Saturday, September 19, 2015

By George!

Amanda says that at the rate she’s dating, she’s going to die a sad, single woman. 
            “My body will be discovered three months later half eaten by my ravenous pussy!” she declared at lunch the other day, a comment that made Saffy look up from her moules mariniere and frown.
            I saw the look and rushed in before an argument could break out at our little corner table. “That’s not going to happen, Amanda,” I said smoothly, while throwing major shade at Saffy. “We won’t get you a cat, ok?”
            “Well, if it’s not a cat, it’ll be a dog, or a cockroach, or whatever horrible insect crawls into the flat attracted by the smell of my decomposing body!”
            “And that’s me done with my lunch,” Saffy announced, pushing her bowl of mussels away from her. “OK, so seriously, what is going on with you? You’ve been a pathetic, mewling, emotional mess the past week and you’re completely put me off my food!”
            It turned out that Amanda has been very put out by the fact that every single eligible hunk she knows is either married or happily partnered with some random, cheap, and totally unsuitable floozy who’s just given birth to their baby.
            It also turned out that by ‘every single eligible hunk she knows’, Amanda is referring to Brad Pitt, Chris Hemsworth, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr, Ryan Gosling and…    
            “…and George Clooney!” she ended triumphantly.
            Saffy paused. You could tell there was so much she needed to say but this was going to take a while. “George Clooney?” she said finally.
            “Yes, George!” Amanda snapped. “He was never supposed to get married! He’d done it before and it hadn’t worked, so he was supposed to spend the rest of his life dating a succession of women who would eventually get fed up with his inability to commit!”
            “And how would that help you?” Saffy asked.
            Amanda sighed in much the same way Amos Yee’s parents must have when they first heard of their son’s latest cinematic offering.
            “He was always single and available! That meant there was hope for me!”
            Saffy’s eyes narrowed. “Hope that you might one day accidentally bump into him in the Ngee Ann City taxi line and he would find you so incredibly ravishing he would ask you for your number?”
“I’m always at the UN these days,” Amanda said. “George and I could have met there!”
“Seriously,” Saffy said, “this is a not a JLo movie! George and Amal met at some glitzy Hollywood party, not a UN conference on Boring Contracts!”
            Amanda ignored the sarcasm. “It could have been a UN conference! His best friend is Brad Pitt and Angelina is always hanging around the UN for all sorts of humanitarian meetings! I could have bumped into him there!”
            As Saffy later complained to Sharyn, sometimes, just when you think Harvard couldn’t have produced a dumber graduate, Amanda turns right around to drop the bar even further.
            Sharyn’s eyes, already magnified behind her Coke bottle-thick spectacles, widened. “Why, you think cannot meet like dat, meh? Ay, I ever tell you how I meet my husband?”
            Saffy rolled her eyes. “Oh my God, like five million times already! You were sitting for your SAT tests for Harvard and Roland was sitting next to you and afterwards he followed you all the way home to Bedok on the MRT and you called the police but it turned out he lived in the same block as you did but three floors down!”
            Sharyn sighed happily. “Oh, yah, hor, of course, I tell you or-redy! So, if I can meet the far-da of my chil-ren like dat, why you think Amanda cannot meet George Coo-ney in taxi-line or UN? Must have faith, mah!”
            Saffy’s bosom inflated. “Whatever!” she said, relying a tried and tested method of changing a subject that was not going where she wanted it to. “Now Amanda’s also upset that Ryan Gosling knocked up Eva Mendes and is a father. She said the other day that she and Ryan – she calls him Ryan! – would have had gorgeous children together! She lives in Toa Payoh. He lives in Beverly Hills. Where were they ever going to meet?!”
            Meanwhile, Amanda continues to consume gossip magazines, carefully reading between the lines of every article about George and Amal for any hint of marital problems.
            “It can’t possibly last. She’s so much smarter than he is!” she said the other day after reading an on-line story of the couple. Well, it was more a picture of them coming out of a restaurant after dinner than it was a story.
            “Must have faith, mah!” Saffy told Amanda. 


