowed-in. Tens of thousands of passengers are stuck at Heathrow and there’s a severe weather warning about more snow and colder temperatures. I’d like to say it’s all a bit of an adventure, but I can’t.

And last night, I dreamt of grilled sting-ray and big plates of rojak.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Split Personalities

So, I hear that Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson are calling it a day on their two year old marriage. Which, as some joker on the Internet pointed out, is making a lot of men and women out there extremely happy.

In the little flat that I share with Saffy and Amanda, the news has been greeted with the kind of shock that you would normally associate with, say, Oprah knocking on your front door.

“They were such a beautiful couple,” Amanda sighed the other day while flipping the pages of her latest copy of US Weekly. “So beautiful.”

“That body!” Saffy moaned.

Amanda looked up. “Whose body?”

Saffy’s eyes widened. “Ryan’s, course! Those abs of his! Oh. My. God. I would give my left little toe to be able to run my fingers all over that body!”

“Oh, I thought maybe you were talking about Scarlett’s. I loved her in that skin tight leotard in ‘Ironman 2’! They seemed so happy on the red carpet,” Amanda said, her fingers lovingly tracing, on the magazine, Scarlett’s outfit at the Oscars. “Who knew they were having problems?”

“So sad,” Saffy said, her head shaking.

As I later told Barney Chen, they could not have been sadder if their own father had been caught on TV entertaining a hooker in a Geylang brothel. “It’s not as if they’re bosom buddies with Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson!” I said. “In fact, they didn’t even know who Ryan Reynolds was until they watched ‘Blade Trinity’!”

“Ooooh, I loved that movie!” Barney Chen crooned. “All those half-naked men running around with blades and guns! It was so stupid, it was fabulous!”

“Well, now Saffy has those pictures of Ryan Reynolds tied up in chains in that dungeon as her screensaver on her phone and laptop. She’s even started up a scrapbook. What is she, twelve?”

“Who can blame her!”

It’s a little strange how celebrity obsessed we’ve all become. Slavishly, we follow every step and mis-step of people we don’t know and whom we will never meet. Thanks to Twitter, we now know exactly what Ashton Kutcher is up to at any given time. We know what TV show Oprah is watching tonight. Thanks to Gawker.com, we know who Angelina Jolie was having dinner with two days ago.

Over time, we become so connected and attached to them that when something tragic happens to them, it’s almost like a death in our own family. When Heath Ledger passed away, Saffy sat in her room and sobbed, while Amanda and Barney had a sleep-over and watched all his movies in one sitting; though Amanda later said that Barney insisted they watch ‘Brokeback Mountain’ twice.

And now, the untimely divorce of Ryan and Scarlett. Saffy says this sort of thing always happens in threes, and is now scouring Gawker for clues as to who the next two couples heading for Splitsville will be.

Over lunch, Sharyn said maybe it would be a Mediacorp couple and began speculating. She didn’t get very far because Saffy interrupted her with a look of death and said, “We’re talking about genuine celebrities, Sharyn! Like Brad and Angelina. Or Johnny and Vanessa. People with real money and star power! We don’t care about local artiste couples who are so cheapskate that they get their weddings sponsored!”

“Wah, like that, one, ah!” Sharyn said and took a sip of her sugar-cane juice. Later, on Facebook, she posted just one word: “Cheem.”

The other day, Amanda said that it’s a wonder that people in Hollywood get married in the first place. “It’s bad enough trying to date in the first place,” she said as she got ready for dinner with Peter, an oncologist she’d met online.

“Can you imagine having to do it all with the whole world watching as well? And then you go and give all those interviews to Vanity Fair saying how fulfilled you are and how you’ve found your soul mate and the next thing you know, you read about your husband’s affairs on Perez Hilton and you’re giving interviews to Larry King on CNN about how unhappy you really were in your marriage! It’s so tragic! I’m not sure I should be wearing this dress. It’s not showing enough cleavage. Get out of my room, Jason, I need to change!”

Saffy piped up and said it just goes to show that marriage is all a waste of time. “If two beautiful people like Ryan and Scarlett with all their looks and money can’t make it work, what hope do the rest of us have?”

You couldn’t help but notice how Amanda just stood in front of the mirror and stared at her reflection.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Covert Operations

Regular readers of this column may remember that, for the longest time, I held out from getting onto Facebook. Between email and the handphone, it already took up entire days just to keep in touch with the people I really wanted to be friends with.

“I don’t need 150 friends!” I remember telling our cleaning lady, Ah Chuan. Later, I discovered not only did the woman who washed my underwear and brushed our toilets have 520 friends on Facebook, she was also a genius with Photoshop.

With little prompting, she’d taken down a fridge picture of me, Saffy and Amanda that was taken at some party, digitally moved us to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and given us all amazing face-lifts.

For a couple of weeks, she used that photo as her Facebook profile. Which made us all feel very special until one day we discovered that she’d replaced us with a picture of another family she cleaned for. This time, she’d digitally relocated that family to the base of the Taj Mahal, right next to Princess Diana.

“Shouldn’t she be working for Pixar or something?” Saffy wondered as she marvelled at how good she looked without puffy eye-bags. She promptly accepted Ah Chuan’s invitation to be Facebook friends and then spent the next week complaining: “It’s all in Chinese! I can’t read Chinese! Why am I Facebook friends with her?”

“What if she’s saying something very uncomplimentary about us and our cleanliness?” Amanda asked, ever alert to the possibility of a lawsuit, even if it involved someone whom, judging by the ferociously efficient way in which she can chop up an entire chicken in fifteen seconds, we are all convinced has intimate ties to the Hong Kong triads.

My best friend Karl said the more important question was not why we were Facebook friends with someone who only wrote in Chinese, but rather why we were Facebook friends with our cleaning lady in the first place.

“That’s so elitist of you!" Saffy huffed. "She’s a human being. Barely. Why can’t we be Facebook friends?”(“But why would you?” Karl asked me by text message.)

“And anyway, she’s already seen all my underwear,” Saffy added, “and when you’ve seen all my underwear, there’s not a lot that I can be private about anymore.”

But still, Amanda’s question lingered and we wondered. Could our cleaning lady actually be making fun of us right in front of our backs, as Saffy very succinctly put it.

So one day, under the pretext of inviting our friend Sharyn over for afternoon tea, we sat her down with a laptop and instructed her to translate Ah Chuan’s Chinese posts on Facebook.

“Nothing, what,” Sharyn said after a while. “She go shopping with her daughter at Tampines. She fetch her grand-daughter from day care. She looking forward to Chinese New Year. She post a YouTube video of Jay Chou. And Aaron Kwok. And a scene from ‘Lust Caution’. Wah, she very ham-sup, one, your Ah Chuan. Here, she say she clean your flat and play with Bu Zher. Ay, who is Bu Zher, hah?”

For a few wild seconds, we entertained images of Ah Chuan having a wild torrid sex with some illegal construction worker from Guangdong on our sofa before it dawned on us that Bu Zher was, in fact, the transliteration of my beloved adopted mongrel dog, Pooch.

“Is that what’s happening, Poochie?” Amanda crooned to the dog who lifted his head from beneath the dining table where he’d been napping. “Do you play with Auntie Ah Chuan?”

“I think we should install a nanny-cam in this flat,” Saffy decided. “Goodness knows what that woman gets up to here when we’re not around!”

“Aiyoh, you people, ah!” Sharyn sighed. “Got nothing better to do, is it? Orredi waste so much time on Facebook, now must spy on the maid, some more!

It’s funny what happens when you spend enough time scrolling through a person’s Facebook wall. An image begins to form and quite often, it’s not the same one you have of the person you know. Somehow, it feels more real and unguarded. Because the Ah Chuan standing in the rain at a bus stop in Toa Payoh waiting to collect her grand-child was not the same woman who so efficiently, and fiercely cleaned our flat every week, and who screamed as us when we left unwashed bowls in the sink.

“That doesn’t mean she’s not still a very scary woman,” Saffy said.

No, it didn’t, but I made a mental note to ask Ah Chuan, the next time she came to clean, to take Pooch out for a walk. Just the two of them.

Friday, November 26, 2010

(No) Thank you for the music!

A few nights ago, we went to Zouk. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was a feeble, subconscious attempt to recapture the glory of our youth, when we thought nothing of showing up at midnight and danced till 2.30, and then went out for supper at that corner bah kut teh joint on the corner of River Valley and Mohamed Sultan Road.

These days, it’s a real struggle to even keep my eyes open at 10pm and the idea of actually getting dressed at 11.30pm to go out filled me with dread.

“Oh, don’t be such an old uncle!” Saffy said even as she lay on her bed, eyes closed while clawing weakly at the side of the bed in an attempt to get up. “I’m just taking a disco nap! That’s allowed!”

“Why are we going?” I asked from the comfortable depths of the sofa.

