Friday, September 23, 2011

Singapore Girls

I probably should have written this article a few weeks ago when it was the National Day, but I figure there’s never a bad moment to extol the virtues of Singapore. Well, maybe there might have been during the recent General Elections when it seemed to me that all my Facebook friends had an axe to grind with the incumbent ruling party.

The litany of woes and complaints was long. Grievances were aired and shared endlessly. Horror stories about the state of education, housing and public transportation circulated. But amidst all the negativity and, in some cases, mindless rabble rousing, it occurred to me that we too seldom pause to give thanks for all the good things that Singapore has to offer.

Of course there are problems. Every single country has its problems. But the key is working out which country has the least and then holding on for dear life.

A friend of mine recently said she was sick of living in Singapore and wanted to migrate. Intrigued, I asked where.

“I’m thinking of California!” Marcy said.

I was astonished. “You’re moving from a country that’s never had a deficit in its entire history to a state that’s literally bankrupt? And you’ll be living right on top of a fault line. Did you not watch ‘2012’? How will you sleep?”

Marcy stared at me. Clearly, she had not thought of this. But she’s a trouper, our Marcy. Blessed, too, with a never say die attitude.


“Sixty percent tax rate? Ten months of darkness? One of the world’s highest rates of suicide? Seriously?”


“You don’t speak French.”


“You’re poor. And you don’t speak French or German. So that also rules out Germany.”


“You shop at Giordano. You’ll never fit in.”


“You’ll be sleeping on the floor in your dining room which will also be your lounge room and entry hall. And can we talk about the packed trains where they have special guards who push you into the compartments?”

By now, Marcy looked a bit panicked.

“New York!”

“You’ll be living in a shoe-box. The apartments in ‘Friends’ aren’t real. Plus the winters are brutal. And the airports are the absolute pits.”

“London! They have amazing museums and art galleries!”

“Which you will visit once a year. The rest of the time, you’ll be cold. The underground Tube has no air-conditioning and no mobile coverage. The tax rate will kill you and, if that doesn’t, the medieval health care system will. And did you not see the riots on TV? Meanwhile, Heathrow and Gatwick are the gateways to hell.”

By the end of our lunch, I could tell that Marcy was severely depressed.

Saffy says it serves her right. “Seriously, I wish people would just take a chill pill and stop complaining all the time about Singapore. Remember the last time we were all in London during winter? It was dark by 3.30pm, the airports all shut down because of one inch of snow, and the trains were always breaking down. We never left the hotel! And she wants to move there?”

“Maybe we should encourage Marcy to go,” Amanda suggested. “Then there’ll be a bit more space for us on the trains.”

Saffy later said it kills her when Amanda says things like that. “She’s not been on a train in her entire life!”

Marcy rang me this morning and said she’d been thinking about our chat. “I guess I don’t have it that bad here.”

“Ya don’t say!”

“But how am I going to meet someone?” she asked. “All the nice guys in this town are either married or already dating a skank. Or they’re gay! Have you noticed that everyone seems to be coming out? Apparently, Kumar is gay!”

I paused and stared hard into space. “Are you telling me that Kumar is your target market?”

“Well, the way my dating life is going, he might as well be. That’s one of the reasons why I want to migrate. My love life is the pits!”

Saffy says it’s a good thing she’s not friends with Marcy.

“It’s just one thing after another with her,” she said, conveniently forgetting that till just a few months ago, before she’d met her current beau Bradley, she was complaining about the same lack of dating opportunities and contemplating moving to Sydney for its manly surfer hunks. She even took a week off from work to fly down for a reconnaissance only to discover to her horror that the bronzed gods she was lusting after had no idea who Dolce & Gabbana were.

“How would that ever work?” she posted on Facebook. She received 23 Likes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mind the Gap

Getting older does funny things to you. For one thing, you start to make noises when you get out of a car that you’ve been sitting in for a long time. Like “ouch”, if you’re an ang moh, and “aiyah”, if you’re not.

You suddenly realize too that you’re no longer the youngest person on the bus and you notice, with sudden fear, that a ten year old kid is looking at you and trying to decide if you’re old enough to stand and give up his seat for. The only reason he doesn’t is because you give him the look of the death that says, “Stand up and you’ll never see the other side of puberty!”

And you also start eyeing younger people with a jaundiced, almost cynical attitude.

Just the other day, I was window shopping along Orchard Road, minding my own business and wondering if it was time for lunch yet, when I was passed by a gaggle of teenagers dressed in an expensive combination of Reeboks, Ralph Lauren polo knits and, on one shoulder, a Goyard bag. Just the cost of the bag alone would have fed a medium sized African village for a year.

One said to the other with the kind of District 10 accent that you get only from going to ACS, “How can you like him? He’s so old!”

Ms Goyard squealed. “How can you say that? He’s only 29!”

“And you think that’s young?” came the ripping reply. He couldn’t have been more than 19. I hated him on sight.

