Friday, April 22, 2011

Home Improvements

On TV, you see people bounce out of bed looking perfect. They’re not wiping off any drool marks from the sides of their mouths. There’s no sleep crust sealing shut their eyes. Their hair is messy, but in a perfect way. The girls wake up with a little lip gloss and eye-liner, while the guys have no sleep creases anywhere on their bodies.

I wake up looking like Steven Tyler. Saffy stumbles around the flat for half an hour without actually opening her eyes, while Amanda looks like a cat with ADD played with her hair all night.

Now imagine what we look like when we’re woken up at 7 am on a Saturday morning by the sound of drilling from the apartment above us.

First came a pitiful whine from Amanda’s room. From under my bed, my beloved adopted mongrel dog Pooch began barking. Then Saffy barged out of her room and screamed at the ceiling. “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Ohmygod! Shut up!”

She actually paused and waited expectantly as if the noise would actually stop. And when the drilling kept on rumbling, making our entire flat physically vibrate (“And not in a good way, either!” as she later complained to Sharyn), she looked vaguely surprised.

We threw on clothes and escaped to our local hawker coffee shop.

“Every day for three weeks!” Saffy groused. “What are they building up there? The pyramids?"

Amanda snorted into her kopi-o. “The pyramids were built in less time! I’m sure there’s some kind of building regulation that limits the renovation period. I’m going to look it up first thing on Monday morning and they’re going to be getting a letter from me!”

“Why do they need to work on a weekend?” Saffy moaned. She picked sadly at her tee-shirt that said ‘Twin Peaks’ and tried to comb her hair with her fingers. We’d all rushed out of the flat so fast we’d not taken much time to consider our Saturday morning outfit, but as Amanda pointed out, it wasn’t as we were at Ritz-Carlton.

“It’s bad enough that they drill and pound away on a weekday,” Saffy added, “but at least we’re not home, but to do that on a weekend is just plain rude!”

“They’d never dare pull that stunt if the Prime Minister was living in our flat!” Amanda said darkly. “He’d be onto them like a bad rash faster than you could say ‘General Elections’!”

The worst bit about the renovations was the sudden hail of cigarette butts that pelted down onto our window planter boxes. Well, maybe not hail. And there was probably not a lot of pelting going on – more like a light sprinkle, if I was forced to be literal – but some of the butts were still smouldering when they landed on top of the bourganvilleas and it felt Biblical.

So, that Monday, Amanda woke up especially early and steamed into the office to do some research on noisy renovations. A few billable hours later, she faxed a stern ‘desist or I’ll sue’ letter to the contractor and cc’d our condo management office, the owner of the flat and the Prime Minister. “You never know,” she told us later. “It’s an election year. My vote could be the one that decides if we get a new government!”

“But you’re in love with the PM,” Saffy pointed out. “Don’t you want him hanging around for as long as possible?”

Amanda blushed. “Well, yes, but I think he’s working way too hard and maybe he could relax a little bit if he wasn’t so busy sacrificing himself to run the country.”

Saffy later said it still astonishes her that Harvard ever gave Amanda a law degree. “Does she really think the Prime Minister reads any of his faxes? If it was that easy to get in touch with him, we’d all be doing it!”

A few nights ago, the head contractor knocked on our door.

Amanda opened the door and literally gasped at the sight of the six foot two man in tight tee shirt and even tighter jeans before her.

“Ay, we got your fax,” he began, turning red at the sight of Amanda standing there in her Victoria’s Secret nightgown. “Sorry, hor, we make so much noise. But we finish orredi. You need anything fix in here, I do for you FOC!”

Amanda blinked. Slowly, she took his card, cleared her throat and said she’d think about it. She shut the door, turned around and slowly let out her breath. “Oh my God! How hot was he? I know exactly what he can fix for me FOC!”

“Are you cc’ing the Prime Minister on that one, too?” Saffy asked.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Home Alone

One of the things about getting older is that you realise how many things you’ve been taking for granted.

When I was younger, I could eat whatever the hell I wanted. I’d have a big plate of nasi lemak for dinner and two hours later would think nothing of scoffing back a bowl of bah kut teh followed by chendol. These days, I just have to look at a picture of a cheesecake and immediately put on a kilo.

Or, I could stay up all night partying, surfing the net, chatting to friends or playing cards, and still be at work the next morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed. The other night, I fell asleep on the couch while reading a book. Saffy says it was 9.30pm.

Another thing you take for granted when you’re young is that you assume life is always going to stay the same. You think you’re always going to have flawless skin, the same super efficient metabolism and that your parents will never grow old. And that you will have all the time in the world to find someone special to fall in love with and get married.