“Because we always spend our Friday nights at home and it’s not normal!” Amanda said crisply as she emerged from her room resplendent in a cute little Miu Miu dress and trailing a scent of Dior. “We need to have some fun and out there,” she said, pointing a red-lacquered finger through the lounge room window, “out there is ‘fun’! So, quit complaining, get up and get dressed!”

As Saffy later shouted to me in the dark caverns of Zouk, our entire bodies vibrating with the heavy bass thumping out of the hidden woofers, it’s a wonder Amanda never found a career in the army. “She’s so incredibly bossy! Oh my God, could this music be any louder?”

And right at that moment, I couldn’t help but wonder why I had left the cool comforts of my flat and the companionable warmth of my beloved adopted mongrel dog Pooch to spend precious sleep time in the dark with a swarm of very enthusiastic but slightly smelly, barely post-pubescent children who clearly were high on something. Because I simply did not understand the music that club was playing.

The music I grew up with had melody. Some had catchy riffs. Some had great lyrics. Some had great orchestrations. Some had it all. And each sounded different. Unique. But most of all, the music made sense.

That night, all I heard – or rather, all I felt, since the music was so loud it completely bypassed my auditory canals and went straight for my nerve endings – was thump, thump, thump, chika, chika, thump, thump...And all around me, people were swaying, their arms enthusiastically pumping the air, eyes closed as they fell into a relentless beat that just never stopped. Days later, I could still feel the thump in the soles of my feet. And that’s all I remembered of the music. Not a single lyric. Not a single melody. Just that thump, thump, chika, chika, thump, thump…


“When did you turn into such an old man?” Barney Chen said after listening to me complain about the state of today’s music. He passed me his iPod and ear-pieces. “Here, listen to this and tell me it’s not a great song!”

So I sat there for three or four minutes listening to someone blather what sounded like “Ra-ra-wa-ah-hiya, wa-ha-ro-ma-ha-ha”.

“Oh my God, you didn’t like that?” Barney gasped, his hand clutching his barrel-chest. “That’s Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’! It’s my private national anthem!”

“But it makes no sense!” I said.

“What do you mean it makes no sense? ‘I want your ugly, I want your disease, I want your everything as long as it’s free!’ It’s fabulous!”

“That doesn’t mean anything!”I bleated. “How do you want someone’s ‘ugly’? And why would you want anyone’s disease in the first place?”

“Oh excuse me,” Barney Chen huffed, “and the lyrics to ‘MacArthur Park’ make so much sense, do they? ‘Someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can’t take it, cause I took so long to bake it and I’ll never have that recipe again, oh no!’” Barney belted out the chorus, completely oblivious to the looks the rest of Starbucks was giving him. And when he finished, he turned to me and said, “Seriously?”

I paused. “I thought that was one of your favourite songs?”

Barney blushed. “It is. But only the Donna Summer version! My point is that you just have to go with the flow. So the modern music doesn’t make sense to you, but who says it has to?

That night, I went onto YouTube and called up Lady Gaga. As Saffy walked past my open door, she heard me mutter, “‘I want your leather studded kiss in the sand!’ Really?”

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's a Mystery!

There are so many mysteries in life. What happens when we die? Why do diets never work? Why does one woman look smoking hot in a dress, but another look like the cleaning lady with a bad hair day in the exact same dress? Why do people still use the phrase “exact same” when it’s so clearly bad grammar? How do planes stay up in the air? The list is endless.

But in Singapore, the categories of mysteries take on a whole other dimension. Maybe it’s the tropical air that makes everything feel a little bit more surreal.

1. Why do people, who would never dream of missing a plane, think it’s acceptable to show up an hour late for a wedding?
2. While dressed in short-sleeved polo knits and jeans?
3. How has David Gan made so much money just from cutting hair that he can afford to give, on a regular basis, five-figure presents to his friends?
4. Why is he not friends with me?
5. Why is it impossible to read any article about David Gan without him telling you how much something costs?
6. Why are so many Singaporeans so scared of dogs? Even if they’re little poodles?
7. Eriche, Jacelyn, Pearlyn, Concept, Pamelyn, Mindee, Ericson, Messiah… Where do people come up with their names?
8. Has anyone watched a Singaporean play recently that didn’t have a gay theme or involve some degree of cross-dressing?
9. Why do people still insist on calling the smoke from the forest fires in Indonesia and Malaysia, ‘the haze’? It’s smelly, foul, stinky smoke.
10. Why do the TCS artistes never seem to pay for their own wedding? If you can’t afford to pay for your own wedding dress/jewellery/suit/wedding venue/make-up artist/hair-dresser/honeymoon, why are you getting married in the first place?
11. Artist, ok. Actor, ok. Thespian, ok. But what the hell is an ‘artiste’?
12. Why do people continue to murder people and smuggle drugs and then complain when they get handed the death penalty?
13. How on earth did Singapore end up with such a super-dooper efficient infrastructure while the rest of the world increasingly operates like a Third World sweat shop?
14. (Question from Saffy) Is the Prime Minister wearing the same cardigan every time he appears on Question Time?
15. (Question from Amanda) If so, what label is it?
16. (Question from Barney Chen) Does the Prime Minister work out?
17. (Question from Amanda) If so, where?
18. In what way do questions 14 to 17 qualify as ‘Singaporean mysteries’?
19. Why don’t bus drivers know if, say, Rochor Road is on their route?
20. Why do people on the bus always force you to climb over them to get to the window seat? Why can’t they just move in?
21. Why don’t people smile more at the hawker centre? All that amazing cheap food on offer and everyone still looks like they’re in the middle of a typhoid epidemic.
22. Why is it that once you’ve flown on Singapore Airlines, every other plane just feels like a smelly, medieval dump?
23. Why don’t motorists indicate when they’re changing lanes?
24. Or stop at zebra crossings?
25. And why do they persist in believing that an amber or red light is an all clear to speed up?
26. Why can’t the rest of the world’s airports look, feel, and run like Changi?
27. Why are men still carrying their girlfriends’ handbags in public?
28. Or is their girlfriend actually not a girl?
29. How do hair-washers wash your hair while you’re sitting upright without dripping water and shampoo all over your clothes?
30. Why do so many people not flush the public toilets?
31. Why do public toilets always seem so wet? Where is all that water splashing from?
32. Why do Chinese weddings feel so dull while Malay and Indian weddings seem so much more festive?
33. How does Fann Wong still look so freakishly young after all these years?
34. Why, with all his good looks and charm, does Christopher Lee continue to insist on dressing like a homeless street bum with really bad hair?
35. Why aren’t there more Lee Kuan Yews in this world?
36. Why do people still think that a phone message is an amusing piece of paper that’s meant to be ignored?
37. And despite all this, why – after even just a few days away and the plane finally touches down at Changi – does it always feel like you’ve come home?

Wedded Bliss

One of the things that I will simply never be able to get used to in Singapore is the wedding dinner. Really, they are just plain weird.

Wedding dinners to me are supposed to be a celebration when close friends and family come together to rejoice at a couple’s union (which, hopefully, will be long lived, but that’s another story).

It begins with the ceremony where everyone gathers in church or by the beach. The bride shows up in glowing white (although I’ve been to a few where the mother of the groom will whisper in a penetrating voice that the bride simply has no business wearing white, ‘If you know what I mean!’, but that too is another story). During the exchange of vows, the groom will get misty-eyed, the bride’s mother will cry and all the guys in the church are wondering who that hot bridesmaid is, while the women are wondering who the slut is.

Then it’s off to the wedding dinner, where the champagne flows freely, hilarious speeches and toasts are made, and everybody dances the night away and, as happened at one wedding I attended, the groom was found making out with that hot bridesmaid behind the stage.

Meanwhile, this is what happens when two Singaporeans get married. There is a signature session at the ROM which next to nobody attends. Then the bride goes home to her parents’ home and the groom to his (there is a quick meeting later at the HDB lawyers) and everyone forgets about the whole thing until a year later, an invitation arrives in the mail announcing a dinner at the Shangri-la ballroom.

Now about this dinner…I love the fact that by the time you’re into the main course, people are still arriving, oblivious to the fact that they are over an hour late. And completely unapologetic about it all.

“Ah, I overslept, lah!” one guest announced at a recent wedding when he and his date showed up during the second yum-sing. He immediately began handing out his business cards.

“It’s 9.30 – uh, Eriche!” my flatmate, Saffy blurted out, reading the card carefully. “Are you working the nightshift or something?

The man looked at her blankly. “No. I was having a nap.”

Saffy stared at the man. “Till 9.30 p.m.?”

The girl laughed. “No, lah! We had to go to my parents’ house first for dinner!”

“But I don’t get it!” Saffy said later, with considerable agitation, as she forced me to accompany her to the bathroom. “This is a wedding dinner! Why would you have dinner somewhere else when you’re already invited to a dinner? Why? Why?” she muttered as she disappeared into the ladies.

