Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Air Supply

I was in a yoga class last week. Like so many places in Singapore these days, it was very crowded. You couldn’t do a Wonder Woman spin without hitting someone. I always wonder where all these people come from. Plus it was a weekday and all I could think about was why they weren’t all at work earning their CPF instead of doing a downward facing dog.
Anyway, there we all were flat on our backs, with our legs up in the air attempting to achieve the plough, which is a tricky position that requires legs to be flipped over heads without breaking your neck.
“This is very effective if you’re suffering from any energy blockages,” the yoga teacher droned over the soft sitar music.
            I was starting to feel a little dizzy when someone behind me let rip a sustained bubbling fart.
            Just like that, a room of 25 people, already not saying anything much on account of the very unnatural position they were in, became very still.
            My first instinct was to exclaim, “Oh my God!”, but I couldn’t because the other thing about a plough position is that it’s very effective at closing off your vocal chords.
            But apparently this restriction doesn’t affect everyone because a strangled voice managed to croak, “I’m so sorry about that! I’m just feeling very gassy!”
            A few rows away, Amanda’s voice floated up. “Seriously Saf, that is so gross!”
            “I think it’s all that rojak I’ve been eating!” Saffy’s disembodied voice came back. “I guess it wasn’t a good idea to come to yoga today, but honestly, it’s fine! My farts are only lightly scented!”
            “That’s what you think!” Amanda said, her vocal projection remarkably strong despite her vulnerable position.
            Later that afternoon, over a much needed afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton, the girls were still bickering.
            “I don’t think I can ever go back to that class,” Amanda moaned as she picked at her smoked salmon sandwich.
            “Well, you didn’t have to say anything, you know!” Saffy told her. “If you’d just kept quiet, no one would have known that you knew me! I was just addressing my apology to the class in general! And anyway, it’s not as if I’m the only person in the entire history of yoga to have farted in a plough position!”
            “What I don't get,” Amanda said, completely ignoring Saffy’s defence, “is why you didn’t stop after the first note!”
            Saffy paused, her fork full of cake poised halfway to her open mouth. “What do you mean stop?” she asked eventually.
            “Well, I get that the first pop would have taken you by surprise,” Amanda said slowly in a tone that she normally only uses with waiters who don’t know the difference between a merlot and a melon, “but as soon as you realized you’d done the first note, why didn’t you just…well…hold the rest in!”
            Saffy looked astonished. “Hold it in?” Her magnificent bosom swelled. “Are you mad? Do you know how bad for your health that is?”
            “How can holding a fart in be bad for your health? People do that all the time! I’m sure the Queen of England doesn’t go around farting in public!”
            “Oh, please,” Saffy said as she stabbed at a chocolate ├ęclair. “They’re always playing such loud band music whenever she shows up for a party, she could fart all night and people would think it was the trombone section!”
            Sharyn thinks it’s just remarkable that at a time when the world is threatened by all kind of terrorism, infectious diseases and scandalous leaked nude pictures, we’re talking about the health benefits of farting.
            “You all very free, is it?” she asked, her eyes unnaturally enlarged behind her Coke bottle-thick spectacles. “And anyway, who ask you eat so much rojak and then go and do yoga? Sure got fart, one, what!”
            “Well, I hope no one is expecting me to give up rojak!” Saffy said stoutly. “I’d rather die!”
            “Wah, you very drama, hor? Give up rojak, doh-wan. Hold your fart in, oh-so doh-wan! How like that?”
            “I can’t help it if I have weak pelvic muscles!” Saffy told Sharyn.
            “You need to do more Kegel exercises,” Barney Chen advised Saffy. “It’ll also make you very popular with the boys, I promise you! And the good thing about it is,” he added, flexing his absurdly muscular chest, “you can do it anywhere. I’m doing it now as we speak!”
            Meanwhile, Amanda has changed to a different yoga class. “Imagine if we were in an aqua-aerobics class! She’d turn the pool into a giant Jacuzzi!”
            “Aiyoh!” Sharyn said.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Final Destination

