Monday, April 27, 2015

Bra None

In a surprisingly long year filled with ups and downs, global catastrophes and the Kardashians, it was such a relief when the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show rolled into town. And by town, I mean the TV set in our little living room in Toa Payoh.
            While other people mark their end of year with roast ham, hampers, champagne and Christmas buffets, we see off the worst of the past twelve months with an hour of towering Amazons, glorious wings, sculptured cheekbones and perilously high heels.
            “I swear to God, I love this show,” Amanda said a few nights ago as we settled in for the night to watch this year’s edition of the world’s best hour of TV.
            “They’re in London this year,” I said with great authority.
            “So dull,” Amanda mused. “Imagine if they held it in China. The ratings would explode!”
            “Ay, what is so great about this show, har?” Sharyn shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “They just walk around in their ling-erie, right? Like that interesting, meh?”
            “Oh my God, Sharyn,” Saffy said. “I hope you’re not going to make me regret inviting you to this event! It’s got everything. It’s got drama! It’s got lights! It’s got…It’s got…”
            “Taylor Swift!” I prompted.
            “It’s got Taylor Swift! It’s got hot women with hot bodies. It’s got glitter.”
            “Wings!” Amanda said. “Don’t forget the wings!”
            “Yes, I was just getting to that. You can’t forget the wings! They’re the best part of the show! It’s also got great set design. It’s got great music. It’s got famous people in the audience…”
            “Tyson Beckford is in the audience this year,” I said, scanning the E! Entertainment website.
            “Oh, he’s hot!” Amanda said.
            Saffy shuddered, her legendary bosom trembling like perfectly set jelly. “Totally!”
            “Oh, it’s starting, it’s starting!” Amanda said, literally bouncing up and down in her seat.
            “I mean, seriously,” Saffy said to Sharyn, “what more do you want from a show?”
            “Is this stupid machine set to record?” Amanda said as she peered at the recorder with deep suspicion. One year, we discovered that Saffy had set the record function to the wrong station. When we sat down a few nights later to re-watch the show, we found ourselves, for a few very confused seconds, watching a BBC documentary on penguins. Sharyn swears she heard Amanda’s screams all the way in Bedok.
            And so it began. Not to labour the point, but this was the balm to a rather dull year, break-ups, make-ups, job promotions no one really wanted, and general dissatisfaction about life in general. But then, as Amanda observed, if life was meant to be easy, we’d all have our own reality TV show.
We were spellbound from the opening sequence of golden wings all the way to Taylor Swift’s closing number which featured the models in black outfits and wings.
            “I wish I could walk like that Candice,” Amanda said at one stage. “Look at her! It’s like she’s got no bones in her hips!”
            “You walk like that into court, the judge sure send you to jail, one!” Sharyn observed. A little later, as Behati bounced onto the runway, she said, “You know, ah, I think this is all fake, one. They use computer. Like that Gollum in Lod of de Ring!”
            “Shut up, Sharyn, you’re killing the mood,” Amanda said.
“You know,” Saffy mused, stuffing her mouth with Garrett’s popcorn, “if I was that way inclined, I would be with Adriana Lima!”
            In spite for the unprecedented appearance of Adriana and Alessandra walking down the runway at the same time billowing red and blue chiffon behind them, Amanda swiveled her eyes from the screen towards Saffy. “Really?”
            “Oh my God, I so would!” Saffy said, her cheeks puffed up with popcorn.
            By the end of the show, as the models did their finale walk under a falling wave of balloons, Amanda was practically sweating with excitement while Saffy, for once, was tongue tied.
            Sensing an opportunity, Sharyn opened her mouth. “Yah, ok, not bad, lah, this show! But I still prefer to watch ‘The First Myth’! That one got Jiang Hong! Wah, he very han-sum, leh! Next time, you come over…Hey, Saffy! Why you push me? Where are we going? Aiyoh, why you so strong, one? Ay…”
            Saffy slammed the door shut on Sharyn. And when her best friend rang the doorbell again – “Ay, my handbag!” – she called security downstairs to report a potential burglar.
