Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Toy Story

Another late, out of sequence post:

So, did you all have a lovely Christmas? Did Santa drop by in the night and give you everything that you had on your wish-list? Like that YouTube clip of the airport passengers waiting at the luggage carousel and out spilled all the presents they’d asked for?
            Because let me be the first to tell you that in the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda, none of us got what we wanted. And we are not happy.
            For months leading up to Christmas Day, Saffy prayed hard for anything from Bottega Veneta. She casually left around the flat magazines with the pages open to a Bottega ad. She would make sure she lingered outside the store windows whenever she went shopping with Amanda. She didn’t care what it was. It could have been a button, as long as it was Bottega Veneta.
            We got her a Nigella cookbook. “You can’t get anything for under $500 from that shop,” Amanda had said with great retail authority, and seeing as I only had about that amount left in my bank account, I was more than happy to fork over my half for Nigella.
            Meanwhile, Amanda wanted a package of massages from Qi Mantra, but when Saffy and I went shopping, we realised that our combined budget amounted to $300 which Saffy said might get Amanda a half-hour foot reflex. We ended up buying a blank notebook.
            Me, I wanted the new iPad Air.
            From the moment I saw the commercial for it, I wanted it. Coveted it. It’s the satin smooth steel finishing that just does it for me, with all those bright screen colours and icons and the unspoken promise that with just a few taps, you too could be making your very own Oscar-winning documentary about your Paris holiday, or learning to play the piano, or watching HD movies of Thor hurling thunder bolts at wicked elves.
I’ve never thought of myself as particularly techy, but something about the iPad Air whispers that it could turn me into a brilliant computer nerd.
If you’re one of those people who can’t figure out how to programme your new TV, you’ll know what I mean. It may all look remarkably impressive, but damned if I know how to even begin to use it. Never mind the fact that four year olds can master the intricate functions of the multi-coloured remote, while I’m still struggling to find the on-button.
I’ve just never had the brain that could work out electronics.
I once went on a holiday with my friend, Trevor and he had an entire piece of luggage just devoted to carrying around his must-have gadgets. For staying in touch with the rest of the world, he explained. Even at school, Trevor was the guy who had the latest gadgets, the latest Pac-Man, the latest Walkman, the latest Commodore 64 and push-button phone. Meanwhile, I was still yearning for the circular dial.
For this trip, Trevor brought along a complete arsenal of hi-technology that could easily double as props for a Michael Bay movie. There was the handphone, but this one could shoot an entire movie and came with a wireless ear-plug that looked like a souped-up hearing aid. Then there was the laptop that mad binging noises every time something exciting, like an email, happened. Then, there was the Kindle. And an iPod. And a pair of noise-cancelling earphones to drown out exterior sounds like the airplane drone and my plaintive pleas to explain how the thing worked.
And nothing is more exciting than arriving at the hotel to find there aren’t enough sockets to plug in all the chargers for all the gadgets. You would think, would you not, that in this day and age of multi-tasking that there would be one charger for everything? But, no. Each and every gadget had its own loop and tangle of wires, plugs, spare batteries and clunky adaptors.
“Why do you need all this stuff?” I asked, watching Trevor unpack with the military precision of an ex-SAS commando. “What could possibly happen to the world that you won’t find out about in 6 o’clock news?”
“I’m supposed to explain this to someone who is still struggling with predictive text?” came the gruff reply. I sulked for the rest of the day.
Which explains why I wanted the iPad Air so badly. I needed it like a cow needs to be milked. Because it promised to deliver me from my electronic ignorance. Because even old people could use it!
I got a pair of socks and a 2014 diary from Popular Bookshop.
It’s no wonder Saffy, Amanda and I are barely talking to one another.

Monday, March 24, 2014

It's a Date

I know, I know. This post is a bit out of sequence. So sue me.
Otherwise, read on...

