Friday, July 27, 2012

Missing in Action

Is it just me or are a lot of people and animals going missing these days?
You can barely read two posts on Facebook before coming across someone whose six year old son has wandered off in the East Coast, or an elderly father who was last seen shuffling around the front garden or a fluffy white poodle that was apparently peeing in a bush before it disappeared or was, possibly, dog-napped.
The first time this happens, you think, ‘Oh, that’s terrible. Poor thing. I hope they’re found quickly!’ But when you read about a disappearance every other day, you have to wonder if there’s a scandalous degree of carelessness at work.
When I was a child, my grandmother developed Alzheimer’s disease. By the time I was old enough to recognise her as a separate human being, she no longer remembered her own name.
She stopped playing mah-jong because she always forgot what she’d bet or which tile she’d just given up and got upset if you told her that it was impossible to ‘pong’ with that kind of hand. You also had to keep a sharp eye on her as she had a habit of wandering out of the house which would spark a panic and a lot of screaming, usually by my mother towards the maids who screamed back that between all their moping, dusting, sweeping, washing, chopping and stirring, they could hardly be expected to keep an eye on an elderly woman who loved walkies as much as her beloved shih-tzus.
The thing is, back in those days, the world was so much smaller. And so were the communities we lived in. Being neighbourly meant more than just recognising someone’s face on the street as you zoomed by in your car. Everybody knew everybody on the street. Children grew up together, played together, fought together and, in the case of my Third Uncle and Aunt, fell in love and married.
Meanwhile, their mothers sat in each other’s homes and played mah-jong and gossiped and match-made their children. And if misfortune befell one family, everyone in the neighbourhood rallied with food, comfort, shelter and money.
I recently read a story of a woman in England who died while watching TV and no one discovered her body till three years later. By then, she’d turned into a skeleton but there she was, still sitting on her sofa and, miraculously, her TV was still on, mindlessly broadcasting its programmes, though no one was watching.
“I bet there was plenty of paranormal activity going on in that lounge room,” Saffy said darkly.
For months, Amanda was haunted by the image. “That could so easily be one of us!”
Aiyoh, choy!” Sharyn cried. “Why you people always talk like this, one? Why you never talk about happy things like winning 4D or something? Why must always talk about loneliness and dying alone!”
“We live in a cruel, lonely world, Sharyn!” Amanda said severely. “Nobody cares what happens to you! I mean, there are six units of this floor and we don’t know any of them!”
“Exactly!” Saffy piped up. “We’ve never seen the neighbour next door, though we hear noises. For all we know, he could be hiding kidnapped children and selling them as slaves to China!”
Sharyn was horrified. “Where got!”
“Why would China be buying slaves?” Amanda wanted to know.
“I’m just saying!”
Amanda later said that if she ever went missing, the only people who would really notice immediately would be Saffy and me, her parents being on a year long holiday in some remote village in Tanzania where they were doing volunteer work, and her office having recently adopted hot-desking. “No one would miss me. No one would know if I was lying in a ditch in MacRitchie Reservoir! No one!” The hysterical tone in her voice grew sharper.
“I don’t even know where that is, so I would never think of looking for you there!” Saffy said, promptly confirming Amanda’s worst fears.
When I told my Mother, she said the world has changed and not always for the better. “When my mother, your grandmother, went missing once, the whole street went looking for her. And you know who found her? A taxi-driver who recognised her. He saw her wandering around Orchard Road and brought her back. That sort of thing would never happen today.”
This cheered Amanda up slightly. “I know all the girls at Prada, Gucci, Ferragamo and Louis Vuitton! One of them is bound to recognise me if they see me wandering around! They’ll bring me home, I’m sure.”
“They better not expect me to tip them!” Saffy says. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

