Thursday, July 30, 2015

Teething Problems

I was talking to my friend James the other day. He was a little upset on account of the recent revelation that his mother has been having an affair with her brother’s best friend. I was shocked for several reasons. I’ve known Mrs Roy since I was a child and thinking of someone who’s now 70 having an extra-marital affair in negative terms is admittedly ageist, so sue me. But the main reason I was shocked by James’s news was that I thought Mrs Roy had died years ago, which just goes to show how faulty my news sources are.
“But you know what really gets me?” James complained. “The man is twenty years younger than she is! I mean come on! Have some self-respect, woman!”
            “Oh,” I said. “That’s what you’re upset about? That he’s younger than she is?”
            James looked at me. “Abuden?”
            As I later said to Saffy at home, it always surprises me what people are really thinking. “I mean, you’d think he would be upset for the reason that you would think he’d be upset about, but he wasn’t because he was actually upset for a whole other reason which was really surprising! Which is really weird, don’t you think because…well, you know what I’m saying, don’t you?”
            You could see Saffy mentally replay the dialogue in her head, trying to make sense of what I was saying. She got there in the end because she said, “I know exactly what you mean. It’s like today, I was in Little India for a meeting with a client and I suddenly realized what amazingly white teeth he had.”
            I blinked. “Who, your client?”
            Saffy’s legendary bosom inflated. “Yes, my client!”
            I blinked again. “What are we talking about?”
            Saffy’s bosom deflated a little. “My client and his teeth!”
            “What does that have to do with James?”
            “Oh, I got bored with your story and decided to tell you about my day!”
            “So anyway, I was so distracted by Mr Janatha’s teeth, I completely lost track of the point of the meeting!”
            One of the things you learn about living with Saffy is to just go with the flow. I knew the tide had turned. Like Kim Kardashian’s virginity, the topic of Mrs Roy’s 50 Shades of Old was well and truly over. So I said, “Then what happened?’
            It turns out that Saffy was so enamoured by the brilliantine white of Mr Janatha’s teeth that she actually asked him how he got it that shade.
            “And to be honest,” she told him, “I’ve noticed that your people all have incredible dental work! What’s going on there?”
            Your people?” I asked incredulously. “That’s what you said?”
            Saffy looked surprised. “Well, they’re not my people!”
            Apparently, Mr Janatha was a kindred spirit, and understood exactly what Saffy meant because he told her that everyone in his family uses a special Ayurvedic herbal toothpaste called Sudantha.
            “It has flower buds and fruit and bark extracts,” he said. “In fact, everyone I know in Sri Lanka uses it.”
            “Really!” Saffy said. “How fascinating! And that’s all you do? Brush with Sudoku?”
“Sudantha,” said Mr Janatha.
“Why, what did I say?”
Saffy says that as soon the meeting ended, she immediately walked across the street to the Indian provisional store and bought a tube.
“It was the last one they had,” Saffy said with immense satisfaction, waving it in front of me. “I can’t wait to try it!”
“But there’s nothing wrong with your teeth,” I pointed out as I examined the tube of Sudantha. It looked like any other tube of toothpaste you’d find in Cold Storage, even down to the lettering. Squint and you could convince yourself it was a Colgate.
“But it’s not brilliant white like Indian teeth,” Saffy pointed out.
“Aiyah, is zher-ne-tick, lah!” Sharyn said the next day at lunch. “You not Indian, how to get teeth like that?”
Saffy bristled. “That’s just racist, Sharyn!”
“Aiyoh, where got lay-cist? Is true, what. We are talking about the same ting! I spend so much money on my children for dental work, ok? Some more, I got bad teeth. My mudder got bad teeth. My husband got bad teeth. We brush every day, still no use.”
“Jason’s friend James is a quarter Indian and he has fabulous teeth as well!”
But Sharyn was on a roll. “I tink also,” she went on, “because we, hor, are lactose intolerant. Cannot drink milk, our teeth sure lau yah, one!”
Saffy remains unconvinced. Every day, she diligently squeezes out a little dab of Sudantha and then spends ten minutes scrubbing away.
Amanda says it’s a real scandal Saffy was ever allowed to graduate from kindergarten.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Party Tricks