When she eventually emerged twenty minutes later, she was still venting, “And what sort of a name is Eriche anyway? Is that like a pretentious version of Eric?”

By the time we got back to our table, the speeches had begun. Not that you would have known since no one was paying the best man the least bit of attention. The table next to us was being regaled to a dirty joke, while people got up and walked around chatting on their phone. Years later, people would be surprised to learn that the best man had delivered a speech at all. “Got, meh?” I imagine them asking.

After a while, our other flatmate, Amanda simply gave up shushing people and whipped out her handphone to start messaging her current boyfriend.

“If you can’t beat them, join them!” she said with a shrug to Saffy’s exasperated glare.

“How come there’s never any dancing at these weddings?” Saffy complained. “I want to dance!”

“This is so boring!” I moaned, picking at my roast duck. “Can we go?”

“They’re still speaking!” Saffy exclaimed, her ample chest heaving with agitation.

“Saf, people are already leaving!”

“But dinner is not even over yet! Where’s everyone going?”

“Probably to get supper,” Amanda said crisply, deliberately turning away from the dirty old man seated next to her who’d been giving her looks all evening.

As if on cue, Eriche and his girlfriend got up to leave, their party favours safely tucked away in the girl’s handbag. “Udderwise, stuck in traffic, lah!” he said cheerfully.

Later in the cab, Saffy swore that she would never get used to Singaporean weddings. “No games. No music. No cute, single, straight men. No dancing. No fun,” she recited, ticking items off on her fingers. “I might as well have stayed at home in bed.”

“I can’t believe that we just collectively spent $300 on that wedding dinner,” Amanda said. “We could have had such a great time at Morton’s!”

There was a brief silence in the cab. Then Saffy piped up quietly, “You gave a $100 ang pow? I gave $70. And I thought that was too much!”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Present Tense

When I was younger – and for those of you who are still young, that means in the years that began with a “19” – I loved Christmas. It was such fun to wake up on Christmas Day with the full expectation that the day ahead would involve nothing but opening up lot of lovely presents.

Of course, I can’t now remember most of those presents, though my sister likes to say that probably the most memorable of all was the one Auntie Pei-ling gave her good for nothing husband, Uncle Charlie: a pretty gift-wrapped box that contained the divorce papers. Leave it to my mother to point out that when you give someone a present like that, it kind of kills the buzz of a well-planned Christmas party.

Not that it kept Uncle Charlie down for long. By the time the next Christmas rolled around, he was happily married to his secretary who, despite Auntie Pei-ling telling everyone she was young enough to be his daughter, was a fifty-five year old woman with strong thighs, three grown children and the sweetest temper. And when, ten years later, Uncle Charlie suffered a major stroke while watching the season finale of “Bay Watch”, Auntie Nellie nursed him tenderly right through to the end.

As it turned out, the divorce papers were the best present Uncle Charlie ever got.
My point is, when you grow up with such high gift giving standards, it’s pretty difficult for anything else to match up. For starters, each year, it becomes more of a chore to come up with a great present. Nothing says ‘painful’ more than having to battle the crowds on Orchard Road in the weeks leading up to Christmas, waiting in line for someone to serve you, to pay and to get your presents wrapped. And then having to line up for the taxis and deal with the traffic jams. Or, line up for the MRT and deal with the crowds who insist on standing right at the entrance.

Worse is going through all that effort and then getting in return some crappy gift from someone who, clearly, has put no thought and zero effort into the present. And over the years, I’ve received some clunkers for presents. It infuriates me.
Of course, there will be some people who say it’s the act of giving that’s important, not so much what you get. I try not to be friends with people like that.
Which leads me to conclude that Christmas is really the time when you find out how little most people know you. Or, worse, how little they like you.

Why, for instance, would a supposedly good friend give another supposedly good friend a box of Pokka chocolate biscuits and a cheap jar of jam from your void deck supermarket? Or a crappy glass plate shaped like a leaf to which is Scotch-taped a tiny bag of peanuts? Or a pair of Marks and Spencer socks? (These are all examples of actual Christmas presents I have received over the years and you’d better believe me when I say that I remember clearly who gave me what and if I’ve deleted their numbers from my phone and firewalled their emails, there’s a reason why.)

“Did you sleep with her boyfriend or something?” Saffy asked last year when Amanda held up a Hello Kitty pencil sharpener that she’s received from her supposedly good friend, Mandy. Amanda rummaged through the gift wrapper, thinking that there was, perhaps, something smaller and precious that had come with the sharpener. Like a Tiffany’s voucher, or something.

“Isn’t this a rather insulting gift?” Amanda asked finally when it was clear that, apart from a little gift card that read ‘Happy X’Mas! Mandy, X’, that was all she was getting from a girl to whom she’d once lent a Versace mini-dress and Manolo Blahnik pumps. (To those of you who are novices at this kind of thing, lending someone your Versace and Manolos is way up there with donating a kidney.)

“She needs to be pushed down some stairs,” Saffy said firmly.

“It’s not very nice, is it?” Amanda said doubtfully, still holding onto the faint hope that a more ‘real’ present was on its way.

“I never liked her,” Saffy continued. “She and that horrible fake American accent of hers. The last I checked, the closest she’s ever been to America is her box set of ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ and you were the one who gave it to her for Christmas, Amanda! Next year, you should take out a hit on her!”

That’s the festive spirit we should all aspire to.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Promises, promises

New Year’s Resolutions are tricky things. For one thing, you don’t want to be too ambitious. I remember there was a period of three years when I said I was going to get a six pack stomach. And for another two years, I swore I would move out away from my terrible flatmates Saffy and Amanda and get a flat of my own. And of course, none of that ever happened.

You also don’t want to be too lazy with your resolutions because otherwise, there’s no sense of challenge. (The upside is that, at the end of the year, when you catalogue what you’ve actually achieved and discover that you’ve no ticks against the boxes, the resulting shame isn’t quite as crippling as it might otherwise be if you’d been too ambitious in the first place. I don’t, for instance, lose any sleep over the fact that I’ve never rearranged my bookshelf alphabetically by author.)

No. The trick is to come up with a list that is not only realistic, but that’s also achievable and which will, should you actually accomplish the resolution, be endlessly admired by all your friends and enemies.

So, the other day, I held an early poll for 2011 resolutions and this is what came in.

Jason’s Resolutions
1. Not lose my temper when people don’t stand on the left of escalators.
2. Not lose my temper when parents pull their children away from Pooch while telling them that if they don’t behave, ‘The dog will bite you!’.
3. Not lose my temper when people don’t return my phone messages or emails.
4. Not lose my temper whenever a taxi-driver asks me ‘Which way you want to go?’
5. Not lose my temper.

Saffy’s Resolutions
1. Lose 5 kg by Valentine’s Day.
2. Meet a guy by the French Open.
3. Get married by Wimbledon.
4. Have a child by the US Open.
5. Or adopt one from Africa.
6. Preferably from the same village where Madonna shops for her loved ones.
7. Get into Amanda’s will by New Year’s Eve.

Sharyn’s Resolutions
1. Win 4D.
2. Upgrade to landed property.
3. Upgrade car to at least Lexus.
4. Ask for 15% increment.
5. Get skin whitened.
6. Maybe get divorced.

Amanda’s Resolutions
1. Take a ride on the MRT.
2. Attain size 2.
3. Meet Miuccia Prada and become her BFF.
4. Meet the Prime Minister.
5. Fall in love. (Maybe the Prime Minister!! Or Jude Law!)
6. Get married.
7. Move out of this pokey flat.

Karl’s Resolutions
1. Have an affair. (Maybe with Amanda.)
2. Make a move on Saffy. (If it doesn’t work with Amanda.)
3. Think about getting a divorce from Marsha (depending on my finances at the time).

Barney’s Resolutions
1. Achieve zero percent body fat.
2. Exercise more and look like David Beckham in the Armani underwear ads.
3. Or get liposuction, whichever is more convenient.
4. Go to a Faye Wong concert.
5. Stalk Fann Wong.
6. Meet Alan Wu.
7. Seduce him and make him leave his wife.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Mail Disorder

The other day, everyone I knew received an email blast from the same person. This is what he wrote (typos and all):

From: Valentin [vmika@yormail.ru]
Subject: Letter from Russia
Hello,
My name is Valentin, I am a student and I write you from little Russian city. I found several addresses on Internet and I decided to send you this letter. Our local library give free Internet access for students.
I live with my mother, she cannot see since many years and I take care of her. My father left our family when I was a child.
I work very hard every day, but because of deep financial crisis my salary is very little and not even enough for the things of primary necessity.
Because of extremally hot weather during this summer most of the potatoes and vegetables get withered in our garden. A lot of forests burned. We were forced to spend all our small savings to buy something to eat for the comign winter to avoid starvation.
Electricity and gas is very expensive in our region and we can not afford to heat our home anymore.
The only way to heat our home in winter is to use portable oven which heat with burning wood. We have wood savings in our shed and this oven would heat our home all the winter, at no cost to us.
Unfortunately, we can not buy such oven as our local market, because the value of it 8,300 rubles, and is a great amount for us (the equivalent of 197 Euro).
I decided to appeal to you and I hope you can help us. If you own any old portable oven and if not using anymore, I'll be very grateful if you can donate it for us and organize transport of this oven to us (we live 200 km from Moscow). These ovens are different, usually made of cast iron and weigh about 100kg.
Please let me know if you can help and I will write you our home address.
If you need, I can send medical documents about the disease of my mother.
I send you best wishes from Russia,
Valentin and my mother.
PS: Please apologize for the mistakes in this letter, I translated this letter with the help of computer-translator and dictionary. Thank you.

