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.

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