Tuesday, October 30, 2012

You Can't Stop The Music

When my grandmother was in the firm grip of senility, she lost all her social inhibitions. She said and did whatever popped into her head.
If she felt like standing up in the middle of a movie and shouting, “He doesn’t love you! He’s having an affair with his secretary! He’s going to kill you!”, she would do just that. If she felt like taking her plate of fried beehoon up to the bathroom and throwing the whole thing into the toilet, she would.
            My mother remembers a particularly mortifying occasion when Grandmother suddenly spoke up in a restaurant, “May-ling, look at that girl at the next table. She has the biggest ass I’ve ever seen!”
            “She said it in very loud Cantonese, too!” Mother moaned at the memory. “And you know how crude the word ‘ass’ sounds in Cantonese! I wanted to die!”
            Saffy says that we could all learn from my grandmother’s example. “People are just too uptight these days!” she remarked recently. “They take offence at the most innocent things people say.”
            I hesitated. “And by ‘people’…”
            “I mean me!” Saffy replied promptly. “It’s all such a lot of fuss about nothing, really!”
            A few days earlier, Amanda had been invited to the home of her boss for a birthday party he was throwing for his wife.
            “Bring your partner or a friend!” her boss had encouraged, so Amanda brought Saffy, an act she later conceded had not been properly thought through.
            “What was I thinking?” she shouted when they came home after the party.
            Saffy trudged through the front door, following Amanda. She looked unrepentant. “Seriously, what’s the big deal?”
            Amanda shot daggers behind her as she headed for the drinks cabinet. “If murder didn’t carry a death penalty in this town, you’d be dead by now!”
            The full gory story only emerged after three stiff gin and tonics.
            At the birthday party, one of the surprises was a violin performance by the 8-year old son of Amanda’s boss.
            Apparently, he played ‘I Will Always Love You’, which even Amanda admitted was a kinda creepy song for a son to play to his mother on her birthday given that Whitney Houston sang it to her injured lover slash bodyguard as a farewell dirge.
            By the time the kid had played the first bar, it was clear even to Saffy, who is severely tone deaf, that he should be encouraged to take up another hobby. Something, anything, that doesn’t require the production of a sequence of musical notes.
            “It was awful,” Amanda sighed.
            “I could actually feel my panties tightening around my waist!” Saffy reported.
            But, of course, when the kid was bowing his last note, all the guests clapped enthusiastically. His mother was weeping, though, on reflection, no one could be a hundred percent sure if it was from pride and joy, or sheer relief that it was finally over.
            Amanda was the first to rush over to her boss to gush about what a wonderfully talented son he had.
            “Hypocritical ass-kisser!” Saffy muttered.
            “I am gunning for the promotion!”
            “Yes, but still!
            Amanda said what happened next was like watching a car accident happen in slow motion. Just as she was wrapping up her congratulations, Saffy materialized by her side, a champagne flute in one hand and prawn roll in the other.
            “God, why is there no food at this party?” she began. “I had to fight off a woman for this last prawn roll!”
            Amanda’s smile stiffened. “We were just talking about Joshua’s performance…” She never got to finish her sentence because Saffy’s bosom inflated and sucked up the surrounding air.
            “Oh my God! Is that his name? That kid was terrible! He really should be playing another instrument! I mean, I’m tone deaf and everything, but really…Amanda, why are you looking at me like that?”
            Apparently, the next thing Saffy knew, Amanda had bundled her into a taxi and spent the entire trip shouting.
            “Seriously, how was I to know he was your boss?” Saffy bleated.
            “Because he introduced Joshua at the beginning of the act with ‘My son’!” Amanda yelled.
            “Listen,” Saffy said urgently, “nobody is doing that kid any favours by pretending that he’s good! He needs to know the truth! Back me up here, Jason!”
            “Oh God,” Amanda moaned. “You should have seen the look on my boss’s face. I might as well kiss that promotion goodbye now. I’m going to be sorting out mail for the rest of my life!”
            Saffy later told me that she doesn’t dare tell Amanda that the woman she fought off for the last prawn roll was the boss’s wife. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Season's Bleatings

