Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I don’t know why people make such a big deal about New Year’s Eve. If I had to pick my top three depressing events, top of the list would be December 31. (Followed by my birthday and my impending disinheritance.)
            There’s something uncomfortably final about the end of the year. With the end of a great book, you can always go back and re-read the best bits. With a movie, you rent the DVD. But with New Year’s Eve, it’s right there in your face. It’s the end of the year. It’s gone. You can’t get it back. There’s no rewind button.
Taking stock of the year past doesn’t really do it for me, because there’s always so much that was undone, so many things unsaid.
            “God, you’re depressing,” my flatmate Amanda said to me the other day as I was moping about the flat feeling very sorry for myself. “Don’t come to the party if you’re going to be so funereal!”
            “Well, I can’t very well not go to a New Year’s Eve party if the alternative is for me to sit alone at home! That’s even more depressing!”
            Amanda sniffed and turned back to her horoscopes in 8DAYS. “Well, I just hope you don’t bring down the mood of the party like you did last year when you started telling people about how they needed to get their wills made because you never know when you might get run over by a bus!”
            “Well, it’s true!” I said stoutly.
            “Maybe it is, but it’s not the sort of thing you say to the host’s 80-year old mother!”
            “Excuse me, but did she not die two days later and left no will? And isn’t the entire family now squabbling over her estate? If she’d listened to me, everyone would now be happily enjoying their squillions.”
            “Squillions? Who has got squillions? Is he single? Is he straight? What’s going on? What did I miss?” Saffy said sitting down on the sofa.
            “Jason’s in a funk about Charlotte’s New Year’s Eve party.”
            “Well, if it makes you feel better,” Saffy said as she reached for the TV remote control, “I hear that Charlotte just got a nose job.”
            Amanda lowered her magazine.
            “Turns out she wants to welcome in the new year with Fann Wong’s nose!”
            “How do you know this and I don’t?” Amanda demanded.
            “It’s a gift. Well, actually, you know Jane? Margaret Ho’s sister? Well, she works as a receptionist in the plastic surgeon’s office that Charlotte goes to. She told Margaret, who told Sharyn, who told me.”
            “Oh, I love Fann Wong’s nose,” Amanda said.
            “I do too, but I can’t afford even to get a mole removed at the moment, so my new year’s resolution is to marry rich!”
            “Aren’t you dating Bradley?” I asked.
            “Yes, I am, and I adore him, but there’s no rule that says I can’t marry someone rich while keeping Bradley on the side as my mistress. Really, it’s a win-win situation.” Saffy’s ample bosom lifted with satisfaction.
            “Well, my resolution for 2012 is to make partner even if I have to sleep with old Mr Wong to do it,” said Amanda.
            “Oh my God, that’s disgusting. Isn’t he like 105 years old?”
            “He’s 55! You need to work on your ageism, Saffy. What’s your resolution, Jason?”
            The question haunts me still. Every year, on January 1, I set myself a goal. Three hundred and sixty four days later, it’s always unfulfilled. One year, I decided that I would learn French. To this day, I can only say, “Voici l’hotel!” which is French for “Here is the hotel!” It’s not a very useful phrase, and you can see how it only adds to my general low slump.
            Going to Charlotte’s party will probably only make things worst. Because here is a woman who is so organized that she’s already achieved her new year’s resolution of having Fann Wong’s nose. She never has to do another thing for the rest of the year because it’s all done.
            Amanda says that’s cheating, but Saffy later said that Amanda would say something like that. “She’s such a Type A personality, it’s sickening.”
            So, here I am a few weeks away from Charlotte’s party and trying to ignore the fact that the end of 2011 is looming and the only thing of note that I’ve accomplished all year has been to file my tax return on time.
            “I feel like I’ve wasted my whole year,” I said miserably to Saffy last night as we sat on the sofa watching an old episode of ‘True Blood’.
