Thursday, February 26, 2015

High Class

They say that you can never please everyone, and by ‘they’, I mean, of course, my mother. She usually says this when she’s just won several rounds of mahjong and people are starting to mutter behind their jeweled hands that they wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if, one day, Mei-ling Hahn is found to have been crying out ‘pong’ when she really shouldn’t have, if you catch my drift.
            In the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda, harmony is a state of mind rarely found outside of a fresh stack of magazines and a steaming cup of Darjeeling on a rain-soaked Sunday afternoon.
Something is always simmering.
Once it was the time Saffy discovered Amanda had been secretly getting her nails buffed, without telling anyone, by the very expensive but very hot French manicurist at the St Regis spa. On another occasion, Amanda came home one day to find Saffy trying on all of Amanda’s prized first edition Victoria’s Secret underwear.
The most recent bone of contention between the two girls has arisen over their Easter holiday plans.
Every year, Saffy has gone home to Melbourne to see her aging grandfather while Amanda flies off to a remote beach resort on the other side of the world to work on her tan. There was every expectation that the same thing would happen this year, but a few days ago, Saffy’s 92-year old grandfather rang to tell her that he’s met someone at his nursing home and that he would be spending Easter with her family.
As earth-shattering news goes, this little bit of revelation ranks way up there with the possibility that Bruce Jenner might be turning into a woman any day soon.
“She’s 95!” Saffy announced the instant she got off the phone.
Amanda put down her latest copy of 8DAYS. “Who is?”
“My grandfather’s new girlfriend! I am beyond shocked!” Saffy’s fabulous bosom trembled like a pumpkin pie emerging out of the oven. “He says he met her at Thursday night bingo and apparently they just clicked.”
“Isn’t that good?” Amanda asked.
Saffy looked astonished. “Good? How is that good?”
Amanda hesitated. “Uhm, doesn’t he deserve to be happy in his old age? I mean, his wife died, like, twenty years ago. That’s a long time to be alone!” she said.
Saffy was unmoved. “But what if they get married and he leaves everything to her? My God, this is just like Anna Nicole Smith, but in reverse! They just clicked, my foot,” Saffy muttered. “That was probably the sound of their arthritic hips!”
“Speaking of which, do they have sex, do you think?” Amanda wondered with the kind of forensic curiosity that won her the prize in criminal law at Harvard.
“Seriously, if that doesn’t put me off lunch, I don’t know what will!” Saffy said urgently.
All of which means that for now, Saffy’s annual Easter plans have been scuttled and Amanda, more out of a guilty conscience than anything, has suggested she come to Barbados.
“That’s a long way to go for a suntan, isn’t it?” Saffy said.
“Sure it is, but the beaches are lovely, the waters are crystal clear and we could always round off the trip with a few days in New York!”
Saffy still looked doubtful. “How much is all this going to cost?”
Amanda waved her hand and spoke a number.
Saffy later told me that, for a minute, she was convinced that she’d misheard. Either that, or she’d passed out and had an out of body experience.
“Who pays that kind of money to lie on a beach?” she demanded. “She is completely insane! You could buy your own little patch of sand on Sentosa!” 
“So are you going?” I asked.
“Are you crazy? She insists on going business class, so just the airfare alone is twice my monthly salary!”
Amanda thinks Saffy is exaggerating. “It’s really not that much more expensive,” she said this morning while Saffy tried to ignore her by reading all about Ebola in the newspaper. “And I just love all the extras! Especially the satay trolley!”
Saffy looked up from her newspaper. “Satay? They have satay in business class? What, those SQ girls are actually fanning an open flame in the galley?”
“Oh, I don’t know. For that kind of money, do you honestly think I’m going to be hanging out in the kitchen? Oh, and they also have soya bean drinks!”
“Wow!” Saffy said, genuinely moved by the privileges of Singapore Airlines’ business class cabin.
Sharyn says it kills her that Harvard actually allowed Amanda to graduate and that she’s best friends with Saffy. And when I told my mother, she said, “You just can’t please everyone.”

