Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Holiday In

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. It’s not even the end of June as I write this, but it feels like it’s been such a long year already. If it wasn’t Joanne Peh breaking up with her boyfriend, it was her getting on with a new one. Or people being slaughtered at weddings in ‘Game of Thrones’. Or the stress of watching Roger Federer lose yet another tennis match. And don’t get me started on the haze. We’re still trying to wash the stench of smoke out of our hair.
Really, it’s just been one thing after the other. I so need a break.
Of course, the big issue now is just where to go. Brighter sparks out there will probably observe that we should jetted out of Singapore before the horrible haze hit and that now is the time to sit back and enjoy the much cleaner air.
Like my friend Barney Chen.
Long before the haze was shooting up into the 400s, Barney had already packed a bag containing 15 pieces of swimming briefs, a bottle of suntan oil and made a beeline for terminal 3. A few hours later, he was lying by a pool in Bali, wearing the first of his briefs and Tweeting about the glorious clear skies and Instagramming pictures of his gin and tonic.
“This is what Superman must feel like when he’s flying up near the sun!” he said smugly on Skype.
Saffy snatched my phone away from me. “Listen, Barney Chen, if you were a real friend, you would have asked us to come along with you! It’s just completely vile right now. I can’t see two feet in front of me, but…oh my God, pan back, pan back! Who is that cute guy in the background?”
“That would be lunch!” Barney smirked and hung up.
Saffy was incensed. “It’s absolutely unbelievable. Why is Barney Chen living it up in Bali and breathing good quality air while I’m turning into a smelly piece of smoked salmon?”
That was a few days ago. The haze has lifted. For now anyway. For the first time, we’ve opened our windows and though we continue to sniff the air with deep suspicion, it almost feels as if the worst has passed.
And with that passing, comes a feeling of deep exhaustion. Amanda says this is probably what giving birth must be like, a comment that led to Sharyn to give her an earful about the difference between post-partum exhaustion and post-haze delirium.
“I tell you, ah, you think giving birth is like holding your breath, is it? Damn painful, ah! It’s like, it’s like…it’s like someone pull the top of your mouth over your head, ah!”
Amanda squealed. “Oh my God, that is so disgusting, Sharyn!”
Sharyn, a veteran of four violent births, preened. “Abaden?”
When even a simple conversation can suddenly turn so bloodthirsty, is it any wonder that I’m so drawn to the idea of just lying on a soft cushion of sand with the sun warming my face and a breeze tickling my toes? I’m in half a mind to get on the next plane to Bali and joining Barney Chen.
            “You’re inviting me and Amanda to come along, aren’t you?” Saffy asked suspiciously when she saw me Google plane fares.
            “Absolutely not,” I said firmly. “I’ve just spent the past week and a bit holed up in this flat with the two of you. All the windows have been sealed. We’ve been breathing in recycled air and eating tinned tuna and takeaway pizza for days. I need a break from you!”
            Saffy’s fabulous bosom, newly liberated from the haze, expanded. “That is just so incredibly rude! Fine, go to Bali by yourself then. See if I care! I’ll…I’ll go and watch ‘Man of Steel’ instead! And at night, I’ll just fantasize about Henry Cavill!”
            I turned from my laptop and looked up. “Look,” I said kindly. “It’s nothing personal. I need a change of scenery. Why don’t you girls go off to Penang or something and eat some char kway teow! Or check into a nice little hotel in Bangkok and get some cheap Botox injections!”
             You could tell by the glint in Saffy’s eyes that she was taken with the idea. But like a dog with a bone, she wasn’t about to let me off the hook too easily.
            “Excuse me,” she began, “but are you saying that I am looking wrinkly?”
            “Oh, look at the time!” I said, standing up in a rush. “I’m late for drinks with…uhm…Stan.”
            “Oh, you better go then. Wait, who’s Stan? Is he single? Can I come?”
             Like I said, I so need a holiday.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Up in smoke

Hopefully, by the time you read this, the haze would have lifted and we’d all be able to breathe normally again without hyperventilating from taking short breaths, and obsessing about toxic micro-particles and checking the PSI readings every five minutes.