            “We’re never inviting her again!” she told Amanda.

            “I’ve never understood how you two were ever friends in the first place,” Amanda said.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

A week or so ago, we were in the living room looking at our respective handheld gadgets, happily ignoring one another. I was enthralled by Bruce Jenner’s physical evolution into a different person. Saffy’s bug eyes and manic grip on her phone told me that she was deep into Candy Crush.
I was just about to send Amanda a WhatsApp message asking her what she was doing when she suddenly looked up and said, “Am I alone in thinking that all this WiFi is killing us?”
Saffy later said that she wasn’t sure if Amanda was asking a serious question or if it was one of those existential moments. “Kind of like ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’, that kind of thing, you know?”
It turned out Amanda was reading another one of her conspiracy theory blogs and the latest obsession is the idea that all the WiFi spots around us are slowly cooking us alive. “Or at the very least, we’re being altered on the cellular level. Who knows what genetic mutations are happening to us? We could wake up tomorrow with psychic powers and the ability to bend metal!” Amanda concluded, channelling the full force of her Harvard University education to the occasion.
Imagine our surprise when it turned out that Amanda was not alone in her X-Files meltdown. “Yah, what!” Sharyn said. “You tink all those WiFi rays in your home and all those billions of telephone waves are safe, is it? How can? If microwave can cook your breakfast, you tink cannot cook your brain, meh?”
 Saffy’s legendary bosom inflated. “But phone waves are…”
“Is same ting, lah!” Sharyn interrupted. “Look different but same, same! Confirm one! One day, hor, we all wake up and look like Hugh Jackman, ah, I tell you!”
“Oh my God, Sharyn, you sound just like Amanda!” You couldn’t tell if Saffy was saying that in admiration or as an insult.
Sharyn, always a glass half-full kind of a person, preened. “Yah, I oh-so could have gone to Har-vahd!”
A few days later, Amanda announced that she was no longer going to shampoo her hair, a comment that had roughly the same kind of impact as President Obama saying that from now on, he was only going to serve chap chye and mee rebus at state events.
Saffy frowned. “What do you mean you’re not going to wash your hair?”
Shampoo!” Amanda said. “I’ll wash my hair, but I won’t be shampooing it!”
Saffy’s frown settled in. “What’s the difference?”
Amanda looked surprised, as if this was patently obvious. “Shampoos are filled with nasty chemicals! It’s stripping our hair of the natural oils! We don’t need it! Look at all those Amazonian natives! They don’t shampoo, but their hair looks amazing!”
“They don’t wear clothes either,” Saffy pointed out, “but that’s no reason to follow their lead!”
“Well, I’m doing it,” Amanda said even as she began filling a huge plastic bag with her expensive shampoos, conditioners, hair serum, leave-in conditioners and hair masks.
After the first day of not shampooing, Amanda said she could actually feel her hair responding. “It’s amazing!” she insisted.
On the second day, she started scratching.
On the third day, her hair had turned limp, its usual volume, so bewitching to any man not attached to a wheelchair or a respirator, deflating like a soufflĂ©. “It’s just rebalancing itself!” Amanda said, doubt etching every word.
“I wish you would rebalance yourself!” Saffy murmured to me out of the corner of her mouth.
On the fourth day, white flakes began to fall from Amanda’s hair, turning her black Jil Sander sweater into a Christmas wonderland.
“Everyone says this is a normal process,” Amanda said. By now, her hair scratching had taken on a particular urgency.
“Who’s everyone?” Saffy wanted to know though you could tell she was a little distracted by the light flurry of snowflakes falling off Amanda’s hair.
“It’s all those years of natural oils being stripped off!” Amanda said weakly. “My hair is detoxing!”
“Aiyoh, hair got detox, one, meh?” Sharyn whispered to Saffy the minute Amanda had disappeared back into the bathroom to investigate the state of her follicles.
“You see, this is what I have to live with!” Saffy hissed back.
On the fifth day, Amanda began wearing her hair tied back into a pony-tail, though by now, the oily sheen made it look like an anaemic fish that had been plunged into hot grease.
