Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Year of Cleaning Dangerously

I sometimes can’t help but think that people are not, in general, very clean. By which I mean, of course, they are dirty. Now, I know there are degrees of cleanliness and in the spectrum of clean, I suppose I’m on the far end of neurotic. But every day, I find more and more evidence of disturbing behaviour by people who really should know better.

Just the other day, I was having lunch at Pantry with Nicole, an old friend from school. I’d not seen her for years and there was a lot of catching up to do. Too much, as it turned out.

Nicole is married to Mark, a banker. They live in a swanky three-bedroom apartment on Paterson Road. Apparently, with just the right angle of their binoculars, they can see directly into David Gan’s living room. But that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, Nicole was moaning about how Mark is always travelling and how she never gets to see him anymore.

“We have no sex life!” she told me, with more than a little desperation in her voice. From the corner of my eye, I could tell that the tai-tais at the next table had stopped talking and chewing.

I reached across my salad, took Nicole’s hand in mine and told her firmly that as much as I enjoyed our nostalgic trip down memory lane and gossiping about old school friends, we were now venturing off that lane into TMI County.

“Oh, it’s horrible! I’ve started, you know, uhm, fantasizing about Mr Baker!” Nicole went on, her lack of sex clearly having also affected her hearing and better judgment.

I blinked. “Our high school phys-ed teacher? He’s at least 105 years old!”

“Not back then, he wasn’t. He was hot back then!”

“Uhm, don’t you have any, uh, more contemporary role models?”

Nicole sighed. “I tried. My daughter is in love with Tay Ping Hui, so I tried thinking about him, but that just didn’t work. He always looks so sulky. Then I tried George Clooney but his face kept getting blurred with Brad Pitt and then I started thinking about Angelina Jolie!”

By this time, the tai-tais at the next table had actually put down their cutlery to just stare down at their food.

“So, in the end, I just get up out of bed and bake.”

“You could try cleaning. Amanda does that when she’s, uh, you know, stressed, that way.”

“Clean? I don’t clean. Mark fired our maid a year ago. He said we could save money and do it ourselves. I sometimes wonder if he knows who he married. So I don’t clean and he’s always travelling…”

I leaned in with a mix of dread and curiosity as I asked the obvious question. “So, who cleans?”

“Nobody! The apartment hasn’t been cleaned for a year!”

I drew back, suddenly seized with this desperate need to be somewhere else. But there was more.

“I don’t even do the laundry! I get all my clothes dry-cleaned. Even my underwear!”

“What about your bed-sheets?” I whispered.

“They’re actually OK,” Nicole said. “I have a shower before I go to bed so the sheets stay quite clean.”

“A year? You’ve not washed your sheets for a year?” My voice rose several octaves. I also felt itchy all over.

“Well, Mark is never around. So for the first six months, I slept on the right side of the bed. And then these past six months, I’ve been sleeping on the left side. The cleaner side,” she added as if I’d missed the point.

I couldn’t wait to get away from that lunch to rush home where I had a half hour hot shower, scrubbing furiously.

“She hasn’t washed her bed-sheets for a year?” Saffy asked later that night. “Who is this woman? And, more importantly, why are you friends with her?”

“But what’s she going to do now that she’s slept on both sides of the bed?” Amanda asked demonstrating once again her ability to spot a loop-hole in any argument.

“Apparently, it’s a king sized bed,” I reported, scratching myself, “so she’s been sleeping on the far edges, which means that the bit in the middle of the bed is still clean!”

“Oh. My. God. Are you telling us that she’s going to go for a year and a half of not washing her bed sheets?”

“You’re making this up, aren’t you?” Saffy demanded.

“I swear I am not!”

“Because that is not how people live!”

“Especially the people who live on Paterson Road!” said Amanda, Princess District 9.

Saffy’s nose wrinkled. “Maybe that’s why her husband Mark is always away for work!”

