Saturday, June 30, 2012

Tube Top


I love YouTube. It’s like an Open University of Life. Everything is on it – and I mean, everything. Kick-ass French Open final between Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis? The opening sequence to ‘Magnum PI’? Soundtrack to ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’? Aung San SUu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech? A talking dog? J Lo singing at the US Super Bowl half time concert? Not sure how to solve a quadratic equation?
It’s all there on YouTube. Somewhere, someone had the same problem or question or nostalgic impulse and found a solution to it and put it up on YouTube.
The other day, I found old black and white clips of Adeline, my ninety-year old neighbour in her hey-day as an English stage actress. Even she, when I showed up excitedly at her door waving my iPad, had never seen them before.
“It’s a little creepy!” she said, her voice trembling with astonishment as she watched a fifty-year old clip of herself sing a medley of Cole Porter. “Who is uploading all this?”
“Some people are very free,” I said without the slightest trace of irony as I swiped my finger across the screen to pull up another clip.
I no longer read newspapers or buy CDs. I get it all on YouTube.
If someone at a party talks about something I have never heard of, I don’t sit there and look dumb. I just sneak off to the bathroom, tap the YouTube icon on the iPhone and get a quick primer, complete with illustrations, on LIBOR rates. This is also how I got up to date with Justin Bieber.
I’ve watched marriage proposals, flash mobs, flash floods, Madonna nipple flashing in concert, the best bits of the Oscars, bloopers of every single season of ‘Friends’, Margot Fonteyn’s pas des deux with Rudolf Nureyev, the tumbling of the Berlin Wall.
The morning after some unknown Czech ripped Nadal off the court at Wimbledon, I was already watching highlights on YouTube.  And straight after that, I learnt to make roasted seafood with Nigella, how to survive without water with Bear Grylls, how to tie a Bowman’s knot, as well as a few choice Cantonese phrases while watching a hysterical woman at Hong Kong airport screaming she’d missed the plane.
A few days ago, I came home to find Saffy glued to her iPad and the volume turned up high. “Get off the bus!” a voice boomed out amidst a babble of confused shouts. And then a stern voice commanded, “You don’t push an old lady like that!”
Saffy looked up, her eyes wide. “Oh my God, this kid just pushed someone off the bus! Like, literally, he pushed her off!”
By the time, Amanda came home, Saffy and I had watched the YouTube clip eighteen times.
“Look at this uncle! He’s just sitting there!” Saffy said, stabbing a finger on the very greasy iPad screen.
“What are you watching?” Amanda asked.
“This guy just pushed an old lady off the bus! I’ve never seen anything like this!” Saffy said, her bosom inflating on cue.
After watching the 90-second clip, Amanda said that there were days when she felt like pushing a lot of people under a bus. “Not that this excuses what this guy did, but sometimes you just feel like snapping!”
“I know I did last night when I went to the loo and sat down on the cold rim of the toilet bowl,” Saffy said and looked at me. “You left the toilet seat up again!”
“I think,” I said, icily, “that you have me completely confused with The Cockroach! He stayed over last night. By the way, Amanda, was that an example of you of throwing someone under the bus?”
Amanda grinned sheepishly.
“Oh my God,” Saffy cried, “he stayed over? I thought you dumped him last week?”
“We made up. Stop judging me!”
“Really, who did you bribe at Harvard to give you a degree?” Saffy snapped.
Sharyn says one day, she’s coming over with a cam-corder to film us. “Better than any-ting you find on YouTube, ah, I tell you. Do-hn put down toilet sit can also have drama, how you tahan, ah?” she asked recently over lunch.
“It’s exhausting, Sharyn!” I said, stirring my teh-tarik. “Yesterday, Saffy asked me if I wanted to film her popping a pimple.”
“I want to see how many likes I get on YouTube!” Saffy had said. “Those kinds of videos are very popular!”
            Which is how the two of us wasted the rest of the afternoon watching one video after another of people popping progressively bigger zits.
