Thursday, December 26, 2013

Eat Up

I don’t know what it is, but these days, I keep meeting people who tell me they don’t eat breakfast. Inevitably, these are the same people who don’t watch TV and have no idea what herbal tea is. I'm not sure what the connection is, but I’m sure not liking it.
“Where do you meet these people?” Saffy asks, smug in the knowledge that all her friends are breakfast junkies. Their favourite spot in the world, after a spa and a shoe shop, is a place that serves all-day breakfast. The other day, I rang Saffy at 3.30 in the afternoon to find her chowing down on a bowl of granola that was soon to be followed by eggs benedict.
“See you for dinner tonight!” she mumbled through a mouthful of walnuts and toasted sesame seeds.
I once worked in an office where the staff would rock up at 8.45 with their packets of economy mee and plastic bag of coffee, and proceed to get grease all over their keyboards and desks. One day, I realized that these were the same people I got along best with, while the people I had the least time for were the ones who didn’t eat breakfast. Again, I’m not sure what the connection is, but, even then, I wasn’t liking it all that much either.
 When I was growing up, we were all fed the same thing every morning. Two soft-boiled eggs sprinkled with soy sauce and white pepper, followed by a spoonful of cod liver oil. For years, that’s all we had and for some bizarre reason, we never rebelled even though the cod liver oil – a thick white milky goo that tasted of sour milk – was the foulest way to kick off your day.
Today, if your kids were on the same diet, you’d probably have someone from child services knocking on your door demanding to know why you were feeding your kids such a high protein diet, and didn’t you know that there were health concerns about the mercury content in cod liver?
But my point is, we had something to eat every morning. And eventually, as we grew up, we moved beyond the soft boiled eggs and onto other things like cereal, and mee pok and roti prata, and bacon and eggs, and bagels.
“How you eat like that?” Sharyn whined one morning as she sat with us in Maxwell Street market and watched Saffy inhale a bowl of mee rebus and chased it down with a big mug of sugar cane juice. Amanda daintily dipped a yau zhar gui into her coffee, while I gobbled down a jumbo sized portion of nasi lemak.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” Amanda told Sharyn.
“That’s so true,” Saffy said, brown gravy staining her upper lip like a moustache.
“Where got!” Sharyn replied stoutly. “Dinner is most important!”
“That’s true too,” Saffy said.
“Ay, you, ah! Make up your mind, can? How can breakfast and dinner both be the most important meal?”
“Well, it depends on the time of day,” Saffy said, letting her tone do all the work of sounding like it was speaking to a four year old with the IQ of a blunt pencil. “When it’s the morning, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When it’s afternoon, it’s lunch, and when evening comes, it’s dinner!”
“You should have been a dietician, Saf,” I told her.
Saffy’s bosom, currently encased within a tight tee-shirt that said ‘Eat and Sleep’, inflated. “I know, right? I’d have been so good at it!”
Sometimes, people tell me the reason they don’t eat breakfast in the morning is because they don’t have time. And the other day, I met someone who said she often forgot to eat because she was so busy rushing around getting the kids ready for school.
“But how do you forget?” I asked. “Don’t your kids have breakfast, too?”
Margaret hesitated. “Well…yes, they do, but…”
“So, if they’re having breakfast,” I pressed, “doesn’t that remind you that you haven’t eaten?”
Margaret sighed. “One day, when you have children of your own, you’ll understand.”
Saffy said if forgetting to make time for breakfast isn’t a good enough reason not to have children, she didn’t know what is.
“I mean, really, your body is already stretched right out of shape on account of the pregnancy and all you get for your efforts is school fees, memory loss and no breakfast? What is the point of children in the first place?”
Amanda begged Saffy not to say such things in public.

“No, really, what is the point?” Saffy wanted to know.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Marriage Wows

