Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Team player

OK, hands up all those who don’t care about the World Cup?

If you do care, I suggest you keep surfing, because there’s nothing for you here this week. And anyway, I’m sure you’ll be far too busy following the misfortunes of the English team to be reading this blog.

For those of you still reading, here’s my beef in a nutshell: I’m sorry, but I just don’t get the appeal of a bunch of guys running around a field chasing a little black and white ball.

And I certainly don’t know why you would get so excited about it. I read somewhere that back in the 1950s, when Brazil played Uruguay, and Uruguay won unexpectedly, some Brazilian fans were so distressed they literally jumped off the top of the stadium and killed themselves.

I seriously couldn’t imagine another game where this sort of thing happens. I was thinking the other day what would happen if Roger Federer didn’t win Wimbledon (well, the way he’s been going this year, he’ll probably have lost in the quarter-finals by the time you read this) and, for the life of me, I just couldn’t imagine anyone throwing themselves off the top of the stadium in howling anguish.

But when it comes to football, something strange happens to grown men and women. They get all giddy and excited like a diabetic who suddenly finds himself trapped in a Willy Wonka movie set.

The other day, I came home to find our cleaning lady, Ah Chuan screaming Hokkien vulgarities at our TV screen. From a safe distance at the door, I could just make out that Spain was playing Honduras. It turns out that the woman who’s been washing our underwear for years is a rabid Spanish fan. And watches TV when she should be cleaning.

“Thank God Spain won!” I later told my flatmates. “For a really tense moment there, I thought she was going to throw her mop through the TV screen!”

“It just goes to show,” said Saffy, “that it’s the stillest waters that run the fastest.”

“I’m sure what you meant to say was…” Amanda began.

“I mean what I mean!” Saffy interrupted smoothly. “But I think I understand what the fuss is all about!”

Amanda looked surprised. “You do? Since when do you follow football?”

“I don’t! Well, at least, I didn’t until Barney Chen sent me a recent copy of Vanity Fair!” Saffy said, reaching into her handbag and pulling out said magazine.

On the cover was Ronaldo and some football player none of us had heard of. Both were wearing nothing except very skimpy underwear.

“Good Lord,” was all Amanda could say after a long moment of silence.

“And look at this guy!” Saffy said cheerfully, as she flipped the pages and stabbed a fingernail at a Cameroon player, her sharp index fingernail dragging a neat circle over his, shall we say, southern hemisphere.

Amanda pulled the magazine closer and peered. “Is that even real?” she asked.

“That’s what I asked Barney Chen, but he said that having played in a few team sports in his time, which knowing him I’m certain is code for something sexual, he’s 90 percent sure there’s been no air-brushing involved.”

“Seriously, someone should write a letter to Fido…” Amanda began.

“FIFA,” I said automatically, surprising even myself at the depth of my football knowledge.

“Whatever, and tell them that they need to have the whole game played in underwear! It’s a wonder that anyone would watch football when the players all wear those ugly baggy shorts. Put them into Armani underwear, I say, and the viewership numbers would skyrocket!” Amanda breathed deeply as she lingered over the assorted bulges on Ronaldo’s body.

And that was how the girls have, thanks to a multiple photo-spread in Vanity Fair, become fans of football.

Of course, the tension level in our little flat has escalated somewhat. When Ah Chuan found out that Saffy had become a fan of Cameroon, Saffy’s precious white satin underwear emerged from the washing machine stained a darker shade.

“Oh, silly me! I must have forgotten to separate the whites from the darks when I did the laundry,” Ah Chuan said in Hokkien, her entire body vibrating with innocence.

Saffy turned to Amanda. “What did she say?”

“She hates your guts,” Amanda translated.

Saffy turned to Ah Chuan and smiled weakly. “It’s OK! No worries! I was going to throw these panties out anyway!” she shouted, still laboring under the impression that Ah Chuan will understand English if you say it loudly enough.

That night, she slept with her door and windows locked.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

That's life!

When you’re growing up, a single day can sometimes feel like a year and at the end of the day, as you’re being tucked into bed, it’s hard to believe that you’d ever managed to pack in so much – playing, reading, chatting, napping, laughing, crying, poo’ing, eating at least five times and then playing some more.

Then, one day, just when you least expect it, you realize that you’re all grown up now, there’s so much to do, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to pack it all in.

“Seriously, I have a to-do list as long as my arm!” Amanda complained the other night. She walked in the door, carelessly kicked her Manolo Blahniks into the corner and collapsed onto the sofa. “I’ve been in meetings all day and I still have 40 unanswered emails to sort through. And it’s nearly midnight! Where did my day go?”

From the other end of the sofa, Saffy looked up from an old episode of ‘The Amazing Race’ that she’d recorded a few months ago. “I hate emails!” she said. “They’re like a venereal disease, you just can’t get rid of them! Whoever invented that damned thing should be shot! Oooh, is it just me or are those cowboys, Jet and Cord super-hot?” Saffy cooed, demonstrating, not for the first time, her complete inability to stay focused on anything longer than a commercial break.

