Saturday, July 27, 2013

Penny Pinching

While the rest of Singapore seems to be wallowing in brand spanking new shops and restaurants and spas and theme parks and $500 a head dinners, in the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda, we’re in the grips of a severe austerity drive. We’re practically surviving on bak kut teh and diluted chin chow.
            And by ‘we’, I mean of course, Saffy. Amanda just got promoted to junior partner at her law firm, so she is flush with cash. As soon as her increment came in, she disappeared into Prada for four hours and emerged with a brand new wardrobe that should last her till next Christmas. If she could bathe in champagne, she probably would.
            Meanwhile, Saffy has set her bank account balance to a special app on her phone that pings every time something happens to it. Such as a deposit or, which is more likely these days, a debit.
            The other day, a ping alerted her to the fact that her bank had just credited two cents to her account.
            “Oh my God, two cents? What’s that for?” She busied herself tapping and swiping. There was a moment’s silence. “Interest payment? I got interest payment of two cents? Are you freaking kidding me?” she shouted at her phone.
            “You should donate that to charity,” Amanda said from behind her latest copy of French Vogue.
            Saffy looked interested. “Oh? Why?”
            “You can claim a tax relief on the donation.”
            “Really? How much?”
            “Two cents.”
            Saffy spent the whole of lunch ranting about how she now totally understood why the last king and queen of France got their heads chopped off. “I would have been in the front row! Can you imagine the insensitivity of that Amanda?”
            Sharyn put down her chopsticks and stared owlishly at Saffy. “Aiyah, she joking, what!”
            “Well, it’s not funny, Sharyn! I’m practically broke. And by the way, you’re paying for lunch.”
            Sharyn waved her hands magnanimously. “Aiyah, of course, lah. This is Crystal Jade La Mian, I can afford. Next time, hor, we go to Crystal Jade Golden Palace, you pay.”
            Saffy radiated resentment as she sipped her chrysanthemum tea.
            “Ay, I ask you, hor,” Sharyn went on. “You got no children, you got no husband…”
            There was a glint in Saffy’s eyes. “Where are you going with this, Sharyn?”
            Sharyn flapped her napkin at Saffy. “Aiyah, don’t be so sensitive, can or not? I was saying, you got no children, no husband, no car, no mortgage, but you got good job and your rent so low…How come you got no money?”
            The question haunted Saffy. She went back to the office and spent the whole afternoon looking at her online bank statements.
            “I have no idea where the money goes,” she later said to me. “Like, I took out $100 two days ago, and today, I’m down to $5! How is that possible? Have you been stealing from my purse?”
            Wisely, I ignored the bait. “Didn’t you have lunch with Sharyn earlier in the week?”
            “Yes, but that was only, like, $20.”
            “Then you bought some make up at MAC.”
            “Just some lipstick!”
            “And you topped up your MRT card.”
            Saffy shrugged. “$10.”
            “You took the taxi to and from home.”
            Saffy’s brow furrowed as she did the maths. “$30.”
            “And there’s your $95!”
            Saffy looked shell-shocked. “My God.”
            “A hundred bucks doesn’t get you far these days,” I said and immediately realized that I sounded just like my mother, though, to be fair, what she actually says is: “A thousand bucks can barely buy you lunch these days.”
            Depressed and defeated by the state of her financial affairs, Saffy has put herself on a strict budget of $10 a day which must cover everything from transport to meals. Every evening, she comes home and empties her purse to count what she has left over. The most she ever collects is ten cents.
            “This is awful!” she moaned this morning. “All I’m eating for lunch is Old Chang Kee curry puffs! At this rate, I’m going to be fat and explode in zits.”
            “I thought you loved their curry puffs!” I said.
            A sob escaped from her. “But not every day! But everything else is so expensive! And the teh-o down the road just went up by five cents! The nerve of that uncle! And I miss catching the cab! Do you know what it’s like to catch the MRT during peak hour? Oh my God!”
            Absent mindedly, she pulled out her new MAC lipstick and delicately swiped her lips. “I do love this colour,” she murmured. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Date Line