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Mourning has broken

This was written shortly after the funeral of LKY. Strange to look back now on those very surreal days.

As I write this, it’s just a few hours after the state funeral of Lee Kuan Yew. Since the announcement of his death seven days ago, I’ve been trapped in a fog of unreality and sniffling grief.
            Of course, it’s not helped that for the past couple of weeks, we’ve all been away from Singapore for work: I’ve been in London, Saffy in Melbourne, and Amanda in New York.
            “Oh my God, I sat through a five hour meeting today and I don’t remember a single thing about it!” Amanda reported on FaceTime. Even with the patchy connection, you could see her eyes were puffed up and red.
            “I hope you weren’t crying the whole meeting!” I told her.
            Amanda blew her nose into a tissue except the static froze her for a few seconds in mid-blow. “No, that was after in the cab back to the hotel and I was catching up on all the updates on Facebook. All those posts about the Old Man! I can’t believe he’s gone!”
            I was relieved I wasn’t the only one who’d been tearing up at every article and video I was compulsively Hoovering up from friends’ walls. 
“What time is it over there?” Amanda asked.
            “Six-thirty in the evening,” I replied as I tried to work out how to patch Saffy in, only to remember that it would have been about 5.30 am where she was.
            As it turned out, she’d been up for hours in her hotel room, glued to her computer screen as she read tribute after tribute, pausing every so often to write inflammatory replies on the walls of some friends who, apparently, weren’t as moved as she was.
            “Soon as this is all over, I’m going to be unfriending quite a few people!” she threatened darkly.
            Of course, none of us could really understand why we were so overwhelmed. As Amanda pointed out, it wasn't as if we’d given all that much thought to the Old Man in years, though you couldn’t have avoided the increasing media coverage of his decline in the past few weeks.
            “I know it’s a sad occasion,” she said, “but this reaction – can’t sleep, no appetite, listlessness, unexpected bouts of crying? That’s not me! I didn’t even cry during ‘ET’!”
            Then, the long lines started forming in the Padang and along the Esplanade. We watched it all unfold in real time while friends posted pictures and videos on Twitter and Facebook.
            One evening, Sharyn SMS’d to say that she joined the line at 10pm. She didn’t make it past the casket till 4am. Her message “Alamak i cry and cry!” was followed by ten weeping emoticons.
            Saffy said she was so jealous that Sharyn had gotten to say goodbye. “I wonder if I could fake a family emergency back in Singapore and get out of this stupid work trip!” she told me on Skype. “I mean, it won’t really be a lie, will it?”
            “I’m going to the British High Com here to sign the condolences book,” I said, staring out my office window at the grey London sky. Down below, people rugged up in thick coats and hats were hurrying about their business. I felt sure they were wondering when summer was coming.
            Saffy pursed her lips. “Hmm, that’s an idea. I just feel like I need to do something, seeing as we can’t be in Singapore to say goodbye, you know?”
            I did.
            This morning, I woke up at 6 am to watch the live-feed of the funeral procession. The rain fit the mood, though the sight of all those people lined along the streets was surreal.
“Wah, so many singaporeans on the street!” Sharyn texted. “We complain when got no cover walkway but now get wet no one care! Champion!”
From 11,000km away, in my little hotel room, I watched the motorcade with its flag-draped coffin – so small, I thought, too small to hold that man! – wind its way along the streets, cheered on by every single demographic in the country.
From Melbourne, Saffy texted: “I haven’t stopped crying since the coffin left Parliament Hse!”
By the time the Prime Minister delivered the first eulogy, in New York, Amanda had started her second box of Kleenex. She later said she used up half the box just for Sidek Saniff’s speech. “And that was just for the translation!” she said. “Imagine if I’d been able to actually understand what he said!”

Now, it’s been a few hours since I started writing this. It’s 11pm. I’m emotionally exhausted though I remain completely perplexed by the depth of my emotion over the past week. Sadness mingled with gratitude, affection and a great deal of pride. And half a world away, a new day is breaking over Singapore.