Friday, August 30, 2013


It’s funny how, sometimes, your life can change in just a few seconds. One minute, you’re calmly minding your own business, eating your cornflakes and the next thing you know, you’re busy taking your temperature twice a day, thinking up chic ways to wear a surgical mask and tossing back the Vitamin Cs like a professional drug addict.

Just the other day, I was at the dentist, flipping through a men’s magazine and trying hard to ignore the piercing whine of the drill that flooded the waiting room in full stereophonic splendour, when I came across a full page ad of a man’s stomach muscles. Ordinarily, I would immediately flip the page on point of principle. I mean, what kind of a sick world do we live in that people actually have to torture themselves and do sit-ups just so that they can have funny looking bumps on their stomachs?

But this ad was different. Next to the picture of the bronzed stomach, glistening with sweat, was a small bottle of lotion. “Ab Rescue!” it said proudly on the ad. It promised firmer, tighter, smoother looking abs in just 8 weeks. Just by rubbing the stuff on your stomach, Ab Rescue promised a 20% immediate improvement in skin tightness. All thanks to the product’s special thermogenic formula. I had no idea what a thermogenic formula did – the ad didn’t say – but it sure sounded impressive.

And just like that, I was sold. (Hey, I never said that I was against stomach muscles. I’m  just against the mind-numbingly boring exercises you have to do to get them in the first place.) So anyway, I cancelled the dental appointment and rushed out to get a bottle.

When I got home, my flat-mates, Saffy and Amanda were in the lounge-room in front of the TV, working out to Amanda’s home-exercise video. “And now, clench those glutes!” the woman on the TV exhorted. “Feel those muscles! Four more, and three, and two and one…”

“Oh, God!” Saffy moaned. “I could clench these glutes till the cows come home and got milked dry and I’d still never look like her! Oh, I’m in such pain! Did you take your temperature, Jason?”

“I’m not even sure I’m clenching the right muscles,” Amanda complained. “Where are the glutes anyway? Jason, what are you doing? What’s that you’re rubbing on your stomach?”

I held up Ab Rescue proudly and told them that exercising was now a thing of the past. “This stuff is miraculous!” I told them. “You just rub this on and you get abs like these,” and here, I held up the magazine page, “in eight weeks!”

“Really?” Amanda said, immediately stopping clenching her glutes, and wandered over to the sofa where I’d beached myself, slathering the lovely smelling lotion all over my fat tummy. “Are you supposed to be using so much?”

“Well, you see, I figured that if I doubled the dosage, I could reach my goal in four weeks!”

“What’s thermogenic?” Saffy asked, reading the label.

“Dunno, but it sounds impressively scientific! You want to try some?”

So, cut to two hours later and the three of us were sitting on the couch, intently studying our respective exposed stomachs, half expecting the fat to evaporate in slow motion, like a Discovery channel special, to expose the rock-hard six-packs that we knew was there and half disappointed when that didn’t happen.

“Well, at least it’s glistening like in the ad,” Amanda said after a while.

“I never knew my stomach had so many layers,” Saffy said as she lightly dabbed more Ab Rescue in between the crevices. More contemplative silence as we imagined how much more spectacular our lives would be with defined abs.

“You know,” Amanda announced, “it says here, in very small print, that this stuff works after eight weeks of use with regular exercise. But what’s regular?”

“What’s the point of this stuff then if we have to exercise?” Saffy huffed.

“Brisk walking is exercise,” I offered. “We could walk to the hawker center now and get dinner and if we did that every day, that’s regular right?”

“Absolutely. And I could do with some char kway teow,” Amanda exclaimed, brightly, struggling to get up.

“I want oyster omelete!” Saffy said, considerably cheered now that we’d defined exercise. “But wait, let me dab some of this stuff on my thighs. I want to see if it works on cellulite as well.”