            In the little flat I share with my crazy flatmates Saffy and Amanda, we get down on our knees every morning and thank God we had the foresight years ago to invest in two hospital strength air-purifiers.
            At the time, Amanda had objected to buying them on account of the fact that they’re the ugliest things she’d ever seen.
            “They look like paper-shredders!” Amanda exclaimed. “They won’t go with anything in our flat!”
            “Like you do, you mean?” Saffy muttered mutinously under her breath.
            Amanda’s head swivelled around. “Excuse me?”
            “I said, ‘I so know what you mean!’” Saffy replied smoothly.
            Now, of course, you couldn’t pry the air-purifiers out of Amanda’s hands for all the Louis Vuitton bags in the world.
            “Thank God we got these!” she said the other day as she knelt beside the machine and inhaled the air. “What’s the PSI, Saf?”
            “Still the same, 400!” Saffy reported, her eyes never leaving the live-feed she was getting on her phone from dashsell.com.
            “Honestly, it’s like the end of the world!” Amanda said.
            Just then, Saffy’s phone pinged with a message. “Oooh, it’s from Sharyn!” There was a brief silence as Saffy swiped the screen and read the message, her lips moving as she mouthed the words.
            “What’s she saying? What’s the visibility over at Bishan like?” Amanda asked.
            “She says, ‘I got my n95 mask!! From Quantam safety. Block 998 Toa Payoh north #3-14/15! $48 for box of 10! Hurry got queue!’ Isn’t that like just down the road?”
            “Did she get extra boxes for us?” I asked.
            “All those numbers are giving me a headache!” Amanda complained, though I couldn’t help but wonder if the headache wasn’t coming from all the oxygen-enriched air she was breathing.
            That’s the thing about this haze. It’s making otherwise normal people do all sorts of odd things. Like get excited about a box of face-masks. Sure enough, news soon reached us through Facebook that Sharyn had decided to turn a quick buck and was selling her N95 masks on eBay for $20 each. Within a few hours, she’d made a 400% profit on her initial investment.
            She immediately headed down to Toa Payoh Central – without any protective face mask – and put it all down on 4D, buying the highest PSI numbers of the past few days. The very next day, she woke up with a raspy throat and a low grade fever which kept her in bed for the next 48 hours.
            Of course, when our friend Barry came through Singapore from Hong Kong with a box of N95 masks which he sold to us at cost for $40 for a box of 20, Sharyn threw an uncharacteristic tantrum.
            “Aiyoh, $40! For twenty!” she shouted over the phone from her sick-bed. “I pay $48 you know. For ten! How like that? Some more, I did not strike 4D! Not fair. I must complain! Ay, Amanda, I ask you, who to complain to, hah?”
            “Someone who cares?” Amanda replied, her eyes never once lifting from her current issue of Vogue. She handed the phone over to Saffy just as Sharyn was asking, “Got gah-men department like that, meh?” It was a question that led Saffy to later remind Amanda that such finely tuned sarcasm was wasted on some people. Especially if they’re called Sharyn.
            Meanwhile, the PSI numbers continue to fluctuate between 350 and 400. We’ve been indoors for days now. All the windows are sealed shut and the gap under the front door is blocked with a damp rolled up towel.
            We are, of course, ignoring the fact that some of that hazy air must still be coming in. “Otherwise, we’d all be dead, no?” Saffy pointed out with penetrating scientific insight. We solved the conundrum by placing one air-purifier at the door.
            It’s all starting to look and feel like a scene out of some post-apocalyptic horror movie but without any good looking movie stars in the lead role. Our food supplies are still holding up though Saffy says she wishes our favourite char kway teow stall down the road does home delivery. “I’m really sick of eating that tinned tuna and tinned peaches.”
Amanda said if this haze keeps up, we’re going to start turning feral and eat each other.
“I hope you like gnawing on bones, because that’s all there’s going to be left of me,” Saffy said as she grudgingly stuck another spoonful of tinned tuna into her mouth. 

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Food Fight

Regular readers will know that in the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda, we’re prone to flash obsessions.