To my surprise, it turned out that quite a lot of my friends had plenty of free time on their hands and, without any thought of internet hygiene, had replied to Valentin.

To: Valetin
From: Sharyn
Dear Valentin
We don’t use oven in Singapore. It is too hot. We have haze now from fire in Malaysia and Indonesia. I also work very hard but after CPF and MediSave, not much left. If you have any old air con unit that you are not using anymore, can you donate to me? My air con in my bedroom spoil already. Thank you.
Sharyn

To: Valentin
From: Barney Cheng
Dear Valentin
How old are you and do you have a picture you can send me of yourself? Here is a picture of me taken at a recent stag night. And yes, those are real muscles. Nothing has been Photo-shopped. Interested to know more?
Barney

To: Valentin
From: Amanda
This is the eighth e-mail you’ve written to me and each time you want something different. The last time, your mother had cancer and needed $5000 to go to America for medical treatment. And now, she’s cold and starving and needs an oven. If you can afford the time and energy to keep sending this sort of harassing emails, I think you can find a second job so you that you can also afford to feed your family. Please STOP writing to me! I am a lawyer and I know people.

To:Pacnet
From: Amanda
Fw: Letter from Russia
Listen, how is it that your firewall is letting this kind of harassing emails get through to your customers? I would be very grateful if you would ramp up my firewall protection. Please call me to discuss.
Yours faithfully
Amanda

To: Valentin
From: Karl
Dear Valetin,
Clearly, you have mistaken me for someone who cares.
Bo Chap

To: Valentin
From: Jason
If it’s cold in Russia, you should move countries. The south of Spain is lovely all year round, even in winter. Or, have you considered a new life in Darwin? It’s always warm there and a little humid, but I’m sure it’ll do your mother’s lungs a world of good.
I wish you all the very best.
JH

To Valentin:
From: Saffy
Hello. You sound nice. Are you single? Are you on Skype?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Year today, gone tomorrow

I don’t know about you, but it frightens me that 2010 is almost at an end. It’s like I’m stuck in one of those horrible dreams where I suddenly realise I have a very important exam to sit in the next half hour and I haven’t studied and I just know I’m going to fail.

And in this case, I’m haunted by the suspicion that I’m meant to have done something this year, but I can’t for the life work out what it is and time is running out.

It’s freaking me out, especially when I know that somewhere out there, someone is getting ready to put up the Christmas decorations on Orchard Road.

So, here’s the other thing – why is the Christmas build-up in Singapore so freaking long? While the rest of the world is still working its way through Thanksgiving and Guy Fawkes and assorted pagan worship, the streets of Singapore are festooned with fairy lights, fake snow, plastic reindeer and Christmas trees. In November. For those of us already traumatised by the rapidly depleting year, this is not comforting.

I remember I started 2010 with such high hopes and expectations. I was going to make an effort to brush up my French. It’s telling that the only phrase I’ve learnt all year is “Je m’en fou!” which, in polite conversation, roughly translates to “I don’t give a crap!”

I was going to go to the gym more often, and I’ve been only once.

Leave it to Saffy to see the brighter side of laziness. “Well, seeing as in 2009 you went to the gym zero times, going once in 2010 is essentially a 100% improvement! So, well done!” Her bosom, already straining beneath a tight tee-shirt that read “My eyes aren’t down here!”, heaved with approval.

“But I don’t think I’ve done anything of importance all year!” I said. “I said I wanted to do more charity work and I haven’t. I was going to call my mother more often and I haven’t!”

“Well, who can blame you considering that she’s basically disinherited you and your siblings!” Saffy exclaimed. “I wouldn’t talk to my mother either, not that she has any money to disinherit me from in the first place.”

“But don’t you feel that the year has just slipped by too quickly? It’s like I’ve been sleepwalking since January and suddenly I wake up and it’s Christmas!”

My Auntie Wai-ling says it gets worse as you get older. “One day, you’re going to wake up and find you’re drooling in a wheelchair like your Auntie Ching-ling! And then you’ll really wonder what the hell happened!”

She invited me to lunch and told me all about her recent horror mah-jong session. “One minute, Ching was winning like mad, then she dropped one of the tiles, bent down to get it back, and because she’d been sitting at the table for five straight hours, all the blood suddenly rushed to her head and she collapsed with a stroke. Aiyoh, such bad luck, I tell you!” Auntie Wai-ling crooned in horror. “When we were young, where got scared of such things? I think I’m going to sign up for yo-gah classes. I can’t touch my toes to save my life, but I need to start doing something!”

Amanda says she wishes she’d saved her money instead of buying another Birkin bag. “If I had bought Aussie dollars, I’d be sitting on a tidy profit now! I’m so stupid!”

So, I’ve started to write down my resolutions for 2011, but even before the ink is dry, the list already reeks of doom and failure. Because many of the resolutions look very familiar. Every year, I promise myself to go to more museums. To be nicer to people. To spend more time with my aging parents. To read more books and go to less boozy parties.

Then I look at my beloved adopted mongrel dog Pooch who spends his days flat on his back, all four furry paws stuck up in the air, dreaming sweet doggy dreams of his poodle girlfriend and chasing our neighbour Mrs Kumarasamy’s evil black Persian. His days revolve around hanging out with me, having a good old hearty poo a few times a day and a nice dinner. It’s all so simple. He wouldn’t know a new year’s resolution if he peed on it. And yet, he’s content and happy.

“Are you seriously going to base your life on that dog?” Amanda asked. “He licks his own balls!”

Saffy says if she could ever lick her own balls, it would definitely count as a very good year.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Update

Hmmm, according to Blogspot, I had 4000 page views last month, but only 41 followers. Something is not right with these numbers!
Sign up, you lazy bums!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Deal Breaker

So our friend Jessie is getting married at the Ritz-Carlton. Her thick glossy invitation arrived in the post a while back and while the nuptials may be filling the Chan-Wong households (and the Ritz-Carlton’s finance department) with immense joy and celebration, in the little flat that I share with my two flatmates and my beloved adopted mongrel Pooch, it’s causing a great deal of angst.

“Someone needs to tell me how that fat midget is getting married before me!” Amanda vented recently.

Saffy coughed. “Please don’t use that term in public, Amanda. It’s seriously offensive!”

“I know it is. It’s a huge insult to all the fat midgets out there!” Amanda snapped.

For those of you who came in late, Jessie is a lovely, perfectly charming Peranakan chick. She’s a highly successful lawyer in a big glossy Raffles Place firm. She’s smart. Gets on with everyone. Always stops and donates to those annoying kids jangling their tins along Orchard Road on a Saturday morning. She’s always been very pleasant to me when I bump into her at a party. Guys like her. More importantly, their mothers like her.

Her only defect, if you could even call it that, is that she comes up to the level of my armpits, even when perched in her trademark Manolo Blahniks. She’s also on the plump side on account of the fact that her father is an amazing cook and who can go on a diet when there’s a sensational chicken buah keluak waiting for you for dinner every night? But I wouldn’t call her fat. Which technically does not make her a fat midget, but you don’t get too hung up on technicalities when you’re angry about the fact that everyone in the world seems to be getting married. Except you.

“I don’t think I can bear going to another wedding!” Amanda sighed. She’d calmed down a little after the initial shock. “This will be the seventh wedding I’ve been to this year, and all the brides are younger than I am! What is wrong with this picture?”

“How much do we have to give, do you think? For the ang pow, I mean,” Saffy piped up, demonstrating once again her ability to completely derail any conversation. She picked up her phone and called her best friend, Sharyn.

“It’s at the Ritz-Carlton…In Singapore…Uh huh…Shut. Up. $150! Are you insane?...Well, I was thinking more along the lines of $100!...Well, what if I don’t want to eat sharks fin goop or rubbery abalone? That stuff is so revolting anyway! Can I give less if I cut out some dishes from my dinner?...Hey, don’t you dare call me cheapskate! I’m not the one who asked for a discount at Giordano! Seriously, Sharyn, you are asking for two tight slaps!”

As Amanda later told me, it’s always a source of amazement to her that Saffy has any friends at all, let alone someone so incredibly loyal as Sharyn.
But for days, all the girls could talk about was how expensive wedding dinner ang pows have become.

