Saturday, December 29, 2012

Memory Lapse

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been temping in a client’s office. When you’re used to working from home, it’s a bit of a shock to the system to have to get all dressed up and then get on a train along with what looks to be the entire population of Europe, China, Australia and the Indian Sub-Continent.
            On the train ride to Raffles Place, Saffy, who’d been uncharacteristically quiet, suddenly stood up on tip-toe to whisper loudly in my ear, “Is it just me or are the guys on this train seriously hot?”
            I swiveled my head around the carriage. Eventually, I leaned back down and said, “I haven’t taken the rush hour train in yonks, so I don’t really have a reference point.”
            “No, really, they’re gorgeous. Look at that guy at your nine o’clock.  Not noon, you numb nut! Nine o’clock!,” my flatmate hissed. “Oh God, how do you not know your directions code? Turn to your left!”
            After a bit of confused head-turning, I finally located Saffy’s object of lust du jour. “What about him?”
            “Don’t you think he looks like Hrithik Roshan?”
            Apparently, as soon as Saffy got off the train, she immediately called Amanda to complain about how useless I was to go train cruising with.
            “He doesn’t even know his directions code! I told him to look at his ten o’clock and he looked right! But I’m telling you, Amanda, the quality of men in this town has improved dramatically since the banks started hiring the Frenchies back! They’re so hot!” said Saffy, wannabe SPG.
            “I'm gone off Frenchmen. I’m more into Chinese men now,” Amanda said. “The other day, I was waiting for a taxi and the guy in front of me looked just like Dai Yang Tian. I couldn't stop staring!”
            Meanwhile, back in the office, I was seriously bored.
            Everyone just sat at their desks staring at their computer screens. No one smiled. When they arrived in the morning, they didn’t say hello or good morning to anyone.  No one chatted. No one made eye contact.
            All day, I itched to get up, stretch and walk around, but by the severe look on the boss’s face you could tell this wasn’t that kind of office.
            I sent an SMS to Saffy. “This place is the pits. I can’t wait for lunch!”
            Saffy’s reply came pinging back in seconds. “Are there any cute Frenchies there?”
            I ignored it and went back to watching the clock tick slowly towards lunch. When the second hand slid to 12.30pm, I slithered out the back door and made a dash for the hawker centre at Golden Shoe where Sharyn was already waiting patiently with a packet of tissues on the seat next to her.
            “Nah, I chope you a place!” she announced. “But you go get your mee pok first! I wait. You look very hungry!”
            That’s the thing about friends: They can practically read your mind.
            “Feel better?” Sharyn asked after watching me inhale a mee pok, two roti prata and a mug of sugar cane.
            “I can’t wait for this stupid job to be over,” I told her, “and I can get back to working from home. I don’t know how you guys do this every day!”
            When I got back to the office in a much better mood, I sat down at my desk and said cheerfully to the person sitting in the next cubicle who’d not said a single word to me in three days, “How was your lunch?”
            Startled, she looked up. Her eyes shifted nervously sideways. “Uhm…I…I haven’t gone yet!”
            I frowned. “But it’s nearly 2pm.”
            Clearly, she sensed that I wasn’t an immediate threat to her personal safety because she thawed slightly and smiled. “Yah, sometimes I’m so busy, I forget to take my lunch!”
            Later, Amanda asked, “Did you ask her where she normally takes her lunch to?”
            “I couldn’t believe it! Who forgets to eat lunch? How could you possibly forget? That’s just like saying you forgot to breathe! On my way home, I kept trying to remember, but I think I can honestly say I’ve never missed a single meal in my entire life!”
            “Me, neither,” Saffy said. “I would die if I ever skipped a meal.” She paused and thought, her chin lifted. “Well, maybe I won’t exactly die. It won’t kill me, I don’t think. I mean, I guess I could lose some weight.”
            Amanda says it amazes her how Saffy always manages to turn any conversation into a dialogue about herself. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

End Game

If you’re reading this, I guess it means that the world didn’t end on 21 December. I’m also imagining that if the ancient Mayans were still around, their hotline would be flooded by very angry phone-calls.
