Thursday, July 31, 2014

Just Kidding

The thing about fairy tales is that they never tell you what happens after the ‘Happily ever after’. Sure the prince and the scullery maid fall in love and ride off into the sunset, but even as a child, I always wondered, did the maid have to sign a pre-nup agreement?
I know this makes me sound like I was a precocious toddler, but in my family, ‘pre-nuptial’ was one of the first words we learnt. I remember my mother playing mah-jong with her sisters and one session, the topic of gossip was their cousin Cheong’s son who had just married a girl whom everyone unanimously agreed was a brazen gold-digger.
            “She wouldn’t sign the pre-nup!” my mother said as she swirled the tiles with unusual aggression, no doubt thinking about the financial drama awaiting her future gold-digging daughters-in-law.
            Auntie Wai-ling sucked in her breath. “I bet she was already pregnant before they got married! That’s how they lure their prey these days. These girls are just so desperate and clever!”
            When you’re a child whose head doesn’t even clear the edge of a mah-jong table, you tend to have the attention span of a dead mosquito, but somehow, the word ‘pre-nup’ stuck. Later that night, when my father was putting me to bed, I asked him, “Papa, what’s a pre-nup?”
            To my father’s eternal credit, he didn’t even blink, he was so used by then to the strange things that came out of his children’s mouths. A pre-nup, he explained, was when two people, before their wedding, agreed on what to do with their money if they ever divorced.
            “Do you and Mama have one?” I remember asking.
            “No,” he sighed. “Which is why we can never get divorced! Otherwise, she will take me to the cleaners.”
            “What does…”
            “That’s tomorrow night’s bed-time story,” he said firmly. “Marriages are very expensive. That’s all you need to know. And, uh, don’t repeat to your mother what I just said to you, ok?”
            So, that was one of the first real life lessons I learnt – that marriage is expensive. And that it’s a big secret. It didn’t take too long for me to realise that they never told you that at the end of the endless fairy tales we read. Not Cinderella, not Snow White, not Rapunzel, not Jack and the Beanstalk, not any of it. In every one, the hero and the heroine fell in love, got married and lived happily ever after. There was no discussion about money.
            The other real life lesson I learnt was that not only are marriages expensive, children are even more so.
            This lesson we all learnt very early on. My mother was always moaning about how expensive we all were, though as my sister would later point out to her therapist, this was really rich considering it was my father who was paying all the bills, not Mother.
            I bring all this up because I was reading an interview of Kui Jien in a back copy of 8DAYS the other day and he said that school fees for his kid were between $20,000 and $40,000.
            “Shut up!” Amanda said when I told her. “That’s how much it costs to send a kid to school these days?”
            “If it’s an international school,” I said. “And the kid’s daycare costs $1,000 a month!”
            Twelve thousand dollars a year?” Saffy shrieked. “That’s…that’s…”
            “That’s more than a business class ticket to New York on SQ!” Amanda cut in, looking very disturbed.
            “Why does it cost so much to teach a kid the alphabet and to add two and two?” Saffy wanted to know.
            “Imagine if you had more than one child, like Sharyn does!” I went on, thoroughly gripped by this horror bedtime story.
            As it turns out, nothing drowns out the loud ticking of a biological clock more efficiently than the sheer brutal noise-cancelling reality of $40,000 a year. Until recently, Amanda could not be relied on to pass Le Petit Bateau or a toddler without getting all misty-eyed and emotional. Now, she says, when she sees a child, all she can think of is the fact that it’s costing four Hermes Birkin bags.
            “Per year!” she will emphasise. “Or maybe just one crocodile skin bag. But still…”
            When Saffy next met up with Sharyn, she gave her best friend a big hug. “Oh, you poor thing!” she sniffed. “And I mean that literally, too!”
            “Aiyoh, you siow, ah!’ Sharyn moaned, squirming in Saffy’s tight embrace. “What do you want?”
            “Do you need money?” Saffy asked.
            My sister says, right there, is a sentence you never read in a fairy tale.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

