Friday, April 27, 2012

Face Value

You know how sometimes people do something that, at the time, they think is a very good idea? And then later on, they look back on it – usually through the lens of a photograph, or an unauthorised YouTube clip – and they’re flabbergasted? “What was I thinking? No, seriously. Please tell me!”
            I’m wondering if the prime minister is thinking the same thing about his Facebook page.
            “What is he doing?” Amanda asked when she first heard the news that her idol was now on Facebook. Her spoon hovered above her bowl of muesli as she stared at the newspaper article. “Why on earth does he want to be any closer to Singaporeans?”
            I hesitated. “Uhm, so that he can find out what’s really going on at the grassroots level?”
            Amanda looked as if someone had just presented her with a bra with three cups. “But why would he? That’s what the ministers are for. Isn’t that their job? And if he really wants to know what’s going on, he just has to read the newspapers. More to the point,” she added, her frown lines deepening, “there’ll be all sorts of riff-raff sending him all sorts of rubbish.”
            From the corner of the sofa, Saffy piped up, “I’ve just invited him to dinner!”
            Two heads swiveled around in her direction.
            “Who?” I asked.
            Saffy looked up from her iPad. “The prime minister! Wouldn’t be fab if he accepts?” She beamed.
            “How did you…” Amanda began.
            “I just sent him a message on Facebook! He doesn’t seem to be accepting any friends though, which is a bit rude.”
            “Saf, the prime minister of Singapore,” Amanda said in the kind of tone you normally reserve for God’s voice in a biblical movie, “did not set up a Facebook account so that random people can invite him to dinner!”
            Saffy’s chest inflated. Instinctively, Amanda and I drew back.
            “First of all, I’m not random people. I’m one of his biggest fans. Second of all, let’s talk about random. This person just invited him to stay in their HDB flat. Seriously, what is he thinking? Why would you move out of the Istana to spend time in an HDB flat?”
            “The PM doesn’t stay in the Istana…” Amanda began.
            Saffy later said that Harvard really has a lot to answer for in giving Amanda a law degree. “She’s so literal!”
            Her best friend Sharyn looked concerned. “She go see doctor, or not?”, a question that made Saffy blink.
            “Why would she need to see a doctor?”
            Sharyn paused as she rewound the conversation in her head. “I thought you say she had problem with her…down there?” Sharyn’s eyes pointed down towards her lap. Saffy and I followed her gaze.
            The penny dropped because Saffy suddenly hissed, “Oh my God, literal, Sharyn, not her cli…”
            I coughed.
            “Aiyoh, why you so cheem, one?” Sharyn moaned, after Saffy had spent a few very graphic minutes explaining that literal was not an anatomical female part.
            That evening, we came home to find Amanda glued to her laptop. Apparently, she’d spent the whole day reading through the thousands of Facebook comments on the prime minister’s page.
            “Some people have just too much time on their hands,” she announced without the slightest hint of irony. “This person asked him if he agreed that there were poor people in Singapore! And this woman wants to get a job in a library so that she can write short stories for children and get paid lots of money. And another person asked him if he had any nice recipes to share!”
            “Did he reply to my dinner invitation?” Saffy asked. Sometimes I think Saffy is actually deaf and has to read people’s lips to understand what they’re saying. Only she doesn’t, because she’s also very short-sighted.
            Somewhere out there, at the end of a long day running the country, I’m trying to imagine the prime minister in his study, scrolling down his Facebook page while scratching his head and thinking, “God, what was I thinking?”
Especially when he’s reading posts like this: “Hi Sir, I think our property prices has reached bubbly levels” andMy previous post had been deleted, as usual.....Anyway, i want to draw my MY MY MY CPF Money at age 55.....Can or not?”
Saffy thinks that the last post was written by Sharyn.
“Where got?” Sharyn demanded hotly.
“Well, it sure sounds like you!”
Choy! I am not 55, ok?!”
Saffy leaned over the table and gently patted Sharyn’s hands. “You should put that on your Facebook page, Sharyn. Really. You should.”
“Or better yet,” Amanda sang out from the other room, “tell the prime minister! See how much he cares!”