On the sixth day, she was starting to emit a distinct odour.
“Seriously, please just shampoo your hair!” Saffy shouted.
On the seventh day, Saffy began sharing my bathroom.
It’s practically Biblical. Saffy says the only thing missing is the snake.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Worried Sick

It won't be news to anyone that I’m something of a hypochondriac. I nurse my many ailments with the kind of tender loving care one normally associates with Labradors. I would have made a wonderful doctor were it not for the fact that I’m colour-blind, a condition not conducive to a career that requires being able to tell the difference between a healthy pink blood vessel and one in necrotic decay.
But even I have my limits and that limit was reached recently when Amanda announced at the dinner table that she needed to have another colonoscopy.
Saffy looked up from her rojak, her face pulled into frown. “Really? When I’m eating rojak?”
“Didn’t you just get one done?” I asked. I was careful not to look too closely at the thick peanut sauce coating Saffy’s fruits and vegetables.
“I did, but you know how Dr Soh said I should come back for a follow-up because there was a polyp the last time I had one done? I’m just so worried! What if I have prostate cancer or something?”
Saffy, still frowning, glanced at me. “Isn’t that a men’s only disease?”
I puffed up, pleased to be asked a medical question. “It is,” I began. “The prostate, as you may know, is a gland in the male…”
“You’re missing the point!” Amanda interrupted. “If it’s not prostate cancer, then, it’s the other one! The point is, those polyps he found may have turned malignant! What if this time next year, I’m dead?”
As Saffy later pointed out to her best friend, Sharyn, nothing kills the mood for rojak faster than talk about colonoscopies and a prediction of imminent death.
Sharyn shook her head like a shaggy poodle. “Aiyoh, why you all like that, one?” Sharyn said. “If you are not tocking about no boyfriend and you die alone, you say you next year, confirm die! I tell you, if I think like you, I better stay home and not have children!”
Saffy stared hard at Sharyn. “Have you forgotten to take your meds or something, Sharyn? What are you talking about?”
“You people always wer-lee about some-ting! Got haze, you wer-lee. Got ee-boh-lah, you wer-lee. Got mosquito, you wer-lee. Got traffic jam, you also wer-lee. If you die, you die, lor! Life is too short, right?”
Saffy’s bosom inflated. “Well, life definitely would be too short if you died!”
“Haiyah, this sort of thing, hor, you cannot wer-lee, one! If Amanda got cancer, choy, choy, choy, then cannot help it, lah. But her colo…colo…what ah?” Sharyn gave up. “Her procedure still not happen yet, what for you wer-lee now?”
The whole point of a colonoscopy is its complete ick factor. Drinking that foul solution is one thing, it’s the subsequent purge that’s utterly horrific, even for someone bred on a diet of The Walking Dead and True Blood.
Amanda drank the solution this morning at 6 am. She insisted that we all be awake to help her get through it.
“I seriously hope she’s not expecting me to be in the toilet with her when it all comes gushing out!” Saffy said to me through the side of her mouth.
“That’s seriously disgustingly graphic,” I told her.
“I’m just saying.”
Within half an hour of the drink, Amanda was running for the loo. Saffy pointed the remote control at our stereo and cranked up Aretha Franklin’s Greatest Hits album. Even though I was standing right next to her, she sent me an SMS: “If the Queen of Soul’s shrieking won’t cover up the sounds that are due any second now, nothing will!”
Poor Amanda. Every time she emerges from the toilet, she looks so pale.
“But she’s getting thinner,” Saffy just observed, envy tinting her voice. “I wish I could drink that stuff every day, but without having to do a dump every five minutes! I’d look so thin and fabulous! What?” she demanded, noticing my look.
Amanda’s procedure is due at 11.30. It’s now 9am and she’s not had anything to eat since 7.30 pm last night. “I’m exhausted and I’m starving,” Amanda groans. “All I’ve had for the past 24 hours is fish congee! Oh….” She turns green and gets up again and waddles towards the toilet like a duck that’s suddenly remembered it forgot to turn off the stove at home.
