Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Talent Time

Animals are seasonal creatures. Every winter, the birds head south for sunnier temperatures, while furrier land-bound creatures hole up in their little homes, try to stay warm and hibernate. Then, with the first hint of sunshine and spring, they start to stir and stick their noses out into the air. The salmon struggle upstream to breed while the birds come home to roost.
            In the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda, the beginning of each year marks the opening season of American Idol and as Ryan Seacrest yells out “This is A-mer-ican Idol!”, you just know that life is going to be, once again, bright, harmonious and fun again.
            “I love this show!” Amanda said the other night as we settled in to watch the auditions aboard an aircraft carrier docked in San Diego.
            “There aren’t enough deluded tone-deaf people singing and behaving badly this year,” I noted with a seasoned critical ear.
            “I want to have Steven Tyler’s baby!” Saffy mumbled through a mouthful of popcorn.
            “You have a boyfriend, Saffy!” Amanda said from the other end of the couch, disapproval etched into every syllable.
            “I know that, but there’s no rule that says you can’t have a boyfriend and still have Steven Tyler’s baby. He’s such a wrinkled old man, but there’s something so unbearably sexy about him!” Saffy’s bosom inflated with enthusiasm.
            And that’s the thing about American Idol: It encourages you to dream. It doesn’t matter if you’re a waitress, a single mother, a mechanic, a coal miner, an unemployed kid, or a college student – if you dream big, anything could happen. Even having a baby with Steven Tyler.
            And especially if you’re Jim Carrey’s daughter - who actually auditioned and was sent to Hollywood.
            Amanda was shocked. “Jim Carrey’s daughter is a waitress? Why is Jim Carrey’s daughter a waitress?”
            “Maybe she’s a high-class waitress?” Saffy offered as she peered into the depths of her bosom looking for a stray popcorn.
            “Yes, but he’s worth bazillions. Would you be a waitress if your father was worth bazillions? I’d be at the spa all day! And this girl can sing, too,” Amanda added, in the dark, her face bathed with the flickering TV light. “You’d think her father with all his connections would pull a string or two to get a recording contract.”
            “Yeah, like Priscilla Presley!” Saffy said.
            After a moment’s silence, Amanda pointed out that Elvis was dead.
            “You think his name didn’t open doors? Really?” Saffy asked with her usual penetrating insight.
             In a world where even someone like Paris Hilton can release a studio album, it seemed to us very strange, not to mention unfair, that Jim Carrey’s daughter had to go through the humiliating TV experience of an audition just so she didn’t have to be a waitress for the rest of her life.
            “Well, at least she can sing. She has talent,” Saffy said. “I don’t have any talent. No, really, I don’t. I can’t cook, I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t write. I have no hand-eye coordination. Which means we can immediately rule out a career as Martha Stewart, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, JK Rowling or Serena Williams!”
            The idea depressed Saffy for days. “Amanda can live on her retirement loot as a lawyer and you,” she said, dejectedly lifting a nose in my direction, “you’re going to inherit from your parents, but what am I going to do? I have no talent for anything!”
            “Well, you’re a very capable HR manager!” But even as I said those words, I knew how hollow they sounded.
            “Everyone hates the HR manager!” Saffy said. “People see me walk down the corridor and they tense up. The other day, this secretary told me that after she had a meeting with me, she couldn’t pee for six hours.”
            Nothing we said could change her mind. Not even the prospect that her adoring boyfriend Bradley would one day earn enough money to be able to support her in the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed in her fantasy world.
            “Oh, please. He’s an accountant who’s in charge of payroll. Where’s the money going to come from?”
            “He could embezzle?” Amanda said helpfully.
            “Great. Thank you, Amanda. Now, I’m dating a potential con-man.”
“I’m just saying!”
Saffy’s eyebrows wrinkled. “Do you think Changi prison provides its inmates with spousal conjugal rights?”
            “Aiyoh, why you like that, one?” Saffy’s best friend Sharyn exclaimed. “You got no talent, got no talent, lor. You’ll have beautiful children, lah!”