“I remember when it was $80!” Amanda said.

“I remember when I went on a date!” Saffy sighed tragically, her bosom heaving in sympathy.

“Could you please stay on track for just one conversation?” Amanda snapped.

Meanwhile, my mother thinks the whole idea of giving money at weddings is so incredibly tacky. “If you can’t afford to have a wedding at a fancy hotel in the first place, then hold it at home!” she once told my sister Michelle whose first assignment in her Accounting 100 course was to create a wedding cost spread sheet. “It’s like inviting people to your housewarming party and then expecting them to cough up for the mortgage repayments! Your father’s parents gave me a Tiffany necklace and matching ear-rings when we got married. Now, that’s classy!”

Later, Michelle said to me that she’d much rather have cash. “If you compound the interest on the capital investment for those blood diamonds, by the time you’re 65, you’d be sitting on a very nice nest egg!”

Our brother Jack said recently this was exactly the kind of reasoning that has led to Michelle still being single.

Which still doesn’t take the sting out of handing over $150 to two people you don’t really have good wishes for. “If the three of us go, surely that doesn’t mean we each have to pay $150?” Saffy said the other day. “Why can’t we do a three for two deal or something? I mean, Borders does it all the time!”

Sharyn Facebooked me and said she’s seriously reassessing her friends list.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Old Age Benefits

Dating is so easy when you’re in your twenties. You go to a party. Meet someone cute. Ask them out for a coffee. Maybe a movie. Followed by dinner. Another meal and before you know it, you’re a couple. If you’re the girl, you get to cast pitying looks at your single girlfriends, and if you’re a guy, you get to carry your girlfriend’s handbag in public.

Of course, if it never gets to the movie or dinner stage because there’s just no chemistry or you find her laugh very annoying, it’s no big deal. You call up your friends and head out to the next party where you will probably find someone interesting. And the process starts all over again.

Then one day, you realise that you’re spending a lot more time at home on the weekends. And when you can muster the energy to drag your sorry ass off the sofa to go to a nightclub, you find that everyone who is even remotely interesting is chatting to someone else and not even looking in your direction.

And then you notice something else: everyone is younger than you are.

And you notice something else: you’re no longer in your twenties. But everyone else is. Which then makes you wonder if this is the reason why you’ve not been on a date since the first season of ‘Lost’.

See what a vicious downward spiral it is?

“God, imagine what’s going to happen when you hit 40!” Saffy said the other day while examining herself in her new dress in her bedroom.

On the bed, Amanda looked up from her latest copy of Vogue. Her eyes narrowed. “Why did you just use the word ‘you’?” You could feel the temperature in the room drop a few degrees.

“It’s a generic term!” Saffy said hurriedly. “‘You’ doesn’t mean ‘you’! It means ‘us’! Like ‘you’ and ‘me’ ‘us’! We’re nowhere near 40. Well, I know I’m not. But my point is,” she went on nervously, “when we hit 40, the dating pool will have literally dried up. And we’ll all die of dehydration!”

“So, you think I’m going to still be single when I’m 40?” Amanda asked, her eyes now the size of narrow slits.

“I’m going to shut up now,” Saffy murmured. “And try on this new dress.”

Amanda, never one to hold a grudge in the presence of a new outfit, instantly brightened. “When did you get that? It’s so pretty!”

“Oh, I got it at a Club 21 sale the other day. You think I can afford Armani on my salary? I thought I needed something nice to wear for my date but it’s so hard to find time to shop these days so I really had to rush over on the weekend and battle through all the aunties and this one I had to really fight hard for I’m babbling aren’t I why are you looking at me like that Amanda say something please you’re scaring me oh Jason help…”

The other thing about dating when you’re no longer in your twenties is that you now understand why people who get stuck up on an icy mountain, dying of starvation, eventually start eating one another. It’s a matter of survival: if the only thing standing between you and another night of going insane with hunger is your best friend’s forearm, you put aside your vegetarian scruples and start chewing.

“I have not been on a date for so long!” Amanda moaned much later when she’d had a moment to overcome her sudden fit of jealousy. “I don’t think I have it in me anymore to keep fighting for a date.”

“Didn’t you go for dinner last week with that lawyer?” I asked.

Amanda sighed. “Oh God, all he did was talk about his stock portfolio and SMS all night. If he’s like that on the first date, and mind you I was wearing vintage Versace so there was a lot of cleavage showing, what’s he going to be like two weeks into the marriage? Which leads me to think that maybe he was gay.”

Two days ago, we received a big fat glossy envelope in the post. It was a wedding invitation from our friend Jessie.

“What!” Saffy yelled.

“I thought she was still single!” Amanda shouted.

“Seriously? That four-eyed midget? How did that happen?” Saffy vented, really getting into the spirit of the occasion.

Things have calmed down a little since then, especially when Sharyn pointed out that there are always single eligible guys at weddings. “There’d better be,” Amanda threatened.

Saffy says Amanda’s mood swings are killing her.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Talking Cock

They say that if you want to know what that gorgeous girl you’ve been lusting after will look like thirty years from now, just take a good hard look at her mother. And by ‘they’, I mean, of course, my mother.

When my brother Jack brought home his first girlfriend, the first thing Mother did was to invite Mrs Jansen over for tea and mahjong. That evening, Mother said to Father that Marisa Jansen was never going to work out.

“Joyce Jansen looks like she’s a sausage roll! Imagine what Marisa is going to look like after she’s popped out a couple of children! And,” Mother added with gloom, “her mother can’t play mahjong for nuts. Anyone who doesn’t know how to pong properly will not be having any smart children.”

Jack never quite worked out why or how, but shortly after that, Marisa was transferred to another school. And that was that.

I was reminded of this recently while having lunch alone at PS CafĂ©. Next to me sat two thirty something women. Obviously BFF. I guessed SCGS followed by university in America. Tall, thin, long haired, Birkin bags and expensive manicures. I knew I was in for a great session of eavesdropping when one of them asked the other, “So, how was your date with Dutch Boy?”

BFF2: Oh, we had a lovely dinner. Bottle of wine, good conversation, great food. He’s super-fit. He’s training for a marathon.
BFF1: Did he pay?
BFF2: Of course, lah! He immediately reached for the bill when it came and I didn’t fight him for it. For once. I kept remembering what you said about my control and power issues.
BFF1: So…did anything happen?
BFF2: No! But we’ve kissed.
BFF1: Seriously, what’s with you? This is like, what, the fourth date? And all you’ve done is kiss? Isn’t it time to take it to the next level?
BFF2: I would, but I think getting me into bed is the one goal he's zoned in on right now. And I’m not quite sure I want that to happen just yet.
BFF1: Oh my God, Clarissa! What are you, your mother?
Clarissa: Choy, Cindy! I just think that he's one of those guys who will lose interest the minute I put out. Call me paranoid but I am just trying to suss things out.
Cindy: So you both just went home after dinner?
Clarissa: Well, he wasn't a pleased puppy when I called for the driver after dinner.
Cindy: What is your problem? It’s not like you’re looking for anything serious now anyway. You’ve broken up with Mark for like, what, two months, so clearly, Dutch Boy is your rebound. You can get what you want from him, move on and let another girl get a crack at him.
Clarissa: But…
Cindy: No ‘but’. If you keep on this road, you’re just wasting everyone’s time. We’re not getting any younger, you know.
Clarissa: Why am I friends with you?
Cindy: Look. It’s like you try on a dress in a shop. You can dither and dither, but after a while, you either get to the cashier and pay for the dress, or you put it back on the rack and move onto the next shop! You have to date the way you shop! Efficiently!
Clarissa: Well, he’s gone to Taipei for work and he’s back this weekend. Let’s see if he calls.
Cindy: No, no! You can’t wait for him to call you. You ended the night, so you have to make it up to him. Just say you had a great night, sorry about the early night but you had had a long day, but could you make it up to him with dinner at your place? That’s a clear signal that the hunt is back on.
Clarissa: I did text him today to tell him we need to celebrate when he's back. He didn't really respond to that, but I think he's still brooding. He’s a bit petulant by nature, I think.
Clarissa: God. Welcome to my world and Dennis. He’s exactly like that. Last night I told him I had a headache and he acted like I’d siphoned off all his CPF money! So today, I had to manja him like hell!
Cindy: What’s wrong with men?
Clarissa: I remember my mother telling me that all men are petulant by nature. And it’s the woman’s job to get what she wants by mothering the guy a little. It’s a sick Freudian stereotype, but it’s so true.

Saffy says she wants to have lunch with me more often. “I swear, you get the best conversations!”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Testing the limits

As children, whenever my brother or I came home crying because we’d fallen out of the tree we were climbing or scraped our knees from skateboarding, our mother would look up from her mahjong table and frown.