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Waste Management

The other day, Amanda announced that it was probably time for us to have another colonoscopy procedure. And by ‘us’, she meant, of course, me and her, because the last time we had it done, Saffy absolutely refused to join us on account of the fact that it meant she had to skip several meals the day before.
            “No, no, no!” she’d said firmly on the day of the procedure. “No one said anything about starving! There are plenty of people in the world already doing that. I’m not joining them!”
             Amanda had sighed. “Saf, you do know how a colonoscopy works don’t you?”
Saffy’s chest had inflated. “It’s not rocket science! They stick a little camera up your bum to see if you have thing growing inside you!”
“And how do you expect the camera to see anything if your bowels are full of vegetarian beehoon?”
“Hey, that stuff keeps me regular!” Saffy had snapped. “And besides, if they can land an unmanned space probe on Mars, I don’t see why they can’t invent a camera that can see through…uhm…stuff. Like infra-red or something!”
And that was that. Amanda and I skipped lunch and dinner the day before the procedure, drank the laxative solution, spent the next four hours running to the toilet and immediately dropped two dress sizes.
For a long time afterwards, Saffy was haunted by our instant weight loss. As she struggled to fit into her new pair of skinny jeans, she berated herself for not having had the guts to take the plunge, as it were, into the world of colonal-rectal therapy.
Because that was how she had already reimagined the procedure. A colonoscopy was no longer a sterile abstract medical thing that other people did. By the time Saffy was done rationalizing it, she had reimagined the colonoscopy as a holistic therapy that one could have in much the same way that one signs up for a seaweed mud wrap at an expensive spa.
“It’s no different really from colonic irrigation!” she told people at dinner parties. “But it’s got the additional benefit of a camera probe!”
People tended to skip their dessert course after this gripping little medical anecdote, but Saffy, so caught up in the fantasy of the instant weight loss, never noticed.
Which is why when Amanda’s iPhone suddenly pinged last week with the announcement that she was due for a colonoscopy, Saffy went wild like it was her very first Christmas.
While Amanda got on the phone to set up an appointment with the gastroenterologist, Saffy raced down to Guardian to pick up the laxative medication, pausing only very briefly to stroke the new range of figure-hugging jeans from Massimo Dutti.
“Oh my God, I can’t wait!” she told her best friend Sharyn who went straight home and told her children that if they ever turned into hypochondriacs, she would beat them into next Sunday.
We’re all booked for our procedure tomorrow and today we began our prep, which largely involves eating only from a short list of boiled chicken, steamed fish, boiled eggs, skinless potatoes, white bread and jelly. We’re not allowed to eat vegetables, rice, noodles, red meat or fruit. Of course, as Amanda pointed out, none of this makes any sense since we’re all going to be emptying our bowels in two minutes, so what difference does it make what we eat?
“I'm so hungry,” Saffy said this morning in a quite voice that suddenly reminded me of Hannibal Lecter.
Amanda looked at her watch and then at me. It was only 8.45am. At noon, we are meant to stop eating and only drink liquid till after our procedure tomorrow.
“Well, we get to drink the laxative solution at noon!” Amanda said brightly, desperately hoping to take Saffy’s mind off food.
“I just had a boiled egg for breakfast!” Saffy mumbled, her eyes already taking on the glazed look of a serial killer. “How am I going to make it through till tomorrow?”
“We get to drink Bovril!” I said desperately, waving the doctor’s sheet of dietary instructions at her. “And as much tea and coffee as we want! Oh, well, maybe not coffee for you,” I added, catching sight of Amanda’s frantic waving in the background. “Yes, no coffee for you. We don’t want you too hyper. You’re already too tense…No. No, we don’t!”
Later, Amanda cornered me in the kitchen. “I don’t think she’s going to make it!”
We poked our heads around the corner and peeked into the lounge room where Saffy sat, eyes wide open, watching an episode of Nigella Lawson on TV.
Amanda says she hasn’t been this scared since she watched Khloe Kardashian give birth. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