This morning, news reached the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda that our serial dating friend Adeline Chen had broken up with her boyfriend.
            “My God,” Amanda said, “what is that, the fifth break-up this year?”
            “At least,” Saffy said, as she scrutinized the text message, analyzing it for hidden clues and shameful subtexts. “I actually had high hopes for this one. He had amazing abs!”
“How does she have the stamina?” Amanda wondered.
“Which means she’s back on the market and dating again,” Saffy added. “Ugh, how horrible. Can you imagine being that age and still dating? It reminds me of the Rainforest Incident…”
Amanda groaned.
In a lifetime filled with disastrous dates, the Rainforest Incident ranks way up there for spectacular dating trauma. We’ve heard it a million times. Amanda is convinced it should be inscribed on Saffy’s tombstone.
It happened years ago when Saffy worked in the same office as Amanda and before we’d all started living together. She arrived one morning and announced to the entire office that she was never going on another date again.
“I’ve never been so humiliated in my life!” she told the pool of breathless secretaries. To a woman, they were all married but happily relived their Singleton days vicariously through Saffy’s riveting dating traumas.
Apparently, the date had started so well. He was a charming and handsome remisier Saffy had picked up in the line at Starbucks. An ACS boy from a wealthy family. Spoke French on account of having spent two years working in a French vineyard after his stint in the army. Perfect manners.
“He stands up every time a woman approaches or leaves the table! Who does that these days?” Saffy asked in a penetrating aside to the circle of shaking heads. And the piece de resistance? He had a holiday home in Bali.
“Are you liking it so far?” Saffy asked, looking around at her captive audience. There was a collective nod. “I was ticking all the boxes in my head. This was a great date!”
The food was excellent. “I practically inhaled the spinach tart! It was so good!” Saffy swooned, hands clasped in ecstasy over her bosom. The music was muted. The wines flowed and cutlery tinkled gently on white flatware. By the time dessert came around, Saffy was already mentally fitting into her Vera Wang wedding dress and planning who she wasn’t going to invite.
“So then I excused myself to go to the bathroom because I had to, you know, touch up and, yes, he stood up when I left the table,” Saffy said to a collective sigh. By now, the entire office – everyone from Sanjeep, the office boy to Mrs Yi, the senior partner – had gathered, pulled in by the sheer force of Saffy’s dramatic narrative. There is something tremendously gripping about an impending dating mishap.
“And there I am putting on lipstick and you know how you do this–” Here, Saffy leaned towards an imaginary mirror, pursed her lips together while rubbing them once, twice and then bared her teeth in a grimace. The women nodded knowledgeably on account of having performed this very ritual since the day they were born; while the men looked blankly at one another.
Apparently, Saffy’s gasp at what she saw in the mirror was so loud that several women felt compelled to poke their heads over the toilet cubicles to see what the matter was.
“I had a huge chunk of spinach wedged in my front teeth!” Saffy said, one hand clutched to her bosom which, by now, was heaving with remembered distress.
“What, through the entire dinner?” Amanda asked, eyes wide in horror.
Saffy nodded. “Well, I must have because I had that tart for an appetizer!”
Aiyoh!” Sharyn moaned in distress as she rocked back and forth in her chair.
“And he didn’t say anything during the entire dinner?” Amanda went on. “How could he not say anything?”
“Damn suay, you know! Why he like that, one?” Sharyn wanted to know, somehow comforted by the fact that she would never have to go through an experience like this since she was already unhappily married with two children and a mortgage, and dinner dates tended to happen to other single people.
“It was awful. It was the size of a rainforest!” Saffy continued, by now really getting into the swing of her story. She was so mortified, she slipped out of the restaurant and SMS’d her date to say that she was ill.
“I’ve never been so traumatised in my life,” Saffy now said.
“Maybe you should put that on your tombstone!” Amanda suggested brightly.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