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to call in question the sanctity of marriage, it would be divorce.
            It can’t have escaped anybody’s attention that everyone seems to be heading to the lawyers these days.
Gone are the happy memories of the wedding and honeymoon, the fluffy white gown and the yum-sings, the early exodus of wedding dinner guests eager to avoid the jam in the hotel car-park, and the lovely stacks of red packet.
In their place are instructions to lawyers to go over the pre-nups with a fine toothcomb, the custody battles of the children, the division of property and the embarrassing disclosures to friends and family that the marriage is at an end.
“But you two looked so happy together!” people will tell the distraught spouse. “What happened?”
The other day, Saffy was scrolling through her Facebook page on her phone when she suddenly gasped.
“Oh. My. God. Wendi Deng is divorcing Rupert Murdoch?” Her eyes bulged.
Amanda sniffed. “That’s been going on for months now!”
“But how did I miss that?” Saffy asked, her impressive bosom trembling. She paused as a thought occurred to her and added, “Although, I’m not sure what shocks me more, the divorce or the fact that Rupert Murdoch is still alive! What is he, like, a hundred and ten?”
“There must be something in the air,” Amanda told Saffy. “Everyone’s getting divorced or splitting up this year. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas. Allan Wu and Wong Li-Lin. Khloe Kardashian and Lamar. Joanne Peh and Bobby. Faye Wong and…and whatshisface.”
All of which made us wonder if these people had their lives all over again, whether they would do any of it differently. Perhaps lived their lives less publicly.
“If I ever got married,” Saffy announced, “no one would ever know.”
Amanda arched an eyebrow. “And the point would be…?”
“So that when I got divorced, no one would ever know either!”
“But people like Catherine Zeta-Jones and Khloe Kardashian are public figures,” Amanda said. A frown formed on her pretty, otherwise smooth, forehead. “You can’t keep a marriage secret especially now when you’re on Oprah. That woman will drag it out of you before the first commercial break!”
And all this before we even get to the burning question of why get married in the first place if you’re just going to get divorced eventually?
Sure, not every marriage will end in divorce, but really, you can’t pick up an issue of US Weekly or Vanity Fair these days without reading about some horrible split up by a couple you’d been led all along to believe were living the dream life.
“It says here,” Saffy said, as she read the Facebook article on her phone, “that Wendi Deng was having an affair with Tony Blair who is the godfather to her children. Oh my God, the mother was sleeping with the godfather? What kind of a sick world are we living in?”
“Well, it’s not like they’re really related,” Amanda pointed out reasonably.
“Yes, but still. What must the children think?”
“There’s no point getting so worked up about it, Saf,” Amanda said. “It’s all just gossip.”
“There’s no smoke without fire,” said Saffy, veteran gossip.
“And anyway,” Amanda went on, “why do you care so much? It’s not as if you knew either of them.”
“That’s not it. It’s just…well, it’s just the fact that she was living my dream. I would love to marry a billionaire! I don’t even know how much a billion is, but I sure want to be married to it!”
And that was the point, I guess. These public marriages represent the fantasy of singletons everywhere, the unspoken promise that it’s actually possible to marry a dream, and turn it into a reality. Because whatever else they may say in public, when people like Saffy flip a magazine page and see some Hollywood celebrity walk down the red carpet with his wife, secretly, they’re mentally inserting their face into the picture and imagining a life of great adventure and luxury and, more importantly, waking up not alone.
Which is why the idea that it could all end in divorce is doubly cruel. I mean, if Michael Douglas and Allan Wu and Lamar and all the other divorcees of 2013 – with all their charm, fame, good looks and fortunes – can’t make it work, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Saffy, who’s just looked it up on Google, says that a billion is one followed by twelve zeroes. “My God,” she says, awestruck. “What is that Wendi Deng thinking?”

Friday, December 13, 2013

Plane Simple

For some time now, I’ve been suffering a little from insomnia, though you wouldn’t know it by the way I get so drowsy by 10pm. Put me in front of the TV and it won’t be two minutes before I start dropping off. Amanda says it’s like living in a retirement village. But at 11.30pm, I’ll wake up and I won’t be able to sleep again for hours.
            At first, I tried drinking hot Horlicks before going to bed, but that just reminded me of old people which was depressing, and it also made me need to pee all the time, so I stopped doing that. Reading at 2am makes me dizzy, as if I was suffering from jetlag, so I stopped doing that too.
            These days, I just turn on the TV again and graze happily from one channel to the other. After a few minutes on the shopping channel, I’ll pop by the food channel to see what Nigella is cooking for Christmas, before swinging to a tennis court in Qatar to watch Maria Sharapova out-scream Victoria Azarenka.
Invariably, I end up watching an old black and white classic on TCM.
            “I wish I lived in the 50s,” Saffy will say to me. A lifelong insomniac, she’s thrilled to finally have some company. “Everyone looked so glamorous back then.”
            She has a point. Watch any movie from before 1960 and you might as well be watching a documentary of life on Mars. People sit down to breakfast fully dressed, even the children with their perfect haircut and docile manners. On the buses, all the men are in suits and ties, and the women are perfectly made up wearing their cute little pillbox hats and white gloves. If the scene is in a restaurant, everyone’s sitting upright and sipping coffee.
            What amuses us most is if anyone has to catch a plane. Back in the day, in the movies at least, people got dressed up whenever they went to the airport. The men like Cary Grant and Fred Astaire have their hair Brylcreamed, their shoes are polished to a high sheen that would blind someone watching from the moon, while the women have on full make up, their hair coiffed like they just popped into the hairdressers on their way to the airport.
            The last time I was at the airport was for a trip from Singapore to Melbourne. It was like a zoo.
            First of all, I just can’t believe what people step out of their house in these days. They look like they’re ready to mow their lawn or rip out bathroom tiles or something, instead of prepping for an eight-hour flight to another country.
Or maybe they just save their trashiest, ugliest clothes for the plane. On this trip, a lot of people were wearing tee-shirts and shorts and flip-flops as if they’d been planning on a day at the beach but suddenly decided in the car that they’d rather go to Australia.
            Sitting next to me was a guy in shorts and a singlet that showed off a majestic mat of hair that started on the fingers of his left hand, went up a heavily tattooed arm, across his back and down the right side of his arm and hand. He looked like the lecherous jail cell-mate of the new prisoner in every prison break movie I’ve ever watched.
He nodded at me. “G’day!” he said.
I wondered if I should pretend I didn’t speak English, but it would have been just my luck if he spoke fluent Mandarin. I pretended to fiddle with my seat buckle.
Behind me, a mother threatened her 10-year old son with this: “Boy, I’m telling you, ah, if you don’t behave, I am going to lock you up inside the toilet till we get to Melbourne!” You couldn’t imagine Grace Kelly ever delivering that line in ‘To Catch a Thief’.
And here’s the other thing about the new generation of travellers that you could never imagine: why do people walk into the toilet on a plane in their bare feet? Are their callouses so thick that they can’t feel what they’re standing on? Because as any woman who has ever lived with a guy will tell you, men have a notoriously bad aim when they’re peeing. Worse if you’re a ten year old kid who’s locked in a toilet by his fed up mother.