            “Oh great. I’ll be the world’s most talentless mother. And I’ll be poor. It’s no wonder my kids will be auditioning on American Idol!”
            “Or worse,” Sharyn added darkly, “Singapore Idol!”

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Child Proof

One of the horrible things about Facebook – and yes, it’s not all good – is that it’s really sneaky at telling you that you’re getting old. Well, it doesn’t exactly spell it out for you, but you’d have to be in a terminal coma not to spot the message.
            The other day, my friend Mary posted some holiday snaps of her family by the beach. “Wow,” I wrote to her, “how Jenna has grown! I still have a photo you sent me when she was born. Look at her now!”
            Mary replied that if it wasn’t for children, we wouldn’t really notice the passage of time.
            Saffy snorted when I told her this. “Listen, if it wasn’t for children, Mary would still have her amazing figure! I remember going to a beach party with her years ago and hating her for her gorgeous curves, and now,” she said, leaning in closer to my computer to look at Mary in a two-piece, “not so much. I tell you, children have so much to answer for.”
            There was a still pause as we both looked at the slide show of Mary’s children cavorting in the sand and the sea. In the background, Mary and her husband lay supine on a beach blanket, their eyes hidden behind sunglasses, their smiles, Saffy insisted, hiding a world of regret.
            When I was a kid, I remember the grown-ups would always exclaim to my mother, “How the children have grown, Mei-ling!”
            “Oh, they’re such useless lazy layabouts!” Mother would say modestly, her chest puffed up with pride. “Not like your children!”
            “Aiyoh, my children. They give me such a headache! I’m forever chauffeuring them about: Mabel to ballet class, Henry to piano and now Janette says she want to take up the violin! I’m exhausted, I tell you!”
            Later that night at dinner, Mother complained to Father, “I can’t stand that Jenny Chan! Always boasting about her children like they were Noble Prize winners! Has she taken a good look at that Mabel of her’s? She’s so fat I’m surprised she doesn’t break her toes every time she does a pirouette!”
            Father fluttered his hands at her. “Ay, ay, ay! Don’t say such things about other people’s children!”
            With parents like mine, is it any wonder that I grew up having such conflicted opinions about children? “They’re so noisy and grimy!” I once told Sharyn, a mother of five who has skin so thick a bullet would have trouble making a dent.
            “Yah lor,” she said cheerfully. “So ungrateful, some more!”
            A few days ago, I was at my desk working on a story when the Skype phone rang.
            “Hello, Go-Pa!” my god-daughter Mina screamed.
            Her mother loomed in the background. “Mina, please don’t yell like that. It’s not how a lady behaves!”
            “I want to speak to Go-Pa! Alone! Go away!” yelled the love of my life.
            As we spent the next half hour chatting about everything from spaghetti with Marmite to holiday plans, I couldn’t shake the marvel at how fast Mina had grown.
            The very first time I laid eyes on her, my god-daughter was a bundle of wrinkled skin and tiny fingers, all wrapped in white swaddling cloth. Her eyes were slits of skin, and her hands like tiny chicken feet. It was not a very interactive experience. I compensated by going shopping and bought her a pair of Gucci baby shoes that she never wore. As Amanda would point out, it was not a promising start to our relationship.
But came the day when, completely unable to pronounce God-pa, she lisped out Go-pa. I was completely charmed. “She’s so adorable!” I told complete strangers. “She’s so bright and clever. I don’t usually like children, you know!”
And now six years later, here she was, larger than life on Skype, an animated chattering force of energy who, thanks to her diligent Type A German father and Type A+ Chinese mother, could give you lip in equally fluent bursts of Mandarin, German and English.
            “When are you coming to see me, Go-Pa?” she asked.
            “I’ll come for Chinese New Year, OK?” 
            Her mother later told me that Mina is so excited by my arrival that she asked if she could stay up to say hello. I don’t think I know anyone who is so looking forward to seeing me that they would give up their sleep to do so. I personally can’t think of anyone I would do that for.