Really, what is the world coming to?
            Regular readers will be familiar with my lifelong conviction that it’s just simply not safe to step out of your home. All manner of misfortune could befall you. A bus might jump the curb. A stray cough from a complete stranger and suddenly, you’re on the news as Patient Zero for Ebola.
            “I’m so not going to Africa!” Saffy said. “Can you imagine? One minute, you’re looking at elephants and worrying about black mambas, and the next, you’re in a quarantined tent being filmed by CNN!”
            Amanda pointed out that the Ebola virus has now reached Europe via the UK. “You’re not safe anywhere,” she said gloomily.
          I puffed up. “Isn’t that what I’ve been saying all these years? One wrong move, one moment’s inattention, and you’re done!”
            People – and by people, I mean, of course, Sharyn – invariably say to me, well, if I’m going to be so scared of leaving the house, I might as well seal myself off in a bubble. To which I would reply, don’t think I’ve not thought of that. However, given the way these things work, they’ll discover that the bubble I’m sealed in (and probably spent a fortune acquiring) emits odorless toxic fumes that will give me severe paralysis.  
            Of course, it doesn’t help that a few days ago, Amanda read in the paper that regular use of a leading toothpaste brand might give you cancer.
            Saffy immediately put down her latest edition of 8DAYS and gasped dramatically. “Cancer? How is that possible?” she demanded. “It’s just toothpaste!”
            “Well, apparently, the lab animals got sick…or something,” Amanda said, her attention now focused on an ad for a Club 21 sale. 
            Saffy looked disgruntled. “Honestly, nothing is safe anymore! My friend Jo said she was on a plane the other day and sat next to this guy who wore latex gloves the entire flight and she asked him why and he said that the plane is a hotbed of germs and he didn’t want to touch anything!”
            “That’s so clever,” I said with approval. “I should do the same, except I should wear latex gloves all day long.”
            “In this weather, I’d be sure to get chronic dermatitis,” Amanda said.
            “Better that than Ebola,” I pointed out.
            It’s getting to the point that I can’t even read the newspaper anymore. There’s nothing happy in there. It’s always bad news followed by more bad news. Really, what’s the point?
            Which is why we were all genuinely shocked when Sharyn came over for dinner a few weeks ago and, between noisy bites of rojak, she suddenly observed that it was such a tragedy that the Kardashians were stuck up that mountain.
            “What?!” I said.
            “When did this happen?” Amanda exclaimed.
            “What, the whole family?” Saffy moaned, her thoughts immediately turning to poor Bruce Jenner on whom she is morbidly fixated.
            Sharyn looked astonished at our lamentable ignorance of current affairs. “Aiyoh! How you not know? It’s all over the news! They so poor thing, got no food and no water, and very cold up there. The Americans must come and rescue them!”
            “What do you mean the Americans are coming to rescue them?” Saffy said hotly. “Where are they?”
            “Hai-yah! Ir-ack, loh! Alamak, how you can not know this, one?”
            Silence descended over the dining table as the three of us frowned. Sharyn took the opportunity to help herself to more rojak.
            Finally, Amanda broke the silence. “What on earth are the Kardashians doing in Iraq? And up a mountain!”
            “Maybe they’re doing humanitarian aid?” Saffy said. As we all later agreed, if the subject matter hadn’t been so serious, we’d normally have broken out into hysterical giggles.
            I cocked my head at Sharyn and asked tentatively. “Uhm, Sharyn…When you say the Kardashians…uhm…do you mean the Yazidis?”
            Amanda breathed out. “Oh. My. God.”
            “What? What?” Saffy said, bouncing on her chair in synchronicity with her fabulous bosom. “Who are the Yazidis?”
            This time it was Sharyn’s turn to blink. “Why? What did I say?”
            “You said the Kardashians,” Amanda said.
            Sharyn turned pink. “Oh. And who are the Yah-yah…what you say…”
            “The Yazidis are a minority Muslim group who are being persecuted in Iraq by ISIS!” I said.
            Saffy looked completely lost. “The Egyptian goddess?”
            It took a while, but eventually, Amanda managed to bring both Sharyn and Saffy up to date on the state of the Iraqi crisis, including its key players.
            “How did I miss all that?” Saffy wondered.
            “How are we even friends?” Amanda replied.
            Saffy shrugged. “Whatevs. I’m just so relieved Bruce is OK.”