            As I write this, it’s the week before the long prophesied end of the world.
            “It sounds so ‘Lord of the Rings’, doesn’t it?” Amanda giggled as she flipped the pages of her latest issue of Vogue.
            Saffy looked up from her laptop. Since she’d woken up, she’d been busy tapping away on it. Now, she looked at Amanda severely. “It’s not funny! This could be one of the last few times we’re all going to be together alive! A week from now, we could all be blown to bits!”
            That’s the thing about calamities. There’s always some nut-job out there who’s running around screaming, “Get your children out of here! There’s an asteroid coming!” Or, in the case of the recent movie ‘Piranha 3D’, “Get out of the water! The piranhas are coming through the water pipes!”
            Of course, no one ever believes them. There’ll always be calm, cool, level-headed people like the town sheriff, or the congressman (in the movies, the end of the world always happens first in America), or Amanda who will pooh-pooh the whole thing. “Now hold on here. There hasn’t been an asteroid strike for, oh, five billion years. What makes you think your day-ta is correct?”
            Or, as the owner of owner of the water park in ‘Piranha 3D’ said, “You just shut up! We’re opening tomorrow!”
            Of course, the first person to get blown up, or chewed up by very angry ugly fish, is the disbelieving town sheriff and the water park owner.
            Somehow, people like Saffy end up safe and sound, watching the sun rise the very next day.
            So, my point is this, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from years of watching Hollywood disaster movies, it’s to side with the screaming nut-job and do everything they say. Better safe than sorry, is the motto on my family crest.
            “What do you have in mind, Saf?” I said.
            Saffy looked surprised at the unexpected show of support. Amanda glanced up from ‘Vogue’ and frowned.
            “Well, uhm…” Saffy began. “I think we have two options. The Mayans weren’t very specific about how the world is going to end. Is it a full blown apocalypse in which the whole planet just explodes? Or is it going to be like a biblical flooding?”
            “Go on,” I urged.
            Unused to being the centre of attention, Saffy’s bosom inflated with pride. “Well, if it’s Scenario A, then I think I would want to be sitting on a Singapore Airlines flight to, say, New York, in their Suites. If the world is ending, you might as well be sipping champagne and nibbling on satay sticks when it does.”
            “So, Scenario A, cash in your savings and CPF!” I said.
            “Yes!” Saffy said, and peered at her screen. “But I’ve been looking at my bank accounts and I think I’ll only have enough to get to Penang, if I want to go Business Class.”
            “And that’s only a forty-five minute flight,” I said.
            “I know. So anti-climactic, right? Which is why I’m hoping that it’s Scenario B. Biblical flooding. In which case, we should be ok. We’re on the ninth floor and we’re inland and worst come to worst, we can always go up to the 23rd floor. The water can’t rise that high up!”
            “Interesting,” I said. “So we would need to stock up on supplies.”
            “Which is what I’m looking at now. Cold Storage does home deliveries and I’m thinking we should stock up on canned goods and biscuits!”
            “Don’t forget to get a can-opener,” I said. “Imagine if you had all those cans of food, and you couldn’t open any of it!”
            “Oooh, good idea!” Saffy tapped away.
            Later, it was all Amanda could talk about when she had coffee with Sharyn.
            “They’re completely nuts,” she ranted as she stirred her cappuccino. “And what gets me is that after all these years of working, Saffy has only saved enough to fly to Penang?”
            Sharyn leaned in. “Ay, I ask you, hor, SQ got satay, meh?”
            “Yes, in Business Class, but only on certain sectors,” said Amanda, PPS Member since 2005.
            “Wah, so shiok!”
            “Oh my God, Sharyn, you are missing the point!”
            Saffy says Amanda will have nobody to blame but herself if she finds herself completely unprepared for the Apocalypse. “It’ll serve her right,” she said as she tapped away on her To Do list. “Should we get life-jackets?”