            Saffy reached over and patted my leg, and over the screams of someone having his throat ripped out, she said, “You’ll always have me to waste your years with.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mummy Dearest

A few days ago, I woke up feeling poorly. The head hurt, my stomach was gripped with cramps and after two mouthfuls of breakfast cereal, I was running to the loo.
            “Seriously, are you going to be long?” Saffy called from outside the door. “I really need to shower and put my face on.”
            “Go away, I’m sick!” I moaned.
            I heard Saffy trudge off towards the other smaller bathroom. “Jason’s sick,” her distant voice reported to Amanda. “I hope he’s not going to pass it to me!”
            I spent the rest of the day at home, mostly holed up in bed and feeling very sorry for myself. Eventually, it occurred to me that I needed to eat something, so I dragged myself to the kitchen.
            The fridge yielded two slices of week-old pepperoni pizza which turned my stomach just looking at it, a tub of organic yoghurt, two bottles of champagne, three mouldy apples and half a chocolate cake from the birthday party we threw Sharyn.
            I looked into the pantry and found assorted mixed nuts, packets of dried shrimp and dried abalone, and three bars of Hershey’s.
            If I was the sort, this would be the part where I burst into tears. But I was made of sterner stuff, so I picked up the phone.
            My mother was surprised to hear from me. “Who died?” she asked immediately. “I’m not ready for bad news, I’m about to get a seaweed wrap!”
            “Mummy, I’m sick!”
            And just like that, I was six years old again. Mother might have been thousands of miles away in another country, but somehow, I understood that if I told her that I wasn’t well, she would make things better.
I guess it’s true what they say about children. They never really grow up. When the chips are down, it’s always your mother you go back to for comfort and solace. When my cousin Mark’s bimbo wife left him for an alcoholic mechanic, he was so devastated, he moved back home with his parents. By the second month, his mother was desperately trying to set him up with anyone who remotely resembled a woman with two functioning breasts, just to get him out of their lives.
            “He’s driving us crazy!” Auntie Sook-ling hissed to her sister, my mother. “Children are not supposed to move back in once they’ve left home!”
            “I don’t know why I ever left!” Mark told me. “I feel so safe again. Like no one will dare hurt me.”
            I told my mother who told Auntie Sook-ling. “Well, I’m about to hurt him! You know how small our house is. Jonathan and I can’t even be, you know, intimate!” To which my mother replied, firmly, that this constituted too much information.
            “What’s the matter?” Mother now asked.
            “I think I have a stomach bug. Must have picked it up on the bus or something. Everyone was coughing and sneezing!”
            “Well, are you resting? Yes, I’ll have lavender oil to go with my wrap, thank you! Sorry, Jason dear. Do you have food? You need to eat something clear and light. Like congee.”
            “I don’t know how to make congee.” I was aware of a pathetic whiny tone creeping into my voice.
            Mother sighed. “Sorry, I’m just going to be a minute longer. It’s my son. Jason? Listen, do you have a pen and paper? It’s really easy. You take half a cup of rice…yes, raw rice…and then you add five cups of water…Yes, you add that much, really, I do wish you’d stop interrupting, my seaweed is drying up!”
            It took Sharyn a good five minutes before she could stop laughing. “Aiyoh, make congee, must also call your mother! You men are so useless, one! Why, ah? I hope my Charlie don’t become like you!” At the edge of my bed, she patted my lap with uncharacteristic affection.
            “You’re not supposed to be mean to me, Sharyn! I’m sick!” I mumbled as I slurped some of my congee. I wasn’t at all sure that I’d made it right, but it tasted real fine.
            Saffy, who is currently Not Speaking to her mother, stood outside my bedroom and sniffed. “You are such a baby! The way you’re going on, you’d think you had the plague or something!”
            But I didn’t care. That night, just before I turned off the lights, I slipped Mother’s recipe for plain congee into my journal, next to a birthday card she’d given me when I was ten. Inside she’d written, “I will always be your friend, love Mummy.” The ‘always’ was underlined three times.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Feel the wonder

In the little flat that I share with Saffy and Amanda, the news that the new Wonder Woman TV show has been cancelled before the pilot even aired has been greeted by the kind of anguish you normally get when a child’s ice-cream cone plops to the ground.
