Saturday, December 26, 2015

Job Scope

A few years ago, I was in London and my friend Judy invited me to her house for dinner.
            At the table was her school friend Emily and Emily’s teenage son, Jasper. Between the terrible first course of anemic vegetable soup and an even worse main course of overcooked beef, it turned out that Jasper was about to enter university.
            “What are you reading?” I asked. In the UK, people don’t study a course – they ‘read’. It’s all very atas, as Sharyn would point out in a condemnatory sort of way.
So Jasper looked up from his overcooked beef, pushed his thick forelocks out of his eyes like a young Hugh Grant, and said, in a super posh accent the Queen would have felt very much at home listening to, “Oh, I’m reading ancient Celtic.”
Everyone at the table murmured with admiration. I frowned.
“Uhm,” I said and found myself completely at a blank as to what to say next. So, I tried again.
“It’s not a very popular course,” Jasper went on. By that time, I’d been in England long enough to know that when the English say something deprecating about what they’re doing, this usually means it’s a big deal.
            My friend Mark’s father once said he couldn’t make it to a lunch at my place because he had to go into hospital that day for a procedure. “Damn nuisance, really,” he told me. “Just something I’ve been putting off for ages and I thought I’d better get it done. It’s all very boring.”
            It turned out to be an operation to remove a tumour from his left lung.
            That’s how the English talk.
So, when Jasper said ancient Celtic wasn’t a very popular course, what he really meant was that it was so difficult nobody with an IQ less than 250 would ever bother to apply.
Recently, Sharyn has been under a great deal of stress worrying about her eldest son’s exams.
“Aiyoh, I hope he gets into medicine! If not, ah, chiam, ah!”
Saffy looked up from admiring her bosom. “Why? Is he really dead set on becoming a doctor?”
Sharyn looked perplexed at the question. “No. Doctor got make a lot of money, mah, so he become doctor, lor!”
Saffy looked at me for support.
            “Oh, don’t look at me. I’m totally with her on this!” I said.
“But Shazz,” Saffy began, giving me a dirty look. “You can’t make your son do medicine if he’s not into it! What’s his passion?”
“What you mean?”
“He’s got to love what he’s doing! What’s the point otherwise?”
Sharyn rolled her eyes. “Aiyoh! Most important ting about a career, hor, is can you make money? If cannot, then don’t do!”
Saffy blinked. “But…”
“You love being HR manager, issit?” Sharyn asked.
“Well, of course not, but…”
“But you do the job because you must pay SingTel, mah!” Sharyn was on a roll. “When he was young, my son say he want to be musician. Like Mah-loon Figh! I ask him, how many Mah-loon Figh in the world? He say he like music. He say music is his passion. You know what I say or not? I say,” Sharyn didn’t pause for an answer, “I say, passion cannot buy you a condo or pay for dinner! But doctor bill confirm can, one!”
Saffy’s bosom inflated. “That is so incredibly materialistic, Sharyn!”
“Aiyoh, where got? In life, hor, you must be realistic, mah! I hate when people talk about finding their passion! Siow ah. You think everyone like Oprah and Jennifer Law-lence, issit? The trick, hor,” Sharyn said, her eyes magnified behind her Coke bottle-thick spectacles, “ is not to find a job you love, but to find a job you hate the least!”
“Oh my God, I really must write all this down!” I said, pulling out my phone. “This is gold!”
“Ah, good, you write down,” Sharyn said with approval. “Then can print out and show my younger son so I don’t have to repeat myself. Not like Jason friend son, the one who want to study ancient…ancient what ah?”
“Celt!” I said.
“Yah, ancient Celt. So stupid that boy! Where got anyone make money from learning ancient Celt, one? Some more, hor, I don’t even know what that is? Issit like very old car-pet?”
“No, it’s a tribal language that no one speaks anymore,” I said.
“Lagi worse!” Sharyn announced.
Saffy later said she couldn’t decide what was more annoying: the possibility that Sharyn might actually be right about doing the job that you hate least, or the fact that she might actually like her job as an HR manager.
Who likes being an HR manager!” Saffy moaned.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Poor Thing

