Friday, October 31, 2014

Pain Threshold

I remember my 11th birthday very clearly. It was memorable not because I didn’t get the new bicycle I’d been nagging my parents for. Nor was it because my parents didn’t throw me a knockout birthday party with lots of delicious food with lots of fabulous presents.
If you’re having trouble tracking the double negatives here, I’m saying my 11th birthday sucked because all I got was a hastily wrapped book that I already had, and a quick drive through meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
This was all on account of the fact that on the morning of my birthday, my father woke up to discover that he had gout. Overnight, his right big toe had swelled to double its normal size. Half the foot had turned a bright lobster red and he sweated like a pig from the incredible pain.
“Your father has gout!” my mother announced dramatically at breakfast. “It’s from all those oyster omelets he’s been having for supper, and the bah kut teh that he so loves. I'm taking him to the hospital, so you three will have to just entertain yourselves while we’re away. I’ve left strict instructions to Nanny to cane anyone who is naughty, ok?”
On that ominous note, she swept out of the house ahead of my father who hobbled slowly after.
I remember Jack turning to me and asking, “What’s gout?”
Even at that age, I was already acknowledged as the family’s hypochondriac. I puffed up at the attention. “It’s when your uric acid level reaches dangerous levels because of foods which have a high urine count like asparagus, oily fish, shellfish, livers and stuff. It forms crystals in your joints and your foot swells up. It’s a rich man’s disease!” I added importantly.
“It’s really amazing how you know all this stuff!” my sister Michelle said in a tone that indicated this was not a compliment.
“If we ever crash on a deserted island, you’ll want me by your side,” I advised her.
Later that evening, my birthday completely forgotten, Father returned home looking slightly relieved. The doctor had given him anti-inflammatory tablets and strict dietary instructions to lay off his rich diet. For a week, he hobbled around, miserable at the thought of another meal involving plain congee and boiled chicken.
“It needs soy sauce!” he pleaded with the cook.
Cook looked implacable. “Cannot! Doctor say cannot have soy sauce. You want soy sauce, you ask your wife. She pay my wages.”
Completely unhinged by his awful lunch, my normally placid father was outraged. “And who do you think gives her the money to pay your wages in the first place?” he shouted.
Cook was unmoved. She knew Father was a pussy cat. Unlike my mother.
            These memories all came rushing back when a few days ago, Amanda woke up howling in pain. There was a bit of confusion as Saffy ran out of her room clutching her passport and money and raced for the door, while yelling, “Help! Help!”
            Amanda later said, as we waited our turn in the doctor’s surgery, it was all so encouraging to know that if ever there was a fire in our flat, Saffy would be safely out on the street while the rest of us left inside were reduced to a burnt crisp.
            “Well, how was I to know?” Saffy said defensively. “I thought you were being murdered!”
            “Why are we even here?” I said. “Clearly, it’s gout. I recognise all the symptoms!”
            “It can’t be gout!” Amanda said stubbornly.
            “Excuse me, your diet consists entirely of champagne, oysters, foie gras, lobsters and duck!”
            “Oh God,” Amanda moaned. “This is what happens when you date a Frenchman!”
            Saffy sniffed. “Yeah, and where is he now? When the chips are down, men are never around.”
            I coughed.
            “Do you need to see the doctor, too, Jason?” Saffy asked.
            “It’s so unfair,” Amanda went on. “I finally meet someone I could possibly spend the rest of my life with, but at the cost of hobbling around in utter pain!”
            “Surely, you don’t have to eat all that rich food all the time?” I asked.
            “Hello, have you been keeping up? We’re in the initial stages of our dating. So I have to look compliant and pleasing! No man wants to date a girl who’s disagreeable about his national cuisine!”
            Saffy nodded. “Yes, that is true. Sad, but true!”
            “Oh, why couldn’t I just meet a nice Singaporean boy and eat mee pok all day?” Amanda moaned. “None of this would be happening! Ugh, it’s the curse of being an SPG!”