Another year has come and gone. I’m not sure how that happened. One minute, I was unhappily dodging nosy relatives at Chinese New Year and suddenly a year has passed and I’m unhappily dodging manic crowds on Orchard Road as I stock up on Christmas presents for people I don’t like.
I swear, at this rate, I’ll soon be pulling up at the maximum security Sunset Home for the Terminally Bewildered. Close behind will be another truck carrying all my worldly possessions including a walking frame, a respirator and a lifetime supply of adult nappies.
Thank God for the Christmas parties to see me through this time of the year. There’s nothing like copious amounts of food and alcohol to take one’s mind off one’s problems (mid-life crisis, career doldrums, girlfriend woes, parental nagging…pick your poison).
Under the benign influences of an especially good Pinot Noir (or something on special from Cold Storage if you have a cheap boss), everything looks a little rosier. In particular, office romances that have been kindling the entire year take the opportunity to flame a little brighter, as men, who really should know better, pluck up the courage to strike up a brazen conversation with that hot chick from accounting.
I remember a Christmas party a few years ago when Matt, one of the lawyers working in my firm, approached a colleague who was minding her own business as she inspected the smoked salmon tray at the buffet table.
Matt had had the hots for this particular lawyer from the moment she first strode into the office in two-inch Manolo Blahnik heels and a body that caused every pair of male legs in the vicinity to cross and uncross. Repeatedly. But he’d never had the courage to approach her on account of her ravishing looks and her Harvard educated brain.
“She’s out of my league,” Matt told Saffy. “She’s from Harvard.”
Saffy was unimpressed. “Amanda’s from Harvard and she’s thick as two bricks. Why don’t you date her instead?”
“Saffy!” Amanda shouted from the other side of the room.
“She’s got the hearing of a bat, though,” Saffy went on in confidential tones.
But now, at this Christmas party, Matt felt uncharacteristically bold. He later blamed the cheap chardonnay he’d been drinking all evening. It helped, he said, smooth over his ragged nerves as he approached Darla. And also for later when he hid in the toilet after she loudly announced that he was wasting his time hitting on her on account of the fact that she didn’t bat on his team and already had a life partner.
It occurred to me that as if the dating scene wasn’t already perilously fraught with pitfalls for the single (or married) millennial man, there was now the issue of alternative options to contend with. “That’s progress for you,” said Matt who, to everyone’s surprise, ended up being best friends with Darla and her girlfriend. “We go bowling together.”
When Saffy heard about this, all she had to say was, “He should have just dated Amanda. He would have had much better luck.”
“Saffy!” Amanda yelled from the kitchen.
“I’m just saying!” Saffy yelled back.
In an odd way, we’re all looking forward to this year’s round of Christmas parties. Yes, it will probably be held in the office conference room. Yes, it will be held just when you’re meant to have an important conference call that’s scheduled to last two hours. Yes, it will be filled with people you work with every day. And yes, many of them will be people you have absolutely no respect for.
Amanda says she did a list the other day of people she disliked in her office and was surprised to discover that, except for the cleaning auntie, she disliked everyone she worked with.
“You must be really bored at work,” Saffy told her.
“This can’t be right,” Amanda said, looking disturbed. “How can I not like anyone I work with? I need to do that list again.”
But in the end, people you don’t like aside, what’s not to love about an evening of free booze and food, and the chance to make out with someone hot in the photocopy room?
And as Saffy points out, “Even if they’re not hot, the alcohol will help numb your better judgment! Hey, is Matt still single?”
If nothing else, all the partying will help me forget the fact that Chinese New Year is just around the corner, another occasion to be dreaded. As we speak, I’m psyching myself up for the inevitable “This had better be the last ang-pow I give you, ok? When are you getting married?”

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

This Way Up

Years and years ago, a book called ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’. It was a bestseller though I never really could work out why. All it did was take hundreds of pages to tell you what everyone already knew: men and women are different. That wasn’t rocket science, so why write an entire book about it and have it translated into a million languages?
            Until I was about five, I had the bladder control of an eighty-five year old man. Which meant that whenever I was out and about with my mother, she would routinely need to bring me into the ladies’ toilet.
            “Honestly,” she would sigh, “I asked you when we left the house if you needed to go and you said no. Do you have any idea how disruptive this is to my shopping?”
            “But I didn’t need to go then!” I remember telling her. “I need to go now!”
            “Well, this is the last time I’m taking you shopping with me!” she would threaten. “You can go with  your daddy the next time!”
            But here’s the thing that I’ve always remembered: The ladies’ toilet was always so clean. And the minute the door opened, you got hit with a distinctive antiseptic smell. The men’s toilet, on the other hand, stank of stale pee with puddles around the urinals.
Once, when my father took my four year old sister out on an errand and she suddenly announced she needed to pee, he had to bring her to the men’s. Years later, she said she’d never recovered from the trauma.
“My God, the smell! And that was the first time I realised that men have the worst aim ever especially considering what they have to work with. With a woman, I get it, but what excuse does a man have?” she wondered to the world at large.
So, really, if it’s one thing that separates men from women, it’s their toilet habits. Which is to say that we guys, according to the fairer sex, don’t have any. Which, if we were the sensitive type (and, again, we’re not), would be a highly offensive accusation.
In the prosecution of their case, women inevitably trot out the toilet seat as Exhibit C (Exhibit A being the smell of the men’s loo, and Exhibit B, the bad aim).
On the first morning after I’d moved in with Saffy and Amanda, I remember being accosted in the corridor by Saffy. She looked up at me severely, her flimsy nightgown doing little to hide the rhythmic heaving of her pneumatic breasts. “Excuse me, but can I just say that I got the shock of my life last night when I went to the loo?”
“Really?” I asked politely, vaguely wondering where this was all leading.
“Yes, I sat down on the icy cold rim of the toilet!” Saffy exclaimed. “You left the seat up! I nearly wet myself!”
“Well, if you had, you couldn’t have been in a more appropriate place to do it,” I pointed out reasonably.
For days after, it was all I heard about. “He leaves the toilet seat up!” Saffy complained to all her friends, including complete strangers she might meet in the lift.
The thing that has always struck me is that I have never once heard a guy complain, “Jeez, why do women always leave the toilet seat down!” Never. Never. And why? Because, we just bend over slightly and lift the seat up. It’s no big deal. It’s just a simple flexing of one finger, two at most. It takes barely a second and it really doesn’t warrant a moment’s thought. Besides, we’re thinking about other things during that one second of flex and lift – like why the bathroom smells of lavender oil, and why there are fluffy doily things wrapped around the spare toilet rolls.
But somehow, women find it a task roughly equivalent to building the Suez Canal to flip the damned seat back down. Now, if we really wanted to be difficult, we could just as easily whip the accusation right around and say, “Uhm, why are you women always putting the toilet seat down? Why can’t you just leave it up? Seriously.”
But we’ve never done that; again, simply because we cannot be bothered. We’re lazy creatures by nature. And besides, it occurs to us that we’d be in much bigger trouble, on account of our notoriously bad aim, if we actually left the toilet seat down in the first place. Then, we’d really never hear the end of it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


