Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Cloak and Dagger

All my life, I’ve been waiting for that one idea that’s going to make me a bazillion dollars and set me up for the lifestyle that I’ve only seen on ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ and ‘Shahs of Sunset’.
            Just before I went into university, I remember chatting with my Uncle Fred about what career I should take up. He said if I wanted an easy, uncomplicated life, I should do something where I just showed up at an office every day. Like a lawyer or a brain-surgeon.
            “There’s always going to be work. Sooner or later, everyone gets divorced, gets a pick-axe lodged in their head, or gets charged with murder,” he said, a comment that led my mother to complain to her sisters that there was something very dark and sinister about their brother.         
            “Alternatively,” he went on, sipping his coffee at the end of a very expensive meal at Tung Lok, “you could go into business for yourself, but that’s a bit more difficult. You need to find something that no one else has done. No point starting up another char kway teow stall, right?”
            Uncle Fred’s ideal business model was to make stuff that every single family must have at home. Like paper-clips, clothes hangers, matches and curtain rings. Years later, he added Post-Its and air-conditioners to the list. “It’s all cheap stuff, but you make the money on the volume. Imagine if you just sold one clothes hanger to every single person in China. Even if you sold it at five cents!”
            “I’d be buying you lunch,” I said.
            “I’ll say,” Uncle Fred told me.
            I never forgot those conversations. And over the years, I’ve brain-stormed any number of grand money-making ideas.
            A year or so ago, I thought of an app that told you if your enemy was within 20 metres of you. I knew it would make me a lot of money, but then someone got to it before me, and now, I’m sure the inventors of the ‘Cloak’ app are sitting on their private island giggling.
            I also had the idea of designer coffins, which no one else seems too keen on, though I’m not sure why. What’s more chic than a Louis Vuitton coffin? Or a Chanel number where the insides are quilted like their handbags? My biggest brainwave is a Hello Kitty coffin. I mean, that stupid cat is already on a toaster and it even has an entire plane devoted to it. A bright pink coffin with Kitty’s fat head emblazoned on the lid is a no brainer, if you ask me.
            “That’s the weirdest thing, I’ve ever heard of,” Amanda said when I first came up with the idea.
            I was completely unruffled. “That’s what they said about the iPhone’s touchscreen keypad,” I told her. “And, anyway, you’re one to talk. You just bought an exercise bike that you’ve used just once for two minutes!”
            “I’m busy!”
            “You’re using it as a door-stop!”
            So, the other day, I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw that a friend had posted an article about an underwear patch.
            I read the story in silence, every so often, unconsciously sucking in my breath. At the end of it, I said, “Huh! Now why didn’t I think of that?”
            At the other end of the sofa, Saffy looked up from her iPad. “What?”
            “Someone just invented a patch that you stick to your underwear and every time you fart, the patch releases a fresh minty smell that covers it all up.”
            Saffy put her iPad down on her lap and sat up. “What, completely?”
            “I guess so.”
            “It’s not going to be like a mint-scented fart is it?” Saffy wanted to know.
            I wrinkled my nose. “Oh my God, what would that smell like?”
            Saffy shrugged. “Colgate Durian, I imagine!” That idea tickled us so much we couldn’t stop laughing for the next five minutes.
            Later that evening, we were still giggling.
            “Seriously, can we not talk about it while we’re eating?” Amanda said, radiating disapproval like a troll on Amos Yee’s Facebook page.
            I told her that I was thinking of getting some of the patches. “I’ve been quite gaseous lately,” I explained. “It’s probably from all those lentil soups I’ve been eating for lunch.”
            “Luckily,” Saffy piped up, “I don’t need any. As you all know, my farts are only very lightly scented!”
            Amanda sighed. She put down her folk and spoon, and pushed her plate of dhal and rice away from her.
            “I wonder if the patches come in other scents,” Saffy wondered aloud.

