Friday, April 30, 2010

Past Tense

My sister sent me a book for my birthday. It’s called “Letter to my 16 Year Old Self”. In it, a whole bunch of famous people like Yoko Ono, Will Young and Annie Lennox write a letter to, well, their 16 year old self telling them they should expect from their future and how they should deal with growing up. It’s easily one of the best books around: Incredibly moving in some bits, deeply funny in others, and always thought provoking.

In her birthday card, my sister wrote that she would tell her 16 year old self that “diets are stupid and stay away from Marie Chen, cause she’s going to steal your boyfriend, that self serving little cow”. And she wrote in her postscript that she would also tell her younger self to hug her brother Jason more because “he’s always going to be there for you”.

When Saffy read the card, she burst into tears.

“That’s such a lovely thing to…to…sniff…to say! I wish someone would say that about me!” she snuffled into a tissue.

Which, of course, got us all thinking. If we had a chance, what would each of us say to our 16 year old self? For days, we thought about it, and then one Sunday evening, we sat down at the dining table with pen and paper, and this is what we wrote:

Amanda’s letter to her 16 year old self:
“Dear Princess, you’re probably not going to believe this, but you know how you’ve got this dream of becoming a supermodel like Naomi Campbell? Well, you’re going to end up a lawyer. Sorry to break it to you like this, but the good news is, you’ll be earning a tonne of money and you’ll be wearing all those expensive runway clothes you read about in Vogue. Oh, and you should snap up shoes by Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo. And as soon as you can afford it, I want you to buy shares in Apple. That company is going to get really huge! But don’t buy the first iPod or iPhone or iPad. Wait till the third generation. You’re also going to meet a guy who looks like a cockroach. DO NOT give him your number! Seriously. He’s bad news. It’s OK to be single. Really. Love you lots, A”

Jason’s letter to his 16 year old self:
“Dear Me, This will come as a bit of a shock, but you’re going to hate being a lawyer. A law firm looks nothing like what you see on TV. You’ll be drafting stupid documents that no one will ever read and making your bosses very rich. The people you will be working with will be fat and ugly, and they’ll also be screaming at you a lot. The money isn’t going to be worth the hassle. The good news is you’ll switch career mid-way and you’ll be a lot happier. Poorer, but happier. Your parents are wrong: you can actually be happy when you’re poor. But you need to sit down once in a while and have a chat with your mother. Not just because she might leave you a lot of money, but because, sometimes, she gets lonely (you, Michelle and Jack are all going to leave home…I know, what a shocker!). Stay strong. Me”

Saffy’s letter to her 16 year old self:
“Dearest Saff, I have so much to tell you! But first things first. Stop crying about your flat chest. Next year, around June, you will wake up and be shocked when you look down! Trust me. Next, you shouldn’t be so mean to that pimply kid who sits next to you in drama class. After high school, he’s going to go to Hollywood and be a star! His skin will clear up, he’ll go to the gym and he’s going to be super hot! So you need to be his best friend. I also wouldn’t bother too much with physics. You’re never going to be a scientist. And you’re also going to meet this incredibly gorgeous guy called James. He’s going to break your heart. (He’s going to cheat on you with Mary-Louise Tan, that stinker.) And it’s going to really hurt. You’ll think the world is going to come to an end. But it won’t. So, you should cry over him for about a week MAX and then just get over it. Oh, and James Cameron is going to make a movie about the Titanic. Put all your money and savings with the bookies and bet that it’s going to win 11 Oscars. XOXO. S”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Date Line

Flip open any women’s magazine these days, and every other page will have an article on how to dress to thrill, which shoes best accentuate your calves, how to take a day look into evening glam, what make-up to buy, and how to catch and keep a man.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out the sub-text here. If you’re not looking as good as the models in the magazines, here’s how you do it. And once you’ve done it, you’ll be so busy dating, you won’t have time to sit around on Thursday nights watching the American Idol results show. The sub-sub text to that is that you won’t be a loser. Any more.

The corollary is that if you’re not dating, that means you’ll still be single come Chinese New Year. Which means more pitying looks from relatives than you know what to do with. And nobody wants that.

See how you get from shoes to pity?

All this came up the other day over lunch with my friend, Janet. Janet is a successful, thirty-something lawyer. She’s smart, she’s sassy. She’s a banker. Owns her own apartment. She’s also well-travelled, well-read and, in the immortal words of my best friend Karl after meeting her at a party, “well-stacked”.

And she’s single.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said, munching vigorously on her chicken salad. “I wear all the right clothes and make-up. And I look hot in a bikini! Any mother-in-law would be proud to have me marry her son, but for some reason, I’ve not been on a date since Lee Kuan Yew was prime minister. What’s wrong with the men in this town?”

