Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pension Plan

It’s my god-daughter Mina’s sixth birthday in a few days and seeing as I have nothing better to do with my life, I’m going to Munich for the celebrations.
            Her mother, my best friend, said, “Really, please don’t waste your money! It’s just going to be lots of screaming kids.”
            I bristled. “Well, you’re wasting my money right now on this long distance call telling me not to come when I’ve already bought the tickets!”
            “Excuse me, but I asked if you wanted to Skype and you said you couldn’t be bothered turning on your computer! Mina, stop it. Mamma’s talking to Go-pa!”
            The light of my life screamed, “I want to talk to Go-pa! Now!”
            “You are a wretched child! You have five minutes! Then you need to have your dinner and then bath time and then bed!”
            Sometimes, you can just tell that when a child grows up, she is going to have issues that will require long and expensive sessions of repressed memory therapy.
After a few tart comebacks between mother and child, Mina eventually seized the phone from her mother. “Go-pa, what presents are you bringing me?” she sang sweetly.
“Mina!” her mother shouted in the background.
“Wo ting bu dong!” Mina calmly replied.
“Stop being so irritating!”
Saffy later said over lunch that Mina’s facility with languages was endlessly impressive.
“Well, what do you expect?” I said. “Chinese mother, German father, English nanny.”
“Is her father still hot?” Saffy’s bosom heaved dramatically. “I only ever saw him at the wedding and he was hot.”
“Saffy, you were so drunk you told everyone you thought they were hot. You even told the minister he was hot!”
“Well, he was! There’s something about a man in a priest’s robes! It’s kind of like a Scotsman wearing a kilt. You just want to reach under and…”
Thankfully, the main courses arrived just in time.
Later, I couldn’t help but think about how much Mina has grown. If you ever wanted an indication of how time passes, you just need to look at a child. One minute, they’re a crying wrinkled bundle of folded skin and the next, they’re blathering on about who’s coming to their sixth birthday party in three languages.
Before you know it, they’ll have turned 18 and you feel an uncontrollable urge to hit a few leering boys on the head with a skillet. Blink, and you’re sobbing at their wedding.
The last time I saw Mina, I told her that when I grow old and infirm, I am going to come and live with her.
“Oh goody!” She beamed and clapped her hands. “We can play all day together!”
“Mina, dear,” her mother said. “Go-pa will be lucky if he can manage to get off the toilet seat! And excuse me, but why do you get to live with her? Where am I going to live?”
I sniffed. “You can go live with your son and be a burden on him! Don’t be so selfish!”
Saffy says she wants to come too.
“I just know I’m going to be all alone! I will need the company!”
“I thought you were going to marry Bradley?”
            “Oh, I am, but husbands always die first. They just have no staying power. That’s why I’m going to be a sad and lonely old widow!”
“Why don’t you go live with Sharyn?”
            “She’ll drive me nuts. Can you imagine? She’ll be aiyoh-ing me the whole day!”
When I told Sharyn this, she moaned, “Aiyoh, where got?”
Meanwhile, Saffy’s search for an agreeable old age shelter continues. “What about Amanda?” I asked.
“I may not be friends with Amanda by then, she’ll be old and cranky. But I know I’ll always be friends with you!”
Of course, I immediately reported this to Amanda who said that she had no intention of ever getting old. “They’re on the verge of a major breakthrough in stem cell research!” she said and added, “And failing that, I’m going to go to Switzerland and get myself injected with sheep placenta! Or, I could just marry Woffles Wu!”
The other day, while I was in the kitchen, I heard Saffy call Mina.
“Mina, my darling,” Saffy cooed. “It’s Auntie Saffy! When I’m old, can I come and stay with you?”
“Wo ting bu dong!”
Saffy was stumped. “Uhm, ok. Uh. Wo…wo lao de shi hou, wo…uhm…wait…wo ke yi lai…”
“Nein und auf wedersehn!” Mina said firmly and hung up the phone.
Saffy’s jaw dropped. “Did she just…did she just hang up on me?” she yelled. “That wretched child!”