            But then again, that’s kids for you. They teach you how to recognize what’s important in life. And you’re grateful for the lesson, even if it means giving up your figure for them.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bend it like Beckham

There’s no rhyme or reason for why some people are rabid fans of some celebrities. Barney Chen goes into a state of shock not dissimilar to a diabetic attack at the mere mention of Madonna. To this day, he’s convinced that ‘Swept Away’ is a masterpiece that’s way up there with ‘Citizen Kane’.
            Others like Sharyn think the sun rises and sets over Fann Wong. Which I suppose, technically, it does but then, as Saffy once so trenchantly observed, the same could be said for the dung beetle. For her part, Saffy says she would hack off a leg if it meant that she could spend a night having wild sex with Jude Law.
            “How do you know it will be wild?” Amanda once asked.
            Saffy’s bosom inflated. “Are you crazy? Of course, it will be wild! Why will it not be wild? Look at this!” she insisted, as she went onto Google Images on her laptop and typed in ‘Jude Law Nude’. A series of grainy images filled the screen.
“Look at that body!” Saffy commanded. “How could sex with this man be anything but wild?”
And then there’s the tricky subject of Victoria Beckham. Talk about a woman who divides opinion. Amanda loathes her, but largely on account of the fact that she thinks David Beckham made the biggest mistake of his life marrying Victoria. “It should’ve been me!” she said once, sounding, for all the world, like a Broadway musical.
Saffy, on the other hand, thinks Victoria Beckham should be sainted while she’s still alive. “She gives so much hope to the rest of us. She married a god. She’s popped out twenty children and still has the body of an 18 year old virgin. She’s got amazing clothes, amazing shoes. She hangs out with Elton John. Seriously, she should run for prime minister!”
I bring all this up because I’m in London right now and yesterday, I was having a breakfast meeting at Delauney, a fancy new restaurant in Covent Garden, when there was a noticeable drop in the level of the volume of conversation. Like a herd of gazelles at the watering hole, we lifted our collective heads from our eggs Benedict and turned towards the entrance.
Like a tiger at night, a tall woman sheathed in the chicest black strode majestically down the aisle. As I later reported to Saffy, Victoria Beckham was immaculate. Everything about her was flawless - from the sheen on the hair, not a strand out of place, to the figure hugging dress and high heels, right down to the little black Chanel handbag. She looked like she’d just stepped off a runway.
“She must have been up since 3am to get ready to look like that!” I said.
“That’s what you can achieve when you have bazillions in your bank account,” Saffy said with approval.
Meanwhile, scurrying up behind Victoria was her personal assistant, a dowdy woman wearing her harassment like a radiation counter and overloaded with various bags and heavy coats. And behind her was the nanny carrying what everyone assumed was the latest Beckham baby.
“Oh, God, I’m so jealous you got to see her!” Saffy moaned over Skype.
            Amanda poked her head into the screen. “Who cares about her? Did you see David? Was he there?” 
            “No, just her and her assistants. She was having a meeting with a guy in spectacles. With her baby on her lap.”
            Saffy says that this is the way women should juggle their careers. With a personal assistant and a nanny. “I'd love to be able to march into a restaurant and be trailed by people carrying all my crap! And when the kid starts acting up, I hand him back to his nanny so that I can continue to crunch numbers and seal the deal!”
            Barney Chen wanted to know if I’d taken pictures. “Oh my God, please tell me you took pictures! I ADORE Victoria Beckham!” he texted.
            I wrote back: “If the world came to an end and there was space only for one more person on the space shuttle, who would it be – Victoria or Madonna?”
            Almost immediately, his reply pinged back. “OMG, it’s like Sophie’s Choice! I can’t choose! I think I wld sacrifice myself n save both of them!!!!!”
            Apparently, Saffy told Barney he was so dumb. “You’d never have to make the choice because you’d have kicked Jason off the space shuttle first!”
            Amanda reported that Barney replied, “Oooh, that is so true!”