I ventured that maybe her CV scared men off. “If you were a man, I’m sure you’d be onto your third marriage and fifth mistress by now.”

“You know,” Janet said, “I never thought of it that way. If I were a woman, I know I’d marry me!”

And Janet being Janet, she’s decided that she’s taking matters into her hands. Shortly after our lunch, she went back to her office, shut the door, went online and signed herself up with a dating profile.

A few days later, she Facebooked that she’d been on two dates already.

Saffy was deeply impressed. “Really? With an actual real man?” she asked in much the same tones Mrs Moses must have used when her husband came down from the mountain and reported that he’d met God. “Huh. I always thought you only ever met complete losers on these dating sites.”

“Oh, you do!” said Amanda, veteran of the dating scene. “They’re all liars! Remember that guy I once met online? Said he was a doctor and it turned out he was a vet?”

“You are such a job-ist!” Saffy accused. “He was perfectly lovely! Well, except for his bad breath.”

“And his cross-eyes!” Amanda said, warming up to her theme.

I said that Janet’s first date had been a cinematographer with National Geographic. “He’s into wild life!” I said.

“That’s no way to talk about Janet!” Saffy said and for the rest of the day, amused herself immensely with this witticism.

“And her second date was with a lawyer!” I went on. “It went really well, she said.”

“I give that relationship two months,” Amanda predicted. “Lawyers make terrible boyfriends. They look good on paper, but they’re never around. They’re either working late or stuck in some stupid long distance, late night conference call with New York!”

“But you’re a lawyer!” Saffy pointed out.

“Yes, but I’m a woman. And that means I can multi-task. I can mentally draft a brief while having dinner. A guy can’t.”

Janet says that so far her two dates have been working out really well. Mr National Geographic is rugged, outdoorsy and tanned, while Mr Lawyer is rich, successful and looks like the Chinese version of Jude Law. And the bonus is that neither of them lives at home. “Do you know how difficult it is to find a guy in this town who doesn’t live with his mother? And I’m dating two of them!” she said, looking very pleased with her good fortune.

Saffy says it’s so unfair that Janet is dating two guys. “Maybe I should be using her dating site as well? After all, at the rate this year is disappearing, it’ll be Chinese New Year again soon!”

Amanda says Saffy is better off placing a bet at the casino, but last I heard, Saffy was online busy creating a profile. I just got an SMS from her: “If anybody asks, I’m a model with Victoria’s Secret!”

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Mirror Crack'd

When I first saw Robert Pattinson in one of the Harry Potter movies and then again in Twilight, the thing that struck me most was what it must be like to walk about looking like him. What does he see when he looks into the mirror? I wondered. Does he see someone who is unspeakably good looking or does he just see a face with two eyes, a nose, a mouth and perhaps a pimple or two?

Which then made me wonder about what other people see when they look at me, perhaps for the first time. Do they also think, “Oh my God, he’s gorgeous!” or do they think, “Seriously, only a mother could love that one!”?

“I think of you like a door knob,” said Saffy after thinking about the question for a while before adding in a rush, “but not that you look like a door knob! But you know, it’s kind of like it doesn’t matter how beautiful a door knob is, after a while, when you’ve seen it a thousand times a day, it’s just a…well, you know, it’s just a door knob! But that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful!”

“So you don’t look at me and think I’m good looking?” I asked.

“Define good looking,” Saffy said cagily.

“Richard Gere in a tuxedo in Pretty Woman.”

“Oh, definitely not,” Saffy replied promptly. “I’d say more Jackie Chan in Lust, Caution!”

There was a moment of silence when mental visual libraries were rifled through, and then rifled again. “Jackie Chan wasn’t…” I began.

“It doesn’t matter,” Saffy said smoothly. “It’s six of one and a dozen of the other! The point is, you’re you, and you’re a beautiful child of God! Surely, that’s enough?”

The next morning, at breakfast, Amanda suddenly looked up from her cereal and asked, “What do you guys see when you look at me?”

Saffy choked into her coffee.

“There isn’t anything about your looks that I’ve not already said many times in my blog, Amanda,” I said loyally before turning sharply to Saffy. “Who else have you been gossiping to?”

Saffy looked shifty for a moment and decided that the best way out of this was to just go on the offensive. “Seeing as you looked so hurt about that door knob comment, I was just looking for a second opinion! What is your problem? You are always making such a big fuss about nothing!”

“You look nothing like a door knob, Jason,” Amanda said kindly, patting my hand. “I was just asking because I’ve seriously been thinking about getting a nose job.”