Monday, February 16, 2015

Leave of Absence

It’s that time of the year again when I start thinking about holidays.
            Where should I go? The possibilities are endless. Just as long as I am careful to eliminate the places I don’t want to go.
            Just the other day, the travel agent rang and asked if I wanted to go on an African safari in Tanzania.
            “Got really good deal!” Sunny said. “Some more, hor, if tree go, get discount!”
            I couldn’t get off the phone fast enough.
            “Is he mad?” Amanda said when I told her. “He must think we came down with the last shower!”
            Saffy looked up from her latest issue of Men’s Health where she’d been engrossed by an article called ‘Lose weight without exercise’.
“Why?” she asked.
            Amanda blinked. “Hello? Tanzania?”
            Saffy, who’d barely passed geography in school, looked mystified. “Should that mean something to me?”
            “It’s right next to all those Ebola cases!” Amanda said, her eyes almost rolled to the back of her head.
            Saffy pulled out her phone and called up a map of Africa. “No, it’s not! All the Ebola cases are on the east coast. Tanzania is on the west coast! There’s a whole continent between the two areas! They’re nowhere near each other!”
            “But it’s on the same continent!” Amanda told her. My head nodded like one of the spring toys on the dashboard of a taxi.
            “Oh, I see your point,” Saffy said. “No, let’s not go to Tanzania. I don’t want to end up on the evening breaking news on CNN.”
Amanda sniffed. “No wonder Sunny was offering a discount! Really, we should change travel agents!”
            So, that’s one thing to stress about…where not to go for your holiday. That, and the conundrum of when not to go.
See, if you go too early, it’ll be like showing up for dinner at a Spanish restaurant at 9pm – there’ll be no one there because no self respecting Spaniard eats before 10pm, and there’s nothing more depressing than sitting in a restaurant all by yourself picking away at a paella.
But if you go too late, then it’ll be like arriving in the middle of the restaurant’s rush hour and the horrible waitress tells you a table won’t become available for another two hours, which will make it midnight by the time you get your menu.
My point is, timing a holiday is crucial. Too early, and there’ll be no one at the resort. Boring. Too late, and you won’t be able to chope a chair by the pool for love or money.
            Sharyn says this is clearly a problem that only single people with no children have.
            “Ay, you know I don’t take leave for how long? Two year, ah, I tell you!”
            “But you just came back from a trip to the Cameron Highlands!” Saffy pointed out.
            “You siow, lah! What holiday? Had to drive there and drive back. Get lost four time. The road sign cannot read. My eldest got car sick. My husband this cannot eat, that cannot drink, but somehow got food poisoning! My youngest one upset because his iPad break. Who ask him to be so fat and then sit on it? Sure got break one, what, right? Where got holiday? Aiyoh, stay home better, ah!”
            “I really should record all this,” Saffy said. “And then on dark lonely nights when I’m feeling sorry for myself that I’m not married with a family, I’ll play it back.”
            “Yah, boy!” Sharyn said grimly, her eyes large as saucers behind her Coke bottle thick spectacles.
            Meanwhile, Amanda called Sunny back and after telling him what a stupid idea a Tanzanian safari was, asked sweetly if he had any other suggestions.
            “Uhm…I doh-noe, leh. You everywhere already go. Except…” His fingers rattled some keys on his computer. “Russia! You want to go to Russia? You never been to Russia, right?”
            Amanda coughed up the cappuccino she was drinking. “Russia? Are you mad? It’ll just be my luck if the Cold War breaks out all over again!”
            Sunny paused, but gamely regrouped. “Not cold, lah! Now is autumn! Still very shiok! Hello?... Miss Amanda?...Hello?…” he spoke to the dial tone.
            Amanda later said that it was quite possible that Sunny and Saffy had gone to the same school. “Dumb and Dumber Junior High!”
            “I hate organizing our year end holidays. It’s all just too stressful,” I told her. “I think I’m just going to stay home this year and watch my ‘Breaking Bad’ box set!”
            “Well, that’s really anti-social!” Saffy said, dissatisfaction oozing from every pore.
            “You say you want to be single, mah!” Sharyn reminded her.