            “Get everything,” I urged.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Help Line

I’m not sure if it’s that time of the year when you can’t turn a corner without bumping into a commercial, or a poster, or a YouTube clip about good will towards mankind and all that crap, but lately, I’ve been feeling a strangely familiar warmth in my chest.
            “Maybe it’s heartburn from overeating during Christmas?” Amanda suggested the other day.
            I frowned. “No, it’s not actually a physical warmth. It’s kind of like…well, it’s kind of like that feeling you get when you see a child playing with a puppy. You know what I mean?”
Amanda pursed her lips and searched her emotional bank. “No,” she said eventually, “I don’t.”
“Well, it’s very weird.”
            For days, that feeling has been haunting me and I’m getting a little emotional. I can barely watch an episode of Gray’s Anatomy without feeling a need to sob.
            Saffy thinks it’s hormonal.
            “Since when do guys get hormonal?” I asked hotly.
            “Well, it’s been known to happen. It’s like that study of those female prisoners and they discovered that they all more or less starting having their…uhm…you know, that time of the month…all at the same time.”
            My left eyebrow lifted. “And what does that have to do with me?”
            “I’m just saying.”
            The last time I’d felt like this, I was studying in Australia and, one Christmas, I ended up volunteering at a homeless shelter. Nobody was more surprised than I was to find myself dishing out soup to the down and out. When I told my mother that one of my other duties had been to wash the toilets, she went into such a state of shock she literally couldn’t speak for a couple of hours and had to lie down for a bit.
            “I think it’s the fact that we have so much,” I remember telling her while fanning her forehead. She lay supine on the couch, her eyes closed and every so often, she’d dab some Tiger Balm under her nostrils. “And I realized that these people had so little.”
            Mother opened her eyes and looked at me sideways. “I hope you’re not sitting on my chairs in the clothes you wore to the shelter!” And that was all she had to say on the matter, though I noticed that, every year after, the Christmas cards she sent out came from the same people who organized the shelter I volunteered at.
            So, when I started getting the same warm feeling recently, I was gripped by a sense of déjà vu.
            “And you think that it’s telling you to go volunteer at a homeless shelter?” Saffy asked, her bosom trembling with doubt.
            “Well, it can’t hurt,” I reasoned. “I felt quite good about it the last time I volunteered. There are so many homeless people out there who could do with a bit of help.”
            “Are there even any homeless people in Singapore?” asked Amanda, a woman who rarely ventures outside of Districts 9 and 10.
            “Sure there are!” Saffy said breezily. “But this town is so efficient they’re all probably being homeless somewhere else!”
            “Well, can’t you just donate some money and be done with it?” Amanda asked. “Must you really go and clean bedpans and stuff?”
            Later over coffee at Starbucks, Saffy said that it always amazes her that Amanda still thinks that if you throw enough money at a problem, it’ll go away.
            “If that really worked, I’d be in her face all day!” she said as she casually adjusted her bra strap.
            “Ay, do you mind?” Sharyn demanded hotly. “This is a public space, you know! You don’t anyhow do strip tease, can?”
            Saffy ignored the outburst. “I think we should all give Jason some moral support and do some volunteering work as well. I want to have that same warm feeling he has in his chest!”
            “Eat more sambal, you feel warm everywhere!” Sharyn advised. “That time, hor, my mar-der in law, she make this sambal, hor? I wallop at dinner, wah, kena two day in toilet. Plus, hor, I sweat like mad!”
            Saffy leaned over and patted Sharyn’s hand. “Thank you for sharing. You should tell that story more often at dinner parties.”
            Sharyn blinked. “Really, ah?”
            I’d tuned out by then, and was scrolling through my phone, hunting down places to volunteer at.
Saffy has been telling everyone about her volunteering efforts, basking in the ensuing waves of surprise and respect.
“But you haven’t even signed up yet!” Amanda protested.
“It’s the thought that counts,” Saffy said. “I'm feeling all warm already!”