To everyone’s surprise, it turns out that the most beautiful woman I personally know has secret issues of her own. Apparently, Amanda’s nose has long been a bone of contention between her and her sister. “It’s why we’re not very close,” Amanda admitted. “I always thought that my parents preferred her because she has the prettier nose.”

“But Amanda, you’re identical twins!” Saffy said, her eyes wide as saucers.

“No, if you look at her profile, her nose is one degree higher than mine. I know this because we once took a Polaroid from exactly the same position and then we measured the angle. One point three degrees higher to be exact. So that gives her the edge in the looks department,” Amanda added with great dissatisfaction.

For days afterwards, the look on her face haunted me. Here we have a highly successful, driven career woman with the kind of looks that stops traffic and she wants a nose job because she thinks her parents prefer her identical twin because her nose is one point three degrees higher.

This, obviously, is a woman who does not see in the mirror what the rest of us see. Which, in turn, leads to me to wonder, yet again, what Robert Pattinson sees when he looks into the mirror each morning.

“Maybe he sees Ricky Gervais?” my best friend Karl suggested.

“No, he doesn’t,” Barney Chen said firmly. “Beautiful people like Robert Pattinson will always say that they don’t think they look very special, but deep down, in the darkest part of their personality, they know they’re drop dead gorgeous, but they just have too good manners to actually say it!”

“So, who do you see when you look in the mirror?” Karl asked.

“Someone I’d definitely date if I wasn’t already dating someone!” Barney replied. “I have no issues with my looks! None at all!”

Meanwhile, Saffy is trying to decide what she sees when she looks into the mirror. So far, the list includes Angelina Jolie and Penelope Cruz.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Don't Look Down

I don’t know if it’s a sign of age, but lately, I find myself talking a lot about the state of my stomach. I will finish a meal, burp, rub my tummy and mutter, “Oy, I really shouldn’t have eaten so much!” And then, I’ll spend the rest of the day complaining that my tummy feels terrible.

“I’m incredibly gassy,” I will confide to my beloved adopted mongrel dog Pooch who I know will never judge me.

“Don’t walk so close behind me,” I instruct Saffy when we’re navigating the crowds along Orchard Road. Because I know she will be the first to judge me.

Of course, when this goes on for more than a couple of days, I start to worry. After all, you can’t be a card-carrying hypochondriac like me (and a fan of ‘House’, to boot) without thinking that even a simple case of indigestion might actually be early signs of advanced bowel cancer.

So I speed-dialed Dr Chan, my lovely gastroenterologist and demanded an immediate appointment.

“Next week?” I asked her receptionist. “Next week? Seriously? I could be dead next week! Do you want that on your conscience?”

Which is how, a few hours later, I found myself waiting my turn to see Dr Chan. From behind the surgery’s brand new copy of Tatler, I peeked at the two other people who were waiting and entertained myself wondering what specific gastroenterological problem had brought them here. I decided that the fat old man was here for his bi-yearly colonoscopy while the Indonesian lady with the big hair and Bottega Veneta bag was probably keeping her husband awake all night with her thunderous farts.

“Please, lah!” Dr Chan looked scandalized when I asked her. “Have you never heard of doctor-patient confidentiality?”

“Who am I going to tell?” I asked in a wounded tone while trying not to think too much about this column.

“So what’s the matter with you this time?” Dr Chan asked as she flipped through my thick file. So, I told her all about my rumbling stomach and the discomfort I felt whenever I sat for too long.

“Are you regular?” she asked as she began prodding my stomach.

“Listen, if you’re going to keep doing that,” I said urgently, “I suggest you get out your nose-plugs!”

“I’ve got a cold today, so I can’t smell a thing!” she giggled rather inappropriately for someone who got her medical degree from Oxford. “So are you regular?”

“Every morning, at 7 am,” I replied promptly. “You could set the clock by me.”

“What colour?”

I blinked. “What?”

“What colour? And what shape?”

“What do you mean what shape?” I demanded.

Dr Chan sighed and looked up. “What is the colour and shape of your stools?”

“What sort of a question is that? How would I know?”

“Don’t you look?”

There might have been a brief moment when I squealed like a girl, but in my defence, I repeat, what sort of a question is that to ask someone who, at that moment, is lying in a very vulnerable position while someone is prodding you in the stomach?

“What do you mean you never look?” Saffy demanded later that night.

I was astonished. “You mean you do?”


“But why?” I cried.

It was Saffy’s turn to look a little put out. “I don’t know,” she said. “I just do. Just in case there are any nasty surprises!”

Amanda, who was brought up in a Catholic boarding school, looked ill. “That’s just disgusting, Saf,” she said. “You couldn’t pay me enough money to look!”