In my experience, nothing keeps a woman more absorbed than the idea of going on a diet. I’m not sure why this is so. After all, a diet is something that deprives you of one of life’s joys: eating. Why would you do it?
“Only a man who’s never had to slip into a bikini would think like that,” said my flatmate Amanda as she began the fifteenth diet of her life. The reason: she is going away on a company retreat to some beach resort in Bintan and apparently, there are going to be group bonding activities by the pool and the office circular suggested packing swimwear.
So here’s the thing, the great divide between a man and a woman. When a man reads the word ‘swimwear’, he thinks of either a Sports Illustrated cover featuring some nubile Eastern European Amazonian model, or his ratty Speedos.
When a woman reads the word ‘swimwear’, she thinks of herself in her two-piece, feeling a bit exposed and vulnerable and insecure, and all the things that people will be saying about her behind her back.
“I need to look fabulous in my bikini in front of that fat old cow!” she said grimly, as she pulled a carrot stick out of a stacked bowl and began munching. ‘That fat old cow’ is the head of her law firm’s HR department, a harridan who’d had it in for Amanda from the day she started work. Amanda also says the woman is, when she’s not terrifying staff with headcount and budget forecasts, a triathlete who does crunches and bicep curls for fun.
“I hate her. She’s always wearing Dior. And she’s skinny. I bet you she’s also a vegetarian. Just hateful!”
“So what’s the diet?” Saffy said, sitting up on the couch with a look of interest.
“I eat what I want every other day and then fast on the other,” Amanda said, still crunching noisily while flipping the pages of the recent edition of Men’s Health for tips on how to tone arms.
Saffy looked doubtful. “That works? Where’s that diet from?”
“I made it up myself. I figured that if I don’t eat 50 per cent of the time, I will also be thinner 50 per cent of the time!”
I frowned and tried to work out the maths. Even Saffy was staring up at the ceiling trying to massage the numbers. Eventually I said, “That’s just dumb, Amanda! You don’t lose weight just by not eating every other day!”
“Tell that to the Africans!” Amanda said calmly, as she reached for another carrot stick.
Later, Saffy told me that she thought Harvard really should demand that Amanda give back her degree. “It’s a complete scandal that they even allowed her in the front door! Even I can tell this diet doesn’t make any sense.”
I nodded, pleased that for once, I had the support of one of my flatmates.
“You’re never going to lose anything with that kind of ratio!” Saffy went on, warming up to her theme. “You’d need to eat one day and fast for at least two days to lose any weight!”
I coughed into my coffee. “What?” I finally managed.
Saffy looked confused. “What?”
If you ever needed proof that diets really can make people stupid and say things that they wouldn’t normally say if they were eating properly, you just need to look at my two flatmates, Exhibits A and B.
“Why don’t you just eat sensibly and exercise a bit?” I said in what I thought was a very reasonable tone.
“Listen,” Saffy said urgently, “if losing weight was so simple, everyone would be doing it.”
Leave it to Sharyn to tell it like it is. “Wah liau,” she told Saffy. “You and Amanda, very free, is it? Got people in Africa starving and you two oh-so want to starve, is it?”
Saffy looked unrepentant. “That’s only because you wouldn’t know a bikini if it snapped you in the face, Sharyn! Anyway, you’re a mother, so you wouldn’t understand the pressures of a single woman trying to look fabulous in a male dominated cut-throat corporate world.”
Sharyn looked confused. “What are we talking about now? Who is single? You got Blad-ley, what!”
“I’m just saying,” Saffy said, completely undaunted. “You wouldn't understand.”
“Women are just so weird,” I told my friend Karl.
Karl said maybe I’d be singing a different tune if I had to fit into a bikini. To which I said that if I ever had to fit into a bikini, chances are, I would be dealing with issues much bigger than a waistline.

“Aren’t we all?” said Amanda.