            Have I already mentioned that I love YouTube?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Song Sung Blue


People – and by ‘people’, I mean me – are always saying that there just isn’t enough good news in the world. It’s all bad news. You can’t turn a page in the newspaper without reading about someone dying, or a bomb going off. And if you read specialty magazines like The Economist, all they talk about is wars, health epidemics and the Euro crisis.
“What’s going on with the Euro?” Saffy asked the other morning at breakfast. She looked up from her copy of the Financial Times and glanced around the table.
Amanda put down her copy of Vogue. “First of all, since when did you start reading the Financial Times? And secondly…and secondly…” Amanda hesitated and looked uncharacteristically confused. “Actually, I don’t have a second point.”
“Well, I was at that dinner party that Bradley, my boyfriend’s boss, threw? I love saying I have a boyfriend. It’s such a change from always talking about Sharyn! You know, I swear at one stage, people thought we were lesb…”
“Saffy, stay on point,” Amanda snapped.
“Oh yeah, so at the dinner party, this old guy kept looking at my boobs and I was getting bored so I had to distract him so I asked him what he did for a living and he said he was an economist with some think-tank what the hell is a think tank anyway and he was currently writing a research paper on the state of the Euro and at first I thought he was talking about Euro Disney because he kept babbling about volatility and I thought he said velocity so I figured he must have been talking about the rollercoaster rides…”
Amanda later said that hell must be being stuck next to Saffy at a dinner party.
“But we live with her, Amanda,” I pointed out.
“Yes, but we can just walk away, go to our rooms and shut the door!”
“The other day,” I said, gloomily, “she followed me into the bathroom while telling me about the pimple that’s currently ripening on her left butt. She even offered to show me.”
Amanda patted my hand in sympathy.
As it was, Saffy never finished the story about her dinner party because just at the point where Amanda and I were ready to shoot ourselves, a new song came on the radio and Saffy stopped mid-sentence and whooped.
“Oh my God! Carly Rae Jepsen! ‘Call Me Maybe’! I love this song!” She clapped her hands happily.
The beat was infectious, and the melodic hook was a killer even before the synthesisers boomed into the chorus.
Hey, I just met you and this is crazy!” Saffy sang lustily. “But here’s my number, so call me maybe?
At times, Saffy sang notes that weren’t in the song and at others, she was singing at a pitch that only dogs could hear, but by the end when the DJ with the fake American accent came back on, Amanda and I were hooked.
Saffy reached for the iPad and called up the song on YouTube.
“Oh. My. God,” Amanda whispered. “Look at the body on this guy!”
“Amanda, please. You’re drooling. He’s young enough to be your son!” Saffy said before taking a deep breath. “His name is Holden Nowell. He’s an Abercrombie + Fitch model. I love him. When I make out with Bradley, I’m imagining his head on Bradley’s body! Is that wrong? I don’t think it’s wrong. But don’t tell him, ok? Bradley, I mean. Not Holden. Oh my God, can you imagine?”
Amanda downloaded the song on iTunes and it’s been more or less playing on a re-loop for days now. By the end of the first day, we’d memorised all the lyrics. By the second, we’d break out into a spontaneous dance in the kitchen as we did the washing up, bums wiggling in sync to the catchy beat and singing at the top of our voices.
Our neighbour Lydia Kumarasamy came knocking to complain about the noise, but Saffy dragged her in and showed her the video clip. Four replays later, Lydia finally remembered she’d left her chicken masala on the stove and jiggled off, her bangles chiming as she hummed, “Hot night, vind vas blowin’, ware you tink you’re goin’?” 
“Why don’t they write more songs like this?” Saffy sighed later that night. “Instead of all that angst, mid-life crisis and regret. Hello, Adele!”
“It’s why I never liked Bruce Springsteen,” I said.
“Don’t you wish you were that young again?” Amanda. “So free, so optimistic, so happy…”
“Let’s play it again,” Saffy said, reaching for the stereo remote.
