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.


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