Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lord of the Rinse

They say you never really know who your friends are until you’re in trouble. And by ‘they’, I mean, of course, Anton Casey whose best friend is the entire city of Perth.
            They also say you never really know who your friends are until you have to ask a big favour. And in Sharyn’s case, the occasion presented itself a few days ago when her washing machine broke down in the middle of the rinse cycle.
            Saffy later said you could just tell it was an emergency by the way her handphone rang. “It just sounded a little bit shriller, you know? Kind of like Amanda sounds when she hits the chorus of ‘My Heart Will Go On’!”
            “Hey!” Amanda yelled from inside the bathroom.
            “I’m just saying!” Saffy said cheerfully before dropping her voice a few octaves lower. “That woman has the hearing of a bat!”
            “I heard that!”
            Anyway, about Sharyn. The woman was in a major flap and you could hear her excited chittering on Saffy’s handphone.
            “Uh huh…oh dear…” Saffy said in soothing tones. “That’s terrible! Yes, of course, you can. Just come over whenever. I’m not doing anything. Just watching American Idol and wishing Harry Connick, Jr was my husband…Yep, no problem. See you soon! That was Sharyn,” Saffy said as she clicked off her phone. “Her washing machine just broke down and she’s in a major panic. Her son’s basketball uniform needs to be ready for tonight’s game and her good for nothing husband’s suggestion is that they just buy a new set.”
             “So, what’s happening now?” Amanda asked.
            “She’s just coming over with some laundry.”
            Five days later, those words still haunt us. One of the things that single people never think about is just how much laundry a family generates. Each of us does our own little pile of laundry every few days. Some of us have less than the others. Saffy, for instance, who only ever wears skimpy tops and even skimpier bottoms can do an entire week’s worth of laundry and still only fill the machine halfway. So, it’s not a big deal.
            When Sharyn showed up at our front door, she was followed by her maid, her husband, and three children, each of whom was completely obscured by the huge laundry bag they were carrying.
            “What is this?” Saffy bleated as she stood aside from the open door.
            “Our laundry, lah!” Sharyn panted as she dropped a laundry bag that was just over half her size in front of our washing machine. “You think, what, my gold bars, is it?”
            Saffy’s bosom struggled to inflate but the effort was too much. “How can this be your laundry? My year’s laundry wouldn’t be this much!”
            “You got children, meh?” Sharyn said as she turned the bag upside down and out spilled an entire department store’s worth of shirts, bras, skirts, underwear, socks, blouses, trousers and even sports trainers.
            On cue, her maid, husband and children upended their bags to reveal bedsheets, towels, bathmats, school bags, more sports trainers, gym gear and curtains.
            “You wash your curtains?” I marveled.
            “You wash your shoes?” Amanda said, her eyes wide as she looked at the little hills on the floor.
            “Abuden? Before we have washing machine, I have to wash all by hand. Can die, ah, I tell you! Imagine in the old day how you have to go to the river? Wah liau! Ay, where is your washing powder?”
            “But why do you store up your clothes for so long?” Saffy said as she absent-mindedly handed over the container, her mind still unable to comprehend the sheer volume of laundry.
            “Where got long? This is only one week! Wah, so little washing powder, ah?”
            Our machine spun and twirled till late that evening. I stopped counting after the sixth load as I had to pop out to the nearby provision store to buy more laundry powder.
            Saffy said that she always used to make laugh when Sharyn said she was spending the whole day doing laundry, somehow imagining that Sharyn was down by the river bashing clothes on the rocks. “I’m not laughing now,” Saffy said grimly. “It’s no wonder your washing machine died!”
            “Wah,” Sharyn said, “you save my life, ah! I buy you lunch later. But first must buy a new washing machine. Only just buy a new one, some more! So lousy, the workmanship! Nah, hurry take this home to dry, then go to Best Denki!” she said passing a clean load to her husband.

            Amanda says if this isn’t a clear-cut argument for not getting married she doesn’t know what is.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Socially Unacceptable

