Friday, November 26, 2010

(No) Thank you for the music!

A few nights ago, we went to Zouk. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was a feeble, subconscious attempt to recapture the glory of our youth, when we thought nothing of showing up at midnight and danced till 2.30, and then went out for supper at that corner bah kut teh joint on the corner of River Valley and Mohamed Sultan Road.

These days, it’s a real struggle to even keep my eyes open at 10pm and the idea of actually getting dressed at 11.30pm to go out filled me with dread.

“Oh, don’t be such an old uncle!” Saffy said even as she lay on her bed, eyes closed while clawing weakly at the side of the bed in an attempt to get up. “I’m just taking a disco nap! That’s allowed!”

“Why are we going?” I asked from the comfortable depths of the sofa.

“Because we always spend our Friday nights at home and it’s not normal!” Amanda said crisply as she emerged from her room resplendent in a cute little Miu Miu dress and trailing a scent of Dior. “We need to have some fun and out there,” she said, pointing a red-lacquered finger through the lounge room window, “out there is ‘fun’! So, quit complaining, get up and get dressed!”

As Saffy later shouted to me in the dark caverns of Zouk, our entire bodies vibrating with the heavy bass thumping out of the hidden woofers, it’s a wonder Amanda never found a career in the army. “She’s so incredibly bossy! Oh my God, could this music be any louder?”

And right at that moment, I couldn’t help but wonder why I had left the cool comforts of my flat and the companionable warmth of my beloved adopted mongrel dog Pooch to spend precious sleep time in the dark with a swarm of very enthusiastic but slightly smelly, barely post-pubescent children who clearly were high on something. Because I simply did not understand the music that club was playing.

The music I grew up with had melody. Some had catchy riffs. Some had great lyrics. Some had great orchestrations. Some had it all. And each sounded different. Unique. But most of all, the music made sense.

That night, all I heard – or rather, all I felt, since the music was so loud it completely bypassed my auditory canals and went straight for my nerve endings – was thump, thump, thump, chika, chika, thump, thump...And all around me, people were swaying, their arms enthusiastically pumping the air, eyes closed as they fell into a relentless beat that just never stopped. Days later, I could still feel the thump in the soles of my feet. And that’s all I remembered of the music. Not a single lyric. Not a single melody. Just that thump, thump, chika, chika, thump, thump…

“When did you turn into such an old man?” Barney Chen said after listening to me complain about the state of today’s music. He passed me his iPod and ear-pieces. “Here, listen to this and tell me it’s not a great song!”

So I sat there for three or four minutes listening to someone blather what sounded like “Ra-ra-wa-ah-hiya, wa-ha-ro-ma-ha-ha”.

“Oh my God, you didn’t like that?” Barney gasped, his hand clutching his barrel-chest. “That’s Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’! It’s my private national anthem!”

“But it makes no sense!” I said.

“What do you mean it makes no sense? ‘I want your ugly, I want your disease, I want your everything as long as it’s free!’ It’s fabulous!”

“That doesn’t mean anything!”I bleated. “How do you want someone’s ‘ugly’? And why would you want anyone’s disease in the first place?”

“Oh excuse me,” Barney Chen huffed, “and the lyrics to ‘MacArthur Park’ make so much sense, do they? ‘Someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can’t take it, cause I took so long to bake it and I’ll never have that recipe again, oh no!’” Barney belted out the chorus, completely oblivious to the looks the rest of Starbucks was giving him. And when he finished, he turned to me and said, “Seriously?”

I paused. “I thought that was one of your favourite songs?”

Barney blushed. “It is. But only the Donna Summer version! My point is that you just have to go with the flow. So the modern music doesn’t make sense to you, but who says it has to?

That night, I went onto YouTube and called up Lady Gaga. As Saffy walked past my open door, she heard me mutter, “‘I want your leather studded kiss in the sand!’ Really?”

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's a Mystery!

There are so many mysteries in life. What happens when we die? Why do diets never work? Why does one woman look smoking hot in a dress, but another look like the cleaning lady with a bad hair day in the exact same dress? Why do people still use the phrase “exact same” when it’s so clearly bad grammar? How do planes stay up in the air? The list is endless.

But in Singapore, the categories of mysteries take on a whole other dimension. Maybe it’s the tropical air that makes everything feel a little bit more surreal.

