Saturday, July 24, 2010

Campaign Trail

My American friend Mark is on his way to Sydney and stopping over in Singapore. This is his first time and can I just say that it’s endlessly interesting seeing this town through his eyes. Things we’re so used to suddenly become brand new again.

For starters, he couldn’t get over the fact that are three Louis Vuitton boutiques all within a few minutes of each other.

“Why do you need so many?” he asked me as if I were personally responsible.

“Ask Amanda,” I said. “She knows all the staff and throws birthday parties for them.”

East Coast Parkway with its endless stretch of seafood restaurants threw him into a spin, as did the wet toilets everywhere he went. “It’s like someone had a shower in the sink!” he said when he emerged from the toilet at Toa Payoh interchange.

Which led Saffy to pipe up that she once saw a mother stand her 3-year old son on the edge of the sink in the public toilet at Cineleisure and loudly instruct him to pee into it.

“Shut up!” Mark said.

“I will if you sleep with me!” Saffy muttered. She later told her best friend Sharyn that she might need to carry a mop around with her if Mark stayed any longer.

“You need mop for what?” Sharyn asked, her eyes huge behind her Coke-bottle thick spectacles.

“I really need to be best friends with someone else,” Saffy told Amanda adding she now understood why there was white slavery. “I’d kidnap him in a second.”

A few nights ago, Mike came home and said he’d just spotted a poster on the MRT: “It’s not cool to pick your nose openly. It’s not cool to litter.”

“Seriously?” he said, his American sensibilities both bemused and mortified.

What is it about Singaporeans that we always seem to need someone to tell us what not to do? First, it was ‘don’t litter’. Then, it was ‘don’t spit’. After that, it was ‘don’t pee all over the toilet floor’. And now, ‘don’t pick your nose in public’.
Shouldn’t these things be self-explanatory? Why do we need to involve the government which, surely, must have better things to do with its time and expensively educated scholars? Like, I don’t know, govern the country.

My sister said to me recently this is why she’s stopped shaking hands when meeting new people. “Seriously, you just don’t know where their hands have been! If most people don’t wash their hands after visiting the loo, what makes you think they will when they’ve finished picking their nose? It’s a wonder the whole world isn’t dead from some foul plague!” she exclaimed, channelling her inner medieval-ness.

More to the point, how are people being brought up? What are the parents teaching their children? In what universe is it acceptable to pee all over the toilet floor? Because if we don’t do it at home, why is it suddenly acceptable to do it in public?

“I can’t even do a number two if I think someone can hear the splashes,” Saffy mumbled through a mouthful of spaghetti bolognaise. At which Amanda put down her fork and pushed her plate away. She glared at Saffy who looked up from her plate and said, “What?”

“Well, I think it’s a little strange,” Mark said. “What gets me is that there must be a lot of people picking their nose in public on the train if the government has to then launch a campaign to stop it.”

“Oh, it’s an epidemic!” Saffy said. “And it’s all on YouTube. You could be there all day! But you know what they should really do a campaign against, it’s people who clip their finger nails in public.”

Mark barked out a deep throated laugh and you could see Saffy shift uncomfortably in her seat. “Oh, they do not do that!” he said.

Automatically, Saffy’s ample bosom inflated. “It’s truly vile! I have seen mothers
give their children full on pedicures. And there was this one time I was nearly blinded when a sharp shrapnel ricocheted off the window and into my eye! I should have sued!”

“I really do pity the cleaners who have to clean the train at the end of the day,” I said.

“So what do you do when you see someone pick their nose? Are you supposed to report them?” Mark asked.

“I wouldn’t know,” Amanda said with a negligent toss of her shampoo ad hair. “I never take the MRT!”

Later that night, Saffy said to me that maybe there should be a social campaign against people like Amanda.

Monday, July 19, 2010

YouTube, Brutus?

The other day, someone asked me what I couldn’t live without.

I think he was being intellectually provocative or, at the very least, he was blind drunk. You know how you sometimes meet people like that at parties? They come up to you round about 1.30am, slightly wobbly on the feet, and eyes with that unfocused gaze that comes from having nursed, all night, a deeply intimate relationship with Jack Daniels on the rocks. They lean forward, happily unaware that they’re invading your private space and then, in a haze of alcoholic vapour, they ask you what your name is.