White Noise

A few mornings ago, Saffy emerged from the bathroom sobbing piteously.
            Amanda looked up from her copy of Vogue, blinked as she assessed the damage, and then went back to reading. Always taking my cue from Amanda, I suddenly felt lost, unsure of how I was meant to react. My eyes swiveled madly back and forth, my mouth opening and closing like a drowning goldfish.
            Even Saffy eventually stopped sobbing.
            “Uhm,” she said. “I’m sobbing hysterically here…”
            Amanda’s voice floated out from behind the cover of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. “No, you’re not. You’re just having one of your drama moments about nothing very important!”
            Saffy gasped. “How…how…how dare you! I’ve never been so insulted in my life!”
            “More than that time we went to Taboo with Barney Chen, and the waiter called you ‘Sir’?”
            Saffy gasped again. Her formidable chest inflated to such a dangerous volume, I slowly inched my chair backwards.
            Amanda sighed and put down her magazine.
            “Alright, what’s the matter?”
            Saffy’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t do me any favours! If you’re not interested…”
            “Listen,” I said urgently. “Are you two having that time of the month at the same time? Because I’ve heard of such things happening when women live together, and suddenly their monthly whatsits occur simultaneously and drive all the menfolk to drink and adultery!”
            Saffy’s natural thick skin combined with her need to share her latest trauma overwhelmed both Amanda’s insult and my sheer male pointlessness. In an instant, all was forgiven and forgotten as she pulled out a chair and sat down delicately.
            “Something awful just happened in the bathroom,” she announced as soon as she was comfortably settled.
            “You discovered a wrinkle,” Amanda said in the kind of bored tone that God must use when he comes home and picks up the missed prayers on his Holy Phone messaging system.
            “Oh dear God,” Saffy said on cue, “it’s worse than that!”
            In spite of herself, this got Amanda’s attention. “What can possibly be worse than discovering a wrinkle?” she asked with genuine concern.
             Saffy closed her eyes and shuddered. She drew in a deep breath.
            “I discovered a white hair…”
            “Well, that’s not so bad…”
            “…in my unmentionables!”
            Even though I was fully concentrating on the conversation, for a moment, I frowned, feeling a little lost, though as Amanda later said, I could hardly be blamed. “With Saffy, her unmentionables could be anywhere!”
            Apparently, Saffy had just emerged from the shower and was standing in front of the mirror examining herself with a critical eye, as women apparently tend to do at such moments. Her gaze swept down and did a double take along with a sharp intake of breath. She leant in closer, then turned her head down on her body for a closer look. Which, she says, is when she verified the reality of the strand of white hair.
            “It’s the end! I tell you it’s the end,” she moaned to Sharyn the next day over lunch at the Ion’s Food Republic. “When you get a white hair in your unmentionables, it’s the end! I always knew the day was coming, but I just didn’t expect it to come so soon!”
            Under the pretext of taking off her hairband and re-tying her hair, though you could tell that she was really just very quietly pulling her hair in deep frustration, Sharyn smiled tightly.
            “Ay, first of all, hor, can you please stop calling your thing un-men-shun-able, can or not? Wah, you damn crazy, you know!”
            “And calling it ‘your thing’ is better?” Saffy wanted to know.
            “Ay,” Sharyn repeated. “Ek-skew me, but where got people talk about this kind of thing, one? Next time, hor, at least give me some notice, can? Where got sar-dun-ly tell people you find white hair in your thing, one? I’m eating, some more!”
            “What am I going to do?” Saffy moaned. “I can’t let Bradley see it!”
            “How can he see?”
            Saffy blinked. “How…What do you mean, how? Because sometimes, you know, he goes…he goes…you know, he…he…goes there!”
            The penny dropped. Sharyn rolled her eyes. “Ai-yoooh! Choy!”
            “Can I dye it?”
            “Hah? You want to put ammonia in your thing, ah? You get burn, then how?”
            This morning, Amanda said she’d made a few discreet enquiries with her hairdresser and apparently some waxing salons will dye one’s unmentionables.
            “I’ve booked an appointment for you,” she told an enthralled Saffy. “And I’m coming with you. I want to see how they do it.”
            I was astonished. “You’re going to watch Saffy get her unmentionables dyed?”
            “It’s like I’m in my own reality show!” Saffy said happily. “I can’t wait to Instagram the results!”