Recently, after years of disastrous dates and broken relationships, Saffy met and fell in love with her company’s accountant Bradley. Well, at least, I think that’s what he is. He might actually be in payroll, but as Saffy says, it’s something to do with numbers and who cares, really, when the guy has six-pack abs and looks like the love child of Brad Pitt and Andy Lau?

We’ve not seen a whole lot of Saffy as a result. She’s either at his place or they’re holed up in her room. Talking, Saffy says.

“He likes to talk. What can I say? All the guys I’ve ever dated have only wanted to grope me, but for the first time, here’s a guy who actually wants to talk occasionally. The rest of the time he gropes me, but that’s ok!” Saffy giggled.

“Talk about what?” Amanda asked.

Saffy blinked. “Oh, you know. Things. Like feelings and the future. Where the relationship is heading. It’s very refreshing. I’ve never met anyone like that!”

“Are you sure he’s straight?” Barney Chen asked.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” Saffy said as she headed for the door on another date with Bradley. “And don’t wait up!”

The other night, Amanda and I found ourselves at home having dinner together while watching ‘American Idol’.

“That Haley really annoys me,” Amanda said through a mouthful of mee goreng. “I hope she gets voted off soon!”

I said they should give Steven Tyler his own show. “The man is one cool dude. No wonder his daughter is so laid-back.”

Amanda sighed. “He’s married, isn’t he? All the good ones are.”

“Not all,” I said, and blushed.

“You know, I always thought I’d be married by the time I was this age,” Amanda went on, absent-mindedly spearing a small cube of tahu goreng. “Or at least, divorced once! With a couple of kids and a horrible mother-in-law whom I would bitch about with my girlfriends. Instead, I have a great career, an amazing wardrobe, a drop dead figure, lots of money, but I’m still single.”

I said some women would kill to have any one of those things.

“I know. I should be grateful, but…but it would be nice to be with someone, you know? I just miss that tingly feeling you get when you’re with someone you really, really like. I mean, where does it say that you can’t have it all? Happens to men all the time!” she sighed and pushed her plate of mee goreng away.

I said I was sure the right guy was just around the corner.

Amanda snorted. “Huh, he’s probably making out with someone else already.”

I kept quiet.

“I guess this whole Bradley business with Saffy is making me realise just how lonely I am, and whether any of that is ever going to happen to me. Strange though, I never felt it before, maybe because I was too busy carving out a career and shopping at Prada. But I’m feeling it now!”

When I reported all this to Saffy, she immediately cancelled her next evening with Bradley, called Sharyn and took Amanda out for a girls night on the town.

“Boyfriends come and go, but best friends are forever!” she declared as they walked out the door. Two seconds later, she popped her head back in and said, “Uhm, let’s keep what I just said between us, OK? There’s no need to repeat that to Bradley. Men can be so sensitive!”

“Shut up, Saf. I’m enjoying my cheesecake!”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dead Calm

I went to a funeral the other day. It was for my Great Aunt Sophie. She was 86 and a real old cow. And before anyone jumps down my throat and tells me off for being disrespectful, I just want to say that she was born in 1925, which was the year of the Ox. Which makes Great Aunt Sophie a cow. A real old one.

Of course, no one liked her. She was nasty. She never had a nice thing to say about anyone or anything. Give her a bunch of flowers and she’d ask you if you thought she was dead. Cook her a meal and she’d wonder aloud why anyone bothered to cook when the food at Crystal Jade was so much better. Yes, she was that kind of nasty.

Both her husbands died within three years of marrying her. “Coincidence?” my mother said at the funeral of Husband No.2. “I don’t think so.”

When her only daughter Mabel married an Italian Australian professor of applied linguistics, Great Aunt Sophie promptly disinherited her for marrying outside her own kind. “She is such a Nazi!” my mother said incredulously at the time which my sister Michelle said was a bit rich especially given the silent treatment Mother was dishing out to Michelle on account of the fact that Michelle was dating Danny Hancock, the school’s basketball captain.

“It’s not because he’s not Chinese!” Mother said primly. “His father is a mechanic!”

“His father owns the Rolls-Royce dealership!” Michelle screamed during one memorable dinner. “Oh my God, you’re a racist and a middle-class snob!”

“Excuse me, but I am not middle-class! I am upper middle-class. There is a difference!”

“Yeah, well tell that to Great Aunt Sophie!” Michelle yelled. My baby brother Jack’s eyes were wide as saucers as he peered up over the dining table. “I can so see the family resemblance!”

They say time heals all wounds, but let me tell you, scabs were being peeled off at Great Aunt Sophie’s funeral and the fresh wounds they revealed were not pretty.

For starters, Mabel showed up in a bright red Versace mini dress with a plunging neck line with husband number three, a kindly American who, according to Mother’s loud whispers to us from the first aisle in church, was an ex-CIA official.

“How do you know these things?” Michelle hissed.

“Great Aunt Mary told me!” Mother replied calmly.