            “Oh, shut up, Sharyn!”

Dead or Alive

My father always says the first sign that you’re growing old is when you start your day reading the obituary section of the newspaper just to see which of your friends died overnight.
            I’m not there yet, thankfully, though I confess I still hold my breath a little whenever I’m about to open the morning’s newspaper. You never know what shock awaits you. I’m still traumatised by the Whitney Houston headlines.
            I bring all this up because a few days ago, my cousin Jane sent out a group email to the cousins that her brother Max has thyroid cancer. “They removed a big tumour from the left side of his neck last week and they did a biopsy on the other side and confirmed it was cancer.”
            I must have stared at the email on my computer screen for ages. I read the words but for some reason, I just couldn’t translate them. For starters, Max?
            You know how in every family there’s always some cousin who is such a super-achiever he makes all the other parents secretly insanely jealous because their own kid is so lazily stupid by comparison? In my family, that cousin is Max. Thanks to his French mother, he’s tall, has wavy hair, sculpted cheekbones and the kind of nose that drives Korean pop-stars to their plastic surgeons for something similar. He also runs marathons, speaks four languages, went to Yale medical school and just got engaged to his childhood sweetheart. He’s also very nice which makes hating him – the way we Hahn cousins are all united in hating our other cousin James – just impossible.
            In other words, stupid mundane things like cancer don’t happen to people like Max. Especially not at this age.
            “What do you mean they removed a big tumour from the side of his neck?” Amanda asked when I showed her the email?
            “It was the size of a fist!” I told her.  
            “How did it get to the size of a fist in the first place?” Amanda asked, demonstrating once again the forensic skill that had catapulted her to the top of her class at Harvard. She threw a meaningful glance over at Saffy. “Wouldn’t you already be worried when it’s the size of a soya bean?”
            Saffy’s magnificent bosom inflated. “Excuse me, but are you still going on about my embolism?”
            “Saf, it was a pimple! You made us take you to the ER!”
            “Well, I wasn’t to know that!” Saffy replied, her face turning pink.
            “My point is, shouldn’t your cousin have gone to a doctor by the time it was the size of a walnut?”
            “He probably didn’t think it was anything,” I said. “He once fractured his ankle halfway through the Boston marathon, but he just kept on running. He has amazing mind control. Well, I guess you’d have to,” I added, “if you had to grow up with that witch of his mother. The things she said and did when they were growing up! Our nickname for her is Cruella de Chen!”
            “Oh, that mother of his,” my mother repeated when I rang to talk about Max. “I was telling my TCM sinseh about her and he said that when you have major illnesses in your throat area, it’s because of all the things you’re holding in and not saying! I’ll bet Max has had a lot to say about that dreadful Marianne over the years but he’s just kept it in, that poor boy, and now it’s manifested itself as a tumour!”
            In the background, I heard my father yell, “Oh, for goodness sake, Mei-ling!”
            The sound on the phone was muffled by a hand fumbling over the microphone, but you could still hear my mother’s voice penetrating through. “Stop eavesdropping! You’re late for your golf session!”
            I remembered something. “Oh, Amanda wants to know how Max could have had a tumour the size of a fist growing on the side of his neck and not know about it.”
            “Well, it’s the thyroid, so I think it was all below the surface,” Mother replied. “I don’t think it was like bulging out of his neck.”
            When she heard this diagnosis, Saffy was horrified. “Oh my God! You mean we could have all these things growing inside of us and we wouldn’t know?”
            “It’s just like in ‘Alien’!” Amanda sighed, her eyes wide.
            Meanwhile, Jane reports that Max has gone off camping in Maine with a group of his friends.
            “God, he’s so butch!” Saffy said in admiration. “If someone told me I had cancer, I’d be in hysterics.”
            “Like you did when the ER doctor diagnosed your pimple?” Amanda asked.
            “If I ever get throat cancer,” Saffy threatened, “I’ll know who to blame!”