Monday, December 29, 2014

Plane Crazy

It can’t be news to anyone that the world is not only a very dangerous place, it’s also very dirty. And by ‘dirty’, I mean, of course, ‘full of germs’.
            There was a story in the newspaper recently that said that children should be allowed to crawl around on the ground on the basis that this would allow them to build up immunity to illnesses. I believe the notion of ‘let them eat dirt’ was floated, though I may have been hallucinating that bit on account of the fact that I was so incredibly repulsed by the time I got to the end of the first paragraph.
            “You know, it might have do you some good to be a little less precious!” Saffy said to me when I told her about the article. We were at the airport waiting for our flight to Bali. In front of us, an Australian couple was watching their toddler crawl around on the carpet of the departure lounge. “We all need a bit of germs, otherwise we’d be living in a bubble!”
            It was like watching a horror movie. “But Saf,” I whispered, “I get the idea of rolling around on the grass or…or…walking bare-feet through mud, not that I would ever do that, but that kid is sticking his face into the exact spot where that guy was standing and just five minutes ago, he was standing in a puddle of pee in the toilet!”
            Saffy was impressed. “And you know this because…”
            “Five minutes ago, I was standing next to him in the loo looking down and wondering why he couldn’t see that he was standing in a puddle of pee!”
            Saffy looked put out. “Men are so disgusting!” she announced even as she suddenly spotted another waiting male passenger a few seats away calmly picking his nose.
            “You know, suddenly, I don’t feel so well,” she told me.
            “Just wait till we get on-board,” I replied.
            So, here’s the thing about planes. All those soft-focus airline commercials of beautiful, happy passengers in slow motion striding through an airport, dashing captains, smiling stewardesses serving bubbling champagne, and shots of gorgeously made up passengers gently falling into white linen and fluffy pillows while the ambient lighting dims? It’s all a farce.
            What they don’t show is me in seat 35J whipping out a packet of Dettol antiseptic wipes (‘Kills 99.9% of germs’, it says on the packet, though I remain disturbed by the 0.1% of germs that survive). I diligently wipe down the armrest, the TV screen, and the remote control.
            Then, I take out a large cloth from my bag and drape it neatly over the back of my chair, including the headrest.
            Saffy stood in the aisle, causing a minor traffic jam behind her and looked at me, her awesome bosom slowly trembling.
            “Seriously? The headrest?”
            “Do you know how many unwashed heads rest on these things? And who knows where those heads have been resting on before they got on-board?”
            By the suddenly glint in Saffy’s eyes, you could tell she’d never thought about it. “But surely, they change these white flappy head cloths…” She trailed off.
            “In Business and First Class maybe, but you really think our $185 economy ticket covers the cost of that level of housekeeping?” I said sitting down. I pulled out another sheet of Dettol and began scrubbing the seat-belt buckle.
            Meanwhile, the Australian couple settled down in the row across the aisle from us. The baby was propped up against his mother. He began drooling onto the white headrest cloth.
            “You know, if I could,” I said as I gave my TV screen one last swipe, “I would pack one of those hand-held Hoovers and give this plane a good dusting.”
            Saffy later told Sharyn that she had started the holiday with a normal, well adjusted attitude towards germs in general, but by the time I’d finished telling her about the germ levels in your average plane toilet and the cabin crew had started their in-flight safety demonstration, all she could think of why nobody was talking about the last time the back-seat flip-down trays had been cleaned.
            “These things are the filthiest! They’re never cleaned,” I told Saffy as I handed her a Dettol wipe and watched with approval as she gave her tray a vigorous wipe. “Don’t forget the edges and the lever.”
When Saffy turned the wipe over, it was grey with a sprinkling of black bits.       “Aiyoh,” Sharyn said. “How to be so clean? One day you have children, then how?”
I’m amazed that Sharyn has never wondered why I’ve never visited her home.    