That's What Friends Are For

Is it just me or is life so much more complicated these days? Once upon a time, when you didn’t like someone, you just stopped talking to them. Or, if you were passive aggressive, you would smile sweetly to their faces and then bitch about them endlessly to all your friends.
            These days, you can’t do that anymore because just about everyone you know is a friend on Facebook. People you’ve just met will suddenly send you a Facebook friend request.
            “I’m sending you a friend request now,” said someone the other day. I’d literally met her two minutes ago.
            I rearranged my face into a look of deep confusion. “Uhm, why?” I asked.
            “Because you’re funny, lah!”
            “What was that supposed to mean?” Amanda later asked.
            I shrugged. “No idea. Maybe it’s code for ‘you’re weird’.”
            “So did you accept her?”
            “Are you kidding me?” I said. “I’ve got, like, 200 friend requests I’m just ignoring!”
            “I wish I could do that!” Amanda said admiringly.
            Amanda belongs to that group of people who is incapable of saying no to friend requests on Facebook. Which is why she now has 2,500 friends of which 2,470 are complete strangers she’s randomly met over the years. Her daily newsfeed is filled with pictures and updates of people she doesn’t know. Every two minutes, a stranger invites her to play Candy Crush.
In the beginning, she would randomly ‘Like’ a photo of someone she had no recollection of ever having met, just to be polite, but when her friends list hit the 2,000 mark, even doing that turned into a full time job.
            Defeated, she stopped actively participating in Facebook and turned into what Saffy calls a Lurker.
            “You’re just Lurking!” Saffy said the other day. “If you’re not going to participate, you shouldn’t be on Facebook! It’s just creepy!”
            “But I don’t have time to participate with 2,555 friends!” Amanda sighed.
            Saffy’s bosom inflated.
            Amanda’s hair caught the slight breeze. “Yes, I know! Shoot me now! I’ve accepted 55 new friends! Oh my God!”
            Sharyn doesn’t know what the fuss is all about. “Aiyah, where got 2,555 friends, one? In life, hor, you only have five real friends, ah, I tell you! Un-friend the rest, lah! Look at Saffy!”
            Unused to be the centre of attention, Saffy’s chest puffed up. “Yes! Look at me! I did a major spring-clean the other day. Got rid of a hundred people! Well, when I say I got rid of them, I mean I hid them, which is the same thing.”
            Amanda looked doubtful. “Really? Who did you hide?”
            “Oh my freaking God!” Saffy blasphemed. “Who didn’t I hide? I started with all the people I’d not seen or heard from for the past two months. Then I hid all the friends who are always taking photos of the business class cabin they’re sitting in. Like, hello, don’t rub your expense account in my face while I’m catching the 111 bus to Toa Payoh, do you know what I mean?”
            Amanda, who’d recently posted on Facebook a picture of the satay trolley on Singapore Airlines’ business class cabin, looked a little guilty, but Saffy, who was on a roll, barely noticed.
            “And then,” she went on, “I hid all those friends who are constantly complaining about Singapore. Honestly, there were so many!”
            “Yah,” Sharyn said, “I or-so. Today, I un-friend five friend. Every post complain, complain! Gah-man not good, lah, ERP too high, lah, traffic jam, lah, this minister no good, that no good. Alamak, can die, ah! Facebook supposed to be fun, but these people hah, jialat! So…un-friend them all!”
            Amanda was amazed. “What? You literally un-friended them? You didn’t even hide them?
            “Don’t even bother!” Sharyn advised. “If you hide, you also have to hide all your posts from them. Extra two steps. Very lecheh. Easier you just un-friend them. Then they doh-no anything about your life! Much better, right?”
             Saffy says Sharyn is like the heartland version of Oprah. “Everything she says just makes so much sense! I’m telling you, after cleaning up Facebook, I feel so much better now! All that negativity has been purged, so I only have people I really want to be friends with!”
            By the look on Amanda’s face, you could tell she was thrilled by the prospect of shedding 2,470 people from Facebook. That night, she started with ten people, firmly hitting the ‘Unfriend’ button. When the earth didn’t open up and swallow her up, she was energized. The next night, she culled a hundred, and another hundred the next. She’s unstoppable.
            “I feel like Goldman Sachs!” she mutters as she selects candidates from her screen of smiling unsuspecting faces. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Heart Stopping