I’ve not stopped scratching since.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Kitchen Aid

I’m sorry, but I need to get something off my chest. It’s been bothering me for a while. So, let’s just put it out there and shout it loud and proud: I love Nigella Lawson!

Now, there are bound to be some of you out there currently scratching your heads and going, “Ay, ee gong see-mee?”, while others will be asking in more fluent Hokkien, “Is that a cupcake?”

To which I say, better than a cupcake. Way better.

Nigella Lawson is a British food writer who is best known for her TV cooking programmes. But that’s just like saying the sun is a round, very hot and bright ball. Technically correct, but completely underwhelming in conveying the full majesty of this woman.

Woman? What woman? She’s no mere woman. She’s a Rubenesque, dark-haired, ever cheerful voluptuous goddess who, as far as I’m concerned, could cook dirt in her kitchen and I’d still adore her.

I have friends who can’t stand her. These are the same people who also can’t stand Oprah. My 2012 new year’s resolution is to seriously reassess my friendship with each and every single one of them.

Thankfully, in the little flat that I share with Saffy and Amanda, Nigella can do no wrong.

Because this woman enjoys her food. You won’t ever find her using margarine in her cooking. And she’ll never utter the word ‘diet’ unless it’s in a derogatory way. Which she does so charmingly.

The other night, as I was padding out past Amanda’s room on my way from the bathroom back to my bedroom, I saw her and Saffy seated around her desk in front of her laptop.

“What are you watching?” I asked, poised at the door.

Saffy lifted her face from the soft warm glow of the screen. “Did you know,” she began, her bosom swelling beneath her nightgown, “did you know that Nigella has a new TV series out? Why do we not know about this?”

“Really?” I stepped smartly to their side and bent down.

“It’s all on YouTube,” Saffy added.

And there she was, in all her radiant Nigella-comeliness, dressed in a red figure-hugging sweater that accentuated every soft womanly curve. Her precise clipped English accent floated over the blitzing whirr of her food processor.

“What’s she cooking?” I asked.

“Asian braised beef shin with spicy salad!” Amanda murmured. “It looks amazing and she’s serving it with noodles.”

A few minutes later, as Nigella began serving the dish to her guests, Saffy said, her chest still going up and down, “Oh my God, whoare those two guys? They are so cute!”

Amanda and I looked up and turned to her. It was as if someone in church just told you he’d farted.

“They’re, like, 18, Saffy!” Amanda said, finally.

“Really, who died and made you the chief inspector of the moral police?” Saffy said stiffly.

“Let’s watch the next one,” I said, my attention veering back towards Nigella like a stray asteroid that’s just wandered into the gravitational field of black hole.

Amanda clicked on the next YouTube link.

“Oooh, a lemon polenta cake! Do we like polenta?” Saffy wondered.

“Not really, but I’m sure it’s going to be sensational.”

It was 3am before we finally tore ourselves away from the laptop and went to bed. “I love that woman!” Amanda said by way of goodnights. “I wish she was my mother!”

The next day, Saffy decided that she too wanted to make the braised beef shin. She spent an hour in Cold Storage buying the ingredients, another half an hour waiting at the taxi stand outside Orchard Towers (during which time three fat Australian men came up to her and asked her “How much for an hour, love?”), and the next three hours in our kitchen screaming.

She called Amanda in the middle of Amanda’s client meeting and shouted, “It’s not working! I think I must have missed a vital ingredient because the beef seems to have dried out even though I put foil over it and stuck it back into the oven like Nigella said but it’s probably because our stupid oven doesn’t work properly and the worst thing is I was cutting the chilli for the spicy salad and then I rubbed my eyes and now I’m in absolute agony and I’ve gone blind! Hello?”

