Saturday, December 25, 2010

Weight Watching

As part of their new year’s resolutions, my flatmates Saffy and Amanda have embarked on a diet. I’m not exactly sure what this diet is called, but it involves a lot of carrots and celeries.

“Apparently, a celery stick has no calories at all!” Saffy said the other day as she crunched with great energy. “In fact, you burn up more calories just by chewing the stuff! It’s wonderful. All the top models do it!”

“But why are you trying to lose weight? You’re not fat!” I said.

As Saffy later posted on Facebook, it’s comments like this that illustrate the vast gulf between men and women: “When it comes to weight, you can never trust the opinion of a guy!”The post excited a lot of comments, the quality of which ranged from probing (“Yar, lor!” from Sharyn) to sublimely sexist (“Can u post before and after pix?” from Karl).

For women, the act of losing weight is a sacred event. They approach it with the kind of dedication and focused single-mindedness you rarely see outside of an episode of “America’s Next Top Model”. The actual loss of weight is an event that ranks way up there with a High Holy Holiday.

Amanda says the whole weight loss drama is all the fault of men.

“Do you think I’m starving myself just so that I can fit into a size one dress?” she asked rhetorically recently, while chewing slowly on a crusty, day old slice of bread with nothing on it. She’d read somewhere that chewing slowly helps trick the mind into thinking that it’s eating a lot, so you get full quickly on very little.

“No, I don’t,” she went on. “I starve myself so I can fit into a size one dress in the hope that some worthless guy will find me attractive enough to ask me out on a date. If my whole life wasn’t genetically coded to finding a man, marrying him and having children just so I can stop listening to my parents bitch and moan about how all their friends’ children are married with children, I would be eating corn chips for breakfast, I’d be the size of a tip truck and I’d be wearing sweat pants all day!”

The idea of Amanda in sweat pants occupied us for days. Saffy said that she didn’t even think Amanda had anything in her wardrobe that remotely resembled sweat pants. “It continually astonishes me that she has such a tough time landing a guy. I mean look at her!” she exclaimed, her magnificent bosom swelling with incredulity and added, staring at me accusingly, “You could lose a few kilos yourself, you know!”

Meanwhile, the dieting continues. Six times a day, before and after each meal, the girls weigh themselves and laboriously record the results on a clipboard.

“I’ve lost 20 grams!” Amanda said with great triumph the other day. “Another fifty grams, and I’ll officially be a size two!”

“It’s so unfair!” Saffy moaned. “I’ve gained half a kilo! How is that possible? I’ve just been eating celery sticks for days!”

Last night, we were watching a documentary on BBC about parasites and suddenly Saffy sat up on the couch.

“Oh! A tapeworm! That’s what I need, a tapeworm!”

From the corner of the room, my slumbering beloved adopted mongrel dog Pooch lifted an eye and cocked his ear.

“What do you need a tapeworm for?” I asked.

“To lose weight, of course!” Saffy exclaimed. “If I ingest a tapeworm, it’ll basically sit in my digestive tracts and eat up all my food!”

Amanda frowned while I recoiled deeper into the couch. “You know,” she began, “you’ve come up with some really weird ideas, but this one is truly the grossest!”

“No, really, think about it! It just needs to hang around inside me for a week or so, and then I’ll just take a pill and flush it out!”

“Please don’t tell people I know you,” I begged.

But by now, Saffy was tripping happily in her parallel universe where she was as thin as Kate Moss and as popular with the boys as the new girl at a strip joint. “I wonder though where I would get a tapeworm! A hawker centre? No, the government would have been onto it like a tonne of bricks. They’re so disgustingly efficient, I can’t stand it.”

“Why don’t you try licking the sidewalk?” I said sarcastically.

Just then, Saffy looked up and turned towards Pooch. She had a gleam in her eyes.

Amanda and I said, at the same time, “Oh, you must be joking…”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Decent Proposal

My friend Janette recently embarked on a long distance relationship.

To hear her tell it, the whole thing is entirely uncharacteristic of her. “I don’t like surprises and long distance relationships are so risky, not to mention expensive!” she said recently over lunch, adding, “I like predictability and stability. It’s why I became a chartered accountant.”

Later, Saffy said it’s also why Janette has been single for so long. “Who dates chartered accountants?” she asked rhetorically, managing to both insult millions of otherwise inoffensive career number crunchers while completely side-stepping the fact that her own dating track-record has been far from earthshaking.

But back to my lunch.

Janette met Joshua at Zouk. “We were with different friends, and we were dancing on the dance floor and somehow he ended up stepping on my Jimmy Choo’s. It was so romantic!” she said. (“Who goes to Zouk these days, unless you’re a fetus?” Saffy asked.)

Amid the deafening thump-thump-thump of the music, Janette gave Joshua her phone number and went home that night to dream of their first kiss. The next day, he called, which, according to Saffy and Amanda, breaks every single rule of dating.