            “Amen!” said Saffy as she posted a picture of Amanda’s foot on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Prison Break

“What’s going on with Justin Bieber these days?” Amanda wondered aloud the other morning at the breakfast table, shaking her head as she caught up with the latest groundbreaking news in her latest issue of US Weekly.
            I barely paused on my way from the kitchen to my bedroom with a mug of hot water seasoned with a slice of lemon.
            “All yours, Saf,” I said as I smartly closed the door.
            Saffy later cornered me in the corridor and practically pinned me against the wall. For someone so small, the girl is freakishly strong.
            “Seriously?” she hissed, pressing her trembling bosom against me. “You wanna leave me at a moment like that? I had to talk about Justin Bieber for ten minutes with her. You know what she’s like when it comes to that little rug-rat!”
            I’ve learnt from bitter experience that in moments like this, the best thing to do is tell a lie that resonates. “I had to do a number two urgently!” I said.
            It worked. “Oh really?” Saffy said, letting go of me. “I’m so jealous! I’ve not gone in days! I’m so blocked up! How do you people do it? Sharyn says she does a number two at least three times a day!”
            That evening, the topic came up again during an episode of ‘Orange is the New Black’, our current favourite TV show about a women’s prison.
            “Can you imagine the state of my bowels if I was ever sent to prison?” Saffy said, her feet up on the coffee table, balancing a big bowl of rojak on her lap.
            From the other end of the sofa, Amanda looked over. “Watching you eat that, I’m thinking exactly the same thing!”
            “No, really! All these crazy women! I mean look at her! She’s completely loony running after Piper like that. And toilets with no doors? What’s that all about? I would be so stressed the whole time. My bowls would seize up completely!”
            “You do realize this is make-believe, right?” Amanda asked.
            “The script maybe, but the situations won’t be,” Saffy said, munching on a peanut encrusted cucumber. “And the setting won’t be. I’m pretty sure that’s what a real life women’s minimum security prison in America looks like and I’m not liking it one bit!”
            “I dunno,” Amanda mused. “It looks quite cosy to me. It looks a bit like the dorms in my boarding school.”
            Saffy threw a look at me that said, “This explains so much.”
            By now, Amanda was firmly lost along memory lane. “The cafeteria is the same set-up,” she went on. “We all sat in our little groups. I was in the popular group, of course, and we always made fun of the girls who played chess or the clarinet. And I remember I used to have the biggest crush on Mr Jones, our Maths teacher who ended up marrying Miss Da Silva, the phys ed coach who, fifteen years later, left him for another woman. Gosh,” Amanda paused, eyes blinking, “I’ve not thought of them in years. But I do remember it was all we could talk about at our school reunion! And also how fabulous my Manolo Blahniks were!”
            Saffy later said that it’s really chilling to think that someone at Harvard actually thought Amanda was someone worthy of a degree while, she, Saffy, ended up with a degree in commerce from the University of Western Australia – the intimation, being, that if Saffy had been lucky enough to go to Harvard, she’d probably be the first female Prime Minister of Singapore by now.
            “Assuming you hadn’t ended up in jail, you mean,” I said.
            Choy, choy, choy! Don’t say such things!” Saffy said, shuddering with such vigour her bosom trembled like a jelly pudding. “I really would not survive two seconds in a prison. I’m too pretty! I’d probably be the resident prison wife, if you know what I mean! I’d never be able to take a shower without being molested!”
            Of course, when Saffy invited Sharyn to come over that evening to watch ‘Orange is the New Black’, Sharyn, who once worked as an admin assistant in one of the prisons in Singapore, laughed all through it.
            “Ay!” Sharyn said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “Dey think people in prison very free, is it? Always walk around and chat and moh-lest udder people, is it? And where got prison guard so han-sum, one? This show all bluff one, lah! If got prison like that, I oh-so want!”
            Saffy says she can’t help but wonder how Justin Bieber might have turned out if Sharyn had been his mother.