            One minute we’re hyperventilating at the mere mention of “The Following” and the next, we’re cyber-stalking Kai Kai and Jia Jia, the two insanely cuddly pandas at River Safari.
            Of course, we’re triumphant at dinner parties because we can talk about just about anything to anyone. Amanda can switch effortlessly from the latest Victoria’s Secret Fashion collection to why Hillary Clinton is, despite her fondness for pant-suits, the best Secretary of State. Ever.
I once completely charmed my boss when I spent the whole evening at a party discussing with his fifteen-year old daughter just how unsuitable Selena Gomez was for Justin Bieber. We were, like, instant BFF. The next day, he gave me a pay rise.
            Our current obsession is food in general, and food in China specifically.
            The other day, at breakfast, Saffy was scrolling through her iPhone when she suddenly squealed.
            “Oh my God, you guys have got to see this!” she said. Immediately, our phones pinged with incoming messages.
            It was a website link called Ministry of Tofu and the first item was a sequence of photos that showed someone inserting a piece of rubber into the forehead of a dead duck so that it would now look like a dead goose.
            “But why…” Amanda began. “Oh…”
            Apparently, roast goose is more expensive than a roast duck, so some clever Billy in Guangdong decided to cheat and pretend a duck was a goose and sell it at a higher margin.
            Saffy was impressed. “I tell you, the Chinese are just so entrepreneurial!”
            Amanda blinked. “Uhm, you’re not in the least bit outraged?”
            “Why? You think your precious Birkin bag actually costs $15,000 to make?”
Amanda was outraged. “Excuse me, but how is making a fake goose the same as an authentic made in France bag?”
Saffy was unruffled by the italics. From experience, she knew the best way to win an argument with a lawyer, especially one educated at Harvard, is to change the subject while pretending it’s still the same subject, thereby completely derailing the conversation. “It’s whatchamacallit, caveman empty?”
Amanda blinked again. “What?”
“You know, when it’s your responsibility to check what you buy and if you don’t, it’s your fault if you bought a dud!”
It took a moment. “Oh, you mean caveat emptor!”
Saffy beamed. “There you go. God, you’re so clever, Amanda, to know all that satin, I mean, Latin!”
Unused to praise, Amanda visibly swelled. Then she frowned. “Wait, so what are we talking about?”
            For days, we trawled through the Ministry of Tofu, alternating between horror at the chemicals and additives and downright culinary cheating to be found in Chinese restaurants, and complete admiration that someone actually found the time to come up with the different scams in the first place. It was riveting.
Of course, Sharyn had her own perspective on the whole thing.
“Yah, lah, the world got food shortage, mah! Sure must find substi-tute, right? We Chinese are very clever, one!”
“Food shortage?” said Amanda who only ever eats a salad leaf for dinner these days.
“Abaden? You know, hah, in America, each American throw away 400 pound of food, you know or not? UK lagi worse, ah, I tell you. Each year throw away 7.2m tonne! How not to have food shortage like that, I ask you?”
Saffy, unused to having numbers thrown at her like this from a best friend who normally only complains about the quality of her married sex life, was reduced to silence and a blank stare. Only the rhythmic heave of her bosom indicated she was still alive.
“Some more, hor,” Sharyn went on, “the world throw away thirty to fifty per cent of the food it produce! And now America got worse drought in fifty year! One six of corn production kena! I tell you, ah, ten year from now, we all con-firm die, one!”
Amanda later said that it was one of the most unsettling conversations she’s ever had in her life, including the one she had when she was thirteen with her mother about how a new friend was going to be visiting her every month for the rest of her life. “What the hell was that?”
“It was like a scene out of ‘Rain Man’,” Saffy confirmed, adding, “but in Singlish!”
“Speaking of, did you know that Dustin Hoffman is now seventy-six?” Amanda piped up.
“Shut. Up!”
“No, really. I wonder what skin care he’s using. He looks amazing!”
“I am ob-sessed with him!” Saffy said. Her eyes shone.

Fan Wrong

It’s funny how sometimes people you’ve never met can have such a huge impact on your life. My brother Jack, for instance, went through a heavy metal phase in his teens on account of his obsession with Black Sabbath and KISS.