            If I ever inherit Victoria Beckham’s millions, I know who will be following behind me and carrying my crap when I walk into a restaurant for my meeting with Jude Law. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cleaning Agent

One of the perils of Chinese New Year is the dreaded family gathering where well meaning relatives hand over a lousy $10 ang pow in exchange for the pleasure of spending the next two hours publicly humiliating you either about your single marital status or, if you’re married, your perplexing on-going infertility.
            The other peril of Chinese New Year is spring cleaning, that yearly ritual that begins one morning when you wake up, look around your bedroom and realise that you have accumulated a lot of junk.
            In the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda, this year’s first round of drama began, as it so often does, with a television show.
            One morning, stumbling out of bed and into the kitchen, Amanda found Saffy already up. Well, technically, she was awake, but she was horizontal on the couch watching TV on the MacBook that was balanced on her tummy.
            “It’s 7 am!” Amanda mumbled.
            “I couldn’t sleep. I woke up from a very disturbing dream where I was married to my boss and he was making a move on me after a dinner that I cooked for him while I was naked!”
            As Amanda later said to me, you’d think she’d have learnt by now never to talk to Saffy about anything. “Why are we still living with her?” she asked, not for the first time.
            It turned out that Saffy’s latest addiction is an American reality TV programme called ‘Extreme Hoarding’. Every week, the cameras invade the homes of two extreme hoarders. We’re not talking about a few too many books here. It’s as if someone went to a city’s central rubbish tip and thought to himself, “Hmm, this would be a perfect place to build a house!”
            But rather than build the house on top of the piles of rotting, putrid rubbish, this person builds around the rubbish by picking a random pile and sticking a roof over it.
            In one episode, the owner walked from one end of his living room to the other on literally two feet of boxes, cartons, books, files, furniture and clothes. And because the bottom of his staircase was blocked by an entire wardrobe, he had to squeeze through a gap between the railing and ceiling to get upstairs. “My girlfriend died in this room because the paramedics couldn’t get their equipment through,” he told the camera.
            “Oh. My. God.” Saffy’s bosom inflated with horror.
            “Seriously, why are we watching this at 9am on a Saturday morning?” Amanda asked. It had been two hours since she’d woken up. She’d never made it to the kitchen.
            “It’s horrible! It’s such an addictive show!” she later told me, her retinas still haunted by the images of all that trash, mouldy kitchens and rank toilets. “How do people live like that?”
            Meanwhile, in an extreme case of life imitating art, Saffy has been on a major cleaning frenzy in preparation for Chinese New Year. “I’m not going to end up on that show!” she announced as she snapped on the cleaning gloves. The past few days have been a blur. It’s just not safe to walk past her room in case you’re hit by projectiles comprising old out of shape bras, dusty magazines, dog-eared textbooks from her numerous uncompleted night classes, dresses of varying sizes from her chequered dieting experiments, tattered Victoria’s Secret underwear, old bedsheets and assorted knick-knacks, including a shower of old Valentine’s Day cards.
            Amanda says that if you ever need an insight into someone’s life, ambitions and failed dreams, just go through their rubbish.
            “Why am I keeping this?” Saffy muttered, holding up a bundle of old pens, rusty paper clips and rubber bands.
            “In case you need to make a run for it?” suggested Amanda, who’s been watching old episodes of ‘Prison Break’.
            Saffy’s frenzied spring-cleaning has spurred me to throw out a few things of my own. And here’s the thing: throwing out the first book that you know you’re never going to read is incredibly painful. But by the fifth book and the eighth Giordano tee, you’re on your way. The sense of freedom is exhilarating and empowering.
            “I feel like I’ve actually lost weight by throwing all this junk out!” Saffy said proudly yesterday morning as she hauled out another bag of old clothes and shoes. Her voice echoed in the suddenly empty space of bare shelves and hollow wardrobe. All night, the silence bothered her. She couldn’t sleep. At 3am, she got up, turned on her computer and bought some books from Amazon.