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Cow Sense

“My God,” my flatmate Amanda said a few weeks ago. “Americans eat 10 billion animals a year, of which 33 million are cows!”
            She said this right in the middle of a dinner that consisted of a particularly delicious beef rendang, an oyster omelet and beef hor fun.
            Saffy looked up, her mouth frozen in mid-chew.
            Show?” she mumbled. She swallowed and tried again. “So?”
            Amanda blinked. “Don’t you think that’s a lot of cows?”
            Saffy’s shrug spoke volumes, but she still felt compelled to add another chapter. “There are a lots of people in America. What’s your point?”
            “Well, I was at work and I was really bored, so I watched an old episode of Oprah on YouTube. She and her office went on a week-long vegan diet.”
            “Why?” Saffy asked, as she helped herself to some of the oyster omelet.
            “It was all a part of being more conscious about what we eat. Seventy percent of American health care costs is directly linked to diet! Can you imagine that?” Amanda tossed her luxuriant hair and shuddered delicately, even as she looked suspiciously at the beef rendang.
            As Saffy later complained to her best friend Sharyn, we’re all so used to Amanda only ever reading Vogue and shopping at Prada that when she suddenly starts talking in percentages, statistics and healthcare, it’s a completely out of body experience.
            “It’s like walking in on your parents having sex!” Saffy insisted.
            Sharyn coughed and choked up her mouthful of bak kut teh. “Ay, you ah!” she said, flapping a soggy tissue at Saffy. “Why you must always talk about such things when we are eating? Where got anyhow walk in on your parents having sex, one? Your house don’t have door locks, is it? Aiyoh!”
            “I’m just saying! It’s so weird! And the worst part of it is that just because Oprah and her staff went on this crazy assed diet, she’s made us go on it too!”
            Es-cue me, but what is a vegan diet? Is vegetarian, right? Why so cheem?”
            “You can’t eat eggs, milk, cheese, any form of dairy products really, and no meat and no seafood.”
            Sharyn’s eyes bulged. “Hah, fish also cannot, ah?”
            “Nothing!” Saffy’s bosom inflated at the dietary unfairness of it all.
            “Then can eat what?”
            “Vegetables, grains, beans!”
            “Oh, is that why you are only having rice and stir-fry veggies today? I was wondering why you don’t eat your nasi lemak like normal.”
            “I'm so miserable!” Saffy said as she sadly moved her string beans around her plate, hoping to find that an oily piece of Hainanese chicken had miraculously appeared when she wasn’t paying attention.
            Me, I’m getting really sick and tired of eating pasta and beans. And not to be too delicate about it, I also find that I’m extremely gassy. Often, explosively so. I’ve given up having meetings because too many people have asked me why I look so strained. I want to tell them the truth, that it’s the immense effort of keeping in all those thunderous farts, but I don’t because I know I may as well kiss goodbye to my career if I do that.
And the smell! My God.
“Oh, that’s just the body adjusting itself to the new diet,” Amanda said loftily the other day. “It’ll go away eventually. But don’t you feel better with this new diet?”
“No, not really!” Saffy snapped. “I’m cranky and from the moment I wake up, I crave fried chicken wings or a big bag of Old Chang Kee curry puffs!”
“Ooh, the ones with the hard boiled egg in them?” I sighed.
“This is really the stupidest diet ever, Amanda,” Saffy said, her face turning pink with emotion. “If God had meant for us to be vegans, he wouldn’t have invented laksa or kaya!”
Today is day six of our vegan experiment. The windows in our apartment are always open on account of the fact that we’re all still extremely gassy and if our desperate craving for ice-cream or char kway teow doesn’t kill us, the smell of our farts certainly will.
“I will say though,” Saffy murmured quietly to me this morning, “that my skin seems to have cleared up. Look, I’ve got no make-up on, but there’s a bit of a glow to the skin, no?”
I asked her if she was sure it wasn’t just her oily T-zone, a comment that prompted her to immediately text Sharyn that all men are absolute pigs. Which, of course, started her thinking about the crispy roast pork she’s going to have at Crystal Jade the day after tomorrow.

Sharyn says that no one ever believes her when she tells them how weird we are.