I Spy

The other morning at breakfast, Amanda looked up from her newspaper and announced that the world was coming to an end.
            “I really hope not,” Saffy muttered, her eyes still glued to her phone, one hand scrolling down the screen, and the other shoveling fried beehoon into her mouth. “I just lost one kilo after months of dieting and I need a bit more time to enjoy the sensation.”
            From bitter experience, Amanda knew not to get sucked into that little conversational detour. She let a few moments pass, wisely judging when it was time to start again.
            “I mean, look at this,” she went on, giving the newspaper a good rattle. “America is bugging everyone. Andy Murray just might win Wimbledon and Rupert Murdoch is about to be investigated for all sorts of things. Nineteen firefighters died fighting fire. Oh, and Kim Kardashian’s new baby is called North! What kind of parents would burden an innocent child with that kind of name?”
            Saffy looked up from her phone.
            “Wait. What? The baby is called North?”
            “Yep, that’s what they say.”
            “But…but the father is Kanye West?”
            Saffy paused, her brain struggling to keep up. “So,” she said slowly, “the baby is called North West?”
            Amanda sighed. “I know. Isn’t that the most stu…”
            “What a brilliant name!” Saffy exclaimed. “I love it. The Americans are just so creative!”
            Amanda later complained to Sharyn that sometimes it horrified her to think that she was breathing the same air as Saffy. “What if I’m breathing in stupid germs?”
            “Aiyoh, where got stupid germs, one? You sure you got go to university?” Sharyn said, her entire body vibrating in astonishment at the quality of graduates from Harvard these days.
            “You don’t know what it’s like, Sharyn,” Amanda said desperately. “The other day, she said she was convinced that someone was reading her emails and listening into her phone conversations.”
            Sharyn was bug-eyed. “Aiyoh, she also, ah?”
            Amanda blinked.
            Sharyn caught the look. “Ay, no joke, I think someone also read my email!”
            When she came home, it was all Amanda could talk about. “Seriously, why would anyone be hacking her email? I can barely understand what she is saying half the time! Can you imagine trying to read one of her emails?”
            Of course, Saffy doesn’t think it’s a laughing matter though I can’t help but wonder just how she knows her email is being hacked.
            “It stands to reason. If the Americans are hacking into all those other governments servers, you think they’re not also hacking into the domestic servers?”
            “Yes, but why would they hack into yours in particular?” I asked.
            Saffy looked surprised. “Why wouldn’t they? I’m just as important a profile as your average KGB spy!” she said with conviction. “And I’m an innocuous middle-management flunky! They’re perfect covers for embedded spies! Like that couple in ‘The Americans’ or that hot Damien Lewis in ‘Homeland’!”
            “Which are TV shows!” I said, desperately trying to keep up with this runaway train.
            “Which I’m sure could just as easily be based on real life incidents,” Saffy insisted.
            Amanda says that even if it is true that Saffy and Sharyn’s email accounts are being hacked into by some unknown government agency, so what? “Have you seen some of the emails Saffy sends me on a daily basis?” she asked. “This morning, she sent me a picture of Ronaldo and asked why his skin was such a revolting shade of orange. Good luck to the CIA trying to decode that secret message!”
            All of which has got me thinking about what the CIA would make of my emails, most of which involve me chatting to PR ladies about lunch, hotels, restaurants and other frivolous bits of gossip. Maybe they would think we were really transmitting messages about drop-offs and secret meetings in hotel lobbies. Maybe when they read my email about the delicious Peking Duck at Imperial Treasure, they think I’m talking about meeting a secret agent to hand over classified documents about Singapore’s deep space programme.
            Amanda says if this is not a sure sign that the world is coming to an end, she doesn’t know what is. “We are complete nonentities! Nobody cares about our emails!” she said this morning.
            “Don’t be so sure,” Saffy said darkly. “People get accused of espionage all the time!”
            “All the time?” Amanda challenged.
            “Of course they do. You just don’t hear about it. It’s all kept very hush-hush and secret. They throw you into jail and tell all your friends you’ve migrated!”
            Amanda says it wouldn’t be such a tragedy if Saffy were to suddenly migrate.