For years, my mother shuddered whenever she thought of how close she had came to losing her son to a band whose greatest hits included such memorable titles as ‘War Pigs’ and ‘Children of the Grave’. And then, when she finally watched Ozzie Osbourne in the reality show “Meet the Osbournes” doddering about his house in his bi-focals trying to keep his family of screaming wife and bratty children in line, she was completely disarmed.
“He’s such a lovely man!” she told her astonished mahjong kaki. “I don’t know why I was ever worried about his influence on Jack!”
“He bit the head off a live chicken!” her sister, Wai-ling, pointed out.
“It was a dove!” Mother said in a tone that indicated that this made all the difference.
Meanwhile, Jack, whose musical tastes graduated from Black Sabbath to Tracy Chapman without the slightest sense of irony, doesn’t see what the fuss is all about. “I liked their vibe,” he says. “And anyway, anyone with half a brain could see that Ozzie was completely harmless. Even when he was completely coked up and booze was seeping out of his pores,” he adds amiably.
My flatmate Amanda, on the other hand, is a card-carrying member of the Singapore Chapter of the “We Love Angelina Jolie” fan club. The fact that the club comprises entirely of her and honorary member, Sharyn, doesn’t faze her one bit.
“She’s my hero and my earth mother,” Amanda will tell anyone who cares to listen. “If it was legally possible, she’d be my religion!”, a comment that led Saffy to write yet another stinging letter to Harvard demanding that they immediately withdraw their law degree from Amanda.
“How could anyone not worship that woman?” Amanda would wonder to the world at large. “She rescues African children and fights for world peace! She deserves the Nobel Peace Prize!”
Saffy’s formidable chest will inflate. “She deserves to be in jail! She stole Brad Pitt from Jennifer Aniston!”
“It takes two hands to clap,” Amanda will reply cryptically.
At this point, Saffy will go bug-eyed. “What the hell does that even mean?”
Of course, all this became moot when news broke that Angelina had had a double mastectomy. In the world according to Amanda, this event has elevated Angelina to the status of sainthood.
Even Saffy had to pause in her ongoing vendetta against a Hollywood actress she’s never met, on behalf of another Hollywood actress she’s never met either.
“Really? She had both cut off?”
            Amanda’s eyes were shining. “Isn’t she just amazing? So brave!”
            By the look of doubt now etched on Saffy’s face, you could tell that she was conflicted by her lust for vengeance and her unexpected admiration and newfound respect. She’d not felt this way since she suddenly found herself rooting for JR Ewing in the new ‘Dallas’.
            Leave it to Sharyn to put things into perspective.
            “Aiyoh, I tell you, ah, I doh-no why some people, hor, must go and tell their personal life to the whole world! Your personal life is your personal life, right? You share share share until no more privacy! Seow, ah, I tell you!” Sharyn paused to draw breath and plunged back in.
“You break up with your boyfriend, break up, lah! Why must go and conduct interview with 8DAY? And then, hor, two second later, got new boyfriend, and lagi go call up 8DAY for another interview and this time say how much you love your new boyfriend and this time con-firm is the one! Last time you or-redi confirm is the one, what! Aiyoh, I just cannot stand these people!”
Saffy turned to Amanda and whispered out of the side of her mouth, “Do you have any idea who she’s talking about?”
Amanda, who only ever reads 8DAYS for the Hollywood gossip, hazarded a guess. “Gurmit Singh?”
Saffy was astonished. “Gurmit Singh is gay?”
Amanda coughed. “Wait, Gurmit Singh is a man? Oh, I had no idea, I was just picking random names.”
“I can’t believe you don’t know who Gurmit Singh is!”
“You know I don’t watch local TV!”
Sharyn suddenly noticed that no one was paying her any attention. “Ay, what are you two talking about?”
Later, Amanda said that Sharyn’s unique brand of tough love could be a little hard to take.
“God, imagine if she had a talk show.”
“There’d be no one on it!” Amanda predicted. “Not even Angelina Jolie!”