Saffy says that if there’d been a staircase nearby, she would have pushed the kid down it. I did the next best thing. I made a beeline for Food Republic and drowned my sorrows in carbs and saturated fats with a big bowl of laksa.

“Were we ever that obnoxious?” I later asked.

“What you mean, ah?” Sharyn asked.

“Were we ever that ya-ya papaya?” Amanda translated.

“Oh. No, lah. Where got? I was lucky if my mudder bought me and my brudder a Crocodile shirt. Dat time, hah, where got Louis Vuitton, one? Fake one also don’t have! And I carry my lipstick in a Cold Storage plastic bag, some more!”

I said it wasn’t so much the cost of their accessories that bothered me the most. It was the fact that the kids – and they were kids – seemed to really believe that 29 was old.

“Wait till they hit 25 and get sacked,” Saffy said darkly, clearly recalling a pivotal moment in her life.

“Who were they talking about, anyway?” Amanda asked.

“Probably some foetus movie star like…like…oh God, I don’t think I even know anyone who’s 29!” Saffy griped.

What I want to know is how all this has come to pass and all without my even noticing it. One minute I’m the youngest person on the bus, and the next, I’m squinting at a menu in the restaurant, complaining that it’s too dark. The other day, I caught myself pushing the menu away from me as I struggled to focus on the small lettering of the appetizer section.

A few days after the Orchard Road Incident, I was having lunch with my best friend Karl. He arrived ten minutes late, sat down and immediately ordered a Martini.

“You’re starting lunch with a Martini?” I asked.

“I need it!” he growled. “I just had a colonoscopy!”

We proceeded to spend the next half hour discussing Karl’s family medical history and the implications of a positive and a negative result of the test.

And right there was another clear sign of the end of the world. Young people don’t need to think about a colonoscopy, let alone have one done. And I’m willing to bet that if you said the word to Ms Goyard, she would have looked at you sideways and taken a step backwards.

Which, of course, got me started thinking that maybe I also needed to get a colonoscopy.

Karl raised an eyebrow. “You’ve not had one done yet?”

Which started a whole other strand in the conversation about the last blood test and physical I’d taken.

Meanwhile, Saffy says she needs to go see our lovely dermatologist, Dr Tan, for her yearly check up. “It’s such a shame he’s married,” she said this morning. “I saw his wife at the clinic once, and can I just say that she’s been stretched so tight if you touched her, she’d vibrate like an A-minor chord? Anyway, I’ve waxed all over and I’m wearing brand new underwear. Just in case.”

“Oh my God, Saffy!” Amanda cried. “Isn’t he, like, 50?”

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Frenemies Unite

Shortly after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded high up in the American sky, my mother announced that some days, it’s just not safe to leave your house. She said this while watching the devastation on the evening news and, to this day, we’ve never been quite sure what she was referring to.

Because if it was a reference to the space shuttle, that made absolutely no sense at all. As far as we knew, none of us was on course for a career in aeronautics. I was, at the time, failing spectacularly in maths and physics, while my sister spent her entire primary school years in love with her form teacher, filling out her notebooks with hearts and arrows instead of quadratic equations and chemical valences.

Our little brother was, it turned out, colour blind, ruled out a career dealing with any kind of electronic equipment. As Michelle pointed out, a person who doesn’t realize that lights are flashing red is not someone you want driving a plane.

“Or defusing a bomb,” Jack added sadly as he thought of all the professions he could never have.

I bring all this up because recently, my flatmate Saffy said exactly the same thing my mother did all those years ago.

It was a perfectly calm Saturday morning and Saffy was lazily window-shopping outside Gucci at Paragon. “It’s so depressing,” she said later when she’d calmed down. “I’m so poor that I cheer myself up by looking at expensive clothes that I could never afford and fantasizing about wearing them to parties that I’m never invited to. I should just curl up and die right now.”

Saffy was so engrossed looking through the window at Gucci’s fall/winter collection with a mixture of greed and self-pity that she didn’t notice the person waving at her from across the mall until it was too late to hide or walk away quickly.

Finny Salim is one of those girls that women just love to hate. In a nutshell, she’s tall, thin, rich, smart and pretty. Her father is an Indonesian tycoon who made his fortune in pharmaceuticals and sent his precious daughter to boarding school in England and then got her into an Ivy League school on account of the fact that he donated a whole wing to the library. We first met her at a party at which she introduced herself as Diaphanous Salim.

“Seriously?” Saffy blurted.

“But please, call me Finny!” she said, flashing expensively capped white teeth and looking like a million bucks in her Jil Sander outfit. Saffy hated her on sight while Amanda was torn between coveting Finny’s wardrobe and loyalty to her flat-mate.

For some reason no one could understand, despite Saffy’s best efforts to be cold, unfriendly and aloof, Finny decided to become BFF with her and would invite her to lunches and parties. Firm rejections only had the opposite effect on Ibu Finny, a nickname that Saffy said made Finny sound like a pain relieving tablet.

And that morning outside Gucci, Finny squealed out as she tottered towards Saffy in her Jimmy Choos, “I’m getting married and I want you to be my maid of honour!”