Later that night, after we’d tipped Saffy’s efforts into the bin and gone out for nasi padang down at our local hawker centre, Amanda said sometimes it felt like she was living in an episode of ‘The Osbournes’. Having just seen Saffy’s version of Asian braised beef shin, I said it was more like an episode of ‘True Blood’. Saffy never looked up from her beef rendang.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Underground Activity

So here I am in London in summer. Which means it’s awful.

It always amuses me that the English have the nerve to call this kind of weather summer. Outside, the sky is grey and dank, and it’s raining cats and dogs. I have to head out to lunch in a bit and all I can think about is which raincoat and rubber boots I should wear. Meanwhile, inside, I’m wearing a fleece jumper and trying to decide if I should turn on the heater.

Last year, when I was here for summer, we had a few days when the temperature reached 25 degrees Celsius and the English all insisted on calling it a heat-wave. And as if to prove their point, a few little old ladies dropped dead from heat stroke. As Saffy pointed out on Skype at the time, it’s a miracle the British ever stayed in Singapore long enough to claim the place as a colony.

But what fills me with greater dread is the thought of having to take the Underground Tube to lunch. I’m always surprised the Koreans and Japanese don’t set more of their horror movies down in those musty, icky, drab, filthy rabbit-warren tunnels.

Amanda once made the mistake of venturing down there to take a train to Knightsbridge to shop. When she emerged, she rushed straight to Harrods, bought a completely new outfit and gave the sales assistant firm instructions to either burn her old Pradas or donate them to charity.

“Oh my God, it was so incredibly revolting!” she later reported once she was safely back in Singapore. “The air was putrid. You can literally see a grey pall of…of…crap floating in the air! Oh God, I hope I don’t get a respiratory disease!”

The other thing about the Tube is that you always need to be prepared to just sit there for ages, stuck in some dark tunnel in a stationary train. Invariably, there’s a signal failure somewhere ahead of you, or there’ll be severe delays (they actually say ‘severe delays’ on the PA) caused by someone falling onto the tracks. “That’s just bloody rude!” Saffy fumed when she was an hour late for ‘Lion King’. “Couldn’t they have just fallen off a bridge or something?”

That’s all assuming the train drivers don’t go on strike, in which case you might as well cancel all your appointments for the day as it’s almost impossible to leave the house because (a) it’ll take hours to get to where you need to go by bus; and (b) you can’t afford to take a taxi since it’ll cost you £5 just go down to the street corner. Meanwhile, on weekends, three quarters of the train lines are shut down for maintenance work.

And don’t get me started on how uncomfortable the actual trip is when the trains are actually running. The stations and trains aren’t climate controlled, which means it’s hot, claustrophobic and stuffy in summer, and freezing, claustrophobic and stuffy in winter. And during peak hours, you’re jammed in tighter than a Sammi Cheng concert.

“How is this a First World country?” I remember Saffy complaining on the trip back to our hotel after ‘Lion King’.

All of which makes me think with amusement about the hullaballoo during the General Elections when all anyone could talk about was how awful the MRT is. My Facebook friends spent days complaining about the pitiful state of the trains. Another moaned that she could never get a seat while her friend replied on his Blackberry that he’d been standing for the past ten minutes in the southbound train to Raffles Place.

To which Amanda posted a reply saying that at least you had network coverage in the MRT. “There’s no signal in the Tube!” she wrote.

Paul replied, “What Tube? Where r u?”

My point is that sometimes, you just don’t know how good you have it till you go somewhere else and see how other people live. Sure, the MRT trains are crowded. But at least they’re clean, modern and efficient, and, more importantly, they work. Imagine if the entire MRT network was shut down every weekend for maintenance and repair work. Or if there was no air-con on any of the trains. Or phone coverage. Or the air quality in the trains and stations is so bad that when you wipe your face, the tissue actually comes away a murky grey.