Well, anyway, this guy at Marina’s party leaned in and whispered, “What can’t you live without, mate?”

I replied instinctively, without thinking: “YouTube”.

Drunk Guy stared at me for a bit, then blinked red-flecked eyes. “Me, too, what?”
It was my turn to blink. Mentally, I replayed the last five seconds. “Oh, no, not, ‘You, too’. YouTube!”

“Yeah, what about me?”

Just then, I felt a vacuum being formed next to me as Saffy sidled up, her legendary bosom carving out its own air-currents as it advanced.

“Hello, who are you?” she asked as she peered at Drunk Guy with interest. “You’re cute. Are you single?”

Drunk Guy slowly moved his head towards Saffy’s bosom which was currently generating its own gravitational field.

“I was jushh talking to your friend,” he slurred, “and he was about to tell me what he…couldnncouldn’t…live without.”

“Oh, I can’t live without bee-hoon,” Saffy said immediately, demonstrating, once again, her ability to effortlessly turn any subject to herself. “It keeps me regular!”

“He…” Drunk Guy said, pointing me, “said ‘Me, too’! Which duh-zhun make senshhh!”

“No, I said ‘YouTube’!”

“There he goshhhh again!”

The next morning, Saffy said to me that it was a scandal that I was allowed out of the house unattended. “You were at a party. A man approached you. He was cute and obviously drunk! Why were you wasting time talking to him? Why didn’t you immediately send him over to me?”

“More to the point,” said Amanda, “why would you say that you can’t live without YouTube? Could you be a bigger dork?”

I replied stoutly that it was pointless trying to express how life-changing YouTube is to two women who thought ‘Twilight’ was literature.

Have you forgotten the theme song to ‘Wonder Woman’? What does Zsa Zsa Gabor sound like? On the other side of the world and missed the floods along Orchard Road? Looking for a hard-to-find Jeff Lynn album? Want to know if getting a tattoo hurts? Want to relive the opening number for the 2009 Academy Awards? Or watch a TV programme from the 70s and HMV doesn’t stock it? Not sure how to cook an omelette?

It’s all on YouTube.

I’m telling you, every class on the planet should have compulsory YouTube lesson. Forget about textbooks or endless lectures about how you should never pop a pimple. Screen a YouTube clip of the world’s biggest pimple being popped and it’ll put you off fatty, fried food for the rest of your life.

Just the other day, Mel Gibson’s rant at his ex-girlfriend was all over the news. You could read the transcripts in the newspapers all you like, but nothing brings home Mel’s madness more clearly than a quick trip to YouTube.

“That’s just strange, Jason!” Saffy announced at the end of my defence. “Why is Mel Gibson’s rant interesting in any way?”

I sighed as I pulled out my laptop and called up YouTube.

“Here!” I said, getting up from the dining table and heading into the kitchen to make lunch while Saffy and Amanda watched. Or rather, listened.

And when it was all over, they played it again. And again.

“I can’t stop listening to this!” Amanda complained. “It’s so incredibly vile and degrading, but I can’t stop listening!”

“I told you!”

“Who knew Mel Gibson was like this in real life!” Saffy said, as she hit the play button for the tenth time.

“I always thought there was something a little deranged about him,” Amanda said, adding, “Ooh, look, they have Christian Bale and Alec Baldwin’s rants as well! How clever of YouTube!”

“I told you!”

From Alec Baldwin, they moved onto 30 Rock bloopers which then, thanks to YouTube’s intuitive indexing, led them to David Letterman’s interview with Tina Fey, then to Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch.

By the time midnight came around, they were still watching. When I reminded Saffy that Drunk Guy had called earlier, she said, without once taking her eyes off a commercial from the 80s, “Oh, who cares?”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blood Thirsty

When I was younger, I used to love watching scary movies. The scarier and gorier, the better. Nothing made my day more than settling down to a 90-minute scream fest in which all the pretty young things on screen were chopped, sliced and diced by Freddy Krueger. I always imagined that the horrible bullies at my school were the ones up there being tortured.