Those of you who’ve grown up watching Dettol commercials might expect even the most negligent mother to immediately rush to her offspring, oozing maternal concern while leading them to the bathroom where she’ll gently clean their wounds and murmur encouraging words like “Dettol Antiseptic protects your family”.

Not Mrs Hahn.

She frowned at us and told us to stop being such wooses. “You think that’s painful?
Try giving birth!”

And there was that one time our sister accidentally hit herself with her own tennis racket when lunging for a forehand, and came home with a whopping big bruise on her forehead. Mother took one look at the slobbering mess that was Michelle and said, “Oh, darling, do stop crying. You’re going to get permanent wrinkles if you scrunch up your face like that. Giving birth is so much more painful!”

As Michelle later said, it’s a wonder the three of us didn’t grow up with more emotional issues.

A couple of weeks ago, my flatmate Saffy suddenly announced in the middle of dinner that she had to go for a Pap Smear Test. At first, I thought she was talking about some new entrance examination I’d not heard of. Like the GMAT or something.

“No, it’s a woman’s test,” Saffy explained in her most scientific voice. "Apparently, you’re meant to have them regularly and I’ve never been on account of the fact that I’ve only just gotten the hang of my hand booby test so I’m a little nervous because it’s not a DIY and you need to see a gynae about it and so I need one of you to come with me!”

Amanda looked up from her oyster omelet and blinked. “How you ever hit puberty is beyond me. I go every other year for my Pap Smear!”

Saffy was astonished. “Really? What’s it involve?”

Amanda shifted in her seat. “Well, they just…they just scrap some stuff out of you and look at it under the microscope and if you’re fine, you’re fine, and if you’re not, well, then they do another round of tests. Anyway, I can’t go with you. I’ve got that stupid trial all month.”

Saffy’s bosom inflated. “Scrape some stuff out from where?”

That night, Amanda posted on Facebook that she was living with a complete idiot, to which Saffy commented, “No, seriously. Where do they scrape the stuff from?”

Which is how, a few days ago, I found myself sitting in a roomful of women at Saffy’s gynaecologist.

“I tell you, if I had my life all over again,” Saffy announced loudly, “I’d never have been born a woman. You guys have it so easy. Every month, I have that stupid period. Then every six months, I have to touch my own boobs, which is so sad I can’t begin to tell you. And I’m now meant to schedule a stupid smear test every other year. Seriously, there are no advantages to being a woman! Is this going to hurt?” she asked the receptionist who came to collect the medical form.

“No, lah, Pap Smear Test very easy one,” said Nurse Tan. “OK, you can go in now!”

You could tell Saffy was struggling with herself as she trudged cautiously into the room. Through the thin doors, you could hear her muted nervous chatter and the doctor’s calm, soothing voice. There was a brief silence followed by the soft tinkle of something metal shifting on a tray.

“You’re going to put that where?” Saffy’s question punched through the closed door and hanged in the air with great outrage. Several women looked up in alarm, while I pulled my copy of the Peak higher over my face.

“No, seriously! I thought you were going to just use a cotton bud or something…Well, then why is it called a smear? That’s a shovel you’ve got there. Since when do you need a shovel to get a smear?...Yeah? Well, I don’t care what the correct medical term for it is, but something that huge is called a shovel! You could dig up potatoes with that!...I will not keep my voice down! I broke up with my ex-boyfriend because his penis was way too big and that shovel you’ve got there is ten times the size of his dong! Get away from me! Jason! Jason! Help!”

And, of course, all I could think about was what my mother would have said.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Porn Identity

I know there are some things that one should never admit in public, let alone in a blog as wildly successful as this one. Like admitting that you always look into the toilet bowl after you’ve done a Number Two. That wouldn’t be me. I never look. But I know other people who look and since they’re not in the least bit embarrassed by it, I don’t feel in any way guilty about naming my flatmates Saffy and Amanda in public.

“I don’t know how you don’t look,” Saffy said the other day. “How else will you know what you’ve been eating?”

I stared at her for a moment. “You don’t know what you’ve been eating?” I asked finally.

Saffy shrugged. “Well, of course, I know what I’ve been eating, but it’s always interesting to see what a dinner of chilli crab and sambal kangkong looks like at the other end!”

“I imagine it would look like dhal!” I said as I got up and left the room.

As Saffy later said to her best friend Sharyn, if that particularly vivid image didn’t put you off Indian food forever, she didn’t know what would.

“Why you people talk about such strange things, one, hah?” Sharyn wanted to know. “Why you not talk about normal things like, like porn?”

Saffy spluttered into her teh tarik.

Sharyn edged away from the table. “Ay, you don’t anyhow spit, can? This is new G2000 blouse, OK?”

Saffy waved her hands as her eyes watered. “Porn? You watch porn?”

Sharyn leaned closer and whispered. “Yah, but don’t tell anyone, hor! My favourite is ‘Gossip Girl’! Damned sexy, that show! If my priest find out, I sure kena one hun-red ‘Hail, Mary’!”

Later that night, over a dinner of spaghetti bolognaise at home, Saffy wanted to know in which parallel universe would ‘Gossip Girl’ be considered porn.

“Maybe we’ve been watching the censored version?” Amanda asked. “Did you ask her what was so pornographic about it?”

Saffy slurped noisily on her pasta. “Mmm, I did. She said it was all those 18 year old girls having sex before marriage and drugs.”

That’s what she considers porn?” Amanda asked, utterly amazed at the modern definition of porn. “What does she call actual porn, then?”

“I don’t think she’s ever watched any,” Saffy said. “This is a woman who is still having sex with her husband with the lights off!”

“And anyway, are there any drugs on that show?” Amanda asked.

“What about Jenny’s affair with that drug pushing ambassador’s son?”

“Oh, he’s cute. But a bit too short. And no one was actually seen taking any drugs. He was just selling them!” Amanda paused and looked worried. “I can’t believe I just made that distinction.”

Sharyn’s disclosure occupied everyone’s attention for days though Amanda couldn’t shake off the feeling that somewhere along the line, she’d somehow become desensitized to the greater moral issue that Sharyn seemed to have grasped very early on.

Saffy said that Amanda was over-analysing things. “It’s just a show! Real people in New York don’t look like Serena van der Woodsen or Nate Archibald! It’s all make-believe! I’m sure even Chace Crawford doesn’t wake up each morning looking that gorgeous! In fact, I’m sure Chace Crawford doesn’t even exist. He’s probably a special effect!”

Amanda frowned. “Yes, but that show is all about teenage sex, drugs, illicit affairs and scheming. Don’t you think it’s disturbing that we’re not disturbed by any of that and that we classify it as entertainment?”

“It’s make-believe!” Saffy repeated, her ample bosom heaving in rhythm. “It’s not real! Therefore, all the normal rules of morality don’t apply.”

And as if to prove her point, the next time they met, Sharyn said that she was now addicted to ‘True Blood’.

“Everyone is naked on that show! You can see their pee-gu!” she said breathlessly. “And the werewolves damn sexy! Wah, if my priest ever find out, hor, I sure excommunicated, one!”

“I told you it was a great show,” Saffy replied virtuously. “I am in absolute lust with Eric Northman.”

“I like Bill!” Sharyn admitted. “But when I watch, I have to hold my rosary in my hand.”

“There are no vampires,” Saffy said patiently. “You do know it’s all make-believe, right?”

“Ay, you don’t joke about such things, OK?” Sharyn said, her glasses fogging up with concern. “My mother say she once got attack by Pontianak!”

To which Saffy said if the Pontianak looked anything like Alexander Skarsgard, he could attack her any time he liked. The next day, she lent Sharyn her old DVD of ‘Banging Private Ryan’.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Close Encounter of the Wrong Kind

Anyone who’s spent any decent amount of time in Singapore will know that the government is nothing if not extremely concerned about our well-being. It wants us to be polite (hence the ‘Courtesy is for free’ campaign), considerate (‘Stand on the left’ rule on escalators), drug-free (death sentences, anyone?), and tidy (littering fines, but judging from the garbage on the streets after a recent night out on Mohamed Sultan Road, I’d say bring caning back).

On the whole, everything is remarkably effective. There’s nothing quite like the prospect of an inconvenient appointment with an executioner to make people in general, and drug dealers in particular, sit up and pay attention. But after my flatmate Saffy’s recent severe bout of flu, she is of the firm opinion that the government should seriously consider add sneezing in public to their list of crimes punishable by a mandatory death sentence.

So there she was in the crowded 7.05 p.m. northern line train from City Hall to Toa Payoh, minding her own business, as she puts it. Well, as much as a woman – who is barely five foot five in heels and, so, is usually in the position of having her face jammed into someone’s armpits – can be said to be minding her own business in a crowded train.

“Really, I wish people would use deodorant!” she complained from the depths of her sick bed. “Oh dear God, I feel like death warmed up! If I ever meet that little turd again, I’m gonna give it to him good. And not in a good way either!” she added grimly.