1. Why do people, who would never dream of missing a plane, think it’s acceptable to show up an hour late for a wedding?
2. While dressed in short-sleeved polo knits and jeans?
3. How has David Gan made so much money just from cutting hair that he can afford to give, on a regular basis, five-figure presents to his friends?
4. Why is he not friends with me?
5. Why is it impossible to read any article about David Gan without him telling you how much something costs?
6. Why are so many Singaporeans so scared of dogs? Even if they’re little poodles?
7. Eriche, Jacelyn, Pearlyn, Concept, Pamelyn, Mindee, Ericson, Messiah… Where do people come up with their names?
8. Has anyone watched a Singaporean play recently that didn’t have a gay theme or involve some degree of cross-dressing?
9. Why do people still insist on calling the smoke from the forest fires in Indonesia and Malaysia, ‘the haze’? It’s smelly, foul, stinky smoke.
10. Why do the TCS artistes never seem to pay for their own wedding? If you can’t afford to pay for your own wedding dress/jewellery/suit/wedding venue/make-up artist/hair-dresser/honeymoon, why are you getting married in the first place?
11. Artist, ok. Actor, ok. Thespian, ok. But what the hell is an ‘artiste’?
12. Why do people continue to murder people and smuggle drugs and then complain when they get handed the death penalty?
13. How on earth did Singapore end up with such a super-dooper efficient infrastructure while the rest of the world increasingly operates like a Third World sweat shop?
14. (Question from Saffy) Is the Prime Minister wearing the same cardigan every time he appears on Question Time?
15. (Question from Amanda) If so, what label is it?
16. (Question from Barney Chen) Does the Prime Minister work out?
17. (Question from Amanda) If so, where?
18. In what way do questions 14 to 17 qualify as ‘Singaporean mysteries’?
19. Why don’t bus drivers know if, say, Rochor Road is on their route?
20. Why do people on the bus always force you to climb over them to get to the window seat? Why can’t they just move in?
21. Why don’t people smile more at the hawker centre? All that amazing cheap food on offer and everyone still looks like they’re in the middle of a typhoid epidemic.
22. Why is it that once you’ve flown on Singapore Airlines, every other plane just feels like a smelly, medieval dump?
23. Why don’t motorists indicate when they’re changing lanes?
24. Or stop at zebra crossings?
25. And why do they persist in believing that an amber or red light is an all clear to speed up?
26. Why can’t the rest of the world’s airports look, feel, and run like Changi?
27. Why are men still carrying their girlfriends’ handbags in public?
28. Or is their girlfriend actually not a girl?
29. How do hair-washers wash your hair while you’re sitting upright without dripping water and shampoo all over your clothes?
30. Why do so many people not flush the public toilets?
31. Why do public toilets always seem so wet? Where is all that water splashing from?
32. Why do Chinese weddings feel so dull while Malay and Indian weddings seem so much more festive?
33. How does Fann Wong still look so freakishly young after all these years?
34. Why, with all his good looks and charm, does Christopher Lee continue to insist on dressing like a homeless street bum with really bad hair?
35. Why aren’t there more Lee Kuan Yews in this world?
36. Why do people still think that a phone message is an amusing piece of paper that’s meant to be ignored?
37. And despite all this, why – after even just a few days away and the plane finally touches down at Changi – does it always feel like you’ve come home?

Wedded Bliss

One of the things that I will simply never be able to get used to in Singapore is the wedding dinner. Really, they are just plain weird.

Wedding dinners to me are supposed to be a celebration when close friends and family come together to rejoice at a couple’s union (which, hopefully, will be long lived, but that’s another story).

It begins with the ceremony where everyone gathers in church or by the beach. The bride shows up in glowing white (although I’ve been to a few where the mother of the groom will whisper in a penetrating voice that the bride simply has no business wearing white, ‘If you know what I mean!’, but that too is another story). During the exchange of vows, the groom will get misty-eyed, the bride’s mother will cry and all the guys in the church are wondering who that hot bridesmaid is, while the women are wondering who the slut is.

Then it’s off to the wedding dinner, where the champagne flows freely, hilarious speeches and toasts are made, and everybody dances the night away and, as happened at one wedding I attended, the groom was found making out with that hot bridesmaid behind the stage.