So, here I am, staring out the window at the dreary rain and wondering if I should just cancel lunch and make a phone call to my travel agent to catch an earlier plane home to Singapore. And can we also talk about Heathrow?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Holiday Spirit

They say you should never go on holiday with the people you live with. Well, when I say ‘they’, I am, of course, talking about me. I have learnt from bitter experience that it’s never a good idea to board a plane with the same people you see first thing in the morning and the last thing in the evening. It’s almost as bad as, to take a random example, sleeping with your secretary.

There’s a very good reason for this rule. Things tend happen on holiday that, if known by the wrong people (such as friends and family), could amount to social suicide. It’s like that YouTube clip of those sorority girls bobbing up and down in the Jacuzzi and then suddenly one of them does a very liquid Number Two. In the water. To this day, I’ve yet to see people leap out of a hot tub faster. Or scream louder.

“I cannot believe you’re making such a big deal about this!” Amanda said the other morning at breakfast. “It’s not as if the three of us have never gone on holiday together before!”

I put down my cereal spoon and pointed out that on our last trip, we were nearly thrown off the plane after Saffy drunkenly gave the chief steward an impromptu lap dance.

Saffy’s bosom immediately puffed up. “Hey, I gave that man the biggest thrill of his life! He should be thanking me!”

“And what about the time we were in Bangkok and somehow we all ended up in that tiger show club and you insisted you wanted to try and blow a dart out of your…your…whatsits!” I finished lamely.

“I was drunk!” Saffy shouted. “You guys were the ones who kept buying those shots! You know I’m free and easy after two tequilas!”

“Well, you and Amanda can go on holiday together,” I said firmly. “I will be sunning myself on a beach in Penang!”

Amanda exchanged glances with Saffy. “What, by yourself?” she asked.

“What’s the fun in that?” Saffy added.

“Living with you two is such 24/7 drama! It’ll be nice to work on my tan in blissful quiet and solitude!”

“Huh,” Saffy said, looking glum.

Amanda sniffed. “That’s fine, you go to Penang and get fat on char kway teow, while Saffy and I will go to London! The pound is so weak against the Sing dollar now, we can go shopping and eat at Michelin star restaurants all day!”

Saffy looked at the ceiling for a few moments and then said: “But London is so far away!”

“Just think of it as five George Clooney movies and we’ll have arrived! Let me check ticket prices!”

A few days later, Saffy sidled up to me in the kitchen and said very casually, “So, are you still planning on holidaying in Penang?”

I paused my onion chopping. “Yes. Why?” I asked suspiciously.

“Oh alright, stop badgering me, already! I’ll tell you!” Saffy complained. She went on urgently: “Listen, you’ve got to save me from this London trip! Amanda has gone nuts! She wants us to fly business class! On Singapore Airlines!”

“It’s a great way to fly,” I pointed out loyally.

“Are you crazy? Do you know how expensive an SQ business class ticket to London is? I could feed three entire African villages for a decade with that kind of money! And she really was serious about eating at those Michelin star restaurants. I mean, look at me!” she commanded. “I’m wearing a Giordano tee-shirt! My favourite dish is fried beehoon and I love beer! What do I care about foie gras and champagne?”

“Well, just say you don’t want to spend all that money.”

“But then she’ll be miserable! And you know Amanda. Remember that time we flew economy to New York? She literally threw money at the stewardess and begged to be upgraded to business class! I can’t be responsible for her unhappiness. She’s not been on a date in five months. Flying economy might just tip her over the edge! Listen!” she grabbed my arm. “You have got to let us come with you to Penang!”

“Oh, no–,” I began.

“You have to!”

“That’s not a good idea, at a–”

“Yes, please say yes!”

“Absolutely not!”

As I write this, I’m sitting on the balcony of my lovely room at the E&O in Penang. Through the adjoining door connecting our rooms, I can hear Saffy shouting, “Seriously, Amanda, what did you have for dinner?”

There was a knock at my door and Saffy stalked in. “I’m sleeping with you tonight! Amanda’s farts are practically weapons of mass destruction! Uhm, why are you packing?”