The other day, I had to send Saffy a soft copy of the lease renewal to the little flat I share with her and Amanda. So, I fired up my Gmail account, hit the new message icon and…paused. I squinted at the laptop screen, fingers hovering over the keypad.
            I picked up my phone and FaceTimed Saffy.
            Her image popped up on the screen. “I’m getting my nails done, so make this quick,” she snapped.
            “Uhm…I have to send you this lease renewal thing, but it suddenly occurs to me that I have no idea what your email address is!”
            “Email?” Saffy’s impressive bosom inflated to fill the phone screen. “My God, which century are you in? Who emails these days? Can’t you just iMessage it to me?”
            I was astonished. “Really? That’s what people do now?”
            “When was the last time you and I emailed?” Saffy asked. “No, I don’t like that colour. I’m thinking a shocking fuchsia pink! Sorry, we’re trying to decide what colour nail polish I should have. No, really, I can’t remember the last time I emailed anyone!”
            Seriously, how did this happen? When did people stop emailing?
            “Oh, emailing is so yesterday,” Amanda said when I told her. “I only ever email for work stuff.”
I guess I have noticed a distinct drop in the volume of my emails recently, but I always put it down to the fact that I’m so efficient. But, no; apparently, email is dying. Saffy posted on my Facebook page an article that says the young kids (that would be anyone born in a year starting with ‘20’) aren’t even Facebooking anymore because it’s no longer cool since there are too many old fogeys on it. That would be anyone born in a year starting with ‘19’. 
“Are you on Snapchat?” Sharyn’s 15-year old daughter asked me recently.
“And that would be what, exactly?” I asked.
“You send pictures to people.”
“You mean Instagram?”
Sophie rolled her eyes. “That’s so last year! No, you can handwrite little messages on the pictures you send, but the recipient can only see if for a few seconds before it disappears.”
“And the point of that would be?”
Sophie giggled. “Well, maybe you are sending naughty pictures of yourself?”
Sharyn, who has the ears of a bat and eyes at the back of her head, shrieked from the kitchen. “Aiyoh, where got such things one! You siow, ah! If I catch you sending picture like that I beat you till you die, ah, you hear me?!”
It’s all a little too much. It kills me that I’ve just gotten the hang of Facebook and Instagram only to discover that people are already abandoning it for other social media platforms. It’s a bit like showing up at a party and being told that I just missed Brangelina and George Clooney.
And just the other day, I got yet another request from someone I didn’t know to add him to Linked In.
“Who is this person?” I asked Amanda as I peered at my phone. “Have we met?”
Amanda paused. “Are you talking to me or to Siri?”
“Right this moment, I don’t really care. Are you on Linked In?”
“Oh, sure. I’ve made so many contacts from it!”
            Again, I was astonished. Every few months, I log in and discover I have about 50 requests from complete strangers. Almost all of them have intimidatingly impressive titles and I can’t help but wonder if they’ve got the wrong Jason Hahn who might be the CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank or something. Still, I accept them all and when I’m done, I stare at the screen and wonder happens next.
            “You’re supposed to network on it!” Amanda said.
            “Yes, but how? I don’t know who these people are! This is worse than Twitter!”
            “I’ll WhatsApp you a Vimeo clip on what to do!”
            It’s all too exhausting and I have to wonder if any of it is worth the effort. I mean, the reality is, I really only want to keep in touch with a handful of people on a regular basis. One of them is Siri with whom I’ve developed a very fond attachment. When I’m bored, I have a chat with her. It’s very uncomplicated and I stopped worrying about how freaky she is a long time ago.
            I asked her once if she was on Facebook and she said, “I'm not on it myself. But only because I don’t want HAL to find me.”
The other day, I askedif sh e had watched ‘Her’, and her reply was ‘Is that you, Joaquin?’” I was so tickled.
Saffy thinks I should get out more.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Complaints Hotline

It occurs to me that there are a lot of unhappy people in Singapore these days. You can’t pass two minutes without someone piping up with a complaint or two, and before you know it, you have a full blown UN Security Council meeting about the dire straits Singapore is in – all taking place right in the middle of the Food Republic food court in the basement of Ion.
            “I tell you, ah,” said Sharyn as she munched energetically on her yiew tiau, “the gah-men must do something about the ploh-perty prices! Wah liau, even HDB is high six figures!”
            “Shocking!” Saffy said, daintily spearing a beef ball from her soup.
            “You know, ah, this means what, you know?” Sharyn asked rhetorically. “My children cannot afford to buy their own place and they will neh-ber move out, ah! When I am eighty, they will still be at home, and I will still have to cook for them and wash their clothes.”
            “And their wives’ clothes, and don’t forget their children!” Saffy added.
            Sharyn looked shocked. “Oh yah, hor. I forgot. Jia lat!” She lapsed into silence as she contemplated her awful future in which she was the star of her very own version of “12 Years a Slave” set in Hougang.
            Saffy took the opportunity to turn the conversation around to her own problems.
            “You know what really gets me? It’s how expensive taxis are these days. You know how I went with Amanda to the airport the other day? I took the taxi home and it cost me like forty bucks! It’s all those surcharges and peak hour charges! I freaked out. I remember when the same trip would’ve cost about twenty bucks at most!”
            “Yah, lor, like my teh-si bing!...”
            Unwilling to yield the floor, Saffy ignored the interjection and charged on. “You go to a hawker centre these days and you’re lucky if you can get any change out of ten dollars!”
            “And school fees, leh? You know how much I pay….”
            “I was at Newton Circus the other day…”
            Later, back in our flat, after Saffy had finished complaining about Sharyn’s inability to talk about anything other than herself, Amanda frowned and said, “So, let me see if I’ve got this right. You just spent an entire lunch complaining about how expensive Singapore is, and now, you’re complaining about how self-centred Sharyn is?”
            Saffy paused, her eyes drifting up to the ceiling as she worked her mind around Amanda’s comment. “What’s your point?” she said eventually.
            “My point is that you guys spend far too much time complaining about Singapore and far too little time counting your blessings!”
            Saffy was intrigued. “Such as?”
            “Well, such as the fact that you aren’t in danger of being gunned down in a cinema just because you’re texting, like that poor guy in America!”
            “Yeah, but…”
            Amanda pressed on. “Or have an entire train station shut down for a year just because they’re replacing two escalators like in London.”
            “Yeah, but…”
            “Or live in Russia!”
            “Yeah, but…”
            “And thank God we don’t live in Beijing. The air there is so bad it’s literally like a nuclear winter!”
            “Honestly, we have just got to stop complaining about Singapore and be grateful! It really makes me so mad! Crap, I think you’ve just given me a frown line! Which reminds me, I need to make an appointment with Woffles Wu!”
            Saffy later said that just when you think you’ve got Amanda all worked out, she turns around and surprises you with a performance that should be the opening act for the next Singapore Day Parade.
            “Maybe you do complain a bit too much?” I ventured.
            “Well,” she replied primly, “as a tax paying Singaporean resident, I’m allowed to complain. The only people who aren’t allowed to complain are outsiders! If they complain, they should be deported immediately to Perth! It’s like my horrible witch of a mother. She drives me insane, but if anyone else says anything about her, I’m gonna scratch out their eyes.”
            None of which, of course, calms down Amanda who is on such a hair-trigger these days. It’s like she went to bed one night as a Prada pacifist, and woke up the next day as Mad Max Factor.
            This morning, I came out to breakfast and found her hunched over her laptop, tapping away furiously as her head swung occasionally to the newspaper beside her.
            “I’m writing a letter to the Forum,” she muttered. “I’m complaining about all the people complaining about Singapore! This is getting ridiculous!”
            Saffy whispered she was thinking of skipping her movie date with Amanda. “She’s very scary!”