I felt so trapped. As it turned out, ‘Casablanca’ was on the inflight entertainment in all its black and white glory, and so, I slipped on my earphones, tapped play on the screen, turned up the volume on Ingrid Bergman and waited for sleep to come.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Touch and Go

A few days ago, Saffy woke up with a severe crick in her neck. She emerged from the bedroom with her head dangling backwards at such an unnatural angle that Amanda, coming out of the kitchen, dropped her bowl of cereal and screamed.
            “Her head was, like, it was just hanging by a nerve!” she later told everyone who would listen. “Her hair was all over the place and she was wearing that awful white night dress. Seriously, she looked like that terrible girl in ‘Sinister’!”
            “Oh, God, please stop screaming!” Saffy moaned. “I must have slept in a funny position because I can’t move my neck now! I need Song! Can someone call him and book me in? Please?”
            Song is our masseur. And when I say ‘our’, I mean ‘my’. Because I was the one who discovered him. Of course, if you want to be technical about it, it was my friend Peter who’d introduced him to me, but why go that far back?
            The man is a miracle worker. He was in his thirties when he started losing his sight. And when you’re that age and a physical disability is suddenly thrust upon you, there aren’t many career options to take.
But clearly, Song was made of sterner stuff, because he discovered he had a talent for therapeutic massage. I like to say he has magic fingers. If there’s a kink somewhere in your body, he’ll find it. Once, after kneading my temple, and without any prompting, he told me that I’d been having headaches.
I was astonished. “How did you know?”
“I got magic fingers!” he said with triumph.
Over the years, he’s sorted out all my lower back pain, shoulder aches, crooked necks, sore calves and knotted glutes.
            The first time I sent Saffy to Song, she was dubious.
            “Are you sure he’s really blind?” she demanded. Unspoken scenarios of perversion hung in the air. Or so I thought. “Because,” Saffy went on, “if he isn’t, then I’m going to have to wear my nice underwear.”
            Amanda’s eyes widened. “That’s what you’re concerned about?”
            “Well, I don’t want him to think I can’t afford nice knickers. So, if he really can’t see, then there’s no point me wasting Victoria’s Secret on him, is there?”
            She came back from her session glowing and with confirmation of Song’s lack of visual acuity. “Yep, he’s totally blind. He never once looked at my breasts. It’s such an odd feeling,” she said, looking a little perplexed at the sensation. “But more to the point, he’s amazing! Within two seconds, he’d located all the knots in my right shoulder! I love him!”
            Intrigued, Amanda made an appointment and schlepped all the way out to Song’s studio in Commonwealth. Later, she reported that she’d spent the whole hour screaming in pain.
            “But good pain, right?” Song asked as he used his elbow to dig into a nerve ending on Amanda’s left glute.
            “If you…say…so…Song!” Amanda gasped.
            “If got pain, that mean got problem!” Song announced happily.
            Of course, over the years, word of mouth has meant that he’s taken on more and more clients. So much so that where you could once just call for an appointment with a few hours notice, now, it’s like trying to get an audience with the Queen of England.
            “Hah? She want to come now, ah?” Song said when Amanda rang with Saffy’s SOS. “Cannot, lah! I got client now. Tomorrow evening, can?”
            Saffy’s shriek could be heard all the way in Penang. “Tomorrow evening? I can’t walk around like a muppet till tomorrow evening! Tell him I’m in pain! Here, give me the phone! Song, I’m in pain! I need you!”
            “Aiyoh!” Song said. “OK, OK, I see if I can shift my next client. I call you back!”
            And so we waited, Saffy, with her head still thrown back in a rictus of agony, Amanda flipping through Vogue, and me, thinking what I could have for dinner.
            “God, what will happen,” Saffy suddenly wondered, her voice directed to the back of the room, “when Song decides to retire? Or…if…if he gets his sight back?”
            Amanda hesitated. “Uhm. That will be bad thing because…?”
            “He might not be any good any more!” Saffy replied in a tone that seemed surprised that Amanda didn’t see the point.
            “Saf, he’s not the Hulk!”
            “You don’t know that!” Saffy said. “He could lose all his magical powers the minute he can see again.”
            From my corner of the couch, I piped up, “Maybe he’ll lose his sight again the minute he lays eyes on your fabulous breasts!”

            From the silent glow, you could tell that the thought pleased Saffy immensely.