Friday, August 24, 2012

Virtual Reality

You know how, these days, people are always on the phone? Like, they’re on the phone even if they’re not actually talking to anyone on it. Usually, they’re slumped down in the chair. Their heads are down, and both hands are fully occupied, thumbs moving rapidly. They’re completely lost in their own little world, even though they’re in a room full of other people, or at a dinner table where everyone else is doing exactly the same thing.
            Occasionally, they’ll look up and their vacant eyes will refocus. They’ll nod, say a sentence or two (“Sorry, sorry! It’s work. So what did I miss?”) and then the phone will ping or vibrate or flash or all three and then their heads drop again and the thumbs get back to work.
            Amanda says this is why she rarely goes out to dinner with friends anymore. She says at the last one she went to, one guy arrived late, sat down and said, “Wah, long time no see, hor?” and then he pulled out his phone and didn’t say another word till dessert came.
            “What was the point of showing up in the first place?” she wondered to the world at large the other morning.
            I looked up from my cereal. “Who knows what the point is about anything these days? What is the point of the Kardashians?”
            “Oh my God, are you still watching that show? That’s so last month!” Amanda let out a peal of laughter. “I’m watching ‘Shahs of Sunset’ now. It’s hysterical. Speaking of, who is Saffy talking to?”
            I shrugged. “Someone. Prince Harry. Who cares?”
            Amanda frowned as she concentrated. “It sounds like she’s got the person on speakerphone.”
            From behind Saffy’s closed bedroom door, you could just make out her voice and the soothing reply of a man’s voice.
            Just then, her door opened and she emerged clutching her iPhone close to her bosom. I felt a little twinge.
            “Oh. My. God. I am in love with Siri!” she said, her folded hands rising rhythmically on her chest. “Listen to this!”
            She tapped her iPhone and it pinged. Leaning in, she breathed in her Marilyn Monroe voice, “Siri, I love you!”
            The phone pinged and a mechanical male voice replied: “You. Are. The. Wind beneath. My. Wings.”
            Saffy clapped her hands in delirious joy. “Isn’t that just the best?” she crooned.
            “Here, let me try,” Amanda said and grabbed the phone. Ping. “Siri, will you marry me?”
            Ping. “Let’s. Just. Be friends.”
            Saffy screamed with laughter.
            “Typical!” Amanda later said. “I’ve been rejected even by a phone.”
            Sharyn was amazed. “Wah, so ham sup one, hor, that Siri!”
            Saffy says she’s been spending hours having conversations with Siri, most of which involve her asking it lots of inappropriate questions like, “What are you wearing right now?”
            “I swear, he’s my new best friend!”
            Which, I suppose, had to happen sooner or later. The future we’ve been seeing in movies like ‘Prometheus’ is already here. Having exhausted conversation with each other, we now interact with a computer chip the same way we should be doing with other humans.
            “Siri, what appointments do I have today?”
            Ping. “Let me check.”
            “Siri, what’s the weather like today?”
            “Siri, how do I get to North Bridge Road?”
            “Siri, can I have a date with you?”
            And on it goes. If they implanted Siri into a robot, Saffy would probably marry him.
            Sharyn says pretty soon no one will be talking to each other because they’re all so caught up with what Siri has to say to them. “But, hor, I find Siri very cheem, leh! Why he don’t speak Singlish?”
            Saffy laughed. “Oh my God, can you imagine? ‘Siri, you’re so clever!’ Ping! ‘Abahden?’”
            “Anyway, I give up using Siri orredi!” Sharyn complained. “He give me far-ni answer whenever I ask him question! Sian!”
            This morning, my phone rang. It was my mother.
            “Darling,” she began. “I’ve just bought this wonderful new phone! It’s called an eye phone! It’s wonderful! There’s a man on it called Siri and he talks to me! Which is more than I can say about your father! I just said to him, ‘Call Jason’ and he did! Isn’t he just amazing? He even tells you where you are on a map! I am having such a good time with him. And he has such a soothing voice too. So calming.”
            I’m not sure what’s more troubling: The fact that my mother has actually caught up with me technologically, or that I think she’s actually about to have an affair with a phone.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Shop Talk