            And just like that, all was right with the world.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tone Deaf

I’ve always admired people with musical talent. Anyone who can sing and hold a tune gets my vote. Same goes for people who can play an instrument.
            There’s something incredibly awe-inspiring about being able to look at a page of squiggly notes and translate that into music. As Saffy points out, she has enough trouble with English spelling, never mind trying to work out what a double clef is, or sounds like.
            When I was growing up, my parents nursed violently ambitious dreams that we would all one day become world famous concert pianists and violinists. It was always the piano and the violin for them. Never the trombone and, definitely, never the harp.
            “Can you imagine driving the harp all around town to rehearsals?” my mother would wonder aloud, though you had to wonder what her concern was given that she was never going to be the one chauffeuring us around. That was what Chauffeur was paid for.
            No, as far as my parents were concerned, the only respectable instruments for their children were the piano or the violin. And you had to be first violin, not the ones stuck in the back of the orchestra pit where no one could see you, let alone recognize you as the talented child prodigy of Mrs Mei-ling Hahn.
When they watched people like Yehudi Menuhin at Carnegie Hall, my parents mentally inserted our faces onto his and pretended that all the applause at the end was for their children – and, by extension, them for being the kind of liberated, nurturing parents who could produce such prodigiously gifted offspring.
As it turned out, the Hahn children’s complete lack of musical ability or interest was just one of the many disappointments we thoughtlessly and cruelly inflicted on our parents.
My brother Jack decided from an early age that he loved heavy metal. When he wasn’t jamming on his electric guitar, he saved up every cent to buy Black Sabbath, KISS, Judas Priest, Slayer and Iron Maiden. Father used to say that Jack’s playing reminded him of cats OD’ing on helium, while Mother spent hours consulting the electrician to see if there was a way to cut the electricity to Jack’s room without in any way affecting the circuitry to the rest of the house.
For years, whenever Mother and her sisters played mah-jong at our house, their gossip was usually disrupted by Jack’s music which he played so loudly the tiles vibrated. No one could hear a thing. Between shouts of ‘pong!’, Mother’s sisters were convinced they were in perilous proximity to a real life devil worshipper, even though when he wasn’t whiplashing his head to Metallica’s ‘The Four Horsemen’, Jack was the sweetest and kindest boy this side of heaven.
Meanwhile, Michelle, surely the world’s most passive-aggressive daughter, decided that she would buy into our parents’ musical dreams, but she was going to play the cello.
My mother was horrified. Of all the instruments in the world, she would shout to her sisters over the thundering bass of Black Sabbath’s ‘Children of the Grave’, Michelle had to pick the most un-ladylike one of them all. “It’s just so undignified,” she yelled, giving her tiles an extra shake, “having to wedge that big bulky thing between her legs!”
Of course, it didn’t help that her sister, our Auntie Wai-ling, had two obnoxiously talented sons who played the violin and they kept winning all sorts of competition prizes.
As for me, I didn’t even pretend to have a musical bone in my body. Still, my parents refused to believe that I couldn’t tell the difference between a ‘doh’ and a ‘la’, and insisted that I should at least try the electric organ, the logic being that, given my musical stubbornness, a Yamaha plug-in was less of an investment than a Steinway baby grand. “He can always try the flute if that doesn’t work,” Father reasoned as he winced his way through my dull, out of tune rendition of ‘Twinkle, twinkle Little Star’.
Recognising a lost cause, I refused to practise and when, in class, we had to play ‘Ba-Ba Black Sheep’, I simply turned off my electric organ and ran my fingers fluidly across the keyboard, making no sound whatsoever. To this day, it staggers me to think that the music teacher never noticed – although Amanda points out that he must have known, but, given my complete lack of note recognition, decided to not say anything.
 “Well at least your parents were interested in you guys,” Saffy says jealously. “Mine were so disinterested, I sometimes think I’m adopted!”
Amanda, who has met Saffy’s parents, says that would explain a lot.