“I’d marry them in a heart-beat!” Amanda said immediately. “Even it means I have to live on a dusty old ranch, lasso horses, milk cows and say ‘Hey, y’all!’ all day!”

“That could almost be the lyrics to your next hit country single, Amanda!” Saffy giggled.

But still, Amanda’s question – ‘Where did my day go?’ – haunted us. As I write this, it’s the middle of June. And I distinctly remember us just celebrating the new year. At this rate, Christmas will be arriving tomorrow.

“You know what will really irritate me?” Amanda asked the next day. “It’s if I wake up and suddenly, I’m 60!”

“That’s all you’re worried about?” Saffy piped up. “I have nightmares that I’m going to wake up 60 and find I’m still single!”

“Choy, choy, choy!” Amanda said hurriedly as they both knocked religiously on our wooden dining table.

Saffy’s formidable bosom shifted with all the slow motion majesty of a John Woo gun fight. “Really, when you come right down to it, what’s the point of all this?” she asked, waving her hands around. “Each morning, we wake up. Drag ourselves to work. Suffer the indignity of being yelled at by fat ugly bosses. Get stressed with 300 emails and stupid deadlines. Go home and get ready to do it all again the next day. Oh, and we also get to take home five dollars a month! For what?” she added with great dissatisfaction.

“And at the rate the years are slipping by, 60 isn’t that far away!” Amanda said, stubbornly returning to her original point.

“60 doesn’t bother me at all!” Saffy huffed, though Amanda later said that was a bit rich coming from someone who’s been 29 for the past five years. “What does bother me is that I’m still going to be single at that age. How depressing would that be?”

What would be more depressing, I ventured, would be you weren’t single, but that you were shacked up with some Hong Kong movie star who insisted that no one knew the two of you were dating. Like how nobody knew Ronald Cheng and Charlene Choi had gotten divorced, when the greater shock was that no one had known they were married in the first place.

“Oh, yeah, those two weirdos!” Saffy said. “I’ll never understand that. And don’t get me started about that whole Fann Wong and Christopher Lee fandango. Why bother being attached if no one knows about it? I mean, isn’t the whole point of a boyfriend is so all those smug married couples can stop judging you?”

“And pitying you!” Amanda added.

Saffy sighed. “Ugh, I hate the pitying.”

Meanwhile, the bigger issue of how fast time is passing remains unsolvable. If Saffy and Amanda don’t want to wake up one day 60 and single, I don’t want to wake up one day realizing that I’d not done half the things I’ve always wanted to do. Like bungee jump. Learn how to ride a horse. Play the piano. Take part in a Bollywood dance number. Save the world.

And all because I spent the greater part of my life chained to a stupid desk.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Time after Time

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love TV. I live and breathe TV, and if I could eat it, I would. Nothing says ‘home’ to me more than being able to kick off the shoes at the end of a long horrid day at the office, reach for the remote control, and settle back for an evening of great entertainment with a nice bowl of pasta for company.

Of course, there are some people who say that TV is trash, but there’s a good reason why I’m not friends with them. (And besides, I have one word to say to them: “Glee”.)

It’s fair to say that TV has been my life’s bedrock. It’s seen me through the good times, the bad times and all the boogy in between. Because no one told me life was going to be this way. My job was a joke, I was broke and my love life was DOA. It was like I was always stuck in second gear, when it hadn’t been my day, my week, my month or even my year. But through it all, TV has been there for me, through thick and thin. And at night, long after I’ve turned it off and gone to bed, I’ve heard it call my name, and it feels like home.

And then a few days ago, I was trawling through HMV’s TV section, looking at all the discounted box sets and lovingly flashing back to all those wonderful TV shows of my past, now conveniently collected in one ready to view marathon. Recent favourites like Lost, CSI, House, Grey’s Anatomy, Arrested Development, Desperate Housewives, Friends and Entourage led to golden oldies like Dr Who, To the Manor Born, Keeping Up Appearances, Six Million Dollar Man and, yes, even Baywatch.

And in the midst of this homey nostalgia, it suddenly occurred to me that, in my life, I’ve watched a lot of TV.

“And let’s not count all those shows that I’ve watched in private, but would never admit in public to loving,” I later said that night to my flatmates.

“Such as?” Amanda said, ever ready to assume the road of cross-examiner.

“Well, such as American Idol, Brothers and Sisters and Ugly Betty!”

“So, what’s your point?” Saffy asked.

“It all adds up to a lot of time!” I exclaimed.

Saffy frowned. “I’m not following.”

“Look, take one show, say Lost. Each season has about 23 episodes. Make it 20 for easy maths. Each episode is 40 minutes. And the damned thing went for 6 years. So, what’s that…20 times 40, that’s uhm…”

There was a brief silence as the three of us screwed up our faces, cast our eyes up towards the ceiling and counted, fingers twitching and mouths moving soundlessly.