This one was written months and months ago. Whatevs. - JH

I’ve always had a soft spot for Chinese New Year. There’s something reassuringly comforting about a celebration that revolves around constant feasting, kitsch festive music, and a tradition that demands a brand new set of everything from toothbrushes to pajamas.
            Reading up one’s horoscope for the coming year is also a treat. One year, I was advised to avoid Tigers because they would be a source of irritation all year.
            “Why have you not called me in two weeks?” my mother said to me long distance all the way from Sri Lanka where she and Father were spending Easter by the beach. In the background, I could hear my father order a gin and tonic. “I’m your mother. My children are supposed to call me and not the other way round!”
            “It’s bad luck!” I said
            “What? Says who?”         
“You’re a Tiger and our horoscopes clash this year!” I told her.
            Mother paused. I could sense her confusion battling with her maternal need to remain all-knowing and not have to ask. Eventually, she settled for a tried and tested formula. “Why are you being so annoying?”
            Apparently, she immediately called my sister and asked what Michelle’s horoscope said.
            Michelle then immediately rang me. “Oh my God, what is wrong with that woman? She kept babbling on about Tigers and their children, and the whole time in the background, I could hear Paps explaining to someone how much gin he wanted his gin and tonic!”
            “They’re in Sri Lanka,” I told her, as if this explained everything.
And I would have an even softer spot for Chinese New Year if it wasn’t for the dreaded ritual of meeting relatives and married friends who think it’s drop dead hilarious to hand over a lousy eight-dollar red packet and then joke about my singleton status for the rest of lunch.
            “Oh big deal!” Amanda said recently. “You try being a woman who’s in her th...who’s a certain age and still not married. The pressure is absolutely horrendous!”
            Leave it to Saffy to decide that this year, she’s going to officially come out.
            “Tell people at a Chinese New Year gathering that you’ve been lying about being straight all your life and all further inquisitions will come to a grinding halt!” she said happily. Apparently, that’s what her friend Mary did last year. Saffy says Mary’s mother was so shaken by the news that her ability to roll her home-made popiah completely fell apart. And ever since then, there have been no further discussions about Mary’s marital status.
            “The mother doesn’t even talk about grandchildren anymore!” Saffy said.
            Amanda frowned. “But doesn’t Mary have a boyfriend!”
            “Yes and no. Yes, she is seeing this hot Danish banker, but no, he’s not her boyfriend because technically, he’s married so what they’re really having is an affair!”
            “What do you mean by ‘technically’?” Amanda asked.
            “It means he’s living with his wife and three kids, and the wife doesn’t know about Mary!”
            Amanda was astonished. “And Mary is ok with this?”
            Saffy’s impressive bosom inflated. “Well, it’s not ideal, but she says he’s amazing in bed and this way, she also doesn’t have to deal with the reality of an actual relationship.”
            “But then why tell her parents that she’s into biker chicks?”
            Saffy rolled her eyes. “Mary says that’s a lot less embarrassing than admitting that she’s having an illicit affair with a married great Dane!”
            Amanda looked doubtful. “Really?”
            “That’s what I thought when she told me. When you’ve been single for too long, your brains get fried and you stop thinking logically about things.”
            “And now that I think about it,” Amanda said, “you already have a boyfriend!”
            “Boyfriends don’t count. As far as parents are concerned, unless you’re married, you’re always going to be a source of major disappointment. And for your relatives, you’re still an easy target for their stupid jokes!”
            “I don’t make jokes about you, ok?” said Sharyn, virtue oozing from every pore.
            Saffy says she can’t wait to show up at her first Chinese New Year event as a friend of Sappho’s. “Someone needs to record people’s reactions! It’ll be like that YouTube clip of those babies in cars going through a tunnel!”
            “Who is Sappho?” Sharyn asked. “How come I don’t know her?”
            “One day, you might, Sharyn!” Saffy said. Amanda later told Saffy it was cruel to tease Sharyn like that.
            “Can I help it the woman sometimes acts like she has never heard of Google?” Saffy complained. “Now listen, I need to get ready. What should I wear when I go visit the relatives tomorrow?”
            “How about some shame?” Amanda asked.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beach Patrol