“You’re meant to wait at least three days!” Amanda said with disapproval in her voice.

“He was only in town for two days!” I pointed out.

“Then he should have called from Hong Kong. That shows he’s serious. If a guy calls you the very next day, it just means he wants only one thing from you, and it’s not going to be to borrow your ‘Mad Men’ box-set!”

Joshua asked Janette out for coffee. They did the usual exchange of CVs. He’s English, went to a posh boarding school and works in an American law firm in Hong Kong.

(“So, he’s filth!” Amanda said.

“That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?” I said.

“No, no. All caps. F-I-L-T-H. Failed in London, Try Hong Kong!"

“Janette says he’s a partner. And that he’s gorgeous.”

“So, why is he still single?” Saffy wanted to know. “He should have been snapped up by now by any number of Hong Kong SPGs. What’s wrong with him?”)

“We just clicked, you know?” Janette said as she picked delicately at her salad. “We like so many of the same things. He’s back in Singapore next week for work and we’ve been talking or texting every day. And the best part is that I’ve got that funny butterfly thing in my stomach every time I think about him. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve felt like that?”

That was six months ago. Since then, Janette has been heading up to Hong Kong every month, while Joshua pops down to Singapore every other weekend. A few days ago, on one of his visits, Janette threw a party at her home and finally introduced him to her friends.

The first thing Saffy said to us was: “Oh my God, she met him at Zouk? There are single straight guys that look like him at Zouk? Why are we not there more regularly?”

Amanda sighed into her gin and tonic. “Because every time we go, it’s just a bunch of post-high-school children. Maybe we leave too early?”

“It’s so unfair!” Saffy said as she sent a beady look beaming across Janette’s living room at Joshua who was cuddling Janette. You could tell Saffy was mentally inserting herself into his brawny tanned arms.

All of which has led me to conclude that dating is no different from playing the lottery. You could buy 4-D religiously every week for your whole life and have nothing to show for it except a pile of broken financial dreams. Then, one day, someone who’s never gambled in his life decides to try his luck on a single ticket and ends up winning $10m. None of it makes sense, and if you did try to make sense of it all, you’d probably go mad with anger and frustration.

A few days ago, Janette announced that she’s packing up and moving to Hong Kong.

You could practically hear Saffy’s scream across the island. “He’s proposed? Already?!”

“No, but Janette said it’s pretty clear that the relationship is going somewhere, so she might as well give it a go,” I said.

Janette’s news has fully occupied the girls’ attention for days now. A small part of them burns with jealousy, while a larger part is thrilled at the fairy tale romance quality of the relationship. As Amanda says, it’s proof that love can strike in the most unlikely of places and that there’s always hope. Just when you least expect it.

Which also explains why she and Saffy recently renewed their Zouk club membership.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Snow Blight

Here I am in London.


In the middle of a freaking snow-storm that has turned the whole city into a pretty icing-sugar sprinkled landscape.

Which, translated from its Hallmark sentiments, means that the airports have all shut down.

“What do you mean you can’t leave London!” my flatmate Saffy shouted all the way from Singapore. “It’s just an itsy bitsy bit of snow! It’s barely four inches according to the newspapers!”

“Yeah, well, in this town, four inches is enough to shut everything down! And it’s so cold!” I moaned.

“How cold? Cold enough to wear mink?” Saffy asked, her tone of voice shifting from meteorological outrage to sartorial interest.

“It was minus four degrees last night. Thank God the heaters are working around here. Last year, when my sister was here, everything broke down, remember?”

Saffy says it continues to astonish her that anyone still thinks of the United Kingdom as a First World country. “Public transportation strikes. Students going on the rampage because they have to pay school fees. Airports closing because of a bit of snow. Seriously?”

“I was at Heathrow for hours on Saturday,” I reported, “and then they said all flights have been cancelled, so I had to lug my luggage all the way back from the airport to the flat. It took me five hours! There were no taxis at the airport express station so I then I had to wait for the bus and then the bus stopped a mile away from home because it couldn’t make it up the snow covered streets, so I had to drag everything through the cold! I was so traumatized by the time I got back!”

Even I could detect the ascending note of whining in my voice.

And through it all – the trauma of the crowds in Heathrow, the overstuffed trains packed with depressed passengers, the snail-paced crawl of the bus and the chilly one-mile trudge home on the slushy muddy footpaths – all I could think of was that this sort of thing would never happen in Singapore.

Say what you will about the place, especially if you’re a foreign media or a placard-waving dyed-in-the-wool libertarian protestor, but Singapore works. And if it doesn’t work, the government will find a way. Yes, the result is that the whole place can be a little sterile and safe, but really, give me sterile and safe any day as long as it comes with a fully functional, efficient piece of infrastructure.