“4800 minutes!” I said finally, just as Amanda had admitted defeat and whipped out her phone. “And if you divide that by 60 minutes, that makes, uhm…”

“80 hours,” Amanda said.

“80 hours!” I repeated in horror.

“That’s not so bad, is it?” Saffy said. “That’s only three days in your life. I’m sure you can spare three days!”

“Saffy, that’s just one show! What about all those other shows? What about Friends? That went for ten years!”

“But that’s only 20 minutes long!” Saffy said, ever the optimist.

“Or,” said Amanda, her fingers dashing across her phone, “67 hours, assuming 20 episodes per season.”

By now, even Saffy was looking troubled, the vast accounting of her life suddenly turning into a flickering montage of TV theme songs and silly plots.

“You see what I mean?”I said. “Imagine me having this dawning realization in the middle of HMV, surrounded by all those box sets!”

“It’s like a Harry Potter moment!” Saffy said, her bosom inflating. “All your life captured in digital code!”

“How much of my life have I spent watching TV?” I asked in despair. “At least the cast of Friends each earned $1m per episode. What do I have to show for it? My God, I could have learnt a second language! I could be speaking fluent Greek by now!”

That gave everyone some pause as they thought about what they could have done with all the time they’d otherwise spent following the convoluted plots of Alias.

“I might have made partner,” Amanda said.

“And I’m sure I would have found a husband,” Saffy murmured, the weight of her immense tragedy causing her to slouch forward in the sofa where her hand automatically found the TV remote control. She clicked on the TV and instantly, our faces were bathed in the flickering light of a commercial.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Work it out

When I was a young impressionable kid growing up, I watched my father come down to breakfast every morning dressed in a crisp white shirt and tie. He’d sit and eat his soft boiled eggs drizzled with soya sauce, sip his black coffee while reading the newspapers and then pop into the study to fill his briefcase with important looking files and books before heading out the door.

“Where’s Papa going?” I remember asking the maid once.

“He’s going to the office!” Connie replied with all the enthusiasm of a condo security guard on a slow night.

“What for?”

She shrugged. “I think he does something important. I don’t know.”

A thought occurred to me. “What’s an office?”

“It’s a place where Sir make money so he can afford to buy your mother diamonds and feed you three!”

I, of course, found the whole idea so intriguing that I went to Mother and reported the conversation. “That’s really rich coming from someone who eats an entire loaf of bread a day!” Mother said stiffly.

But years later – right through school and then university – I dreamt of the day when I would get to work in an office and do mysterious things like my father. To me, the whole idea of working in an office was the same as growing up.

I couldn’t wait to grow up.

And then came the day when I actually walked into an office for my first day at work as a junior legal clerk. I sat at my desk staring around the tiny space. On one side was a tiny grimy window that looked out into another building. Next to it was a grubby desk on which sat a clunky pre-Apple computer with a keyboard with grey keys. A filing cabinet and a dying pot plant sat next to another wall, and overhead was a flickering fluorescent lamp.

I was profoundly moved by the moment. This was the mythical office of my childhood. This was the source of Mother’s diamonds and Connie’s daily loaf of bread. This was what it meant to be grown up.

I think the novelty lasted all of one hour. The secretary came in with a pile of dusty old files that I was actually meant to read and do something about. The phone started ringing and then my boss started screaming about something to someone and he kept using a word rhyming with ‘fire-truck’ repeatedly. The whole office, I soon realized, lived in a state of unrelenting paranoia and fear. And before long, the flickering fluorescent light lent the whole place the atmosphere of an asylum where the craziest person in the joint was the warden.

At the end of the day, I went home in a stunned daze, sat down on the sofa and called my sister. “I can’t believe this is what I’ve been working towards my whole life!”

“You always did live in La La Land!” my sister announced with all the sympathy of the school yard bully. “At least you get an office! I work in an open plan space with a bunch of Neanderthals who spend half the day telling fart jokes and the other half staring at my boobs. I hate my life!”

I’ve long since left my first office – even though, some nights, I still dream of my terrible boss screaming at me. The other two law firms I went to weren’t that much better. My third boss had an even nastier temper than the first and, by then, I realized that being a lawyer is just not like Ally McBeal or The Practice at all. There is not a trace of glamour about it. In fact, if you ask me, it’s more like being the victim on CSI.

The other day, Saffy said that if she has to work in an office for the rest of her life, she’d rather kill herself. “This whole commuting to work and staring at the stupid computer screen from 9 to 6 crap is just so incredibly inhumane!” she declared, her ample bosom heaving with force.

“You guys are weird! I love working!” Amanda piped up. “It gives me such a buzz to go into the office each day!”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re really weird, Amanda,” Saffy declared as she hoisted her handbag and headed for the door. She later sent me a text message: “I wonder what it must b like 2 live in A’s world. Earning all dat money wld give me a huge buzz too!”

I just want to go back in time and give my younger self this message: “Don't be an idiot. Being a lawyer sucks big time. Take up golf.”