Friday, July 18, 2014

Tow the Line

I’m not sure what this says about my character, but I love spas. And I mean love that borders on an obsessive intense passion the likes of which is rarely encountered outside of a Mills and Boon novel set in the 18th century about the forbidden passion between a poor working class seamstress and her square jawed, devastatingly good looking, brooding landlord. If that description strikes you as being a little bit excessive, it doesn’t even begin to convey the depth of my emotions for a spa.
            Whoever invented the spa should be canonized and a little altar put up in every household. I love the very idea of it, a hallowed cocoon whose sole purpose of existence is to pamper, sooth and comfort with emollients, scented steam and essential oils. Just the word makes me happy. 
            And when it comes to spas, I’m famously non-discriminatory. Any place that requires me to do nothing but be still while other people do all the work qualifies as a spa to me.
            “So, by that definition, I guess a bus is a spa?” Amanda said to me the other day.
            “You’re just being obtuse now,” I replied primly as I sent a text message to my therapist at Chien Chi Tow to confirm my appointment that afternoon. “I don’t know why you won’t come with me for the herbal steam. It’s just amazing!”
            “It’s not even a spa!” Amanda said firmly with the kind of authority that you find only in Harvard graduates. “What kind of a self respecting spa is located in Bendemeer Road?”
            “Well, it’s not the Ritz-Carlton,” I admitted, “but really, it’s just the most amazing thing ever. Look, just try it once. I’ll even pay for it!”
            But it was no good. Saffy, of course, who has no qualms about going anywhere outside of Districts 9 and 10, was up for a new experience.
            “Amanda really needs to lighten up,” she said in the cab. “But listen, there’s no hanky-panky in this place right? Because, I’m really not in the mood for it today. I really do just need a nice pampering session because…”
            I frowned as I mentally rewound the last few seconds. “Wait a minute,” I held up my hand, stopping Saffy in mid-sentence. “What do you mean you’re not in the mood for it today? You mean there’s hanky panky in your spa sessions on other days?”
            The sudden colouring on Saffy’s cheeks was instructive. She turned her attention on the taxi driver. “Uncle, if you turn off here, we can get to Bendemeer Road faster!”
            Later that evening, Saffy was careful to avoid her little misstep as she recounted her Chien Chi Tow experience in graphic, blow-by-blow detail to Amanda.
            “Oh my God, it was so amazing!” she said.
            “I don’t see how it could be…” Amanda began, but Saffy was on a roll.
            “It really is nothing to look at from the street and if I hadn’t know better, I would probably have walked right past it, and the interiors have that gawdawful fluourescent lighting and the change room is this dinky little cubicle and to get to the toilet you have to wear communal slippers but the staff are so sweet and because they weren’t too busy the auntie basically stood next to my steam box and chatted with me the entire time but really I haven’t sweated so much in such a long time and you would think that I’d get claustrophobic because you remember how I get when I get into the toilet on a plane but I didn’t at all and I think it’s because of all those wonderful herbs they put in so I just felt like I was being gently poached but in a good way because every so often the auntie would dab my brow and when it was all over twenty minutes later and she lifted the lid I swear I felt so amazing and oddly so clean…”
            Amanda spotted a gap and dived in. “I don’t see how sweating profusely in a confined space is…”
            “But you don’t understand because the sweating opens up all your pores to release all the crappy toxins and then the good stuff from the herbs go in and cleanse your blood and your system and when you come out and dry down your skin feels so smooth and clean and…”
            “…And you smell like double boiled chicken soup!” I said, anxious that I not be left out of the conversation.
            “Oh my God, that’s exactly it!” sighed Saffy whose favourite dish in the world is doubled boiled chicken soup.
            Amanda says right there is another reason why people go the Ritz-Carlton spa.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Family Matters