My overseas friends, especially those in England, are always rabbiting on about how strict the Singapore government is. “Don’t they cane people for vandalizing cars?” one woman asked me at a dinner party the other day. She actually looked shocked.
When I replied that people who vandalise property should not only be caned, but that they should also be made to walk around in public naked for a month, she gave me a tight smile and turned away and didn’t speak to me for the rest of dinner.

“I would have pushed her face into her bowl of soup!” Saffy said when we Skyped the next day. “Why didn’t you do her some bodily harm?”

“I miss Changi airport,” I said wistfully. “Isn’t it just about the best airport in the world?"

“Totally,” Saffy said. “I was watching the Channel 5 news last night and they were showing the crowds and the piles of luggage at Heathrow and I said to Amanda that you’d never see this kind of nonsense in Changi.”

“Well, it is in the Tropics,” I pointed out.

“I don’t care,” Saffy said stubbornly. “Even if Changi was in the South Pole, things would still be working!”

Just then, Amanda’s face popped into view over Saffy’s shoulder.

“I think you’re going to be stuck there till after Boxing Day! Are you keeping warm?”

I said that I’d barely left the flat except for brief excursions to the supermarket for more food.

“I bet it’s really pretty though, what with the snow and everything,” Amanda said.
“I guess it is, but I’m just praying that the heating holds up. Otherwise, I’d rather just die.”

Choy!” Saffy spat.

So, here I am, in the run-up to Christmas, snowed-in. Tens of thousands of passengers are stuck at Heathrow and there’s a severe weather warning about more snow and colder temperatures. I’d like to say it’s all a bit of an adventure, but I can’t.

And last night, I dreamt of grilled sting-ray and big plates of rojak.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Split Personalities

So, I hear that Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson are calling it a day on their two year old marriage. Which, as some joker on the Internet pointed out, is making a lot of men and women out there extremely happy.

In the little flat that I share with Saffy and Amanda, the news has been greeted with the kind of shock that you would normally associate with, say, Oprah knocking on your front door.

“They were such a beautiful couple,” Amanda sighed the other day while flipping the pages of her latest copy of US Weekly. “So beautiful.”

“That body!” Saffy moaned.

Amanda looked up. “Whose body?”

Saffy’s eyes widened. “Ryan’s, course! Those abs of his! Oh. My. God. I would give my left little toe to be able to run my fingers all over that body!”

“Oh, I thought maybe you were talking about Scarlett’s. I loved her in that skin tight leotard in ‘Ironman 2’! They seemed so happy on the red carpet,” Amanda said, her fingers lovingly tracing, on the magazine, Scarlett’s outfit at the Oscars. “Who knew they were having problems?”

“So sad,” Saffy said, her head shaking.

As I later told Barney Chen, they could not have been sadder if their own father had been caught on TV entertaining a hooker in a Geylang brothel. “It’s not as if they’re bosom buddies with Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson!” I said. “In fact, they didn’t even know who Ryan Reynolds was until they watched ‘Blade Trinity’!”

“Ooooh, I loved that movie!” Barney Chen crooned. “All those half-naked men running around with blades and guns! It was so stupid, it was fabulous!”

“Well, now Saffy has those pictures of Ryan Reynolds tied up in chains in that dungeon as her screensaver on her phone and laptop. She’s even started up a scrapbook. What is she, twelve?”

“Who can blame her!”

It’s a little strange how celebrity obsessed we’ve all become. Slavishly, we follow every step and mis-step of people we don’t know and whom we will never meet. Thanks to Twitter, we now know exactly what Ashton Kutcher is up to at any given time. We know what TV show Oprah is watching tonight. Thanks to, we know who Angelina Jolie was having dinner with two days ago.

Over time, we become so connected and attached to them that when something tragic happens to them, it’s almost like a death in our own family. When Heath Ledger passed away, Saffy sat in her room and sobbed, while Amanda and Barney had a sleep-over and watched all his movies in one sitting; though Amanda later said that Barney insisted they watch ‘Brokeback Mountain’ twice.

And now, the untimely divorce of Ryan and Scarlett. Saffy says this sort of thing always happens in threes, and is now scouring Gawker for clues as to who the next two couples heading for Splitsville will be.

Over lunch, Sharyn said maybe it would be a Mediacorp couple and began speculating. She didn’t get very far because Saffy interrupted her with a look of death and said, “We’re talking about genuine celebrities, Sharyn! Like Brad and Angelina. Or Johnny and Vanessa. People with real money and star power! We don’t care about local artiste couples who are so cheapskate that they get their weddings sponsored!”

“Wah, like that, one, ah!” Sharyn said and took a sip of her sugar-cane juice. Later, on Facebook, she posted just one word: “Cheem.”