Saffy reports that, on this particular evening, it was hot and claustrophobic on the train. Because she’s been one of the last to board the train, she was jammed near the entrance, though there was, apparently, plenty of room in the middle of the cabin.

“Seriously, why don’t people move into the train instead of hanging around the entrance?” she complained.

“So when your station come, you easy get out, mah!” her best friend Sharyn, who’d come to visit, said. She was rewarded with a dark look. “Wah, like that also cannot say, ah!”

“You know what the problem was?” Saffy went on. “The problem was that I was too deep in my thoughts. I was thinking about how long it’s been since I’ve had sex, which then reminded me of my third date with Brad and that brought up the question of what exactly sex includes. Otherwise, I would have noticed the sniveling snot next to me!”

Saffy says that just as she was arriving at the unhappy conclusion that what she did with Brad in the front seat of his Mercedes SLX in the Shaw Centre car park did not, in fact, constitute sex, Sniveling Snot suddenly sneezed.

“It was like a typhoon!” Saffy reported. “It was like someone had turned on the overhead sprinkler. And at first that’s what I thought it was because I started panicking thinking there was a fire on the train but then I looked up and realized that there are no fire sprinklers on the train, so then I started thinking why aren’t there fire sprinklers on the train, when it rained again! I actually got droplets in my eyes!” Saffy said, her voice rising excitedly and a little croakily.

“So disgusting!” Sharyn said primly, shaking her head with disapproval.

Once Saffy realized the source of the sudden precipitation, she apparently reached out and squeezed Sniveling Snot’s crown jewels. And she squeezed hard. “It was instinctive!” Saffy sniffled with deep satisfaction.

At that moment, someone on the other side of Saffy turned around to see why Sniveling Snot was alternately groaning and gasping, looked down at the position of Saffy’s hand and said, “Ay, you, ah! Get a room, lah!”

“As if!” Saffy later said when she was in the midst of a full blown flu. “He was a pimply, reedy twit with cheap glasses and a bad haircut! It wasn’t as if Brad Pitt had sneezed on me. I can’t believe he gave me the flu, the low down scum sucking pig!”

“You’re lucky you’re not charged for assault!” Amanda said. “Don’t give me that look. You know I’m right! You can’t go around squeezing other men’s balls!” She paused and considered what she’d just said.

Saffy puffed up. “I’d like to see what would happen if he sneezed all over the Prime Minister!”

“Ooh, I’d love for the Prime Minister to sneeze all over me!” Amanda said with loyal adoration in her voice.

Saffy blew her nose hard. “Oh, get a room, Amanda!”

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

American Beauty

A few months ago, my friend Anne sent me an email all the way from Tokyo saying that her best friend Mitsy was moving to Singapore from San Francisco.

“She’s our age, she’s cute and she’s single,” Anne wrote with the same kind of precision and conciseness that won her the Fulbright Scholarship. “I want you to help her adjust to life in the Tropics.”

“This Anne sounds incredibly bossy!” Saffy said when I forwarded the email to my flat-mates. “And she didn’t even ask how things were with me. What’s her problem?”

I sighed. “Number one, she’s never met you, so why would she ask after you? Number two, she’s very busy. She speaks fluent Japanese, works in a Japanese bank and has two children to look after. She has no time for chit-chat.”

“She sounds horrible. She can stay in a hotel if she ever visits Singapore!”

“Is she pretty?” Amanda asked.

I hesitated. “I’ve never met her. Why?”

Amanda pulled a face. “If it’s one thing this country doesn’t need, it’s another single woman competing for a very limited pool of eligible, straight men.”

Saffy looked up from filing her nails. “Oh my God, speaking of which, is it just me or were there a lot of girls holding hands with other girls today on Orchard Road? What’s going on here? It’s like ‘The L-Word’ just flew into town!”

You could tell by the way she was looking up in the air with a slight frown that Amanda was silently replaying the last few minutes of our conversation. “OK,” she said finally, “how did my sentence qualify as a ‘speaking of which’?”

As Saffy later complained on a private channel to me on Facebook, it didn’t surprise her in the least that Amanda was, with all her looks and money, still single. “She’s so literate!” she complained.

“You mean ‘literal’, don’t you?” I replied, unable to help myself, and that night, as we passed each other on our way to our rooms, Saffy gave me a dirty look.

We forgot all about Mitsy till a week ago when my phone rang.

“Hi! It’s Mitsy! Ah’m here!”

Turns out that Mitsy was originally from Savannah, Georgia and moved to San Francisco when she was 25 after she broke up with her fiancĂ©, Hank, whom she’d caught cheating with her identical twin sister, Arlene.

I know all this because Mitsy told me within five seconds of her greeting.

“He claims he got us cun-fuuused, th-aat rat! Ah was hearrrt-broken, lemme tell ya.”

That’s how girls from Savannah, Georgia speak.

Barney Chen, who’s never met a Southern girl he didn’t like and whose all time favourite fancy dress costume is Scarlet O’Hara from ‘Gone with the Wind’, has already fallen in love with Mitsy.

“Even the name is flawless!” he said. “And I do love a girl from San Pan Disco!”
“Mitsy is what you would call your poodle!” Amanda announced.

Leave it to Saffy to find a new perspective on someone she’d never met. “It’s funny how Americans will tell you their entire life story within seconds of meeting you,” Saffy said. “The same thing happened the other night on ‘Project Runway’ when all the contestants met for the first time. They just let it all hang out! Every little dirty secret.” Saffy shook her head in amazement at the trusting friendliness of the world’s most powerful nation.

“I hope she’s ugly,” was all Amanda had to say on the subject when I said I’d set up an afternoon tea to welcome Mitsy. Not wanting to miss a thing, Barney Chen invited himself along.

The day before the afternoon tea, we came home to find a message from Mitsy on our answering machine.

“Hi, y’all! It’s Mitsy!”

“And here I thought it was Michelle Obama!” Amanda said sourly.

“Ah’m just calling to say that Ah’m soooo sorry but Ah have to can-cel our ave-tur-nooon tea. Ah’m not feeling all that perky. It musta been sum-thin’ Ah ate last night! So do y’all mind if we reschedule? Ah really do want to meet y’all. Anne has told me sooo much about-chu. Well, al-right now. I better git goin’! Take care now, and make it a great day!”

“Did she just tell us to ‘make’ it a great day?” Amanda asked.

“She’s adorable!” Saffy said. “I want to take her to parties and show her off!”

Amanda replayed the message. “‘Make it a great day?’” she repeated. “Did she seriously just say that? Who says that? Seriously.”

And for once, we had no answer.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Will and No Grace

The other day, my mother rang me very early in the morning.

Which worried me as she usually only rings when she’s coming to visit.

“We have a lot of house-guests right now, Mother,” I said automatically the moment I heard that dangerously honeyed voice on the line.

“That’s nice, dear,” she said, “but I am just ringing to let you know that your father and I are changing our wills. We’re leaving all our money to the poor orphans in Africa!”

As my sister Michelle later said, it’s just so typical of our parents to spring that kind of nasty surprise on us just as we’re barely awake. “More to the point,” she added in heavy tones, “would someone please tell me what you, Jack and I will be when they die and leave us nothing, if not poor orphans? Does she not get the irony?”

“You are all grown up now and making a good living on your own,” Mother said. “You don’t need our money!”

“That’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard in my life!” Michelle replied with some heat. “What makes a complete stranger in Africa more deserving than me? They don’t even know our parents! In fact, they never had to grow up with Mother always taunting them about their weight and boyfriend issues! The way I see it, that inheritance is compensation for all those years of mental abuse! And anyway,” my sister went on, “does anyone seriously think that an accountant makes any money these days? This is so incredibly depressing!”

That’s the thing about money: you can never have too much of it. And no matter how rich you are, you’re always haunted by the suspicion that you might be happier if you had just a little bit more. Invariably, too, it’s always the wealthy folk like my parents who say that it’s much better to live simple lives that are poor in material things, but rich in spiritual fulfilment.

To which Michelle replied that you can’t pay for a Gucci bag with spiritual fulfilment. “I’ve always thought that I was adopted. Now I know,” she announced on Facebook.

My flatmate Saffy doesn’t believe that my parents will leave us nothing.

“Your parents have been saying that for years. And anyway, what about all that real estate?” she asked. “Surely, an African orphan will have no need for an apartment in London?”

“Apparently, the rental from one month could feed an entire village for a year,” I said.

“If you ate beans for a year, maybe, but how fair is that on you, the villagers or the air quality above the village?” Saffy asked, clearly reliving the time she went on a bean diet and spent an entire week tortured by thunderous, foul smelling farts.

Amanda thinks that we should take out an injunction against our parents. “I’m sure giving all your money to someone else’s children has got to constitute some kind of child abuse,” she said firmly.

“I am not suing my parents!” I said. “How embarrassing would that be?”

“I wouldn’t rule out that option,” Michelle threatened by e-mail.