Yesterday, a friend of Amanda’s came back from a New York trip brandishing the latest copy of American Vogue. You know, the one with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian on the cover.
            “I had to fight off this cow dressed in Prada for it,” Melanie reported. “It was the last copy on the newsstand!”
            Amanda was awestruck as she stroked the magazine. “You mean it? This is for me?”
            “I haven’t even read it,” Melanie said. “It went straight into my carry-on bag. I didn't even dare put it with my check in luggage in case those TSA boys randomly picked my bag to inspect and nicked it. I thought maybe you might want to eBay it or something. It’s got to be worth something!”
            Later, Amanda said that it was so humbling that she had friends like Melanie, a comment that displeased Saffy enormously.
            “She bought a magazine. Big deal!” Saffy whispered to me, her bosom inflating dangerously close to my chest. “I hate that Melanie, rubbing her SCGS education and fake English educated Peranakan accent in our faces every time she opens her thin lipped mouth!”
            “Uhm…why are we whispering?” I said softly.
            “That Amanda has the hearing of a bat!”
            Not in this instance, she didn’t because she was absorbed in the Kimye article. Or, to be strictly accurate, she was slowly savouring each hi-resolution image of Kim in her various outfits by Lanvin and Alexander McQueen. I’m not sure Kanye or the presence of baby North even registered.
            Over dinner, the magazine safely stored away in her room, Amanda was rhapsodic.
            “I tell you, Vogue is always so daring!” she said as she daintily slurped her wonton noodle soup.
            Saffy snorted. “Oh please. They put a big busted reality TV star and her Taylor Swift interrupting husband on the cover. Big deal!”
            Which only invited a fifteen minute lecture from Amanda about how Kimye have transcended their fame to become true celebrities and how smart Vogue was to do something that all the other blue chip magazines didn’t dare to.
“Which is?” Saffy demanded belligerently.
“Which is to expressly acknowledge their zeitgeist power!” Amanda said serenely. “Kim Kardashian is the new Victoria Beckham! You don’t stay famous and relevant for so long without being smart!”
A silence descended over the table, interrupted only by the sound of chewing as Saffy struggled for something scathing to say in response.
“How does she do that?” she complained that evening to Sharyn.
“Ay, I ask you, hah,” Sharyn said. “Can you ask Amanda if I can borrow that Vogue when she finish reading?”
Saffy was astonished. “You, too?”
“What? Cannot read, meh? I love to watch that Kar-dare-sian show, you know. They are just like my family. Except we got no private plane, lah. Or clothing store. Or stylist who come do our hair and make-up every time we go out.”
In spite of herself, Saffy put down her chopsticks. “Ok, how are the Kardashians like your family, Sharyn?”
“Haiyah! Their mud-der love her children. Her children all very naughty. The son so useless. One daughter marry black man. One daughter got children but don’t get married and the boyfriend no one like. The udder daughter always in trouble in public. The two younger daughters are rebellious. Wah, you change their names to Chan, and the children to Mervyn, Carol, Lucy, Lydia, Cynthia and Sharyn and you got my entire family!”
“Who’s married to a black man in your family?” Saffy asked.
“Carol marry gwai-loh, what. She don’t marry Chinese. In the eyes of my mudder, same thing, lah!”
So maybe that’s the key to understanding the appeal of the Kardashians. And the hidden shame of our fascination. Behind the glitzy dresses and glamorous magazine covers, they have the same issues as the rest of us – motherhood, growing up, bad relationships, fights and spats, career issues. They’re just like us. Only richer.
Of course, Saffy was having none of it. “If that’s the case,” she told Sharyn severely, “I should also be on the cover of Vogue. I may not travel around in private jets or attend fashion shows, but my love life is just as tumultuous as Kim’s! My family is just as dysfunctional!”
“Yah, but you not famous, what!”
“Well, what is Kim famous for?” Saffy demanded.
“She got sex tape, mah. You got sex tape?”
By the way Saffy screwed up her eyes and stared off into the distance, you could tell that a whole world of opportunities had just presented itself.
Sharyn must have caught the glint in Saffy’s eyes because she looked worried. “Ay…you don’t anyhow…Ay…Saffy…”