The other day, Amanda said that it’s a wonder that people in Hollywood get married in the first place. “It’s bad enough trying to date in the first place,” she said as she got ready for dinner with Peter, an oncologist she’d met online.

“Can you imagine having to do it all with the whole world watching as well? And then you go and give all those interviews to Vanity Fair saying how fulfilled you are and how you’ve found your soul mate and the next thing you know, you read about your husband’s affairs on Perez Hilton and you’re giving interviews to Larry King on CNN about how unhappy you really were in your marriage! It’s so tragic! I’m not sure I should be wearing this dress. It’s not showing enough cleavage. Get out of my room, Jason, I need to change!”

Saffy piped up and said it just goes to show that marriage is all a waste of time. “If two beautiful people like Ryan and Scarlett with all their looks and money can’t make it work, what hope do the rest of us have?”

You couldn’t help but notice how Amanda just stood in front of the mirror and stared at her reflection.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Covert Operations

Regular readers of this column may remember that, for the longest time, I held out from getting onto Facebook. Between email and the handphone, it already took up entire days just to keep in touch with the people I really wanted to be friends with.

“I don’t need 150 friends!” I remember telling our cleaning lady, Ah Chuan. Later, I discovered not only did the woman who washed my underwear and brushed our toilets have 520 friends on Facebook, she was also a genius with Photoshop.

With little prompting, she’d taken down a fridge picture of me, Saffy and Amanda that was taken at some party, digitally moved us to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and given us all amazing face-lifts.

For a couple of weeks, she used that photo as her Facebook profile. Which made us all feel very special until one day we discovered that she’d replaced us with a picture of another family she cleaned for. This time, she’d digitally relocated that family to the base of the Taj Mahal, right next to Princess Diana.

“Shouldn’t she be working for Pixar or something?” Saffy wondered as she marvelled at how good she looked without puffy eye-bags. She promptly accepted Ah Chuan’s invitation to be Facebook friends and then spent the next week complaining: “It’s all in Chinese! I can’t read Chinese! Why am I Facebook friends with her?”

“What if she’s saying something very uncomplimentary about us and our cleanliness?” Amanda asked, ever alert to the possibility of a lawsuit, even if it involved someone whom, judging by the ferociously efficient way in which she can chop up an entire chicken in fifteen seconds, we are all convinced has intimate ties to the Hong Kong triads.

My best friend Karl said the more important question was not why we were Facebook friends with someone who only wrote in Chinese, but rather why we were Facebook friends with our cleaning lady in the first place.

“That’s so elitist of you!" Saffy huffed. "She’s a human being. Barely. Why can’t we be Facebook friends?”(“But why would you?” Karl asked me by text message.)

“And anyway, she’s already seen all my underwear,” Saffy added, “and when you’ve seen all my underwear, there’s not a lot that I can be private about anymore.”

But still, Amanda’s question lingered and we wondered. Could our cleaning lady actually be making fun of us right in front of our backs, as Saffy very succinctly put it.

So one day, under the pretext of inviting our friend Sharyn over for afternoon tea, we sat her down with a laptop and instructed her to translate Ah Chuan’s Chinese posts on Facebook.

“Nothing, what,” Sharyn said after a while. “She go shopping with her daughter at Tampines. She fetch her grand-daughter from day care. She looking forward to Chinese New Year. She post a YouTube video of Jay Chou. And Aaron Kwok. And a scene from ‘Lust Caution’. Wah, she very ham-sup, one, your Ah Chuan. Here, she say she clean your flat and play with Bu Zher. Ay, who is Bu Zher, hah?”

For a few wild seconds, we entertained images of Ah Chuan having a wild torrid sex with some illegal construction worker from Guangdong on our sofa before it dawned on us that Bu Zher was, in fact, the transliteration of my beloved adopted mongrel dog, Pooch.

“Is that what’s happening, Poochie?” Amanda crooned to the dog who lifted his head from beneath the dining table where he’d been napping. “Do you play with Auntie Ah Chuan?”

“I think we should install a nanny-cam in this flat,” Saffy decided. “Goodness knows what that woman gets up to here when we’re not around!”

“Aiyoh, you people, ah!” Sharyn sighed. “Got nothing better to do, is it? Orredi waste so much time on Facebook, now must spy on the maid, some more!

It’s funny what happens when you spend enough time scrolling through a person’s Facebook wall. An image begins to form and quite often, it’s not the same one you have of the person you know. Somehow, it feels more real and unguarded. Because the Ah Chuan standing in the rain at a bus stop in Toa Payoh waiting to collect her grand-child was not the same woman who so efficiently, and fiercely cleaned our flat every week, and who screamed as us when we left unwashed bowls in the sink.

“That doesn’t mean she’s not still a very scary woman,” Saffy said.

No, it didn’t, but I made a mental note to ask Ah Chuan, the next time she came to clean, to take Pooch out for a walk. Just the two of them.