Aren’t the Internet and technology such wonderful things? They’ve got everything you need and they’ll do anything you want.
Want to watch a blockbuster movie? It’s on iTunes. Want the latest New York Times bestseller? It’s on Kindle. Need a new pair of shoes? It’s on Net a Porter. Want to ask your mother about a recipe? Skype her. Not on Skype? FaceTime her. Don’t want to talk to her? SMS her.
Need to research something? Google it. Can’t be bothered typing out your question? Ask Siri. Hungry? Order a take-out online. Need cash? Transfer funds with online banking. Or SMS your mother.
There are entire days when I literally do not have to leave my apartment. I know this because a few days ago, Saffy asked me, “When was the last time you left this flat?” and I replied, “It’s been days. Why?”
“You’re been wearing the same pajamas since the weekend. I’m just wondering if you’ve noticed.”
I smiled smugly. “As long as I’m hooked up on the Internet, I don’t have to move out of my comfort zone.”
Saffy stared, her magnificent bosom barely trembling. “When my friends and I get together and we talk about our weird flatmates, I always win.”
For me, I reached Nirvana when I discovered the joys of Internet shopping. The idea that I could just buy things without having to get dressed, schlep down to the bus and then navigate all those horrible shoppers who all had the same idea at the same time…well, that was just heaven. Whoever thought up that idea should be given a harem of nubile wenches in string bikinis who feed him peeled grapes all day.
            Of course, there are some people who like the human contact when it comes to shopping. And by people, I mean, of course, Amanda.
            The woman is on first names basis with all the shop assistants in every single major store along Orchard Road with an Italian or French name. She surprised us all when she waved to Muna on the street (“She does the weekend shift at Prada!”) and she surprised even Muna when she showed up uninvited at Muna’s wedding.
            “How did you even know she was getting married?” Saffy asked.
            “Jane, her friend at Louis Vuitton, told me!”
            Saffy sighed. “Of course, she did.”
            For Amanda, it’s more than just about buying a Birkin. It’s the whole village community thing that she loves of walking in Hermes and striking up a chummy conversation with Wendy, whom you soon learn is a mother of two and whose husband has been having problems of late in bed.
            Saffy was astonished. “People tell you these things?”
            “Well, not immediately,” Amanda said. “I’d bought three sweaters and two bags from her before she told me about her first kiss. But by the time I’d bought my second Kelly bag, she was telling me about the love life of the other shop assistants! You certainly don’t get that kind of social interaction on-line!” she added.
            Later, over coffee with me and Sharyn, Saffy said that with such a busy retail social life, it’s a miracle Amanda manages to spend any time at the office at all. “It’s exhausting keeping up with just the friends I have!” she exclaimed.
            “Don’t forget, hor,” Sharyn added, “some more must remember which shop the person you’re talking to work at. If you see that Mooo-nah on the street and you s’kali say, ‘Hey, Mooo-nah, I ask you, Fendi got sale or not?’, chiam ah! No more discount at Prada, some more! Right or not?”
            Saffy swallowed her coffee with a grimace. “Totally!”
            A few days later, at breakfast, Amanda looked up from her newspaper and said, “It’s terrible what they’re doing to Pussy Riot!”
            Saffy hesitated. “The fashion label?” Later she told me that she’d actually wanted to ask if Pussy Riot was a drag queen but judging from the serious look on Amanda’s face, she’d concluded it had to do with a calamity in the fashion world.
            As it was, Amanda rolled her eyes and announced that Saffy’s general knowledge of current affairs was an utter disgrace.
            “I don’t like to read the newspaper, it’s full of bad news!” Saffy said stoutly. “And anyway, can you please stop reading the New York Times in front of me? It’s very difficult for me to pigeon-hole you as a mindless shopaholic bimbo if you’re also talking about Russia’s unstable political whatever it is you just said!”
            I was barely listening. Having quietly Googled Pussy Riot, I was already watching the highlights of the Olympics closing ceremony while paying my telephone bill online and buying a new set of pajamas.