Saffy cranks up the volume on the stereo and Aretha shrieks that she’s going down the Freeway of Love. But even then, we can hear Amanda’s low moan seeping out from behind the toilet door.
“Surely all that congee must be out by now!” Saffy whispers as she stands next to the toilet door.
Sometimes I really do wonder if Saffy isn’t a bigger hypochondriac.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Social Engineering

When I was a child, my mother took me to the playground. Apparently, I was extremely introverted and would stay happily in my room all day reading and sketching which she thought was unnatural.
She would stand at the doorway to my room watching me play Solitaire with a deck of cards. “Don’t you think you should be out there in the fresh air playing with friends?” she would ask, a slight frown forming on her flawlessly made-up face.
“It’s just not natural!” she insisted to my father. He told her that he was like that as a child and that she should just leave me alone.
He might as well have told her to give up shopping. My mother is like a dog with a bone. Once she’s sunk her teeth into an issue, she won’t let go.
So, going to the playground was part of her campaign to socialize me and make me more ‘outgoing’. From the start, it was a lost cause. Everyone, except my mother, could see it. I resented those stupid swings that went nowhere. I hated the sand that got into my shoes. I couldn’t see the point of all that running around in the hot sun and I especially loathed the horrible metallic smell on my hands after fifteen minutes gripping the monkey bar.
But Mother insisted. “You might at least pretend to be grateful,” she told me. “I could be playing mah-jong right now!” Which made me even more resentful.
Then, one day, I watched my six year old cousin Peck Lim blow his nose into his hand which he then carefully wiped onto the handlebar of the see-saw. I marched up to my mother who was gossiping with her sister and told her in ringing tones that if she didn’t take me away from that playground immediately, I was going to run away. Or tell everyone the number to her Swiss bank account.
The colour drained from her face. I was bundled into the car and that was the last anyone ever said anything about the playground.
Years later, I recounted this story to my therapist who said it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Peck Lim Incident as we now called it was the catalyst for my lifelong hypochondria.
“But don’t you think that’s quite disgusting?” I asked. “Had he not heard of a tissue? His mother was a doctor, for goodness sake!”
“He was a child,” she said. “You can’t expect…”
“Oh please,” I interrupted, “he’s still doing it, except he’s got it all down to a fine art now. I went cycling with him once and he just calmly turned his head to one side, placed a finger on one nostril and blew! Right there on the road. I remember there was a downwind at the time and I thought, well, that Mercedes Benz back there just got a souvenir from Peck Lim! I'm telling you, people are just so gross!”
Amanda was recently in San Francisco around about the time Ebola arrived in America, and at the airport, she spotted an entire family going through customs wearing white surgical masks.
“That’s a very sensible precaution,” I said with approval.
Amanda looked at me.
“Well, it is!” I said. “Though if they’d wanted to be extra safe, they should also have worn goggles to protect the virus from getting in through their eyes!”
Saffy squealed. “Oh my God, you can get Ebola through your eyes?”
“Who knows how you really get Ebola?” I sighed. “I’m sure it’s a giant conspiracy to keep us all in the dark! If people knew how easy it was to spread, it would cause a major panic.”
Saffy shuddered at the horror of it all. “Sharyn says you can only get it if you kiss a corpse with Ebola!” she told us, a statement that Amanda later said to me made her wonder how Saffy and Sharyn had ever graduated from primary school.
“Why would you ever kiss a corpse with Ebola?” she demanded.
I pointed out that maybe you didn’t know the corpse you were kissing had Ebola. Amanda, having just read a particularly graphic article about the topic in Vanity Fair, wondered how you wouldn’t know.
Of course, these days, going out to crowded public spaces fills me with dread. I’m this close to wearing disposable surgical gloves on a full time basis.
Saffy looked doubtful. “In this humid weather? You’ll get dermatitis in two seconds! Although,” she added thoughtfully, “you’d still be alive even though the rest of us would all be dead!”
Which made me think my mother’s efforts to socialize me would all be for nothing.