Good songs do that to you.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Clean Conscience


I know everyone complains about taxis in Singapore, but I generally have no problem with them. Working from home means I rarely have to deal with the stress and expense of finding a cab during rush hours. I also usually avoid the congestions on the PIE and CTE.
So when I do take a cab, everyone is noticeably more relaxed and the only thing I have to do is pretend to be really busy on my Blackberry just so the uncle doesn’t keep chatting to me in Hokkien.
            “Why don’t you just tell him that you don’t speak Hokkien?” Amanda once asked me.
            “Because this is Singapore and everyone speak twenty languages! If I told him I don’t speak Hokkien, he’ll just switch to Mandarin or Cantopop or English or Malay or Teochew or whatever. He’ll just go through his entire repertoire of languages like that Michael Fassbender robot in ‘Prometheus’!”
            “That’s so true,” Saffy said knowledgeably. “The other day, I was in a cab with Rani and the Chinese uncle started chatting her up in Tamil! Have you ever heard a Chinese uncle blabber on in Tamil? It’s like Kobe Bryant speaking Italian!”
            Amanda frowned. “But Kobe Bryant does speak Italian.”
            Saffy’s bosom inflated. “That’s my point! It’s just weird!”
            Anyway, I digress. The point I’m trying to get to is that I generally love cabs in Singapore. I’ll put up with all their idiosyncracies – the bunch of pandan leaves under the seat, the vague scent of body odour that’s never quite masked by the deodorant tree swinging merrily from the rear-view mirror, the monotonous gong of a Buddhist sutra being chanted over the stereo, and the filthy dog-eared magazines in the back seat pocket.
I’ll put up with the uncle rolling down his window and, as he’s speeding along at 80kph, turns his head out slightly, noisily clears his throat and hawks out a spit.  
I’ll even tolerate it when the uncle drives around with a Vicks vapour rub stick stuck up his left nostril.
            “How do they do that?” Amanda once asked. “Their nostrils can’t be that big, surely? Because those Vicks tubes are the size of a lipstick! Saffy, what are you doing?”
            Saffy turned around guiltily, her Chanel lipstick tube hanging precariously from one nostril. “It’s not very comfortable,” she said finally.
            Amanda later told her friends that she’d been living too long with a nutcase.
            So, I digress again. Yes, I will put with a lot in a cab, but the one thing I will never get over is this: people who stick their used tissues into the inside door handle. So that as I happily hop into the cab and shut the door, I find my fingers wedged deep into a soggy white mass.
            “What is that all about?” I yelled the other day at home. I’d flung my money at the driver, tumbled into the lobby and rushed upstairs to the bathroom and spent the next ten minutes alternatively scalding my hands under running boiling water and immersing them into a bowl of concentrated Dettol.
“This is why I always travel with antibacterial wet wipes!” Saffy said.
Which got me even more agitated. “Listen, if you’re going to blow your nose, the least you can do is to stick the tissue into your pocket or just do what everyone else does, throw onto the ground! Don’t stick it into the door handle where my hands are going to be! I don’t want to catch your germs! Oh God, this is how the Black Death started!”
            Saffy later told Sharyn that I ranted for a good half hour.
            Apparently, Sharyn looked surprised. “Yah, lah, where else to throw the tissue? Taxi got no rubbish bin. Before hor, some taxi got cigarette butt tray so can throw. Now don’t have.”
            Saffy begged Sharyn not to repeat this to me. “You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t jump down your throat. And not in a good way either,” she added.
            Of course, the first thing Saffy did when she came home was to announce, “Oh my God, you’ll never guess what, but Sharyn says she also ditches her tissues into the door handles of taxis! How gross is that?”
            Amanda stifled a scream by jamming a hand into her mouth. “She actually admitted it?”
            “She’s my best friend,” Saffy said primly. “We have no secrets. By the way, Jason, I told her not to tell you, but if she does, act surprised, ok? I don’t want her to think I’m such a blabbermouth I can’t keep secrets.”