Meanwhile, this is what happens when two Singaporeans get married. There is a signature session at the ROM which next to nobody attends. Then the bride goes home to her parents’ home and the groom to his (there is a quick meeting later at the HDB lawyers) and everyone forgets about the whole thing until a year later, an invitation arrives in the mail announcing a dinner at the Shangri-la ballroom.

Now about this dinner…I love the fact that by the time you’re into the main course, people are still arriving, oblivious to the fact that they are over an hour late. And completely unapologetic about it all.

“Ah, I overslept, lah!” one guest announced at a recent wedding when he and his date showed up during the second yum-sing. He immediately began handing out his business cards.

“It’s 9.30 – uh, Eriche!” my flatmate, Saffy blurted out, reading the card carefully. “Are you working the nightshift or something?

The man looked at her blankly. “No. I was having a nap.”

Saffy stared at the man. “Till 9.30 p.m.?”

The girl laughed. “No, lah! We had to go to my parents’ house first for dinner!”

“But I don’t get it!” Saffy said later, with considerable agitation, as she forced me to accompany her to the bathroom. “This is a wedding dinner! Why would you have dinner somewhere else when you’re already invited to a dinner? Why? Why?” she muttered as she disappeared into the ladies.

When she eventually emerged twenty minutes later, she was still venting, “And what sort of a name is Eriche anyway? Is that like a pretentious version of Eric?”

By the time we got back to our table, the speeches had begun. Not that you would have known since no one was paying the best man the least bit of attention. The table next to us was being regaled to a dirty joke, while people got up and walked around chatting on their phone. Years later, people would be surprised to learn that the best man had delivered a speech at all. “Got, meh?” I imagine them asking.

After a while, our other flatmate, Amanda simply gave up shushing people and whipped out her handphone to start messaging her current boyfriend.

“If you can’t beat them, join them!” she said with a shrug to Saffy’s exasperated glare.

“How come there’s never any dancing at these weddings?” Saffy complained. “I want to dance!”

“This is so boring!” I moaned, picking at my roast duck. “Can we go?”

“They’re still speaking!” Saffy exclaimed, her ample chest heaving with agitation.

“Saf, people are already leaving!”

“But dinner is not even over yet! Where’s everyone going?”

“Probably to get supper,” Amanda said crisply, deliberately turning away from the dirty old man seated next to her who’d been giving her looks all evening.

As if on cue, Eriche and his girlfriend got up to leave, their party favours safely tucked away in the girl’s handbag. “Udderwise, stuck in traffic, lah!” he said cheerfully.

Later in the cab, Saffy swore that she would never get used to Singaporean weddings. “No games. No music. No cute, single, straight men. No dancing. No fun,” she recited, ticking items off on her fingers. “I might as well have stayed at home in bed.”

“I can’t believe that we just collectively spent $300 on that wedding dinner,” Amanda said. “We could have had such a great time at Morton’s!”

There was a brief silence in the cab. Then Saffy piped up quietly, “You gave a $100 ang pow? I gave $70. And I thought that was too much!”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Present Tense

When I was younger – and for those of you who are still young, that means in the years that began with a “19” – I loved Christmas. It was such fun to wake up on Christmas Day with the full expectation that the day ahead would involve nothing but opening up lot of lovely presents.

Of course, I can’t now remember most of those presents, though my sister likes to say that probably the most memorable of all was the one Auntie Pei-ling gave her good for nothing husband, Uncle Charlie: a pretty gift-wrapped box that contained the divorce papers. Leave it to my mother to point out that when you give someone a present like that, it kind of kills the buzz of a well-planned Christmas party.

Not that it kept Uncle Charlie down for long. By the time the next Christmas rolled around, he was happily married to his secretary who, despite Auntie Pei-ling telling everyone she was young enough to be his daughter, was a fifty-five year old woman with strong thighs, three grown children and the sweetest temper. And when, ten years later, Uncle Charlie suffered a major stroke while watching the season finale of “Bay Watch”, Auntie Nellie nursed him tenderly right through to the end.