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pride of Place

Singapore’s 49th National Day may have come and gone, but all my friends on Facebook are still a bit misty-eyed about the celebrations. Every other post is a patriotic, chest-thumping, celebratory picture of fireworks, and friends and family members waving dinky little red and white flags.
            “Doesn’t it just make you so proud to be Singaporean?” I remember asking my friend Janet over lunch, the day after the big parade.
            “Not really,” she groused, stabbing her piece of steak with unusual force. “I can’t wait to get out of here!”
            I was astonished. “Really?”
            “You mean you’re not? I can’t stand the crowds. Everything is so expensive. George and I can’t even afford to buy a home of our own. We have no work-balance in our lives!”
            “But where would you go?” I asked, genuinely curious.
            Janet shrugged. “We’re thinking of Australia! Or America!”
            “Amanda just came back from Australia and she said a simple breakfast costs fifty bucks!” I told her. “And you realize that once you get residency in America, you will get taxed on your global income?”
            Janet looked unimpressed by my fiscal wisdom. “Well, at least I’ll have some privacy and not have people telling me what to do or what not to do all the time!” she said.
            “But their healthcare system…”
            “I’m still young and healthy so that’s not an issue right now. We were also thinking of the UK!”
            By this stage, I almost felt as if my eyebrows couldn’t rise any further. “You seriously want to go to a country where the top tax rate of 55% kicks in at £50,000? For all that work, you take home less than $23,000, out of which you have to pay at least £300 a week for a tiny pokey flat with no maid? Which leaves you what?” I asked as my brow furrowed working out the mental maths, “uhm…it leaves you…uhm…£7,400 a year for all your living expenses?”
            Now it was Janet’s turn to frown. “Are you sure you’re doing the maths right?” She pulled out a pen and started scribbling numbers on her napkin. When she finally looked up, I can’t say I wasn’t pleased to see a bit of the “I hate Singapore” spirit seep out of her.
            Later that evening, after I’d recounted the story to the girls, Amanda sniffed. “It’s always the case. Everyone hates Singapore and wants to migrate somewhere else till they sit down and do their budget and realize that it’s all very well living in another country so long as you don’t have to eat or shop!”
            Sharyn was equally blunt. “Yah, boy! The young people so ungrateful deese day. Such a good life here in Singapore, some more want to go and live in UK! Siow, ah! When, hor, I star-dee in London, I was so poor, I every day eat Maggie mee, ah, I tell you! Wah lau, to dis day, I cannot stand Maggie mee! I die of starvation I also won’t eat!”
            Amanda blinked. You could almost see her mentally rewinding the last few seconds of conversation.
            “Wait a minute…you went to school in London?” she asked. If she had any lines on her face, disbelief would have been etched in every one. As it was, her face just kind of reassembled itself into a question mark.
            Abuden?” asked Sharyn, Supreme Auntie Ah Lian.
“Which university?”
            Amanda’s face was a picture of confusion. “You went to the London School of Economics?” she asked.
            “You think what? NUS, is it?”
Amanda turned to Saffy. “Did you know this?”
            Saffy smirked. “She had a scholarship to Harvard, but she rejected it!”
            “Yar, loh,” Sharyn said, nodding. “My time hor, Harvard not very good with its management course. Dat’s why I am so grateful to Singapore. If got no scholarship, where got a kampong girl like me go to London to study, one?”
            Saffy says till the day she dies, she’s never going to forget the look on Amanda’s face when Sharyn said she’d voluntarily given up a scholarship to Harvard. “Really, Amex should have been filming it! It sure makes up for all those times she’s rubbed our noses into her stupid Harvard degree! Totally golden moment!”
            Meanwhile, Sharyn’s been carpet bombing Janet’s Facebook page with discouraging articles about London covering everything from its distinctly lackluster healthcare service to the extraordinarily high taxes and prohibitive cost of housing.
            “Ay,” she added in one post, “London is the most polluted city in Western Europe. And also Oxford Street air quality is worse than Beijing!”
            Janet says she’s never felt so harassed in her life, which, speaking as a Singaporean, she adds, is saying something.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Saffy from the Block