“Sure it’s not my sambal?” Sharyn asked.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Party Favours

My flatmate Amanda is a firm believer that if you can’t be personal friends with the rich and famous, you can at least try to have the same lifestyle as they do. So, if she spots in a gossip magazine, Jennifer Aniston carrying, say, a $6,000 Dolce & Gabbana handbag while shopping at the supermarket, she will rush out and get the same bag and then head out to her nearest Jason’s.
            Once, she even got Saffy to spring out from behind the cereal aisle and start snapping pictures of her, like the paparazzi. Except this encounter involved Saffy repeating, “Oh no, wait, I have to do it again, I don’t think I got the flash on!” After a few takes and a few complaints from customers, the supermarket manager showed up with security and threw them both out.
            Recently, Amanda started subscribing to Gwyneth Paltrow’s web newsletter. For reasons I’ve never fully understood, Gwyneth’s website is called Goop. Goop is a peek into her fabulous life. If you’ve ever lain in bed wide awake, tormented by what kind of yoga mat Gwyneth Paltrow uses, Goop will tell you. It will also tell you what sort of festive treats she has in store for her family, her favourite gifts to give, the kind of food she loves to serve her family, her general approach to life, love and everything.
            One of Gwyneth’s recent newsletters to her devoted fans involved tips on how to throw a Hannukah dinner and Christmas breakfast. Tip number one to keeping, in her words, the crazy to a minimum, Gwyneth says it's nice to have your menu designed and printed out for you to display on the table.
            “That’s her very first tip?” Saffy asked at when she peered at the printout that Amanda had given each of us. “Design and print out a menu? Amanda, we live in Toa Payoh, not the White House!”
            More to the point, I said, were we having a dinner party? Because this was the first I’d heard about it.
            “First course,” Saffy read out, “apple and potato latkes. That doesn’t sound very interesting. What are latkes?”
            “I can’t think of anything more revolting,” I said. “Apple and potatoes? Really?”
            Of course, the reality is that someone like Gwyneth will not be in the kitchen making apple and potato latkes when she entertains, especially if you have no idea what a latke is in the first place. The woman is too busy making the Iron Man sequel and posing in expensive handbag ads for Coach.
            “And being a mother and wife of a rock-star,” Saffy added.
            The Christmas breakfast menu also has home-made turkey sausage, an item that prompted Saffy to observe that if that didn’t give her instant constipation, she didn’t know what would.
            “I think it all sounds fabulous,” Amanda said stubbornly.
            “Amanda,” I said, “you realize that the only people that can really do a menu like this have help or staff or both, right? I bet it's been years since Gwyneth stepped into a supermarket.”
            In loving detail, the newsletter went on to outline the party preparations for ‘Two Days Before’ the party, the ‘Day Before’, the ‘Evening Before’, the ‘Day of’, ‘Two Hours Before’, and ‘Ten Minutes Later’.
            Then, there’s a section on ‘Conversation’ where Gwyneth suggests what you should talk about at the dinner party that you’ve just planned right down to the minute. Some topics include: What’s sexier – humour or kindness?, and If you could relive a day of your past, which would it be?
            “Oh, that’s an easy one,” Saffy said. “It would be the one before this stupid dinner party you think we’re going to have!”
            “Why can’t we just order in pizza?” I whined.
            “Because I think it would be fun to do this!” Amanda said desperately, her fantasy of a Gwyneth dinner part vaporizing before the sullen mutiny of her flatmates. “Look, she’s told us what to do, step by step. It’s so easy!”
            Saffy glared at her printout. “My God, listen to what she tells us to do an hour before the guests arrive: ‘Dim the lights. Start your playlist. Light the fireplace if you have one. And definitely light a candle, which sets a welcoming tone and makes the house smell great. The holiday scents from Linnea’s Lights are pretty insane.”
            “I’d have gone insane long before that happened!” I got up and headed for the door.
            “Where are you going?” Amanda asked.
            “To get some char kway teow,” I said.
            “Ooh, I’m coming with you,” Saffy cooed. “Wait, should we bring a scented candle?” She gave Amanda a look.