            Some days, I really believe it’s just not safe to get out of bed. 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Death Wish


Not to sound like my mother, but it seems to me that people just don’t know how to break bad news anymore.
            It used to be that if something unfortunate happened, you would sit down and write a letter. Or, in really urgent circumstances, such as an unplanned pregnancy or the reading of a will, you sent a telegram. This kind of advanced warning gave people plenty of time to compose themselves, think about what they needed to say when they met the writer of the letter or telegram, and choose the appropriate outfit.
            When my friend Jon suddenly announced over lunch that Ray Bradbury had died, I looked at him blankly. My first reaction was, “Who the hell is Ray Bradbury?” and my second, “Why does his name sound so familiar?”
            Jon saw my flustered look. “The science fiction writer?” he prompted. “Your favourite writer when we were in school?”
            The penny dropped. “Oh my God! He’s still alive? I thought he died ages ago!”
            Amanda later said that this was probably what people would say when they found out she had died. “It’s so depressing to be forgotten like that!”
            “I’m sure that can’t be right,” I insisted. “He’s been around forever. I was ten when I first read ‘Dandelion Wine’. And that was…that was…years ago. He must have been 110!”
            “That’s probably what they’ll be saying at my funeral,” Amanda muttered, firmly trapped in her morbid parallel universe.
            “I’m still in shock!” I told Saffy yesterday morning. She’d just sat down at the breakfast table, staring at her handphone.
            “Not in as much shock as I am right now!” Saffy said dramatically, her magnificent bosom inflating like two perfectly made souffl├ęs. “I was literally in the toilet just then doing a number two. I don’t know what it is about me and that vegetarian bee-hoon. I only need to take two mouthfuls and…”
            “Excuse me,” Amanda said, icicles forming around her bowl of cereal.
            “Oh, right. Anyway, there I am sitting comfortably when I get this text message from Patricia. Here, let me read it to you.”
            Even without looking, I could tell that Amanda had edged back in her seat away from Saffy’s handphone.
            “It says, ‘Hi Saffy! How are you? Are you enjoying your holiday? I am back in Sarawak for a few days. My father passed away. Am here to help my mum with the funeral arrangements. Talk soon.’ And that’s it. What do you make of that?” Saffy sat back in her chair. “Don’t you just love how she rattles on about how are you, how’s your holiday, I’m here in Sarawak and then, bam!, my dad is dead!”
            Amanda leaned forward in her chair. Instinctively, Saffy also leaned in, no doubt with the expectation that they were about to bond over Patricia’s oddly phrased SMS.
            “Saf,” Amanda began.
“Mmmm?”
“Did you wipe down your phone after you were in the loo?”
            Later in the afternoon, Sharyn reported that she’d just had lunch with Saffy and that all Saffy could talk about was Patricia’s SMS and Amanda’s neurotic germaphobia. “Aiyoh, I so tired or-redi!” she exclaimed. “She won’t even let me eat my yong tau fu. She keep saying I must pay attention to her! Udder-wise hor, when she die and I got no one to talk to, I regret. Choy! Where got appetite to eat when your fren keep talking about dying! And that Amanda, hor, she think the whole world so clean as her, meh? Everywhere got germ! How you live with those two, har? I have one lunch, I or-redi sian, ah, I tell you!”
            All day, Saffy has been sending Amanda and me emails attaching various drafts of her response to Patricia’s SMS. My favourite one so far has been: “Dear Pat, I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I always thought he was really cute. LOL. Do you need me to come with you to the reading of the will? Maybe he left me something too? LMFAO!”
            Amanda says that we’re now at an age when more and more people we know will die and the important thing is that we learn to take the news in our stride and not become slightly unhinged the way Saffy has.
            Meanwhile, Saffy says Patricia’s SMS has upset her so much she thinks her constipation is back. “I sat there on the loo for an hour this morning,” she reported. “And nothing. The entire time, I kept looking nervously at my phone!”
            “Wah,” Sharyn said, “far-der of fren die also can get constipation, ah? When I die, then how?”