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.


Anonymous said...

you should have this "share" thingie eons back! just shared your post on FB!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Hahn, I'm writing to ask for your advice. I love your column, esp in 8 Days and I'd like to have a shot at free lance writing as well, specifically film and theatre reviews. I've just graduated from NUS with an arts degree but have no experience as a freelance writer. Can you share what the rates are like? How much do freelance writers get paid for doing film, restaurant reviews etc? Also, how do we break into this market? Looking forward to your advice. Thanks for your time!

Jason Hahn said...

If you want to write, you just start writing and you keep writing. It's no different from going to the gym. You build writing muscle the same way, by sheer repetition. And for your supplements and vitamins, you read. And you keep reading. writers write because that's all they know what to do. and then you go out there and start knocking on doors. you offer to work for free. and you learn and keep learning. freelancer rates are never the issue. if it is, then you shouldn't think about this as a career.
Sorry, but that's the brutal truth.