Needless to say, I watched ‘Scream’ and ‘Final Destination’ and all its sequels at least a dozen times each. But since no one I knew liked scary movies, invariably, I would go alone.

I loved the sensation of being scared witless, slowly slouching lower into my seat as the stupid girls on screen walked around the corridors of a dark deserted house in their bikinis while whispering, “Hello? Is anybody there?”

And when it was all over, and the credits rolled, still I would sit there, waiting for that last final thrill just in case there was extra surprise footage at the end. And usually, it would suddenly occur to me that I was the only one left in the cinema. Well, me and the cinema cleaner who was slowly sweeping up all the spilt popcorn.

And then I’d start wondering if the cleaner turned out to be a homicidal maniac, no one would hear me scream.

Then one day, I matured and grew up. I started watching the wave of Japanese and Korean horror ghost movies and brought my self-induced terror level up to a whole new dimension.

“You really are sick,” my flatmate Amanda said recently when I brought home a stack of DVDs I’d bought on sale at HMV. She picked through the titles. “Oh my God, ‘The Ring’?”

“The original version, not that stupid Naomi Watts thing that wasn’t even remotely scary!”

Later that night, I overheard her complaining to Saffy. “It must be a boy thing!”

“My brother’s exactly the same!” Saffy reported. “His all time favourite movie is ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’! It’s truly sick! And now, he’s addicted to ‘True Blood’!”

“Oooh, I hear that’s very good,” Amanda cooed.

“How can that be? It’s about vampires!” The air pressure dropped slightly from the force of Saffy’s puffed up bosom.

“But they’re cute vampires! And the werewolves are even hunkier!”

“Werewolves? Seriously, Amanda, who did you sleep with at Harvard to get that degree?”

There was a moment of wounded silence, but Amanda didn’t come top in her class, or end up the second highest fee-earner in her office by being soft, and it would take more than Saffy to inflict any long term damage.

“OK, where’s my iPhone?” Amanda murmured, rummaging in her bag. She whipped out her phone and slid her finger across the screen.

“Look at my screensaver!” she ordered and thrust the phone in front of Saffy who stared. And then stared some more.

“Good Lord, who is this guy?”

“It’s Alexander Skarsgard! He plays Eric Northman, a vampire in ‘True Blood’!”

“Oooh, he can scar me anytime!”

“I told you! And his father is Stellan! He was one of the fathers in ‘Mamma Mia’!”

You could practically see the exclamation marks hanging in the air.

“Oh, that’s not a good thing,” Saffy said doubtfully. “My mother always said that if you want to know what your boyfriend will look like in 30 years, take a look at his father.”

Amanda sighed. “Who cares what he’s going to look like in 30 years? He’s hot now! In 30 years, you and I will be so nipped and tucked we won’t be able to smile without farting!”

Saffy later said to me that it always astonishes her whenever she remembers that Amanda had gone to a Swiss boarding school. “She can be so incredibly crude! I’m sure that kind of talk was never on the school curriculum!”

“So, you’re watching ‘True Blood’ now?” I asked.

“Well, I’m just about halfway through the first season DVD box-set,” Saffy said. “It’s all rather creepy and everyone seems to doing things only at night! And can I just say that there’s a lot of very unnatural sex going on?”

When she mentioned this to Sharyn, her best friend gaped at her. “Ay,” Sharyn said, her thick glasses fogging up. “My pastor say you shouldn’t watch these devil shows! You die while watching, you kena go to hell!”

“There are no such things as vampires, Sharyn!” Saffy said calmly as she tucked into her bee-hoon lunch. “And if there were, they ain’t never gonna be as drop dead gorgeous as Bill Compton and Eric Northman, lemme tell ya!”

“Why you talk so funny?” Sharyn demanded.

“I'm talking like the characters. God, I wish my life was an HBO show!”

