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.

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