Jack turned to me. “Oh my God, that woman is still alive? Isn’t she older than her sister?”

Michelle who’d been observing Mabel as she chatted with the minister pursed her lips. “She is very inappropriately dressed for her own mother’s funeral, don’t you think?”

“For any funeral,” Jack said.

“She’s even wearing red lipstick! And she doesn’t seem the least bit sad.”

Mother turned around and whispered theatrically, “I’ll give you ten dollars if you see anyone shedding a tear at this funeral.”

Just then, Mabel’s two sons Matthew and Ben sidled up to us.

“We’re so sorry about your granny!” we all started saying.

“Save it, guys!” Ben said. “The woman was a bat and hated everyone and everyone hated her. I think so many people showed up today just to make sure she really is dead!”

And right on cue, we heard Mabel burst into peals of laughter. The entire congregation swivelled their heads in her direction and found her chatting on her handphone while she stood in front of her mother’s coffin. The minister studied his right foot very intently.

As I later said to Saffy and Amanda, it was as if she was having a drink at a bar and had to take a call.

“How awful,” Amanda said. “To be hated like that. By her own daughter and grand-children as well.”

“If anyone ever stands in front of my coffin and laughs, I’ll be back to haunt them!” Saffy decided.

“So how did it go?” Amanda asked after giving Saffy a look.

“The minister was so embarrassed, he raced through the whole thing. He read a bit from the Bible but never once said anything personal about Great Aunt Sophie. It was almost like we weren’t there for any particular person. It was very weird.”

And it got even weirder at the cemetery because just as the coffin was being lowered into the ground, Mabel – icy and aloof the entire afternoon – suddenly burst into tears and all but hurled herself to the ground, screaming “Mama! Mama!”

And all my mother could say was, “Darling, get up! You’re ruining your pretty dress! Jack, I am not giving you ten dollars!”

Saffy says she really wishes she’d been invited.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Face off

People who know me will be surprised to know that I’m actually on Facebook. After all, I had spent years fiercely resisting persistent calls by friends to sign up.

“Will you please get onto it?” Saffy once said. “My God, even our cleaning lady is on it! How embarrassing is that?”

“What is it with you and technology?” Amanda piped up. “It took you years to get a handphone! And, now that I think about it, it was also just about the same period of time it took you to get an e-mail address!”

Of course, my point was that I didn’t like the fact that people would have so many ways of getting in touch with me.

“What, you think you’re Osama bin Ladin, is it?” Sharyn demanded.

Eventually, I succumbed and opened an account. To my surprise, I found I rather enjoyed the novelty of being in touch with so many friends around the world.

But, lately, I’ve been troubled. Not so much by how much time I’m on the site, but by the lurkers.

You know the ones. They practically beg you to be their Facebook friend.

“Ay, friend me, lah!” said Richard when I bumped into him on Orchard Road. “I sent you a request months ago and still nothing!”

“But I already have 50 friends,” I pointed out, somewhat naively as it turns out.

“I have 1,056!” he said which, of course, made me immediately question how anyone can have 1,056 friends.

Richard continued to hound me by e-mail and because we move around in the same media circles, we’d bump into each other a fair bit and he’d whine that I was ignoring him.

So, finally, one evening, during a commercial break on ‘American Idol’, I accepted his Facebook request. Then, I clicked on his profile, curious to see what sort of Facebook social life someone with 1,056 friends has.

And there was nothing. Just his profile picture, some basic information about where he was born, where he worked, and the sites he was a fan of. There were no posts by him, and the last time someone posted something on his wall was two years ago from someone called Marine Boy 23: “Hey man, how are you?” Richard ever replied.

“Seriously, what is the point of being Facebook friends with someone who doesn’t do anything?” I complained to Amanda who peered at the screen.

“Oh my God, you’ve just accepted a lurker!”

“What’s a lurker?”

“Not a lurker, a Lurker! With a capital L!”

“What the hell is that?”

“Someone who just accumulates friends, doesn’t post anything but just lurks around to see what everyone else is doing. He knows all about what you’re up to, who you’re partying with, what you’re doing, but he’ll never tell you anything about himself! They’re awful, those people!” Amanda said firmly. “Never be friends with them. Why did you accept him in the first place?”

I was shocked. “But how was I supposed to know he was a Lurker?”

At this point, attracted by the sounds of our excited conversation, Saffy emerged from her bedroom. “What’s going on? What am I missing?” she immediately wanted to know.

“Jason accepted a Lurker on Facebook!” Amanda reported.

Saffy gasped. “Oh my God! Why?”

“How was I supposed to know he was a lurker, sorry, Lurker, until I’d accepted him as a friend?”

“The first tell tale sign is if he persistently wants you to accept him. That usually means all his Facebook friends have stopped talking to him, so he needs new victims!”