One of the sure signs you’re getting old is that you find yourself reading newspaper articles you would once have not even looked at as you flipped pages on your way to the movie listings. (Another is the fact that you’re reading an actual newspaper instead of getting all the breaking news of the day from Twitter and Facebook.)
            The other day, at the breakfast table, Amanda looked up from the newspaper and said something so peculiar, even Saffy stopped painting her nails to stare.
            “What?” Saffy said.
            Amanda blinked. “I said we need to eat a weekly portion of salmon if we’re to avoid arthritis.”
            “Again…what?” Saffy said, as she dipped the nail brush back into the bottle and screwed it shut so that she could devote her full attention to what was clearly going to be a bizarre conversation.
            Amanda thought she wasn’t being understood because she said “Well, it doesn’t have to be salmon. It can be any kind of oily fish.”
            Saffy looked at me for help.
            I put down my 8DAYS and sighed. “I think what Saffy means is, why are you talking to us using a sentence that involves the words ‘we’ and ‘arthritis’?”
            Saffy’s impressive bosom inflated in agreement. “Yes, thank you, that’s exactly it.”
            Amanda paused and you could tell her Harvard-trained brain was churning at light-speed, trying to work out an appropriate response that delivered maximum impact but without causing undue offense.
            “Uhm…it’s a preventative measure!” she said finally, though as Saffy later complained to her best friend Sharyn, it wasn’t so much Amanda’s presumption that we were all at the age when we might be at risk of getting arthritis that was offensive, it was the fact that she actually vocalized the thought. To us.
            Sharyn’s eyes looked huge behind her Coke bottle-thick glasses. “You think you very young, is it?” Saffy bristled at this, but Sharyn changed tack and powered on. “And anyway, the udder day, hor, I read about this fifteen year old girl, she also got arthritis! So poor ting!”
            The diversion worked because Saffy paused. “Fifteen? You can get arthritis at such an early age?”
            “Abuthen?” said Sharyn, qualified orthopedic surgeon.
            Which is why when we got home that evening, we found Saffy in a very smoky kitchen trying to pan fry salmon steaks.
            “Why is there so much smoke?” Amanda shouted over the noise of the exhaust fan.
            “I think I’ve just burnt the fish!” Saffy shouted back.
            We ended up having nasi padang at our local hawker stall. “Is this salmon?” Saffy asked the auntie, pointing at a curry dish. The woman smiled sweetly, exposing a row of shiny gums with no teeth, and nodded. Amanda later said that if what we were eating was salmon, then she was Nigella Lawson.
            A few days later, to celebrate Sharyn’s birthday, Saffy decided to bake a cake. “I think home-made cakes are always so much better than store bought,” she said as she flipped through her stack of Nigella cookbooks that she’s accumulated over the years. “So much healthier, too. I mean look at the woman! She looks amazing!”
            “Why are these cookbooks so new?” Amanda asked.
            “I only buy them for the pictures,” Saffy replied. “But this recipe looks easy enough.”
            Forty minutes into the prep, Saffy was defeated. She called me while I was magazine browsing in Kinokuniya. “I can’t make this cake!” she sobbed. “It’s too much!”
            “Isn’t it like a one bowl cake?” I asked. “You just throw all the ingredients into a bowl, mix and bake!”
            “It’s not that,” Saffy sniffed. “It’s got like 200 grams of butter!”
            I blinked. “Is that a lot?”
            “It’s an entire block of butter!” Horror leaked down the phone line. “And that’s without the icing which is another big block! And there’s like 300 grams of sugar! Do you know what 300 grams of sugar looks like? It’s a…a lot!” By now, she was breathing in shallow gasps. “At first, I thought our scales were wrong. My God, is this what goes into a cake? It’s no wonder I’m fat!”
            Of course, Sharyn doesn’t know what the fuss is about. “Aiyah, everything got fat and sugar, what! Why you tink your chicken rice taste so good? Or your you tiao? Or your moon cake! All got fat, what! That’s why you buy and not make yourself. Udder-wise, hor, you sure never eat, one!”
            Traumatised, Saffy threw out all her Nigella cookbooks and for a week now, she’s just been eating salads with no dressing. Every so often, you can hear her mutter, “Two hundred grams! My God!”