It seems impossible to imagine that the year is almost over. What happened to all those months in between?
 I remember when 2012 first kicked in, I rang my parents to wish them happy new year. My father said the world was going down the toilet anyway, so why bother, while my mother immediately told me to stop wasting my money and hung up the phone while I was in mid-sentence.
“Really,” I said to my sister, “I could have been telling her about my incurable gall bladder disease and she’d never know!”
“Do you have an incurable gall bladder disease?” Michelle asked.
“I’m just saying!”
I’m really not good with events that mark the passage of time. Which is why I avoid New Year’s Eve parties like the plague. And while I will happily show up for a house warming or a wedding, I steer clear of anniversaries and I especially loathe birthdays.
The last birthday party I went to was my friend Shaun’s 35th. “He’s 35?” Saffy whispered to me. “Oh my God, he looks like he’s 45! What happened?”
“Bad skin care, clearly,” said Amanda as she cast an expertly critical eye over Shaun’s epidermis. “What is it with men?”
I imagine this is what people will say when they come to my funeral.
“Goodness,” they’ll say as they stand patiently in line outside the presidential palace, sweating gently in the sun. “He was 98?”
“I thought he was already dead!”
“He looked amazing for 98 though.”
“I know, right? He did not look 98!”
“What I can’t get over is how he went from writing that silly column for 8DAYS to becoming president!”
Saffy says I shouldn’t tell people this is what I daydream about in my spare time.
“It’s really weird,” she says firmly.
But my point is that the time just goes so quickly. Especially if you’re not paying attention. And it’s worse if you skip your skincare, because there’s nothing worse than being told you look 45 when you’re only 35. That’s ten years you’ve lost through no fault of your own.
“Well, it would be your fault if you don’t invest in some basic moisturizer,” Amanda pointed out.
This is the sort of dialogue I find myself having in the run up to Christmas. It’s also shattering to realize that you’ve only just paid off your credit card bill from the previous year’s presents and it’s already time to start making the banks rich all over again. Where did the year go?
The other day, Saffy asked me if I’d started my Christmas shopping list yet.
“Because I don’t want any more of that Body Shop gift baskets you’re always getting me,” she said, her formidable bosom trembling at the memory.
“So what do you want then?” I asked.
“Well, ideally, I’d like some sparkly jewel things from Tiffany, but I don’t know, really. Surprise me. Just nothing from Body Shop. And nothing from Victoria’s Secret either!” Saffy added. “I’m sick and tired of standing in front of the mirror in my underwear and knowing that I will never look like Adrianna Lima.”
“Noted,” I said.
“I wish I was 18 again,” Saffy sniffed. “I would have been so much less uptight!”
When I told Sharyn this, she snorted hysterically. “Aiyoh!” she hiccupped. “She already so, how you say, so garang, how to be less uptight? The other day, hor, she meet my husband and say that I say he go to gym a lot, and then she say, ‘Ay, show me your stomach!’ How like that? If she less uptight, then she ask him to show her what else, I don’t want to know!”
I sniggered at the image. “So, have you done your Christmas list yet, Sharyn?”
“This year, I’m going to donate my present money to charity. No need to worry about shopping! Very easy!”
“Well, that’s no fun!” Amanda said when the news floated back to her.
“I hate it when people do good deeds like that,” Saffy pouted. “It just makes me feel so bad! Which I guess is the point. But since when did Christmas become such a moral issue? I just want to get lots of nice presents and get drunk!”
I said I wanted to get the whole thing over and done with. “It’s the same thing every year! We get useless presents we don’t want. We spend money on people we don’t like. And we have to pretend we love it. And then, suddenly, it’s time to do it all over again!”
Sharyn says I could learn to be less uptight. I said at least I wasn’t asking to see her stomach. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

You've Got (No) Mail

Over the years, it’s occurred to me that there are just some letters you should not open. You should pick them up from the pile and immediately toss them into the waste paper basket. You never want to open them because they’re full of bad news.
            Like the time Saffy unsuspectingly tore open a letter from the bank and was informed that her credit card had been terminated because she’d not paid the renewal fees despite repeated reminders.
            “I did not get any reminder letters!” she shouted over the phone to the person at the bank, conveniently ignoring the fact that the reminder letters were all sitting in an untidy pile in the north-east corner of her bedroom. “There’s a Club21 sale on tomorrow! What do you expect me to pay with? My sense of humour?!”
            And who can forget that infamous occasion that Amanda opened a letter from her family doctor which said that the test results had come back with positive results for some unpronounceable disease and that she should get in touch as soon as she could for a consultation?
            After a lot of hysterical screaming, with Saffy screaming and crying the loudest, I noticed that the letter was addressed to someone else and that clearly our address had been mixed up with another patient.
            By the time Amanda had called up the doctor’s office and finished yelling at them, she announced that she was about to have a nervous breakdown and that she needed to go shopping.
            “I tell you,” she said, as I trailed her uselessly around Gucci, “some letters should just never be opened. It’s better that we don’t know what’s going on, really it is! If it’s bad news, you’ll find out eventually, so why bother reading about it? Oooh, I love the colour on this. I think I’m feeling better already.”
            You’d think we’d learn, but a few days ago, we were all at the breakfast table sorting through our mail, and by sheer coincidence, all three of us picked up and opened the same letter from Pacific Internet, and all three shouted at the same time.
            “What the f…” I began.
            “You have got to be f….” said Saffy, her magnificent bosom inflating to maximum capacity.
            Amanda let loose a string of Hokkien cuss words that did absolutely no credit to her Swiss boarding school and Harvard degree.
            “What do they mean they’re discontinuing email services?” Saffy shouted.
            “Oh dear God, my whole life is on my Pacnet account! Can we sue?” I asked Amanda urgently. “All my Amazon, Paypal, banking accounts and bills, my iTunes and Facebook…Everything I have is somehow linked to Pacnet!”
“All my shops are connected too! Gucci, Ferragamo, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton…” Amanda said gloomily, her long manicured fingers counting off her lifelines.
For days, it’s all we’ve been able to talk about.
“I think it’s bloody rude of them to do this!” Saffy ranted the other day at breakfast. It’s the last thing on her mind as she goes to sleep and she wakes up tormented, vaguely hoping that it’s all a bad dream.
“If I had shares in Pacnet, I’d sell them now!” Amanda sniffed.
Of course, now, we’re all obsessed with the next step. We’re leery of going to another web-based email service like Gmail or Yahoo!, though Amanda says if Google or Yahoo! ever went under, then it might as well be the end of the world, so maybe we’d be quite safe with them.
Option B is to set up our own domain name, but that involves a whole set of options that none of us has the range to deal with.
“What does it mean when they say ‘unlimited data transfer’?” Saffy asked as she scrolled through a website.
I asked, “But would you know how to reconfigure Outlook with the SMTP and POP accounts?”
Saffy looked up from her laptop and stared at me. “I did not understand a word you just said.”
I remember when I switched from my old Acer to the new iMac, it took forever for the email to be set up. The worst part was the Pacnet girl on the Helpline kept rabbiting on about SMTP and POP accounts, which I’ve always remembered but have never understood. It’s kind of like knowing that Felix Baumgartner fell to Earth at 1,342kph – it’s just a number. It means nothing.
It occurs to me that someone out there could get very rich in the coming months helping all the hysterical, panicking PacNet users out there migrate safely and calmly to a new email address. Saffy insists that we shouldn’t rule out suing. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Talk to me