No Signal

Hands up those who remember a time when there was no email, no SMS-ing, no iPhones, iPads, iPods or iAnythings. No instant messaging, no BBMs, no Blackberrys, Galaxys, or Androids. No Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Tumblr or Google+.
Or when an app was how someone with a lisp would pronounce ‘abs’. Or when you actually had to memorise a phone number or look it up in an actual address book whenever you wanted to ring up someone.
Or when people could only call you at one of two places – your home or your office, and if they wanted to reach you urgently, they had to leave a message with someone or on your machine, and sometimes it would be hours before you got back to them. Or weeks if you were on holiday.
Actually, who remembers a time when going on holiday meant that no one from work could get in touch with you with stupid questions like, “Where did you put that file?”, “When are you coming back? I’d like to schedule a meeting with X!”, or “Can you cut short your holiday? We have an emergency back here.”
Or send you an email that said, “I know you’re on holiday, but can you review this attachment? It’s urgent. Thanks.”
What about a time when no one expected you to know an answer immediately? Which meant that you actually had time to think about the problem, or head off down the corridor to ask someone who might know, and if he didn’t, you had to go to the library, which meant a nice walk out in the fresh air and sunshine.
Or when going on a blind date with a stranger was actually quite exciting because you couldn’t Google him or check out what kind of people were his friends on Facebook. And being picked up in a bar was a genuine thrill that involved a lot of eye contact and flirting, and didn’t involve an app that churned out dozens of pictures of half naked bodies of anyone within 50 m of your current location, with accompanying text that specified with embarrassing detail what they did or didn’t like done to them.
I ask all this because Saffy and Amanda recently started an electronic diet as a kind of social experiment. Actually, it was a drunken bet that sounded like a good idea when you’ve just drunk half a bottle of tequila and five shots, and you’re no longer depressed about the terrible day you had at the office.
“So,” I began, as I scrunched up my forehead, trying to come to grips with this, “you are both going to go a week without any electronic contact?”
“Yes!” Amanda said firmly. “No handphones, no social media, no Google, nothing!”
“What if people need to call you?”
Saffy smirked. “They can call us on the lan-line!”
This announcement was followed by a slight pause as our eyes flicked around our apartment.
“Do we even have a lan-line?” Amanda eventually asked.
It turns out we do, but it took us a good ten minutes of peering behind sofas and rummaging through shelves to find it before Saffy had the bright idea of calling the home phone from her iPhone.
“But this is the last time I’m using this!” she declared as she slipped her phone into a box that already held various gadgets.
It’s now day three of the diet and tempers are frayed.
Without her map app, Saffy got lost walking from Shenton Way to Raffles Place. Amanda spent half an hour wandering around Ngee Ann City looking for a phone that she could use to ring a friend to tell him that she was running late for their lunch. By the time she arrived all hot and flustered, he’d left, so she had to have lunch by herself, which she considered a fate worse than death.
Sharyn rang me in a state of hysteria, screaming that something foul must have happened to Saffy because she’d not answered any of her SMSs and the voicemail was full. When I explained the situation, she became even more hysterical.
“Aiyoh, where got such thing, one? This is not 1962, you know! I thought she fall into longkang and die there alone! Got handphone, don’t use! They all siao, ah, I tell you!”
The worst came when the staff at Gucci tried to call Amanda to tell her about their sale. Of course, they couldn’t reach her. When Amanda found out, she started trembling and her eyes took on the kind of glazed look you normally only see on faces of unhappy African children.
If you’re not sure what I mean, you should Google it. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

That's Entertainment!

Recently, I sat next to someone at a dinner party, and after we’d finished the obligatory “So, what do you do? Oh, you sell insurance? How interesting!”, the inevitable silence followed in which both of us searched desperately for something to talk about.
            “What do you do on the weekends?” he eventually asked.
            I grabbed the lifeline with gratitude. “I watch TV!”
            He frowned a little and I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be rude of me to suggest he get a little Botox. “Oh,” he said. “I find TV such a waste of time. It’s just all trash!”
            Now, I like to think of myself as a fairly gentle person. I help little old ladies cross the road. I always stop to admire a well-kept garden, and I never pass up the opportunity to say hello to all the dogs I walk by. I turn the other way when I see a badly dressed person, and I always stand up and give up my seat on the train to a pregnant woman.
            But as my kindergarten teacher, Miss Anna-Rhett Holliday, a genteel woman from South Carolina, used to say when someone was rude to her, “Them’s fightin’ words!”
            And in my books, telling me that TV is a waste of time and that it’s all trash sure qualifies as fightin’ words. So, of course, at that dinner party, right in the middle of the main course of damp roast chicken and a rather tasteless bulgur salad, I bristled. At the other end of the table, Saffy said she felt the temperature of the air drop five degrees.
            “I don’t watch any TV,” the guy went on.
            “Oh?” I said icily. “What do you do then?”
            “I read. I read a lot. But I only read non-fiction.”
            “And what do you have against fiction?”
            “I don’t see the point of it. We live in the real world, not some fantasy la-la land, so why waste time reading about things that aren’t real?”
            I smiled tightly and turned to the girl on my left who was picking at her chicken. We talked about the Kardashians for the rest of the evening.
            Later, as we were in the cab zooming home, it was all Saffy and I could talk about. “Oh my God, are there really people like that out there?” my flat-mate asked. “They don’t watch TV?”
            “Apparently not.”
            “But why? There’s just so much good stuff to watch!”
            “Don’t tell me that,” I huffed.
            If I ever committed a crime, there wouldn’t be any need to send me to prison. To really punish me, all you would need to do to is to take away my TV set.
            Because, if it’s not already clear, I live and die by TV.
            Someone once asked me what my idea of heaven was, and I said it would be having a massage with a TV right below the massage bed where your head sticks into the hole.
            I recently spent the entire weekend holed up at home with a DVD box set marathon of Damages, seasons two, three and four. And who can forget that epic week when I watched all forty-six episodes of Maggie Q kicking butt in seasons one and two of Nikita?
            Recently, Amanda said that I had to start watching Breaking Bad, but I hesitated. “I’ve still got six seasons of The Sopranos lined up,” I said weakly, “right next to five seasons of The Wire. Right now, I’m in the middle of season eight of Grey’s Anatomy. I don’t think I have a spare second left.”
            “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Amanda said firmly. “It’s Oh My God So Good! I’m calling in sick tomorrow, just so I can get to the end of season three!”
            “I’m on season two right now, so don’t tell me what happens!” Saffy instructed.
            Saffy also thinks the solution is for us to buy another two TV and DVD sets, line them up with our existing TV, and play a different show on each. “That way we’ll be able to get through it all three times as fast!”
            Of course, our list of must-watch TV just keeps growing. We recently discovered Game of Thrones, The Borgias, Revenge and Person of Interest. We each have a little notebook in which we keep track of what we’ve seen, but it’s all a bit like trying to catch spilling grains of rice. It’s starting to get overwhelming.
            “Think of all the great shows we’re going to miss when we’re dead!” Amanda said the other day.
            Saffy’s bosom inflated. “I know! Really, who has time to read a book?”