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Black Death

Saffy and I recently treated ourselves to a Blackberry each. I’m still not sure why exactly we did it, but like the tattoos we got ourselves some years back, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

“Amanda can’t seem to live without her’s,” Saffy reasoned as we stood in the SingTel shop. “And it might be fun to be able to surf the net while I’m sitting on the MRT. Well, I use the word ‘sit’ very loosely. Today, I missed the first three trains because it was so crowded I couldn’t get on, and when I finally managed to squeeze myself onto the fourth train, I was pressed up against this uncle who I swear to God was giving me a filthy look and then just as we were pulling into Dhoby Ghaut, he shifted around and…”

By this time, I’d wandered off to the next window to look at another Blackberry model. When Saffy starts talking, it’s best to just step away if you want to emerge from the conversation with your sanity intact. Thank goodness a sales assistant popped up at the right moment.

“Yah, hello, can I help?”

“Oh, yes, you can!” I said gratefully. “I want to get a Blackberry.”

“We!” Saffy said, sidling up from behind. “We want to get a Blackberry! Your name is Jackman Ho?” she added, glancing at his name tag. “That’s an unusual name. So does that mean you ja–”

“Which model would you suggest?” I interrupted quickly. I literally grabbed him by the elbow and shoved him towards the counter.

“Why don’t you get the Bold?” said Jackman Ho, a little flustered. “You get 500MB free data.”

“Is that a lot?” I asked and I swear he gave me a look. “That was a serious question. I know nothing about computers.”

Two dozen stupid questions later, we emerged triumphantly from the store with a glossy Blackberry Bold 9780. The first person Saffy emailed was Sharyn who immediately called. Saffy put her on the speaker-phone.

“Aiyoh, why you buy the Bold? The 9780 some more! Old model, you know. You should get the Torch, lah! Touch screen and latest model! Aiyoh, you two, hah, so suaku!”
Later, on a crowded train, Saffy said that she could just imagine what Sharyn’s wedding night must have been like. “Can you picture it? She’d be telling him off for doing all the wrong things. The poor man. Maybe,” she said, suddenly sitting up straight, “maybe that’s why they’ve never had children? He’s so scared of her, nothing works! And when I say ‘nothing’, I mean–”

I interrupted Saffy. “I know exactly what you mean!” I said hurriedly, glancing at the auntie next to us who was very busy pretending not to be listening to our conversation.

Barney Chen thinks I’m insane for getting a Blackberry. “I do wish you’d consult me before you go off and make a decision as life-changing as this,” he growled. “You should have got the iPhone! It’s so much more fun and interactive. And it takes much better pictures! Speaking of which, have a look at this picture I took of myself in the bathroom today. Do you think I look fat?”

Karl says my life is going to be changed forever. “It’ll creep up on you very slowly. You are a month away from sleeping with this under your pillow.”

“Oh my God!” Amanda said cheerfully. “I do that too! I thought it was just me!”

A few mornings ago, Saffy emerged from her room looking very grumpy and her hair resembled a rat’s nest. She was clutching her Blackberry. “I have not slept for two nights. I’ve been up playing with this stupid thing!”

“Why don’t you just turn it off?” Amanda told her.

“You think I didn’t think of that?” Saffy sounded bitter. “I tried that, but I just can’t help thinking that someone is trying to send me an email which I should read immediately. And then my Facebook alerts me that someone’s posted something, so I read that. And then I read the response to my response to the email. I tweet that I’m not sleeping, and before you know it, it’s dawn!”

“It’s dire!” Amanda said. “You’re turning into a Crackberry addict! I’ve seen it happen before. Some people bring it with them into the toilet, it’s so unbelievably gro–”

Saffy shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“That’s disgusting, Saffy!” Amanda exclaimed. “I hope you remembered to wash your hands and wipe down the keypad!”

I later told Karl I hoped that it wasn’t just the keypad that Saffy remembered to wipe.