They say you never really get a true measure of a person till you’ve seen how they react in a crisis. And, again, by ‘they’, I mean, of course, me.
I bring this up because it recently occurred to me that among the many mistakes that parents make when bringing up their children, sending them to school is probably way up there on the list. As my brother Jack is always telling people at parties, he came top of his class in maths at school, but he can honestly say that he has never, in his entire life, needed to use calculus, let alone solve a quadratic equation, in a real life situation.
“Ever!” he’ll emphasise as he gets progressively drunker.
Meanwhile, my parents forced me to do economics and physics on the assumption that I would become either a banker or a scientist or both, as in the case of our hated, over-achieving cousin, Wei-min.
As it turned out, I became a lawyer for all of two seconds and then became a freelance journalist who writes fluffy stories about hotels and stuff that no one ever reads.
I should have spent all those years of high school and university napping. It was all such a waste of time. And my youth.
What our parents should have made us learn instead is practical stuff like how to punch someone who’s bullying you, or better yet, pinch a nerve and send them into a coma. Or how pick a lock and hotwire a car.
The other thing that they should have made us learn instead of useless things like ‘what’s the capital of Angola?’ is first aid. Which brings me back to my original point about people in a crisis.
So, a few days ago, Saffy went over to her best friend Sharyn’s for lunch.
“What are you making, Sharyn?” Saffy had asked when she arrived.
Sharyn looked at Saffy. “Hah? You think I cook, ah? Seow! I buy chwee kway from Tiong Bahru market and bah kut teh!”
Without missing a beat, Saffy, the original hawker whore replied, “Fabulous!”
As they set the kitchen table with food, Sharyn said Eric, her husband, had been sick with the flu for a couple of days.
“I hope he’s not joining us for lunch!” said Saffy, her compassion set to zero.
“No, lah, I buy him chicken congee, I give him now, but you eat first,” Sharyn said as she walked towards her bedroom with a steaming bowl.
Saffy says she’d barely had her first bite of the char kway teow when there was a crash of crockery in the distance.
“Aiyoh! Eric! Saffy! Help! Help!”
Saffy came running into the bedroom to find Sharyn staggering under the weight of Eric in her arms. She immediately started screaming. “Oh my God, oh my God, what happened, is he dead, oh my God!”
“Aiyoh, you don’t scream so loud, can or not? He just fainted. Ay, don’t stand there. Help me, lah! I’m about to drop him. Wah, so heavy! Must start diet!”
Very gently, they lowered Eric to the ground. Sharyn immediately tipped her husband onto his left side and told Saffy to get the Tiger Balm from her dresser.
“So what happened then?” Amanda later asked.
Saffy’s bosom expanded to a dangerous volume. “She dabbed some of that Tiger Balm under his nostrils and Eric came to eventually. Oh my God, I thought he’d died! I didn’t know what to do. I swear I was freaking out, but Sharyn was just so calm and collected like she was just having a manicure or something!”
“I don’t think I would have known what to do,” Amanda said with deep admiration.
“Well, she told me to call the ambulance and I literally had no idea what the emergency number was.”
Amanda hesitated. “Is it 911?”
“If you’re American!” Saffy said. “Then I thought maybe it was 000, but then remembered that was Australia and Singapore is 999, but by the time I’d figured all that out, Eric had woken up and was in the kitchen having his congee!”
“Well, that was useless!” Amanda pronounced.
“They should teach you this sort of thing in school!” Saffy said stoutly. “‘What to do if someone faints!’ Isn’t that a lot more useful than learning what six times six is? That’s what calculators are for! Imagine if Sharyn had stepped out for more chilli sauce and then he’d fainted!” Her bosom trembled in horror at the prospect. “She was just so calm! I’m still a complete emotional mess!”
Amanda says we need to pray hard that Saffy never needs to look after us in our old age. “Can you imagine?”