Monday, January 05, 2015

Busy Body

Someone really needs to write in to the big bosses at 8DAYS and demand that they scrap that ridiculous Shirtless Guy page. Really, it’s the same thing week after week. Some random guy bulging and rippling with ridges and muscles where they have no business being bulging or rippling. Smiling smugly out at us with their perfect skin, perfect teeth and perfect lives.
It’s just too much.
“Don’t you dare get that page cancelled!” Barney Chen growled at me the other day. “I am devoted to it! I cut out every single one each week and collect them all in a scrapbook!”
“Shut up,” I told him. “I’m trying to enjoy my roti prata right now, and this whole conversation is spoiling my appetite!”
“They motivate me to go to the gym more regularly!” Barney added, though I later told Amanda I wasn’t sure how much more regularly Barney could go to the gym given that he already goes twice a day.
My flatmate was astonished. “He goes twice a day?”
“You think you get a body like his by sitting on a couch and watching reruns of ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’? Like we do?” I added very unnecessarily.
“Ugh, have you seen what Rob Kardashian looks like these days?” asked Amanda, Harvard graduate.
As it turns out, the Shirtless Guy page is also Saffy’s favourite. “I just love it when they say that they can eat whatever they like!” she said the other day as she inhaled a bowl of lontong while her latest copy of 8DAYS was propped up in front of her. “I mean, look at this guy’s stomach! It’s all muscles. If it was any tighter, he’d fart! There’s no room for anything else! There’s no way you could fit anything bigger than two bread crumbs into a stomach that tight!”
“And they’re all like five years old!” I said viciously. “Of course you’re going to have a super high metabolism at that age and you can eat whatever you want!”
“I wish they had more celebrities on this page though,” Saffy said, slurping noisily. “It’s hard for me to get too excited about these random guys, though I’m not really complaining. It’s rare to find such wonderfully gratuitous photographs of topless buff men in a family magazine.”
“I wonder what Christopher Lee’s body looks like,” Amanda asked. “Or they should just photograph Allan Wu every week!”
            Saffy gasped. “Oh my God, how perfect would that be? That could be the entire issue of 8DAYS! Just the cover and one single page of a half-naked Allan Wu inside. And nothing else. I’d sign up for a lifetime subscription!”
Later that evening, when Sharyn came over for dinner, the girls were still talking about the Shirtless Guy.
“Eeeee!” said Sharyn with typical eloquence. “You like that page, ah?”
“Who doesn’t?” Amanda asked.
“Ay, I don’t, leh! You find all those muscle nice, meh? Real life where got muscle like dat? I never see before in my life!”
“Well, you need to come swimming with us and Barney Chen,” Amanda told her.
“You could grate cheese on his stomach,” Saffy said happily.
“I don’t like cheese,” Sharyn said firmly. “If you have boyfriend or husband who got stomach like that, you never see dem, ah, I tell you! Dey always at the gym and den, hor, you always so worry udder people like dat Barney Chen want to steal dem! Much better to catch a man with no muscle, den no one will steal him and you have long long happy marriage. Like me!”
Saffy and Amanda cocked their heads, and you could tell that the practicalities of finding and then keeping a faithful boyfriend had never really occurred to them.
“Huh!” Amanda said as she mentally replayed the cast of unhappy relationships from her past. As she later said to us, every single one of them involved a good looking man with more than a definition of pecs and abs.
“And my Bradley looks like a TeleTubby these days,” Saffy said, “but I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.”
“Huh!” Amanda said again.
“That is a very good theory,” Barney Chen said when she called him. “And also very probably true, especially in my case. You have fun with me, but you wouldn’t want to marry me!”
“Well, I wouldn’t because you know…you’re…uhm…and I’m not…” Amanda trailed off. She rallied. “But I do see your point. So maybe I’ve been too busy being attracted to all the wrong men? Maybe I need Shia LaBeouf, and not Alexander Skarsgard!”
“Well, maybe not Shia, he’s gone a bit loopy,” said Barney. “But you’re definitely on the right track!”
Amanda blinked. “Huh!”