“But apparently, you’re meant to look,” I said, telling them that Dr Chan had spent a very unpleasant half hour explaining to me what healthy poo should look like. “And she says the shape is very important! We should all be aiming for an S shape,” I reported.

“I’ve never heard of anything more revolting in my life,” Amanda declared firmly, adding, “and since living with you two, I’ve heard a lot!”

Saffy looked intrigued. “Really? An S shape is good? You know, I’ve never noticed. Did she say what it meant if you had other letters?”

“Round balls aren’t good, she said. Apparently, that means you’re not getting enough roughage.”

Saffy sat back in her chair, more stunned by these revelations than she’d been after reading ‘The Da Vinci Code’. “Huh!” she said and you didn’t have to be a mind reader to know what she was planning to do the next morning in the toilet. Meanwhile, Amanda says that she’s been so disturbed by our conversation that she’s been constipated for the past two days.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Sleeping with the Enemy

Now I realise that there are some people out there who will frown at what they’re about to read next, but I don’t care. I pay my taxes every year. I’m a decent citizen. I don’t jay walk and, most importantly, I have nothing but the highest undiluted praise for the government (my proposal for the PAP’s next general election campaign is “Yay, Mr Lee!” Catchy, no?).

So, my point is that I think I’ve earned the right to declare, loudly and proudly, that I like to sleep in public. Not – for those of you with bad eyesight or mild dyslexia – sleep around in public, but just sleep. Whichever mode of transportation I may be taking – planes, trains, automobiles or, indeed, anything in which a rhythmic rocking motion is involved (a camel is my absolute favourite mode of transportation) – you will find me napping. It doesn’t matter that I might be leaning against the train door, sitting upright on the bus, or slouched down on my plane seat, within two minutes of settling down, I’m sound asleep.

It’s a talent, I know. Some people can sing in tune. Some people can play a Bach concerto. Some people can programme a new TV while others can bend over and touch their toes. I can nap anywhere.

Meanwhile, my friend Warren thinks that people who sleep in public are a disgrace and should be locked up.

“Isn’t that a bit severe?” I once asked him.

“Certainly not! You don’t poo in public, do you?”

Leave it to Saffy to pipe up at that moment to admit at she had once been forced to pee in the Botanic Gardens on account of the fact that she had had too much coffee to drink over lunch and as she pointed out, “When you gotta go, you gotta go!” And so she did. Right behind some bushes in the Orchid Garden.

“Yes, but that was an emergency,” said Warren who has always had a crush on Saffy and would rather have his finger-nails pulled out than to contradict anything she says. “Sleeping in public is not an emergency. You can sleep at home. You don’t need to sleep in public. But peeing in public in an emergency is acceptable!” he said firmly, while beaming at her.

“But what about on the plane?” I asked, cleverly finding a loophole in his argument.

“You’re crossing time zones. Sleeping in those circumstances is a natural and equally acceptable activity.”

“Huh,” said Saffy. Later in private, she told me that it was a great pity that Warren was already married to the obnoxious Mary Wong because there was nothing more sexy about a man than a piercing intelligence.

“I still think he’s being ridiculous about this whole sleeping in public thing,” I said stubbornly. “There’s no rule that says you can’t! And let me tell you, if there was, Singapore would have had it years ago!”

“Well, I think it’s an amazing skill,” Saffy said loyally. “I wish I could sleep like you. I am still suffering from the worst insomnia!”

Amanda says she’s with Warren on this one. “There’s nothing more unattractive than watching people sleep on the train. Their heads are lolling all over the place, sometimes they dribble, and then they lean their heads on your shoulder and start snoring! It’s disgusting!” she said with a delicious shiver.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute!” Saffy interrupted. “When was the last time you were on a bus?”

“Oh, never!” Amanda replied without the least trace of social embarrassment. “A friend of mine sent me this YouTube clip of this person who fell asleep on the train. It’s actually quite interesting how spacious the MRT is!”

Saffy later said that it constantly astonished her that there were people in this world like Amanda. “You know, if I didn’t actually live with her, I wouldn’t believe she existed. How do you live your life without once getting on a train? I’m horribly jealous! I want to never have been on a train! Dammit, why did my parents have to be school teachers and not property developers?”

I said that I was sure the Prime Minister had never been on a train either.

“That’s different, he’s the Prime Minister!” Saffy said, a soft misty look clouding her eyes whenever the subject of the PM came up. “If he was wasting time on the MRT, no one would be running this country.”

Which, in turn, led me to wonder if the Prime Minister ever sleeps. That, and what other public bushes Saffy has peed behind. Amanda says you could go blind thinking about things like that.