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Class Action

It’s a madly competitive world out there and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Parents team up with real estate agents to hatch plots about their children’s schools. The office manager schemes to get a pay rise while John in sales is getting ulcers trying to beat his previous month’s target. Best friends secretly race each other to the altar. Kids try to psych each other out just before an exam. “Oh, God, I’m going to fail!” Even though everyone knows Alex is going to get an A and then go to Harvard.
Meanwhile in the little smelly gym that Saffy goes to, it’s like the Borgias have just mated with the offspring of Predator and Alien.
In an effort to get more members in, the gym has started a classathon. The person who goes to the most number of classes gets two months free membership.
“What are the other prizes?” Amanda asked recently when Saffy came home, her face red as a tomato, and collapsed onto the sofa.
“I’m in so much pain!” Saffy moaned. “I’ve just done back to back spinning and body pump.”
Amanda sighed. “What are the other prizes?” Really, the woman has the patience level of a pencil.
“Uh, second prize is one month’s free membership, and third prize is a heart monitor watch thing.” Saffy sat up suddenly and looked at Amanda with deep suspicion. “Why? You’re not thinking of joining the classathon are you? You not even a member of my gym, and you need to be a member to join, otherwise it’s not fair if you think you can…”
“Oh relax. I haven’t stepped foot in a gym since Justin Bieber’s voice broke. I’m just surprised that you’re putting in so much effort for so little return.”
“I want to win second prize this year,” Saffy said, collapsing back onto the sofa. “Last year, I won that stupid watch which I ended up giving to a homeless uncle on Scotts Road. This year, I’m aiming higher.”
“You’re killing yourself,” I mumbled through a mouthful of Old Chang Kee curry puff. “It’s not worth it.”
“Especially for that gym!” Amanda added.
Saffy came up again on her elbows. “What’s wrong with my gym?” she demanded.
“It smells!”
Saffy collapsed back onto the sofa, defeated. “Oh, I know. It’s a miserable hell-hole! The towels are frayed. The equipment is so rusty, I’m surprised I don’t have tetanus. The people who go there are old and fat. But it’s all I can afford! And I’m determined to win second prize!”
“Why not first?” I asked.
“There’s this girl in the classes. She’s tall, thin and blonde. I think she’s Russian. She’s there all the time. We think she’s going to win. We hate her.”
The classathon lasts for a month and Saffy has been killing herself. Every evening, after work, she’ll head straight to the gym. Monday nights is core strength, Tuesday spinning, Wednesday yoga, Thursday body pump, Friday core strength, Saturday spinning and Sunday zumba. Sometimes, in an effort to increase the number of stamps on her classathon card, she’ll do double classes.
“You’re turning into a gym rabbit!” Sharyn told her.
Bunny! Gym bunny!”
“Where got bunny, one?”
“Oh just shut up, Sharyn!”
Her temper is also increasingly frayed.
This morning, Saffy came home from body pump, every step from the front door to the sofa a painful mince.
“I came third again!” she announced. “I got beaten by a fifty-year old man who just had bypass surgery! Can you believe that?”
“Who got first?”
            “Wonder Bloody Woman, that’s who! Get this – in one month, she did 69 classes! Sixty-nine! That’s like two classes a day! Who has time to do two classes every day? Just doing one every day has just about killed me! God, I’m so depressed!”
I sent Amanda a text message and told her to stop by Cold Storage for Ben & Jerry. “Two tubs!” I instructed.
“I did 41 classes. Forty-one! That’s 41 hours of my life that I’m never getting back. And that’s not counting the time I spend getting there and coming home! For what? Some stupid heart monitor! I wanted the money!”
“Look on the bright side,” I said. “You’re in the best shape of your life. I mean, look at your tummy! I can actually see a faint outline of your abs!”
Later that night, as we sat on the sofa watching ‘True Blood’, and passing the tub of ice-cream between us, Saffy murmured, over the slurps of Eric Northman drinking someone’s blood, “Next year, I’m coming for you. Just you wait. You won’t know what hit you.”