The other day, I was sitting in the Toast café in Takashimaya, waiting for my flatmate, Saffy. She had just SMS’d that she was running ten minutes late.
            “U r trying on shoes, aren’t u?” I texted back.
            My phone pinged. “OMG! How did u noe? Can u see me?”
            I settled back to read a back issue of 8DAYS. Slowly, I felt a pressure build up to my right, an unsettling cone of silence that I’d noticed when I first sat down.
            Without lifting my head from a story about Joanne Peh, I let my eyes swivel to the right.
            Four young twenty-somethings dressed rather stylishly sat amidst a clatter of plates with half eaten cake, empty glasses and half empty cups of tea. They looked like they were good friends who had met up for a late afternoon catch up and gossip. I noted their clean skins and, on one of them, snappy spectacles. I envied them their youth.
            Finally, I just put down my magazine and stopped pretending that I wasn’t looking at them. Short of me taking off all my clothes, they probably wouldn’t even have noticed that I was now openly ogling them.
            Here’s the thing: they weren’t speaking at all. Each person at that table had his or her head down focused on an iPhone, iPad, iPod or a laptop. Each tapping away, scribbling on a notebook, swiping a screen, busy communicating with what I imagined was everyone in the world except the other three people at the table.
For long minutes, they didn’t say a word to each other. Occasionally, one person would mumble something and the other three would grunt. No one lifted their heads.
When Saffy finally arrived with Sharyn in tow, both grunting under the load of several On Pedder bags, I hissed at them that we needed to move tables.
Saffy looked perplexed. “But we just got here! Aren’t we having coffee and cake? I love their peanut butter cupcakes!”
“We are, but just not at this table,” I whispered while hustling her and Sharyn to another table at the other end of the café, explaining on the way.
After she’d craned her neck around the corner of a pillar to have a good look, Saffy said this was probably why there are so many single people in Singapore.
“They just don’t know how to talk.”
Leave it to Sharyn to pipe up, “Aiyah, after you marry long long time, hor, you also don’t talk, what!”
“Well, I think it’s just plain creepy,” I said firmly. “How do four people just sit at a table and not say a single thing to each other?”
“Maybe dey are in-laws?” Sharyn suggested, still clinging stubbornly to her original theory of post-marriage dynamics.
“Or maybe they are talking to one another? Maybe…” Saffy said, her bosom flexing with doubt, “maybe, they’re instant messaging one another!”
I hesitated. “You think?”
Three heads leaned over the pillar to have another look at the silent quartet. After a while, the heads retracted and Saffy said it was easily one of the strangest thing she’d ever seen.
“I mean, it’s not like they’re studying or anything. Two of them are on phones, and one of them has ear-phones! Oh God, it’s just driving me insane!”
Later, Amanda said it was very weird that the three of us had spent an hour obsessing about four complete strangers.
“Yes, but the point is, we were communicating!” Saffy pointed out. “I have so much to say all the time, I just can’t comprehend how you could spend all that time in the presence of three other people and not say a word! I mean, Sharyn and I spent the whole afternoon together, we talked the entire time and we still had plenty to say to each other on our handphones after we’d gone our separate ways!”
Which started this whole topic about the lost art of the conversation. Here’s the thing: When you mainly talk to your friends on Facebook, SMSs, and instant messaging, maybe we’re producing a generation that is slowly losing its ability to vocalize an opinion about anything, except in grunts.
As Saffy observed, “It’s like we’re all in a porn movie!”
Amanda said that one day, the whole world will be reduced to sign-language. “And we won’t be able to lift our heads anymore because we’re always looking down at our screen!” She also thought this is probably why whenever she asks shop-girls a question, they panic. “They get this weird, frightened look and their eyes swivel sideways.”
“Maybe it would help if you SMS’d them,” Saffy suggested.