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.