After endless squabbling about where to go for a holiday, Saffy, Amanda and I recently decided to take a staycation in Singapore. The Rasa Sentosa Resort, to be precise.
            “Hah?” said Sharyn with typical eloquence when she heard about it. “Why you go to Sentosa for holiday?”
            “For the same price as going to Bali, we can have two days by the beach,” Amanda told her.
            “And no hassle of airports and horrible airplanes filled with horrible tourists!” Saffy added.
            Sharyn frowned. “You go to resort hotel, also got fill with horrible tourist, what!”
            “You’re missing the point, Sharyn,” Saffy said, her formidable chest expanding.
            Sharyn stared at Saffy owlishly. “Which is what, ah?”
            Saffy paused, well aware that she had just stepped onto the top of a slippery slope. Finally, she resorted to a tried and tested response. “Oh, you won’t understand. You’re a mother!”
            For those of you out there who have never had a staycation before, I can’t recommend it highly enough. You just pack a light bag, call a cab, and barely half an hour later, you’re checking into a very nice room with views of the sea, coconut palms, beach and a sparkling blue pool.
            “I hope there are cute men down there,” Amanda murmured as we stood on the balcony of our adjoining rooms.
“Well, my room is off limits,” I said, as a precautionary strike. “I’m not being booted out of it and sharing with Saffy like the last time we went to Bali.”
Amanda ignored me. She peered over her Bulgari sunglasses down at the pool.
            “It’s a bit weird to be so close to all those tankers,” Saffy said, her chest straining against an unreasonably tight tee-shirt that said ‘Look but don’t touch!’. “It kind of spoils the illusion that we’ve just arrived in Phuket!”
            “I’m going to change and go lie by the pool for a bit,” Amanda told us.
            “I think I’ll go for a massage,” Saffy said.
            Which is how I found myself standing on the Rasa Sentosa’s powdery beach, staring up at the Megazip lines and wondering if it was to soon after breakfast to be hurled off a 50m tall tower. In the distance, three people came speeding down the lines, screaming at the top of their lungs.
            I turned on my heels, sending up a puff of sand, and walked back towards the pool to look for Amanda. I found her lounging provocatively on a chaise, clad in the latest season Dolce & Gabbana one-piece black swimsuit. She lifted her sunglasses at my approach.
            “Oh my God!” she hissed. “It’s all fat men with man-boobs dragging little children around!”
            “Well, it is a family resort!” I told her.
            “That’s no reason to let yourself go to fat!” Amanda said, her lips hardly moving. “Though I have to say those kids over there are just too adorable!” She moved her head towards a pair of four-year old twins who were wearing pink Hello Kitty arm-floats, and matching bunny ear headbands. Amanda sighed. This is apparently what happens to single women sitting by a beach pool – they look at a child and get all milky and maternal.
             Just then, Saffy floated up towards us, her face wreathed in dreamy bliss. “Gosh, I do love a massage!” she said, collapsing in the chair next to Amanda. “And did you see those hot Australian guys by the bar? They were…Hey, where are you going? You’re not leaving are you? But I just got here…”
            That evening, Saffy and I had dinner all by ourselves. We didn’t see Amanda again till it was time to check out. She glided up to us at the counter, pulling her Louis Vuitton trolley bag.
            “This has been the best holiday I’ve had in ages!” she told us, as she handed over her credit card.
            “I can’t believe you abandoned us!” Saffy said accusingly, though you could tell she was torn between her outrage and her desire to hear every single intimate detail of Amanda’s last 18 hours. “I had to play ping-pong with Jason!”
            “And we went paddling in the sea,” I said. “We also got foot massages by the pool. Then we ordered room service and watched a movie. And there was a big beach party so we went out danced all night on the sand!”
            Saffy hesitated. “Well, yes…We did all that, but…”
            “But you had fun!” Amanda said soothingly. “I honestly don’t know why we bother going anywhere else for our holidays. We should do these staycations more often! Especially if we get to meet hot Aussie men by the pool bar!”
            Saffy says there are moments when she misses being single. “Aiyoh, choy!” Sharyn told her.



Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Toilet Humour

Sharyn rang me at work the other day. She was in a state of mild excitement.
            “Aiyoh!” she began by way of greeting. “How you live with her, ah?”
            I cradled the phone in the crook of my neck as I kept typing. “Who?”
            “Your Saffy, lah!” Sharyn barked.
            I was instantly bored with the conversation. “I’m very busy, Sharyn,” I began, but, as these things do, I found myself a little bit intrigued. “What’s she done now?”
            For a month or so now, Saffy has been suffering a severe case of constipation on account of her usual fried bee-hoon vendor going off on her annual holiday.
For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with Saffy’s history of gastro-intestinal woes, after many years of trial and error, she’s discovered that the only thing that keeps her regular in the mornings is a plate of fried bee-hoon from this particular bee-hoon stall down the road. No one knows quite what it is that the auntie puts into her wok, but whatever it is, it works like a charm on Saffy’s bowels.
“Maybe she puts in a mild laxative?” we once speculated. Admittedly, we were, at the time, at a pool party and we were blind drunk. But even the next day, through a painful hangover haze, the idea that the auntie was slipping a splash of Senokot into every portion of fried bee-hoon intrigued us.
“But it doesn’t affect the rest of us,” Amanda said. “At least, I don’t think it does, I’ve always been so regular!”
Saffy’s formidable chest expanded. “All I know is that if I skip even a day of that bee-hoon, I’ll be stuck. Literally!”
So, in anticipation of the auntie going off on her holiday, Saffy had started stockpiling packets of bee-hoon in our freezer.
“I can’t believe hawker vendors actually take holidays,” she grumbled as she opened the freezer to inspect her stash in much the same way a Colombian drug lord surveys the cash and gold in his office safe. “Whoever heard of such a stupid thing?”
Our friend Mark from London stayed with us for a week recently and he must have discovered Saffy’s stash because when she came home from an overseas work trip and opened the freezer the next morning, the entire supply was gone.
            A full fifteen minutes of indiscriminate blaming followed – “I did not eat your stupid bee-hoon!” Amanda said hotly – before it dawned on everyone who the culprit was.
            “Oh my God!” Saffy moaned. “How could he?”
            “Well, how was he to know?” I pointed out.
“Seriously, what am I going to do? I need that bee-hoon! Nothing else works! I’ve tried every single stall on this island!”
That was three days ago, and Saffy’s been blocked up the entire time. And as if that sad state of intestinal trauma isn’t bad enough, her constipation has been accompanied by epic farting.
“Honestly, Saf!” Amanda said in the middle of dinner.
Saffy looked up miserably from her rojak. “What? It’s just a fart! And anyway, it’s only lightly scented, so stop making such a fuss about something so natural!”
“Please take a laxative!” Amanda begged. “Put us out of our misery!”
Saffy was indignant. “I love how you keep making this about you when I’m the one who is chronically blocked up! All this rojak is turning into concrete inside me!”
            Amanda said if that image didn’t put us all off rojak, she didn’t know what would. Which is why the next day, she instructed Sharyn to take Saffy to Eu Yan San to look for a natural remedy.
            “The Chinese invented gunpowder and silk. Surely, we must have also solved the problem of constipation!” she reasoned.
            Sharyn reported that the first thing Saffy said to the herbalist at Eu Yan San in Paragon was, “I haven’t been to the loo in days and I am also very gassy.”
            Apparently, the elderly auntie stared at Saffy blankly. Clearly, this was not the sort of thing the regular Eu Yan San customer might say.
            “Would it help if your diagnosis if you sniffed one of my farts?” Saffy offered. “Maybe you could diagnose something off that?”
            I nearly dropped the phone. “She did not say that!”
            On the other end of the line, Sharyn sighed. “Hai-yah, why I make dis up? Where got people say such thing, one? In Eu Yan San, some more! Aiyoh!”
            Saffy doesn’t know what the fuss is about. “Honestly, if you can’t say it to a TCM herbalist, who can you say it to?”

            Amanda said that would make a great tagline for Eu Yan San’s next corporate branding exercise.