Friday, July 02, 2010

Raining champion

They say that you could be on the world’s most beautiful island – surrounded by nothing but Tiffany-clear water and a sky the colour of crushed sapphires – but after a while, you’ll start to get jittery. Let those jitters fester a little longer and you begin to go mad. ‘Island fever’, they call it.

But imagine what happens when you’re stuck inside a tiny flat with two bad tempered women and a hyperactive dog that’s not been out for a walk all day because, outside, it’s like Noah’s Ark: the Sequel.

“Seriously, how can there be so much rain?” Saffy complained as she peered out the window, her words almost drowned out by the loud clatter of rain drops against the glass. “I need to get out of here! I’m so late for my bikini wax!”

“I seriously doubt if anyone is making any of their appointments today,” I said, and was rewarded with a filthy look.

“You men always have an answer for everything, don’t you?”

I opened my mouth to reply but spotted the cleverly laid trap just in time, and shut up.

Sensing the spike in hostile emotions, my beloved mongrel dog Pooch looked up from under the dining table and growled softly. For a moment, I wished that I had a Doberman who was trained to leap and attack, and ask questions later.

Saffy looked disappointed her ruse had failed. She immediately turned on Amanda who was sitting on the lounge fiddling with her iPhone. “That’s very sociable of you, Amanda, to just sit there and not contribute to the conversation!”

“I’m watching a YouTube link Sharyn just sent me. Look at this, Orchard Road is flooded!”

Her bad mood generated by her meteorological captivity temporarily forgotten, Saffy bounced onto the sofa to peer over Amanda’s shoulder. “Turn it up,” she ordered.

The shaky image panned around for a 180 degree view of a flooded Orchard Road. Then the camera settled on the Hermès store in Liat Tower. Muddy water lapped against the shop and a disembodied voice announced, “Hermès kena!”

Saffy dissolved into squeals of laughter and for days after, at oddly inappropriate moments, she would suddenly say, “Hermès kena!”

Amanda wondered aloud whether she should station herself outside the store. “This might just be the time to grab a Birkin bag as it floats out of the store!”

At 3pm, it was still raining heavily and to make matters worse, our ancient microwave oven decided to call it a day and stopped working with a sad little ‘ping’.

Amanda who was in the midst of warming up her leftover prawn noodles when this happened spent a good five minutes screaming profanities at the machine. Saffy was endlessly impressed. “This is what they teach you in Swiss boarding school!” she whispered to me.

When Amanda emerged from the kitchen, her hair was a little mussed up, and she had a deranged look in her eyes as she picked up her phone to dial.

“Hello?” she snapped. “Do you sell microwave ovens? You do? Great. What model? Uh huh…uh huh…How much?...uh huh…mmm…yes…OK, and when can you deliver…uhm, what ‘s your name? Catherine? Cat-ereen? I’m sorry, I can’t understand you! How do you spell that? Wait, let me get a pen and paper. OK, go ahead…T…A…S…Uh huh…uh huh…Seriously? That’s your name?”

Sensing a welcome bout of diverting drama, Saffy looked at me.

When Amanda clicked off her phone, it was clear that her bad mood had lifted. “You know, I was sure she said her name was Katerine, like the Russian, but she pronounced it in such an odd way I had to ask her to spell it out. And it’s Taserine!”

I frowned. “As in Listerine?”

“Or tangerine?” Saffy said. “I’m just amazed at the names that Singaporeans make up for themselves. It shows such creativity!”

“It’s not creative, it’s weird!” Amanda said. “If she was African-American, I’d understand it, but this girl could not have been more Singaporean!”

“Maybe she’s an African-American who’s lived here her whole life?” Saffy suggested.

“Actually, she sounds like a comic super-hero,” Amanda said. “She’s Wolverine’s sister and her hair turns into deadly whips!”

And that’s how we pulled ourselves out of our cranky moods, entertaining ourselves for the rest of the day with strange names.

By the time the rain finally stopped, we were laughing again. We threw open the windows and the soft smell of a freshly washed earth wafted in. Sharyn came over with a da-pao dinner and listened earnestly to Amanda’s story.

“Wah!” she said, her glasses fogging up. “Lucky she not call herself Vaseline! Then, really kena with boys!”