Friday, May 30, 2014

Cover Up

The other day, I was minding my own business on the couch, reading the latest issue of 8DAYS when I suddenly felt like someone was watching me. Now, I don’t want you to think I’m paranoid or anything like that, but I sometimes get this tingle on the skin and I just know that I’m being watched, and usually not in a good way. I don’t know how people like Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr handle it. Their skins must be crawling all the time.
            So, anyway, that’s what I was feeling. I lowered the magazine slightly and peered over the top, and sure enough, Saffy was staring straight at me with a dreamy, faraway look.
            “What?” I said, after a while.
            Saffy blinked. “What?”
            “Why are you staring at me?”
            “I’m not staring at you! What makes you think I’m staring at you?”
            “Cause you’re looking straight at me?”
            Saffy’s bosom inflated in full 3-D glory. “You are so self-important it’s not funny! I wasn’t staring at you! I was staring at Felicia Chin!”
            “Oh. Well, you can read it after I’m done. Just stop staring at me!”
            “I was just wondering,” Saffy went on, as if I’d not spoken. “How do you get on the cover of 8DAYS?”
            I sighed and lowered the magazine. “You have to be famous. Or infamous. You have to be pretty…”
Saffy bristled.
I ploughed on heroically. “You must be in the news for doing something people want to read about. Like breaking up Allan Wu’s marriage or you slapped Fann Wong in public and made her cry and now you want to apologise and confess that you were having a nervous breakdown because you cheated Tay Ping Hui out of all his money and you’re the reason why he’s now living in a cardboard box under the Sheares Bridge and you want to tell everyone that you’re really sorry.”
Saffy sniffed. “I don’t see why they’ve got to make it so difficult. They could do so much better than some of the people they’ve had on covers lately. I’m telling you, I bet I could take a much better picture than Felicia Chin!”
“Yes, but what have you done that’s going to make the rest of Singapore want to pick up the magazine and read about you?”
“Well, for starters, I could tell everyone that you’ve been making up these horrible stories about me and Amanda for years now and that not one word is true! How about that?” Saffy looked triumphant.
“Good luck with that,” I growled. “My star witness for the defence is going to be your best friend, Sharyn! She’ll be up on the stand for days testifying that I left out all the good bits!”
Saffy later complained to Amanda that it’s amazing how she puts up with such treacherous friends. “There he is airing all my dirty laundry in public and making money off it, while I wallow in poverty and obscurity! Honestly, the crap I put up with, I’m practically a saint! How come no one writes about that!” 
            “But why do you want to be on the cover of 8DAYS?” Amanda wanted to know.
            “Well, because it looks like fun! You get to dress up in expensive clothes, have pretty make up, and someone talks to you for hours like you’re the most interesting person they’ve ever met.”
            Amanda pursed her lips. “But don’t we already do that every Friday night when we go clubbing and strange old men try to pick us up?”
            Saffy paused. “Well, yes, I guess so, if you put it like that, but I think it would be fun to be on the cover. Goodness knows I must have a huge fan-base out there that’s just dying to finally meet me. I mean, I’m sure the only reason 8DAYS sells is because people want to find out what I’ve been up to recently!”
            Amanda cleared her throat. “Uhm, I’m in the column too, you know.”
            “Yes, of course you are,” Saffy said, trying really hard not to sound patronizing.
            Amanda reports that Saffy spent the rest of the afternoon standing in front of the mirror trying on different outfits while smiling with her eyes the way Tyra Banks instructs her contestants in ‘America’s Next Top Model’. She’s even taken a selfie photo wearing her skimpiest bikini and created a mock 8DAYS cover.
            Amanda says the coverline reads: ‘Domestic abuse, serial dating and the sad truth about Amanda: Saffy bares all’.
            “I hate to say it, but it is quite catchy!” she mused.
            Sharyn says we’re all clearly very free.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Horsing around