As it turned out, the divorce papers were the best present Uncle Charlie ever got.
My point is, when you grow up with such high gift giving standards, it’s pretty difficult for anything else to match up. For starters, each year, it becomes more of a chore to come up with a great present. Nothing says ‘painful’ more than having to battle the crowds on Orchard Road in the weeks leading up to Christmas, waiting in line for someone to serve you, to pay and to get your presents wrapped. And then having to line up for the taxis and deal with the traffic jams. Or, line up for the MRT and deal with the crowds who insist on standing right at the entrance.

Worse is going through all that effort and then getting in return some crappy gift from someone who, clearly, has put no thought and zero effort into the present. And over the years, I’ve received some clunkers for presents. It infuriates me.
Of course, there will be some people who say it’s the act of giving that’s important, not so much what you get. I try not to be friends with people like that.
Which leads me to conclude that Christmas is really the time when you find out how little most people know you. Or, worse, how little they like you.

Why, for instance, would a supposedly good friend give another supposedly good friend a box of Pokka chocolate biscuits and a cheap jar of jam from your void deck supermarket? Or a crappy glass plate shaped like a leaf to which is Scotch-taped a tiny bag of peanuts? Or a pair of Marks and Spencer socks? (These are all examples of actual Christmas presents I have received over the years and you’d better believe me when I say that I remember clearly who gave me what and if I’ve deleted their numbers from my phone and firewalled their emails, there’s a reason why.)

“Did you sleep with her boyfriend or something?” Saffy asked last year when Amanda held up a Hello Kitty pencil sharpener that she’s received from her supposedly good friend, Mandy. Amanda rummaged through the gift wrapper, thinking that there was, perhaps, something smaller and precious that had come with the sharpener. Like a Tiffany’s voucher, or something.

“Isn’t this a rather insulting gift?” Amanda asked finally when it was clear that, apart from a little gift card that read ‘Happy X’Mas! Mandy, X’, that was all she was getting from a girl to whom she’d once lent a Versace mini-dress and Manolo Blahnik pumps. (To those of you who are novices at this kind of thing, lending someone your Versace and Manolos is way up there with donating a kidney.)

“She needs to be pushed down some stairs,” Saffy said firmly.

“It’s not very nice, is it?” Amanda said doubtfully, still holding onto the faint hope that a more ‘real’ present was on its way.

“I never liked her,” Saffy continued. “She and that horrible fake American accent of hers. The last I checked, the closest she’s ever been to America is her box set of ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ and you were the one who gave it to her for Christmas, Amanda! Next year, you should take out a hit on her!”

That’s the festive spirit we should all aspire to.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Promises, promises

New Year’s Resolutions are tricky things. For one thing, you don’t want to be too ambitious. I remember there was a period of three years when I said I was going to get a six pack stomach. And for another two years, I swore I would move out away from my terrible flatmates Saffy and Amanda and get a flat of my own. And of course, none of that ever happened.

You also don’t want to be too lazy with your resolutions because otherwise, there’s no sense of challenge. (The upside is that, at the end of the year, when you catalogue what you’ve actually achieved and discover that you’ve no ticks against the boxes, the resulting shame isn’t quite as crippling as it might otherwise be if you’d been too ambitious in the first place. I don’t, for instance, lose any sleep over the fact that I’ve never rearranged my bookshelf alphabetically by author.)

No. The trick is to come up with a list that is not only realistic, but that’s also achievable and which will, should you actually accomplish the resolution, be endlessly admired by all your friends and enemies.

So, the other day, I held an early poll for 2011 resolutions and this is what came in.

Jason’s Resolutions
1. Not lose my temper when people don’t stand on the left of escalators.
2. Not lose my temper when parents pull their children away from Pooch while telling them that if they don’t behave, ‘The dog will bite you!’.
3. Not lose my temper when people don’t return my phone messages or emails.
4. Not lose my temper whenever a taxi-driver asks me ‘Which way you want to go?’
5. Not lose my temper.

Saffy’s Resolutions
1. Lose 5 kg by Valentine’s Day.
2. Meet a guy by the French Open.
3. Get married by Wimbledon.
4. Have a child by the US Open.
5. Or adopt one from Africa.
6. Preferably from the same village where Madonna shops for her loved ones.
7. Get into Amanda’s will by New Year’s Eve.

Sharyn’s Resolutions
1. Win 4D.
2. Upgrade to landed property.
3. Upgrade car to at least Lexus.
4. Ask for 15% increment.
5. Get skin whitened.
6. Maybe get divorced.