“Ooh, good point, Manda! And besides,” Saffy pointed out, “you wouldn’t accept a lift home from a stranger would you?”

“But I’ve known him for ten years! Plus, he’s got 1,056 friends! Well, 1,057 with me.”

“I’m pretty sure he had more to start off with,” Amanda said, “but gradually, they’ve un-friended him leaving 1,056 who are also all Lurkers!”

We went back to Richard’s page and randomly clicked on the profile of his friends and sure enough, most of them also posted very little on their wall.

I was flummoxed. Just when you thought you couldn’t be surprised any more.

“And if he’s like that on Facebook,” Saffy went on, “goodness knows what he’s like in real life. I’m willing to bet he’s single, lives at home and has never had a steady girlfriend.”

As Amanda later pointed out, just when you thought Saffy couldn’t come up with another politically incorrect jibe, she surprised you with a doozy.

Meanwhile, I’ve un-friended Richard. With 1,056 other friends to Lurk through, I figure he won’t notice I’m missing.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Public Enemy

Not to sound like my grandmother, but the world just isn’t safe anymore. Everywhere you turn is an opportunity for you to embarrass yourself before the whole world. And here’s why.

With everyone owning a phone these days, every single moment of the day is ripe material to be captured on shaky video or snapped in hi definition and faster than you can say ‘Pamela Lee Anderson’, you’re up on YouTube or being laughed at by complete strangers on Facebook.

And thanks to the ‘Share’ function on Facebook, I now know that if your favourite restaurant has run out of sharks fin, you shouldn’t ever throw a tantrum. Or wail in hysterical Cantonese if you’ve missed your flight. Or pick a fight with a foul mouthed Hokkien auntie on the bus. Or wear a hair-band decorated with acrylic peanut decorations. Or sleep on the train.

Do any of these things and you might as well call it a day and immigrate to an remote Alaskan island where they don’t have internet, because you will never live down the social embarrassment.

As Saffy once pointed out with penetrating insight, these days, you can’t fart without someone you know smelling it – a comment that led to Amanda and me avoiding her for days after.

What’s particularly astonishing is that despite all the well known dangers of being out and about in public and saying or doing something stupid, there are still people who willingly go out of their way to attract attention.
Like Alexandra Wallace.

So, here we have a nice, normal, fun-loving, blonde and attractive American girl. A third year political science student at UCLA. Who should have been spending her days and nights with her head kept low and studying hard. All her parents’ sacrifices and hard earned money spent sending her to one of America’s premier university were soon to pay off. Graduation was just around the corner.

And what does she do? She makes a video and then posts it up on YouTube. And what’s in the video, you ask? Basically, it’s a monologue complaining about the Asian students in her school.

She starts off by asking that what she’s about to say not be taken offensively, and then goes on to complain about the ‘hordes of Asian people’ that arrive at UCLA without any ‘American manners’. Specifically, her complaint is how their entire family will show up on campus on the weekend to do their laundry, buy groceries and cook their food for the week.

Her main complaint though is Asians who talk on their handphones in the library. “Oh! Ching chong ling long! Are you freaking kidding me? In the middle of finals?”

The rant lasts just under three minutes.

But here’s the thing. Alexandra Wallace’s video went viral. Even though she took it down almost immediately, it was too late. Spoofs mushroomed on YouTube – some were quite funny, but many were just as mean-spirited and ignorant as her original video. Maybe more. The abuse and death threats came thick and fast against her and her poor family who’d just been minding their own business the entire time while she’d been mouthing off at the camera. She had to move around campus with security guards and shortly after, she pulled out of the university.

The course of her entire life altered. Just because of three very ill-judged minutes.

“The poor thing,” Saffy said after she’d watched the YouTube clip. “I feel sorry for her. It was stupid of her to say such things, though!”

“Especially in public!” Amanda added.

“But people on their handphones can be so annoying though!” Saffy said, pursing her lips. You could tell she was mentally comparing Alexandra Wallace’s bosom with her own. And sure enough, she added, “I wonder where she got that tank top.”

As Amanda later pointed out, right there was a moment ripe for capturing on video and putting up on YouTube.

But Alexandra Wallace’s plight continues to obsess us – more for its tragic quality than anything else.

“How must her poor family feel?” Saffy wanted to know. “Can you imagine if she’d been Chinese? Oh my God, the drama!”

“My mother would probably threaten to commit suicide in public, or something stupid like that,” Amanda said, and added, “but not before killing me.”

“How would she do it?” Saffy asked.

“She’d probably jump off a bridge, dragging me with her.”

“I think mine would jump off a building,” Saffy mused.

“I’d be disinherited,” I said which, in the world according to my family, is almost the same thing as being killed.

Saffy says there wouldn’t be much interest for a YouTube clip showing me being disinherited.