So. It’s a new lunar year and it’s the turn of the horses out there to be prancing about, smug that 2014 is all about them. That is, unless they’re on their third or fourth cycle, in which case, chances are, they won’t be happy campers this year.
            That’s the thing about the Chinese zodiac – they’re dead giveaways. If you’re trying to hide the truth about your age, and you’re an amateur liar, it’s the first thing that will give you away.
            Tell someone truthfully you were born in the year of the horse, during a year of the horse, and people with just a basic grasp of the 12 times table will be able to immediately work out how old you are.
            Tell someone you were born in the year of the rabbit during a year of the horse, though, and no one bothers to do the maths, and you’re safe. It’s too complicated trying to work out the sequence. Unless the person you’re talking to is a real busybody (say, your boyfriend’s mother) and squirrels away that little nugget of information for when they’re out of your sight and they whip out their smartphone. 
            The people in my mother’s generation were masters at the game. Once they got past the age of 24, they began lying about their age.
            To this day, no one, not even my father, knows exactly how old Mother is.
            “How could you not know?” my sister once said crossly to Father. “You’re married to her!”
            “It’s not like I haven’t asked,” Father bleated. He’d always been a little afraid of Michelle. “All the women in her family lie about their age. Especially her mother.”
            “How do you know Por-Por is lying?” I asked. I must have been six or seven at the time, and I couldn’t wait to get to ten.
            “She says she’s sixty-five but once I heard her telling your sam-gu-ma that, growing up, her favourite movie star was Lillian Gish which would make her at least fifteen years older!”
            Michelle’s eyes narrowed. “This is just so weird.”
            Of course, the year she turned 25, Michelle had a minor nervous breakdown. “My God,” she told me. “Do you know what this means? In five years time, I’m going to be thirty! Oh, that is so not happening!”
            Which is why for the next five years, if anyone asked, she said was 25. And when, after a while, that was no longer plausible, she moved cities and made new friends and told them she was 26.
            “You know that you’ve just turned into our mother, right?” I told her.
            “This is the one time I don’t care,” she replied primly. “I so totally get it now.”
            I remembered all this a few days ago when Sharyn came over for lunch.
            “Wah, I got itchy feet today,” she said the minute she’d unloaded her bags of takeaway boxes from our favourite chai-beng stall down the road. “My mudder say is a sign I want to gallop away.”
            “She makes you sound like a horse, Sharyn,” Saffy said as she opened the white Styrofoam boxes.
            “Yah, lah! I’m a horse, what. This is my year, you know.”
            It was as if someone had sealed off all the noise in the room. Saffy froze. Amanda stopped rummaging through the pink plastic bags and looked up. My eyeballs swiveled from one person to the next. The sound of three minds doing rapid mental arithmetic was deafening.        
            Finally, Saffy spoke up. “Are you telling me…”
            Amanda coughed.
            “Are you telling us that you’re…you’re forty-eight?”
            Sharyn flapped her hands at Saffy. “Choi! Where got? I’m only thirty-six, ok? Wah, so suay, accuse people of being so old!”
            Later, after Sharyn had left, it was all the girls could talk about.
“Is it possible?” Saffy asked. “I mean, I guess it’s possible. Her eldest son is 15, so she would have been…uhm…21 at the time. As opposed to…uhm…33, which isn’t old, but it seems so unlikely.”
Of course, Amanda was having none of it. “I’m not saying she’s not 36, but she sure doesn’t look it!”
“But she doesn’t look 48 either,” Saffy pointed out.
And then a thought that had been trying to attract both their attentions for some time now, finally managed to push through, because both girls suddenly stopped and stared at each other.
“My God,” Saffy breathed.
“She’s not a horse?” Amanda whispered.
I was confused. “What? What just happened?”
“Will you keep up? She’s lying about being a horse!” Saffy said, her bosom inflating.
I was still confused. “What? Who’s lying? Sharyn?”
“That is so sneaky!” Amanda said, her voice deep with admiration.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Wu's the man?

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for my iPad and how relieved I am that I no longer have to pretend to be reading a newspaper.
Have you noticed how people are always judging you by which page you’re on? If you’re poring over the front page – always about some horrible natural disaster or dismal week on the stock exchange – you’re perceived as the serious type. Read the back sports page, and you’re jock. Chuckle over the comics, and you’re a kid. Work on the crossword puzzle, and you’re either an intellectual or 62 years old or both. Read the obituaries, and people assume that someone you know has died, or that you’re sickly morbid – either way, you get pity.
            Me, I’m always reading anything to do with Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. Those kids are total train wrecks and my day just isn’t complete without an update on the crazy stuff they’ve been up to lately. But reading about them openly on the train opens you up to all kinds of sneering judgment. They won’t come right out and say it, but you can tell disdain is oozing out of every pore, even if they might be closet Wrecking Ball fans.
            Saffy says I must have been a very lonely child. “Seriously? You think people on the train really care about what you’re reading? Did you have any friends in school?” she’ll ask.
            I don’t care. I know people judge. Because I do and if I do, then other people do as well. The logic is flawless.
Anyway, the thing about tablets is that, now, we’re all free to read whatever the hell we want and no one is going to really know.
A few days ago, Amanda came home brandishing the latest copy of 8DAYS with a topless Allan Wu on the cover.
“I was on the train and this kid…” she began breathlessly.
Saffy held up her hand. “Wait a minute. Hold on. You. You were on the train?”
Amanda paused. “Well, I couldn’t find a taxi. I waited half an hour in the sun and nearly died. I honestly don’t think there are any taxis in Singapore. So, I took the train.”
“I must go buy 4D,” Saffy said.
“Anyway, this kid on the train was reading 8DAYS and, I mean, look at this man!” Amanda trailed her long lacquered nails over the ridges of Allan Wu’s abs. “This is what a divorced man looks like! I got off at the station and spent another half hour looking for a copy. It’s completely sold out!”
“So how did you get this?” Saffy asked as she grabbed the magazine out of Amanda’s hands and scrutinized the cover.
“I saw another kid reading one and paid him ten bucks for it,” Amanda announced triumphantly. “What? Why are you looking at me like that? It was a win-win situation!”
Saffy flipped through the pages. “Why is there only one topless picture of him?” she asked with severe displeasure. “And why are there no nude shots? For ten bucks, you’d expect at least some bun action!”
“That’s not the best part,” Amanda said as she sat down on the couch next to Saffy. “Lemme show you. Here. It says here in the interview that he lives in Toa Payoh!”
Silence descended over the room.
Eventually, Saffy sighed. “He lives in our neighbourhood? Really?”
“‘In a small black-and-white colonial apartment in the northeast region of Singapore…’” Amanda read.
“But…but that could be anywhere,” Saffy began.
“No, but later…later, he says…” Amanda flipped a page, “‘The kids go to an international school and I live about 10 minutes’ walk away in Toa Payoh.’”
“There are black and white apartments in Toa Payoh?” Saffy asked.
“But don’t you see what that means? We just need to find schools within 10 minutes walk from here and work backwards to find him! We have his coordinates!”
Of course, Barney Chen, lifetime President of the Allan Wu Fan Club (membership: 1) and committed stalker, has already pinpointed the exact location of Allan Wu’s new home.
“Where?!” Saffy screamed at him.
“Like I’m going to tell you losers? He’s back and he’s mine!” Barney growled and, out of sheer habit, flexed his muscles. 
“Oh for the love of God, for the last time, he’s not gay!” Amanda sighed.
“Yeah,” Saffy chimed. “Because if he was…that would mean…that would mean…help me out here, Amanda.”
“That would mean Li-Lin is a man!”
As I later said to my best friend Karl, if that little bit of revelation didn’t make the front-page news which everyone would read, I don’t know what would.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Hair Apparent