Regular readers will be in intimate terms with my flatmate Saffy’s ongoing battle with constipation. And if you’re reading this during breakfast, I apologise in advance, though my mother would probably be the first to weigh in with the opinion that it’s all such a lot of fuss about something that’s so natural.
Everybody has to do it,” she once pointed out to a scandalized guest at a dinner party after she’d given a particularly graphic description of a recent bout of food poisoning in India. “Even now,” she went on, in confidential tones, “I can’t look at a plate of dhal without getting dizzy!”
A few years later, when my mother recounted the story, Saffy said sadly that she’d do anything to have a dose of Delhi Belly. “Or any city belly, to be honest,” she added, proving once again that the girl doesn’t have a single racially prejudiced bone in her body. “I’m just so stuffed up right now. This is the third day I’ve not been to the loo!”
I remember my mother frowning as she fingered her pearl necklace. “But Saffy, dear…” Mother hesitated trying to find a delicate way to phrase what she was about to say. “You’ve been eating a lot over the past few days. In fact, since I’ve arrived, I’ve rarely seen your mouth empty of food! Where is it all going?”
Saffy shrugged. “Beats me. I get hungry when it’s meal-time, so I eat. Maybe I’m just peeing it all out?”
Mother’s tinkling laugh could be heard all the way down the street. “Oh my dear, can you imagine? We’d all be stick thin!”
I bring all this up because a few nights ago, Saffy staggered into my room and announced that she was dying.
“I am literally dying!” she said dramatically. She stood at the entrance of my room, the backlight outlining her body through her sheer Victoria’s Secret nightie. “Do something!”
Which is how we found ourselves in a taxi at three in the morning, hurtling towards the hospital.
“What do you mean you’re dying?” Amanda bleated even as she carefully and expertly applied make-up in the backseat.
“It means I’m dying! I’m in complete agony! My heart hurts! My ribs hurt! My head hurts! My lower back hurts! This isn’t normal! Oh, God, are we there yet?!”
Of course, once we arrived at the A and E, we had to fill in tonnes of paperwork and then wait in a crowded room. Even in her heightened state of pain, Saffy was still able to cast a critical eye over the waiting patients.
“They don’t look like they should be here at all!” she hissed to Amanda who was brushing out her hair. “Look, that kid is just playing with his phone! And that woman is sleeping! What emergency can they be experiencing? Are you actually writing all this down?!” she asked me as I scribbled into the notebook that I always carry with me.
“Yes, I am! Such good material here,” I mumbled.
By the time Saffy’s name was finally called two hours later, she had literally examined and delivered a withering diagnosis of everyone in the waiting room and found them all severely wanting.
“I could be dead by now!” she told the nurse as she walked gingerly through the swinging doors.
“Sorry, we are very busy tonight!” the nurse said robotically. You could tell she received a lot of dramatic complaints.
While I busied myself with Candy Crush on my phone, Amanda spent the next hour and a half trawling the hospital corridors in the vague hope of bumping into an eligible hot surgeon, though she was careful not to touch any surface on account of her morbid fear of catching a superbug.
Eventually, Saffy texted us that she was getting ready to be discharged. She emerged looking positively radiant.
“They gave me an enema!” she announced. “Turns out my severe constipation was putting pressure on all my internal organs, hence the pain!”
Amanda frowned. “How does a full bowel put pressure on your heart?”
No longer constrained by said full bowel, Saffy’s bosom inflated freely. “What are you, a gastroenterologist? All I can say is that I need to get me one of those tube machine things that they stuck up my bum. I swear it was the most amazing feeling especially when I had to go sit on the loo. Can I just say that it was explosive?”
“Oh dear God,” Amanda sighed as she peeled off the rubber gloves she’d pinched from an unattended cart to wear during her unauthorized tour of the hospital.
“I’m starving!” Saffy announced. “Let’s go get some supper!”