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

K Pop

The other day, Amanda came home to find Saffy and me camped out on the sofa deeply engrossed in the TV screen.
            She dumped her shopping bags from Prada and Gucci on the floor and came to stand next to the sofa. “What’cha watching?” she asked.
            “The Kar-arsh-ans!” Saffy mumbled through a mouthful of popcorn. My eyes never looked up.
            “The what?”
            Saffy sighed as she struggled to chew and swallow. “The Kardashians!” she said finally, spraying a fine sprinkle of popcorn all over her lap.
            Apparently, Amanda later complained to all her friends that she was living with Dumb and Dumber. “How can anyone watch that rubbish?” she said to Sharyn, who replied that when she died, she wanted to come back as Kim Kardashian’s breasts.
            “Wah, so beautiful, I tell you!” Sharyn said with so much enthusiasm that Amanda shifted a little uncomfortably in her seat.
            And just like that, it seemed as if everywhere she turned, she bumped into a Kardashian-related moment. A random flick through a magazine while getting her hair coloured at the hairdressers opened onto an article discussing Khloe Kardashian’s weight issues. While looking up the crime of kidnapping on the internet, Google threw up the latest on Kim Kardashian’s divorce from Kris Humphries.
            Waiting in line for a taxi outside Hermes, the schoolgirl in front of Amanda suddenly piped up, “Oh my God, did you hear that maybe Kris is gay?”
            Her friend squealed. “Wait, Kris Jenner is gay?!”
            “No, lah, stupiak! Kris Humphries! I was reading it in Star magazine!”
            “Oh my God, I can’t stand him! I don’t know what Kim saw in him!”
            “Oh my God, I also say! She should have just married her Australian bodyguard!”
            “Oh my God, he was so hot!”
            Amanda came home and asked, “Who’s Kris Jenner?”
            Saffy immediately looked up, her famously short attention span laser-focused for once. “She’s the mother of Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Rob, Kylie and Kendall! She’s married to Bruce Jenner, the Olympic champion! She’s fabulous!”
            “So who’s Kris Humphries?”
            “Oh,” Saffy began knowledgeably, “he’s a basketball player who married Kim for what, like, 70 days?” She turned to me.
“Shh-eventy-two days,” I corrected, through a crunch of corn chips.
“Yeah, 72 days! The wedding was fabulous, but she came up to his navel. She could have done so much better. She should have hooked up with her Aussie bodyguard!”
            “That’s exactly what those schoolgirls in front of me in the taxi queue said!”
            “I’m so glad kids are being properly educated these days,” Saffy said with approval.
            “And all their names start with K?” Amanda asked. “What are they, Hong Kong Chinese?”, a comment that led Saffy to tell me privately that she felt maybe Amanda is a racist.
            “So why doesn’t the son’s name also start with a K?” Amanda asked that night over dinner.
            “Because the son was named after his father, Robert Kardashian,” Saffy said in the tone of voice she normally reserves for ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. “Robert  was OJ Simpson’s lawyer! And OJ’s wife’s best friend was Kris Jenner who, by that time, was already married to Bruce, but before he had that terrible face-lift, so when her ex-husband took the case on, she had a major falling out with him!”
            “Robert, not Bruce,” I clarified helpfully.
            “Yes, that’s what I meant,” Saffy said.
            “But why is any of this interesting?” Amanda cried.
            Saffy looked surprised. “Which part of it isn’t interesting? Beautiful girls, beautiful houses, private jet-planes, lots of paparazzi, useless husbands and boyfriends, lots of money being thrown around!”
            “Kim Kardashian nearly lost her $70,000 diamond earrings in the sea,” I reported. “And in one episode, she went shopping and spent $20,000 on clothes!”
            “I wanna be her BFF,” Saffy said agreeably. “But I love that behind all that glitz, they also fight and love and hate and bitch about each other. And they have issues with their weight, their spouses, their careers, their love lives, their friends.”
            “They’re just like us,” I concluded.
            “Well, they’re more like Amanda,” Saffy said to me, very seriously. “You and I have the same issues, but she has the Kardashian budget.”
            “And the same regrettable taste in men,” I added.
            “Huh,” Amanda said. From the distant look in her eyes, you could tell that she was torn between her high ideals and her now burning curiosity.
            “Only a matter of time now,” Saffy SMS’d me from her bedroom. “She just needs to watch 1 ep. I left a recorded ep running on the TV and she’s in the lounge rm not making a sound. Soon, she’ll join the Dark Side!” 