One of the surest signs that you’re getting old is when you go to a restaurant for dinner, and the first thing out of your mouth is, “Oh my God, why is it so dark in here? I can’t even read this menu!”
The other surest sign is when you go to Guardian to pick up some toothpaste and find yourself lingering in the hair-colour section trying to work out the difference between L’Oreal Superior Preference and Garnier Nutrisse Cream.
“Welcome to our world,” Amanda said the other day in the kitchen. “I’ve been colouring my hair since I was 19. I really have no idea what my natural hair colour is.”
Saffy frowned, her eyes rolling up towards the ceiling as she thought.
“But,” she began, “but, won’t it be the same colour as your pu…” Her voice was drowned out by the juice processor that I’d instantly switched on. Amanda and I walked out.
“It’s incredible how low class she is,” Amanda sighed as she strode with determined strides towards her bedroom, while I retreated to the bathroom to morosely inspect the two strands of grey fringe hair that had literally appeared overnight over my right eye-brow.
“How is this possible?” I muttered to myself, leaning closer to the mirror and wondering if I should pull them out. At the back of my head, my mother’s voice rose up through the years.
I remember a scene in my parents’ bathroom. I can’t have been more than seven at the time. My father is seated on a kitchen stool with a plastic sheet around him while Mother circles him with a short wet brush that she strokes on his glossy damp hair.
“Will you please stop fidgeting?” Mother scolds. “If any of this dye gets onto your forehead, it won’t be my fault, I promise you that!”
My father sighs the same sigh he does whenever he opens mail from the credit card company and his eyes roll down the documentary proof of his wife’s extravagant retail expeditions.
“What’s wrong with white hair?” he murmurs. “It’s natural!”
Mother snorts as she dabs more colour to his crown. “So is farting, but you don’t see me doing that in public, do you?”
“May-ling, that makes absolutely no sense at all,” Father begins.
“Crooked teeth are natural,” Mother goes on, blissfully unaware of the fact that there is another party to the conversation. “But it’s why we spend thousands of dollars at that no-good dentist brother of yours, so that when we open our mouths, people don’t drop their chopsticks in fright!”
“But once you start, you have to keep doing it forever!” Father says, his voice rising into a bleat. “Maybe I should just pluck out the white hairs for now!”
Mother sucks in her breath at this follicle heresy. “You cannot pluck! Are you mad? You pluck one and five more pop up!”
“But I don't want to spend the rest of my life getting my hair coloured!”
“Well, I certainly hope you don’t expect me to be doing it for the rest of your life!” my mother says sharply. “You can go to the hairdresser after this!”
From the way Father is blinking rapidly, you can tell an anxiety attack is just a conditioning rinse away. 
As it turned out, my father has, for years, sported a lovely crown of soft black hair that, in certain lighting conditions, morphs into a becoming shade of brown. Mother says he is the envy of all their friends and the other men at the club. “They can’t believe he’s only 60!” she said triumphantly once.
I cocked my head. “How can he be 60,” I began, “if he was born in 19…Hello? Hello? I can’t believe it!” I told Saffy. “My mother just hung up on me!”
“I would have done the same too,” Saffy replied coolly. “You are just so pedantic! You’ve never met an exaggeration that you’ve not tried to correct!”
“That is so not true!” I said. “What about that time when…oh…I see,” I trailed off in the glare of Saffy’s triumphant look.
Right now, I’m still toying with the idea of colouring my hair. The practical part of me says it’s best to do it now when I only have two grey strands and that if I waited too long, it would be too obvious to suddenly show up at a party with a full head of black hair.

But there’s a part of me that resists because it can still remember the look on my father’s face all those years ago in his bathroom. It was a dawning realization that he was no longer young and, to my horror, I recognize that look now in my own reflection.