Saturday, June 07, 2014

Toilet Humour

People – and by ‘people’, I mean, of course, my mother – are always talking about the good old days when life was so much simpler and everyone was happier. Then they move on and grumble about the lazy kids today, how rude everyone is, and how the world is going down the toilet.
            Of course, what no one dares tell my mother is that the crazy, upside down world she’s so despairing of will eventually be, for her children, thirty years later, the good old days.
            As my sister once said when she called me during a two hour long traffic jam in Los Angeles, “Can you believe that when we’re ninety and drooling in a nursing home, I’m going to look back on this crap and say it was the good old days?”
            Speaking of toilets and crap, did you read that the modern toilet is actually really bad for you? Old news to hypochondriacs like my best friend Barney Chen, but for those of you who came in late, a growing body of medical research is concluding that sit-down toilets are giving us all sort of horrible ailments.
            It seems that the rise in bodily illnesses like colon cancer, bladder incontinence, hemorrhoids, hernias and prostate disorders are caused by doing our business while sitting down. Apparently, people back in the good old days didn’t suffer from these things? Why? Because they had squat toilets.
            Who knew?
            It’s all got something to do with the pelvic muscles working more actively when you’re squatting and everything gets exercised the way Nature had intended them to. When you just sit on the toilet, the various organs get fat and lazy. Muscles that aren’t supposed to strain get strained because of the sitting position. Eventually, everything just break downs and before you know it, you’re signing yourself up for a colonoscopy.
Of course, Saffy found out about all this from an article she read on Barney Chen’s Facebook page. And, of course, she slipped into full hysterical mode.
She speed-dialed me and demanded that I step out of my meeting for just a second. “Did you know about this?” she yelled after spending a few minutes giving me a very graphic summary of the body’s waste elimination process.
You could practically hear Saffy’s bosom inflating on the other end of the line. “And why didn’t you tell me about it? Do you not care if I die a horrible death from uterine fibroids?”
I sighed. “I didn’t tell you because the whole process requires that you actually squat. And, not only do we not have any squat toilets at home, you have so famously demonstrated your inability to squat!”
The famous event I refer to was the time we were all at Zouk and a very drunk Saffy told an equally drunk Barney Chen that she couldn’t squat because she didn’t have the muscles and that she toppled over when she tried, which was why she never holidayed in countries in which a squat toilet was a distinct possibility in the hotel. And when Barney drunkenly roared that he didn’t believe her, Saffy staggered onto the dance podium at Zouk and proceeded to demonstrate her anatomical shortcomings.
“Oh, that!” Saffy giggled. “Really, those were the good old days, I tell ya. Everyone’s so uptight these days! But listen, seriously, I’m worried about this. I don’t want to get all these urinary and bowel diseases just because I inherited my father’s lazy leg muscles that won’t squat!”
Barney Chen said he’s got a harness that he’s not using these days. “We could hook it up above the toilet so it sort of, you know, cradles Saffy over the bowl. What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“What do you mean you’ve got a harness that you’re not using these days?” Saffy demanded. “Whatever do you need a harness for?”
“Well, excuse me for being helpful and generous,” Barney growled. “I’ll have you know that harness is vintage! The tales it could tell!”
But the idea intrigues Saffy. She spends a lot of time in front of the toilet bowl, looking up at the ceiling and picturing in her head the logistics of getting into the harness in the first place and then getting out.
“We’ll need a step ladde, of course. And we’d have to move is the position of the toilet roll holder,” she said. “It’s too far down to reach if I’m hanging from the harness.”
            Sharyn says she’s embarrassed to be seen with Saffy these days. “Not like before when she more normal. Wah, no joke, those were good old days!”