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fat chance

A few days ago, Saffy woke up and decided that she was fat.
            Some people wake up and decide that this is the day they’re going to change their lives or, at the very least, change their brand of moisturiser. Because sometimes, you just need to get out of your rut and make a change. Saffy wakes up and decides she’s fat. I’m not making a judgment here. I’m just saying.
            “I’m fat!” she announced as she sat down to breakfast with a slice of watermelon on her plate.
            Amanda dropped her head further behind her copy of Vanity Fair as she slurped up her chee cheong fun. I frowned as I scrolled through the emails that had come through overnight on my Blackberry.
            The silence settled down for an uncomfortable wait.
            Eventually, Saffy couldn’t stand it any more. “I said…Hey, where’s everyone going?”
            “I’m very…uhm…late,” I mumbled as I scooted off to my room.
            Still hidden behind Vanity Fair, Amanda hustled towards the front door, muttering, “Meeting. Meeting.”
            As Saffy later complained over a coffee and mee rebus supper with Sharyn and Barney Chen, “It’s a good thing I didn’t say I had cancer!”
            Sharyn coughed. “Choy! Why you always say such thing, one?”
            “It’s not a joking matter, Sharyn. I am fat! Here, feel this!” Saffy grabbed Sharyn’s hands and put it on her belly. “I could be four months pregnant! Pretty soon, people are going to be looking the other way on the MRT and ignoring me and refusing to give me a seat!”
            “Ay, please let go of my hand, can?” Sharyn begged.
            “Let me feel,” Barney growled, his huge hand reaching out to feel up my flatmate.
            Saffy glowed with all the attention. “It’s all this eating out with Bradley that’s no good. I’m not like you, Sharyn. You have those fabulous Chinese genes. You could eat a cow and still look like a malnourished Ethiopian. I need to start a new exercise regime!”
            Of course, Barney Chen was in seventh heaven.
            “Girrrrl,” he drawled. “This is going to be so much fun. We could be gym buddies. But without the fringe benefits!” he added in a hurry.
            Saffy looked doubtful. “I’m not sure I want to go to the gym with you. Don’t you spend like three hours in there?”
            Barney lifted an immaculate eyebrow. “Only four times a week! The other days, it’s just two hours!”
            Sharyn was astonished. “Wah liau! You spend 18 hours a week in the gym?”
            Saffy’s eyes were saucer-wide. “You just did that maths in your head?”
            Sharyn puffed up her flat chest with pride. “I’m my company’s senior accountant, ok?”
            “No, listen, Barney, Sharyn is right. I can’t go to the gym with you. You’re too hard-core! I need to start slow. Like maybe an hour a week. Or something.”
            “You can’t do an hour a week!”
            “I don’t see why not,” Saffy said virtuously. “Look at Sharyn, she’s stick thin and she’s never seen the inside of a gym!”
            “Yah, correct!” Sharyn said proudly. “I got no injury! Never! My knees and hips are perfect! Not like you! You go gym, you sure kena injury, one!”
            Barney later told me that, never in his pink life, had he heard such nonsense that made so much sense. “I mean, look at that Sharyn. After the mee rebus, she ordered two roti pratas and a big mug of sugar cane juice. I can’t even work out how many bazillion calories she ingested in 45 minutes. And she’s rake thin!”
            “Meanwhile, you spend half an hour on the treadmill after eating one croissant!” I said.
            “I know! It’s so unfair! But what can I do? I can’t risk getting fat! My people would never accept me back on the dance-floor!”
            Saffy has since bought an electronic bathroom scale. Every two hours, she takes off all her clothes and gingerly steps onto it. The reading is then faithfully recorded in a little notebook. So far, she’s lost two grams.
            On Barney’s advice, she is also cutting out all fruit and carbs while ingesting only poached skinless chicken breasts and chewing on a celery stick if she gets hungry. “Celery has zero calories!” Saffy said as she dipped a stick into a pot of hummous. “Which means I can eat as much of it as I want!”
            Needless to say, her temper has become progressively worse as her body eats itself up from the inside. This morning, she burst into tears at the sight of cupcake in 8DAYS. And tomorrow, she starts her gym sessions with Barney.
            “Maybe his people will take her in?” Amanda thought out loud.