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!”


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