            Amanda says she’s going to download the Cloak app and add Saffy to it.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Call Waiting

Years ago, my Auntie Wai-ling retired from her job as an architect just before office computers took over our lives. “I was so lucky,” she said recently. “I had people to type things up for me, not like you poor kids today who have to do all your typing yourself! My office wanted me to learn to use the computer when it first came out, but I said, no thank you, I’m retiring! Oh, did you see that YouTube clip of that dog? My God, it is so funny! I’ll WhatsApp it to you now!”
            Amanda says it’s amazing that someone who completely bypassed the CPU, floppy disc, thumb-drives, and every single edition of Microsoft Office is as technologically connected as Auntie Wai-ling. “I only just discovered that I had a Search function on my computer the other day. Did you know about that?”
            Saffy’s impressive bosom trembled. “Please don’t talk to me about computers. My office is upgrading its tech and I’m so stressed by the whole thing. I wish I could retire now and play mah-jong all day like your Auntie Wai-ling!”
            Amanda sighed. “She keeps sending me invitations to play Candy Crush and some detective mystery game. Where does she find the time?”
            “She’s eighty!” Saffy snapped. “She doesn’t have to commute or sit in endless productivity meetings. Of course she has time to play Candy Crush!”
            “She’s amazing! I want to be like her when I turn eighty!” Amanda said with deep admiration.
            A few days ago, Auntie Wai-ling rang in a state of excitement. “My God, my phone has died! What am I going to do?”
            “Uhm, call someone who’s in IT?” I suggested.
            There was a pause on the other end of the line. “I’m going to slap you when I see you next! Listen, don’t joke! My whole life is on my phone! All my games, my telephone contacts, the videos of my grand-nieces, all my photos! Aiyoh, what am I going to do?” she moaned.
            “Did you back it up? How are you calling me otherwise?”
            “I don’t know how to back up, so my friend Mavis told me to write down all the phone numbers in my diary. That’s my back-up! It took me five hours but thank God I did it otherwise I would now be dead!”
            “But if your phone is dead…”
            “I have a land-line! Good thing I kept it. My friends say the young people today don’t even know what a landline phone looks like! Lucky I am still so old fashioned! Hello, can you help me or not?”
            As I later said to Saffy, since when had I become an IT expert? “I am only just coming to terms with predictive text!”
            Saffy begged me not to tell this story in public. “And anyway, I think all you need to do is re-install her phone, no? I’m pretty sure it’s not done a complete crash. The Apples are so stable these days.”
            Which is how I found myself sitting in Auntie Wai-ling’s bedroom a few hours later. “We can re-watch the New Year’s Day countdown and fireworks while we wait!” she commanded as she settled herself comfortably against the propped up pillows on her bed. “You can sit there on the armchair!”
            “Saffy says it’s pretty simple and then we can just re-install your apps,” I said as I bravely tapped the ‘Re-install’ icon and the whole phone blinked and went dark. “Is this meant to happen?”
            “I hope so,” Auntie Wai-ling said, her eyes glued to her TV as she scrolled through the commands to call up the recorded show. “Otherwise, you can’t leave! I have so many appointments this week, I can’t remember who I’m supposed to have lunch with!”
            “I can’t remember what day it is!” I told her.
            “You’re so young. Wait till you get to my age! Have you heard from your mother lately?
            Four hours, one fireworks countdown, and four trashy reality shows later, we had caught up with all our current family gossip, briefly touched on the state of Hong Kong’s education system, made plans for lunch the following week, and completely re-installed the misbehaving phone.
            “Aiyoh, I hope it works now,” Auntie Wai-ling said as she showed me out. “I think I’m going to get the iPhone 6. I can’t deal with another breakdown. I’ll SMS you next week and tell you where we’re having lunch. Ok, bye!” she said closing the door firmly.
            And as I waited for the lift to arrive, I couldn’t help but think in a world as connected as this, sometimes, nothing quite beats early retirement.