            “This is ridiculous!” Saffy moaned the other day. “They make the most stupid shows all the time. Stupid ghost houses and stupid fairy tales come to life, but they won’t make more of this kick-ass material? Seriously?” She hit replay on the YouTube clip for the fifteenth time that morning. It was a leaked montage of highlights from the show. In another room, Amanda was on her laptop searching for more footage.
            The clip is only a couple of minutes long, but it’s a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been. Wonder Woman leaps over cars. She hurls her magic glowing lasso at the bad guys and pulls them off their feet. She looks majorly pissed as she hurtling towards another guy who’s shooting bullets at her which she blocks with her magic bracelets. There she is in her invisible plane. There she is kicking aside a ten-foot container with one star-spangled leg.
            “She’s always beating up guys!” Saffy marveled. “I so love this show!”
            And overlaying the whole montage is the Wonder Woman theme song – a fast beat, thumping melodic hook. “Change their minds and change the world!” Saffy croaked throatily.
“How can this be?” she muttered, hitting the replay button again. “This has got to be a mistake! Look at this! Look how fabulous this is?” she said, pointing to the sequence where Wonder Woman glides up through the air, her long tresses stylishly whipping around her.
            When news first broke that Joss Whedon, the creator of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’, was making a movie about their favourite Amazonian princess, Saffy and Amanda thought they’d died and gone to heaven. And when that project was cancelled, Saffy went out and bought the DVD of the original Lynda Carter series and watched it with Amanda for a month of weekends.
            “Seriously, can we go out tonight?” I remember asking as I stood next to the TV. “Watching a 70s show on another Friday night is really, really sad! Hello?”
On the couch, Saffy and Amanda sat in their PJs, sharing a box of popcorn. On screen, the bespectacled Diana Prince twirled prettily and exploded in a flash into Wonder Woman. A quick check that her golden tiara was on straight, she dashed off to fight the Nazis.
            “She is so amazing,” Amanda told Saffy.
            “Oh, totally! I want to be her. Jason, get out of the way, you’re casting a shadow on the invisible plane.”
            The girls perked up slightly when Hollywood announced it was making a new TV series instead. And just as quickly, they went into mourning when the pilot was cancelled.
            “Why are they toying with our emotions like this?” Amanda wondered the other day on the crowded train to work.
            “It’s ridiculous,” Saffy agreed. “It’s like being trapped inside a scene from ‘Truman’! God, why is this train so crowded? I hate this commute. I hate my job. I want to be a crime fighter.”
            “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could just spin around, explode and have changed into any outfit we want?”
            Saffy gave the matter some thought. “I don’t think I’d be spinning for very long. I have so few outfits to wear. And when we spin into our new outfits, would they be dry-cleaned too?”
            “I wish I could deflect bullets with my magic bracelets, too,” said Amanda, killer corporate lawyer and Harvard graduate.
            “And let me tell you,” Saffy murmured as she moved her face out of someone’s armpits, “there are a few people on this train that I wouldn’t mind magic lasso-ing down a steep flight of steps. Don’t they shower in the morning?”
            Amanda says her obsession with Wonder Woman is all about empowerment. That, and a smoking hot outfit and glittering accessories. “She doesn’t take crap from anyone,” she said recently. She added, with a rueful smile: “And if anyone tries, she’ll kick their ass! Such a great role model!”
            “Aiyah, you or-ready like that, what!” Sharyn said, owlishly. “You don’t take crap from udder people oh-so. All the men in the office run away from you. Singapore men scared of power women like you, you know. Why you think you are still single?”
            Amanda blinked. Clearly, she’d not looked her life in that light before. This evening, she replaced the Wonder Woman DVD, settled into the couch and proceeded to weep her way through ‘Eat Pray Love’.