Amanda’s Resolutions
1. Take a ride on the MRT.
2. Attain size 2.
3. Meet Miuccia Prada and become her BFF.
4. Meet the Prime Minister.
5. Fall in love. (Maybe the Prime Minister!! Or Jude Law!)
6. Get married.
7. Move out of this pokey flat.

Karl’s Resolutions
1. Have an affair. (Maybe with Amanda.)
2. Make a move on Saffy. (If it doesn’t work with Amanda.)
3. Think about getting a divorce from Marsha (depending on my finances at the time).

Barney’s Resolutions
1. Achieve zero percent body fat.
2. Exercise more and look like David Beckham in the Armani underwear ads.
3. Or get liposuction, whichever is more convenient.
4. Go to a Faye Wong concert.
5. Stalk Fann Wong.
6. Meet Alan Wu.
7. Seduce him and make him leave his wife.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Mail Disorder

The other day, everyone I knew received an email blast from the same person. This is what he wrote (typos and all):

From: Valentin []
Subject: Letter from Russia
My name is Valentin, I am a student and I write you from little Russian city. I found several addresses on Internet and I decided to send you this letter. Our local library give free Internet access for students.
I live with my mother, she cannot see since many years and I take care of her. My father left our family when I was a child.
I work very hard every day, but because of deep financial crisis my salary is very little and not even enough for the things of primary necessity.
Because of extremally hot weather during this summer most of the potatoes and vegetables get withered in our garden. A lot of forests burned. We were forced to spend all our small savings to buy something to eat for the comign winter to avoid starvation.
Electricity and gas is very expensive in our region and we can not afford to heat our home anymore.
The only way to heat our home in winter is to use portable oven which heat with burning wood. We have wood savings in our shed and this oven would heat our home all the winter, at no cost to us.
Unfortunately, we can not buy such oven as our local market, because the value of it 8,300 rubles, and is a great amount for us (the equivalent of 197 Euro).
I decided to appeal to you and I hope you can help us. If you own any old portable oven and if not using anymore, I'll be very grateful if you can donate it for us and organize transport of this oven to us (we live 200 km from Moscow). These ovens are different, usually made of cast iron and weigh about 100kg.
Please let me know if you can help and I will write you our home address.
If you need, I can send medical documents about the disease of my mother.
I send you best wishes from Russia,
Valentin and my mother.
PS: Please apologize for the mistakes in this letter, I translated this letter with the help of computer-translator and dictionary. Thank you.

To my surprise, it turned out that quite a lot of my friends had plenty of free time on their hands and, without any thought of internet hygiene, had replied to Valentin.

To: Valetin
From: Sharyn
Dear Valentin
We don’t use oven in Singapore. It is too hot. We have haze now from fire in Malaysia and Indonesia. I also work very hard but after CPF and MediSave, not much left. If you have any old air con unit that you are not using anymore, can you donate to me? My air con in my bedroom spoil already. Thank you.

To: Valentin
From: Barney Cheng
Dear Valentin
How old are you and do you have a picture you can send me of yourself? Here is a picture of me taken at a recent stag night. And yes, those are real muscles. Nothing has been Photo-shopped. Interested to know more?

To: Valentin
From: Amanda
This is the eighth e-mail you’ve written to me and each time you want something different. The last time, your mother had cancer and needed $5000 to go to America for medical treatment. And now, she’s cold and starving and needs an oven. If you can afford the time and energy to keep sending this sort of harassing emails, I think you can find a second job so you that you can also afford to feed your family. Please STOP writing to me! I am a lawyer and I know people.

From: Amanda
Fw: Letter from Russia
Listen, how is it that your firewall is letting this kind of harassing emails get through to your customers? I would be very grateful if you would ramp up my firewall protection. Please call me to discuss.
Yours faithfully

To: Valentin
From: Karl
Dear Valetin,
Clearly, you have mistaken me for someone who cares.
Bo Chap

To: Valentin
From: Jason
If it’s cold in Russia, you should move countries. The south of Spain is lovely all year round, even in winter. Or, have you considered a new life in Darwin? It’s always warm there and a little humid, but I’m sure it’ll do your mother’s lungs a world of good.
I wish you all the very best.

To Valentin:
From: Saffy
Hello. You sound nice. Are you single? Are you on Skype?