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Flights of fancy

My overseas friends are always so impressed by how hardworking and efficient Singaporeans are. Invariably, they trot out Exhibit A – Changi Airport.
            “My God,” my friend Martin said recently, his eyes shining like a Jehovah’s Witness missionary with a sugar rush, “I timed myself. From the moment the plane landed to me arriving at this flat, it was forty minutes! If we’d been at Heathrow, it would have taken me forty minutes just to clear immigration! How do they do it?”
            I smiled smugly. “It’s magic,” I said with absolute confidence. “Either that, or they have baggage handlers back there with four pairs of hands!”
            Later, Saffy pulled me into the kitchen and whispered, “Your friend, Martin. He’s gorgeous. What’s his story?”
            I flapped my hands a little. “You’ve got a boyfriend!” I hissed.
            She rolled her eyes. “It’s always good to have a back-up plan!”
            I sighed. “Let’s put it this way, in high school, when the career counselor asked him what he wanted to do with his life, he said he wanted to be a porn film director and shoot girl on girl action all day.”
            Saffy’s eyes shone. “Oh, how fab!”
            “Who are you?” I whispered urgently.
            Saffy’s bosom inflated. “Clearly, someone who thinks there are more important things to talk about with friends besides the luggage processing time at Changi airport!” she announced as she flounced off.
            Amanda says that guys talk about the oddest things. “I’m with Saffy on this one. You haven’t seen each other in two years and you spend the whole time talking about how efficient an airport is?”
I am unrepentant. I could talk about Changi all day. So can my friend May who works in New York and swears that the highlight of her trips home is Changi. “The minute I get out of the plane and onto the aerobridge and see the maciks standing outside gossiping with the Chinese uncle security guard leaning against the wheelchair, I know I’m home!”
Meanwhile, Martin still can’t get over the fact that Changi has an outdoor swimming pool, massage chairs, foot reflex machines, and even a cinema. “Why would anyone ever leave that airport?” he asked Saffy over a steamy lunch of mee pok and roti prata at Maxwell Street Market.
Saffy smiled tightly and later posted on Facebook that sometimes, good looking men should not be allowed to open their mouths and speak.
“Like David Beckham!” Sharyn commented, after putting a “Like” on Saffy’s post.
“Get him drunk and then go for a midnight swim with him,” Barney Chen advised.
“She’s got a boyfriend already!” I yelled.
Barney was unmoved. “Big deal. Every girl needs a Plan B. Look at me. I’ve juggled so many balls in my life, I’ve…” he stopped, rewound his last sentence in his head and blushed. 
The whole thing has just made me realize just how unappreciative of Changi we all are. We take it all for granted. Like the pretty flower beds and thick trees that line the approach road for miles – unlike the ugly concrete flyovers and grim neighbourhoods that surround just about every major American airport. Or the shaded canopy at the drop off. At Heathrow, if it’s raining or snowing, you’re going to get really wet because there is no shelter between where the taxi stops and the airport entrance.  
And let’s not forget what a breeze Changi’s immigration is. When was the last time anyone spent more than five minutes in the queue? There’s even a little bowl of sweets while you wait for your passport to be stamped. When you arrive in Paris, you consider yourself lucky if they don’t haul you off to an interrogation room for dressing badly.
And there’s just so much to eat at Changi. Martin said it’s a wonder there aren’t more fat Singaporeans, to which Amanda said that he clearly needs to spend more time at her gym.
Martin turned his blue on blue eyes on her and smiled the smile that had lost him his virginity to Mrs Henderson, our maths teacher, when he was sixteen. “Is that an invitation, Amanda?”
Amanda later said she literally blanked out. “Oh. My. God. I just remember him looking at me, but nothing after that!” she told Saffy, who pursed her lips jealously.
“That’s so unfair,” Saffy told Sharyn. “He flirts with Amanda, but spends the whole lunch raving about Changi bloody Airport with me! What is that all about?”
Apparently, when Sharyn helpfully suggested, “Aiyah, he don’t find you attractive, lor!”, Saffy got up from the table and walked off.
“When is he leaving?” Saffy asked me.