            “Oh, dear,” Saffy said.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pee Shoot

A few days ago, my flatmate Amanda woke up with a mind-bendingly awful toothache. “It’s like someone has reached into my mouth and is tugging at one of my dental nerves, twirling it around his fingers! Oh, God, I want to die!” she moaned with uncustomary drama. An emergency session with Dr Hoe, our kindly family dentist, revealed an abscess in the back molar.
“He-th th-o adorable!” Amanda mumbled through a mouthful of blood-soaked bandages. “I would marry him in a heartbeat if he wathn’t th-o old.”
Saffy was scandalized. “Anna Nicole Smith! He’s just 52!”
“He might a-th well be th-eventy-two!”
Later, when the bandages were all removed, Amanda said it’s no joke having a toothache. “It sounds so, like whatever, a toothache! There is nothing achy about a toothache. It’s bloody painful! I swear it’s the worst feeling in the world!”
Leave it to Saffy to pipe up from the couch to say that a toothache certainly wasn’t the worst feeling in the world. “I’ll tell you what the worst feeling in the world is,” she said, pleased that the attention of the room was once again focused on her. “It’s needing to pee and there’s not a toilet in sight!”
“Oooh, that’s a good one!” I said.
“Oh, yah, hor, dat one worse than your toothache!” said Sharyn, her glasses fogging up with excitement. Amanda didn’t look pleased that her thunder was being stolen so blatantly and so suddenly. “Dat time, hor, I was on the bus and I need to pee but kena traffic jam on the PIE!”
“What happened?” I asked.
“What to do? Must hold in, lah! By the time we get to Orchard Road, I was cross-eye! But I thought, hor, if I wet myself, cannot be help. Wah, jalat, boy, hold in for so long! Worse than giving birth, I tell you!”
Which somehow led Saffy to recall the time she signed up for a seaweed-wrap in a fancy spa. By the time the therapist had applied various ointments and lotions, and then finished tucking her up between layers of cling-foil and thick towels, she needed to pee really badly.
“I guess I could have asked the therapist to unwrap me,” Saffy reflected, “but I felt so bad for her. She’d spent so much time wrapping me up, you know? She was Japanese and you know how much they love to wrap stuff. So I thought I’d hold it in. I swear to God, it was the most stressful 30 minutes in the history of spa treatments. At one stage, I seriously considered peeing inside the wrap and passing it all off as sweat!”
There’s something unbearably primal about the need to pee: This gradual build up of pressure in the bladder and – if you’re trapped on a bus or in a queue for Faye Wong concert tickets – rising panic that if you don’t find a toilet soon, you’re literally going to pee in your pants. Strange, too, that there’s no actual English word for it.
And I’ll never forget the time I was watching ‘Titanic’ – which, if memory serves, was a ten hour, fifteen minute movie – and at about the two-hour mark, all that sea sloshing about had pushed my bladder capacity to a dangerous maximum. But every time I wanted to get up from my seat to go to the loo, something exciting would happen. In the end, I just had to go. Which is how I missed the actual sinking of the ship, and why a few nights later, I sat through the whole movie all over again. But this time, I didn’t drink anything for the five hours leading up to the opening credits. It’s also why, for hours after the movie, I suffered from a blinding dehydration migraine.
“But you know what the best feeling in the world is?” Saffy asked. “It’s that split second when you’re in the loo, and you know you’re in a safe and secure environment, your knickers are off, and then you just…let…go! That feeling of relief that just washes over you.”
“Yah, yah, better than sex!” Sharyn said with unusual excitement.
“Ohmygod, you’re so right!” Saffy said, her impressive bosom rising to the occasion in sisterly solidarity. “Way better! You know, if you could bottle that feeling, you’d make a fortune. I’d call mine ‘Release, by Saffy’!”
By the defeated look on Amanda’s face, you could tell that there was no way she could now regain the upper ground in the whole toothache conversation.
“And with my first million,” Saffy went on, “I’d buy a portable loo. It’ll go everywhere I go! Even on the bus! How fab would that be?”