Meanwhile, my mother finally tracked down our brother Jack who is currently on a yoga retreat in Bhutan. Immediately after, he called me to say that he was so disturbed by the news that he sprained his ankle while doing a downward dog. “I know I’m supposed to be zen-like and all that crap, but seriously, I can’t help but feel a lot of resentment towards those poor orphaned kids.”

Then a few days ago, Mother called again and said that she and Father had been thinking it over and perhaps they’d been a little too hasty in their testamentary gifts. “Maybe we won’t give everything to the African orphans,” she said smoothly. “By the time we die, Madonna would probably have adopted them all, and I just read somewhere that she’s got more money than God, so they won’t be needing our money!”

“Maybe when your parents die, Madonna could adopt you!” Saffy suggested brightly. “You’d be an orphan and you’d be poor. You might have to spend a bit more time in the sun though.”

I’m almost at a point that I no longer care. I’ve gone from severe shock to anger to depression and now, I’m just about resigned to my fate of dying a poor, homeless writer. Saffy and Amanda say that I’ll always have a room with them. Even when I can no longer afford the rent. I don’t know whether to be relieved or even more depressed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Displeasures of the table

Diets are strange things. It makes normally sensible people do things that if, properly fed, they would never dream of doing. Like drink wheatgrass juice, for instance. Which bright spark watched a cow slowly munch its way through a field and thought to himself, “Hmm, I wonder if I could turn this stuff into a drink and convince people to pay to drink it?”

Well, you know the answer to that one. These days, even your humble kopitiam drinks store sells wheatgrass juice when the much yummier sugar cane juice is ignored.

Which wouldn’t be so bad if the stuff actually tasted good. But it doesn’t. It just tastes as if someone grabbed a bunch of grass from some padang, mulched it up with some water and charged you $5 for a tiny shot.

“It’s really good for you!” Saffy said to me the other day at a hotel cafe as she tried to convince me to drink the stuff.

“I’m not drinking something that cows eat!” I said.

Saffy’s bosom heaved pneumatically. “Oh, it’s not that kind of grass, it’s a…it’s a special kind of grass from…from somewhere!” she said vaguely. “Drink it, it’s really good for you!”

How is it good for me?” I asked belligerently.

“It’s very cleansing and detoxing!” she said, sounding very much like a commercial for a facial wash. “You know how cows poo all the time? It’s the exact same thing!”

I told her that she really needed to work on her sales pitch, got up and walked off.

Later that night at dinner, it was all Saffy could talk about.

“You are such a…such a man!” she said triumphantly, trotting out her worst insult. “It was just wheatgrass juice and you should have seen him run for the hills, Amanda! It’s no wonder men don’t give birth. We’d all be dead!” she added ominously.

“Are you sure that stuff works?” Amanda said, helping herself to a serving of beef rendang from our favourite hawker down the road. “It sure sounds like a complete scam!”

“It’s amazing,” Saffy insisted. “Next to fried beehoon, it’s the only thing that keeps me regular. And let me tell you that the results are spectacular!”

“Please, I’m eating!” I complained.

“But why are you drinking it?” Amanda asked.

“It’s my new diet!”

Amanda and I both rolled our eyes. Diets are to Saffy what oxygen is to the rest of it. But whereas most people cut out food items when they’re on a diet, Saffy draws emotional and physical sustenance from the fact that she’s ingesting only food of a certain kind.

Once she ate only steak but gave that up within a week when she realized that she couldn’t afford sirloin for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Atkins Diet kept her fully occupied for two weeks until the exhausting job of keeping track of what she could and couldn’t eat, and in which portions, defeated even her singular focus.

And then there was the time she embarked on a diet that comprised entirely of cabbage soup and nothing else. She kept us all awake with her thunderous farts which, in turn, killed all the house plants.

“What’s different about this one, then?” I asked.

“It’s based on wheatgrass juice, lots of protein and plenty of vegetables! It’s amazing. I found it on the internet. I’ve lost two grams since I started!”

Amanda turned to me and said, “What’s amazing is that she could actually say that without the slightest sense of embarrassment.”

I snorted into my rice.

“So why,” Amanda went on, “if you’re trying to lose weight, are we having this nasi padang meal?”

“What! It’s beef ! Which is high in protein!”

“But there are no vegetables!”

Saffy looked surprised. “Sure there are,” she said. “It’s got chilli in it! What! Chillis are vegetables!”

And so, we’re now on day three of Saffy’s wheatgrass, protein and vegetable diet. She says she’s lost a hundred grams, though Amanda says that’s probably just from all the cardio activity from the number of times Saffy steps on and off the bathroom scales.

This morning, I walked into the kitchen and caught her spooning a big heap of sugar into her wheatgrass juice.

“What!” she said, immediately going on the offensive. “It’s too bitter. It actually tastes green! The sugar just takes the edge off it! It’s allowed. Sugar’s carbs and I’m allowed to have some carbs! You’re all so judgmental!”

Amanda is giving the whole thing a week, tops. “Seriously, I just wish people wouldn’t fall for these silly fad diets. The only way to lose weight is to have a regular herbal tea colonic irrigation!”

Monday, August 09, 2010

Tea and Sympathy

My flatmate Amanda believes women who say that it’s much better to be single and single than to be married and unhappy are big fat liars.

“Those cannot be the only two options!” she insisted recently after coming home from a tearful afternoon tea where she comforted her friend Marlene who’s just broken up with her husband of two years.

Apparently, the news was unexpected (Marlene and Doug had just bought a new home and an ice-cream maker) and it was delivered between the finger sandwiches and the scones.

Turns out that Doug has been having a fling with the wife of his boss and a few nights ago, he declared to Marlene that he was leaving her for “Trudy”.

“He can’t leave me for someone named ‘Trudy’!” Marlene is said to have shouted in the middle of the Regent hotel. But Amanda said the kicker came when Marlene then vented that she wished she’d never met Doug and never gotten married.

“I’d rather have been single!” Marlene declared, to which Amanda automatically replied, “Choy, choy, choy!”

“No, seriously, at least I would have been happy!” Marlene sobbed into her smoked salmon sandwich. “No one deserves to hurt like this!”

The verdict haunted Amanda so much that after the tea, she headed straight to Chanel and bought herself a bag, but even that sacred activity didn’t cheer her up. So she tried again at Louis Vuitton. By the time she walked out of Diane von Furstenberg, she felt a little better, but by then, she was haunted by a new thought.

“I refuse to believe that she’s right!” she told us back at home, her feet drawn up around her on the bed.

“Does this come in another colour?” Saffy asked as she inspected her reflection in the mirror while clutching this season’s Chanel tote-bag.

“Not all men are scum. They just take a bit of finding, that’s all!” Amanda went on, hugging her pillow for moral support.

“I really like this leather, but I’m not sure about the chain.”

“Marlene is talking pure nonsense! I’ve seen plenty of happy relationships. Plenty! My parents! They’re happy. Now that they’re sleeping in separate bedrooms…” Amanda trailed off.

“I do like the fact that Chanel always has these little pockets in their bags, you can fit in all your lipsticks and handphones and...what? Why are you looking at me like that?”

Saffy sighed and turned away from the mirror to face Amanda.

“I’m listening! I can multi-task, you know!” she said and sat down by the bed. “Look, I happen to think Marlene is right.”

Amanda looked shocked. “She is not right! She’s a big fat liar!”

Saffy bosom shifted slowly and she looked at Amanda with unaccustomed softness. “You know how you always fantasized about what you were going to be when you grew up? I always knew I was going to be a movie star. Just knew it in my bones, just as I knew I was going to marry Johnny Depp.”

Amanda sat up. “Johnny Depp? Really? He’s so scruffy though.”

“Oh, he’s totally hot in a nerdy way!” Saffy’s bosom inflated with lust. “I can’t tell you how devastated I was when he got involved with that Vanessa cow and had kids with her. My point is I’ve recently had to come to terms with the fact that short of a meteor hitting Hollywood and wiping out everyone from Meryl Streep to Sylvester Stallone, I’m never going to be a movie star. Which means that I’m also never going to marry Johnny Depp!” Saffy concluded and sat back with deep satisfaction while stroking the Chanel bag in a way that Amanda later said was very creepy.

“What’s your point, Saf?” I asked after a long moment’s silence as Amanda and I struggled to connect the dots.

Saffy looked at us as if we were each a marble short of a full set. “My point is that not all our dreams will come true and the sooner we get it, the better. Marlene obviously got the point.”

“That Doug is a douche-bag?”

“No! That, chances are, we’re either going to be in an unhappy relationship with someone who will probably break our heart, or,” Saffy sucked in breath, “we’re going to be alone for the rest of our lives!”

Choy!” Amanda yelled. “Those can’t be the only options!”

“You better get used to it, Amanda,” Saffy said as she got up from the bed and walked out still clutching the handbag. “You can’t pick and choose to suit yourself. Life isn’t like a Chanel store, you know.”