room and found them all severely wanting.
“I could be
by now!” she told the nurse as she walked gingerly
through the swinging doors.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Die Die Must Try

The other day, I was killing time in Kinokuniya, as one does, when I came across one of those horrible books with the title “1000 Places to See Before You Die”, or something equally vile.
            I hate those books because they always make me feel so inadequate and unaccomplished. They’re like a thick 250 page taunt that reminds you that you’re a nobody just because you’ve not been to Granada, or is it Grenada, which, thanks to a single displaced vowel, is apparently in a different part of the world? Or to Niagara Falls, or some dingy old 15th century castle in the middle of a cold nowhere.
            Of course, on Facebook, friends who should know better are always posting endless links that exhort me to do a whole list of things before I die. Like read “War and Peace”, or cook a cassoulet, or something equally stupid.
            The truth of the matter is, I’m just bone-lazy. Picking up anything heavier than a straw exhausts me. Nothing makes me happier than to lie by the pool and think about what I’m going to have for dinner which, ideally, would be brought to me on a tray. Like on a plane. That’s my idea of heaven. If I could outsource chewing and blinking, I would.
My mother has always said, with a surprising degree of approval, that I’m the laziest person she knows. Apparently, when I was born, she barely felt a thing. “You just slipped right out. It was like you couldn’t even be bothered to cause me any pain,” she will say to me fondly whenever she’s within earshot of my sister. “Michelle, on the other hand, my God, I thought I was going to die! The labour went on for nearly two days! Can you imagine the pain I was in?”
Michelle once said to me, “You know how they have those books with dumb titles like ‘1000 things to do before you die’? Well, I know what one of those things might be, and it involves Mother and a pillow!”
Recently, Amanda and I were at home on a Friday night watching a mindless action movie in which the hero, running away from crazy sword-wielding ninja assassins in downtown Los Angeles, smashes the window of a random car, jumps in, fiddles with some wires under the steering wheel and zooms off in a cloud of dust into the night.
“I’d like to learn how to hotwire a car,” Amanda said after a while. I stared at the screen in silence for a few seconds. As the hero was weaving his stolen car in and out of traffic, I couldn’t help but wonder how painful it must be to sit on a seat covered with shattered glass. It says something about how commonplace I thought it must be to be attacked by ninjas in LA.
“His bum must hurt,” I said, then added, “but why would you want to hotwire a car?”
“Well, it’s better than reading ‘War and Peace’! And potentially more useful!”
When I told Saffy about Amanda’s wish the next day, she said she wasn’t the least bit surprised that a shadow of petty crime lurked beneath that pristine Prada-clad exterior. “All that prissiness is just an act that’s not fooling anyone,” Saffy pronounced in much the same tone she’d used when watching Kim Kardashian’s marriage to that tall, dumb basketball player whose name nobody remembers now.
I told her that I’d given the matter considerable thought during the night and concluded that if I really wanted to learn one thing, it would be how to pick a lock and handcuffs. Saffy later told Sharyn it was like living with the cast of “Nikita”.
“I mean, in what world of reality would he ever need to know how to pick a lock?” Saffy asked.
“Maybe he got kinky bondage session and the S and M mistress sah-dun-ly die of heart attack, and he still handcuff to the bed-post, then how?” said Sharyn, veteran connoisseur of bootleg porn DVDs.
Saffy’s magnificent bosom inflated to its maximum capacity. “Seriously, who are you people?”
Sharyn flapped her hands. “Aiyah, people make joke cannot, meh? Ay, I ask you, if you had to learn something, what would it be?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Saffy said, thoroughly pleased that the conversation had turned to her. “Ever since I watched Cameron Diaz do it on the car windscreen in ‘The Counselor’, I’ve wanted to do the splits. Don’t ask me how that’s even remotely useful to my life, but I do!”
Sharyn later confessed to me that a useful thing to learn would be to pretend she didn’t know us.