“That’s exactly what she said,” Saffy vented at home. “‘I’m getting married and I want you to be my maid of honour!’ No ‘hello’, no ‘fancy meeting you here, let’s have coffee’! She just sprung it on me! You don’t make that kind of announcement to someone who’s unprepared and poor! It’s just plain rude! She must really hate me!”

No amount of reasoning could persuade her otherwise of Finny’s good intent.

“But you got boyfriend, why you jealous?” Sharyn asked.

“Jealous? I’m not jealous! I’m perfectly happy with the way things are going with Bradley! Shut up, Sharyn!” Saffy snapped.

Sharyn told us, out of Saffy’s earshot, that clearly Saffy was jealous of Finny. “She tall, gorgeous and rich. Wah, I also jealous, I tell you! And now, hor, Finny get married and Blad-ley still don’t ask her. Double stay!”

For days, Saffy vented. “There I was, just minding my own business, window shopping and she pops out of nowhere to tell me she’s getting married!” she told her friend Clare. “I was not prepared! The funny thing is that morning when I got up, I knew I should stay home. Some days, it’s just not safe to leave your house. Because you never know what’s waiting out there to attack you!” she added grimly.

When this comment was reported back to Sharyn, she sighed and shook her head. “Poor Blad-ley. Tonight, sure kena, one.”

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Business Times

People are always rabbiting on about the meaning of life.

The other day, a friend on Facebook posted an image of the Earth and the moon taken by a satellite from a long ways away – two tiny bright dots in a vast sea of black – and he said something about how insignificant we all really are. This, of course, prompted lots of soul searching by various friends of my Facebook friend.

‘Makes you realize what’s important and what’s not,’ said one friend.

‘What makes you happy?’

‘What’s the meaning of life?’ asked another. This got five ‘Likes’.

I’m just waiting for someone to ask me that question. Because I’m ready with my answer. After years of soul searching, deep navel gazing and countless episodes of Oprah re-runs, I have the answer to the meaning of life. And it is: Business Class. With an addendum: First Class if you can get it, but if not, the meaning of life is Business Class.

This will strike many of you as incredibly shallow and meaningless, not to mention a poor reflection of the values my parents so clearly did not pass on to me. But I don’t care. If people want to suffer for the rest of their lives in Economy, it’s their karma. When I die, I want to come back as an unlimited expense account.

I want to be pampered and not suffer. That’s nothing wrong with wallowing in luxury. Nowhere in the Bible, Koran or Buddhist sutras does it say “Thou shalt avoid being pampered, for it is a sin.”

I have had enough of being squeezed into a seat designed for a four-year old kid. I want to have the option of elevating my legs to the horizontal position.

I have had enough of crappy, surly service. I want to be waited on hand and foot. I want attractive cabin crew to crouch down by my seat and enquire with false interest if I’m comfortable and if I would like another flute of champagne.

I have had enough of squinting at a tiny screen the size of a paperback novel trying to see which Transformer is clobbering Megatron. And I want to have big Princess Leia type earphones with noise-cancelling capability, and not those stupid little ear-plugs which force you to jack up the volume to maximum because you can’t hear a thing over the plane’s engines and that revolting wailing baby in 32A.

I have had enough of trying to sleep at an 85 degree angle. I want to sleep on a flat-bed with nice clean linen and a big fluffy pillow. I get to do this at home and I don’t see why I should be paying a lot of money to sleep in the upright position. If I wanted to be upright, I’d be having lunch.

And speaking of which…I have had enough of dried up chicken carcasses, stringy beef and fish that taste of cotton wool. I have also had enough of trying to cut up my meat with plastic cutlery. I want to drink from a proper glass, eat from a proper plate and not a tin foil tray. I especially want to have satay for my appetiser.

“Ay, where got satay as appetizer, one?” Sharyn asked recently after listening patiently to my rant.

“On SQ’s business class, they roll a trolley of satay down the aisle,” I said. “I know because I once went to China for work and they flew me business class and they had satay!” 

“Wah, really, ah? So shiok!”

“Tell me about it,” I said grumpily.

“But you are a poor writer, how can you afford to sit Business Class?” Sharyn asked owlishly, her eyes magnified behind her half-inch thick spectacles.

“Sometimes,” I told her, “sometimes, I’m sitting at the front of the Economy section and I can smell the satay coming through those blue curtains. I can even hear the tinkle of champagne glasses. And that’s when I get served my tiny packet of peanuts and tap water in a plastic cup.”

“Oh my God, I’m so sick of that bloody satay!” said Amanda who only ever flies First or Business Class. “Why can’t they serve something else like kueh pie-tee or something?”

Saffy later said that someone needs to give Amanda a big reality check. “If she ever walked into an Economy cabin, she’d probably wonder why she was suddenly back in the airport’s boarding gate!”

Amanda says you get what you pay for. To which I say that I’ve paid enough. If all those years of suffering through Economy isn’t payment enough, I’m going to be having words with God when we meet.