People are always going on about how annoying the Kardashians are, and by people, I mean my mother.
            She was on a plane recently and having finished lecturing my father on the perils of not taking his heart medication, she turned her attention to her screen. For some reason, she randomly picked an episode of ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ in which Kim decides to X-Ray her butt just to prove to the world that it’s all natural and that she didn’t have any implants to make it that big.
            As soon as the plane touched the runway at Changi, she was on the phone. “That’s what you watch all the time?” she asked me. “That’s what your daddy and I spent all that money sending you to university for?”
            “Excuse me,” I said. “But Daddy just texted me to say that you watched five back to back episodes of it, so it can’t have been that bad!”
            In the background, I heard the sound of someone being hit. “Oww!” my father yelled.
            He later told me that Mother was glued to the show all the way from Indian airspace to Singaporean territorial waters. “She kept saying what strange lives these rich Americans lead. At one stage, she paused the show and asked me why there were no housekeepers in any of the residences. Her other question was why all the sisters drove their own cars.”
            Which just proves my point that nothing excites rich people more than seeing how other rich people live.
            “So why are we addicted to the show then?” Saffy asked.
            “Because we’re poor,” I told her, “and nothing excites poor people more than seeing how rich people live!”
            Saffy blinked as she worked through the logic. “Oh my God!” she concluded. “That means they’re covering both ends of the market! That’s pure genius!”
            “Why do you think they’re so rich! Did you see that episode where they got on a private plane to Vegas? See, that’s the way to travel.”
            Of course, the reverse sometimes does happen. It doesn’t happen all that often, but it does happen. The other night, Saffy looked over at Amanda on the sofa and asked, “What are you reading? What is that? Is it new?”
Amanda looked up. “Oh, it’s this new cookbook by my friend, Elaine. It’s so good!”
“Why are you reading a cookbook?” Saffy wanted to know. “You don’t cook.”
Amanda waved a hand. “Oh, I know that, but I got it because Elaine wrote it. We were in high school together and while the rest of us went to law school, she lived in a commune in Montana. During the winters, she waitressed, and in summer, she hiked with her gorgeous guitar-playing boyfriend. She has had such an amazing life! And now she writes fabulous cookbooks! I’m so jealous!”
Leave it to Sharyn to put things into perspective.
“Aiyoh, like that also can be jealous!” she said, her plump lips drawing into a thin disapproving line. “So many cookbook out there today. How to earn money? She writer, you big shot lawyer. You compare your bank balance, enough, lah! No need jealous! Confirm you win, one!”
            “Not everything is about money, Sharyn…” Amanda began. She was waved into silence.
            “You know, ah, only rich people ever say such rah-bish! No poor person will ever say ‘Not every-ting is about mah-ney!’ Siow, ah! Every-ting is about mah-ney, ah!”
            Amanda opened her mouth to argue, but you could tell her heart wasn’t really in it. Whatever else you might say about the woman and her penchant for short skirts and expensive hair products, she didn’t get to be second in her class in Harvard and a tough as nails lawyer by being a wide-eyed optimist.
            Still, she was big hearted enough to send Elaine a congratulatory note on Facebook.
            “Loved your new cookbook!” she posted on Elaine’s wall.
            Apparently Elaine wrote back on Messenger and said that she’s had a lot of great publicity. “But sales are slow. It’s been four months since it launched, but I’ve only sold 1,200 copies. We had a first print run of 2,000 copies. I spent three years writing this. It’s a bit depressing.”
“She should be depressed!” Sharyn pronounced in ringing tones. “Her life is, how you say, ah, Saffy, oh I know, her life is a hot mess! So old or-redy and still share room with tree other people and not marry and got no money! How like that?”
“You should meet my mother, Sharyn,” I told her.
Sharyn’s glasses fogged over as she turned pink with pleasure. “Really, ah?”
Saffy whispered to me, “She knows that wasn’t a compliment, right?”

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Watch Me!

Maybe it’s got something to do with age, but I’m not a big fan of technology. Which is a bit embarrassing considering my 80-year old Aunt Wai-ling spends her days WhatsApping her wayward nieces, playing mystery games on Facebook, and hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots wherever she goes.
            “Why haven’t you responded to my WhatsApp?” she asked me the other day. “I sent you that funny video!”
            I bristled. “I’m very busy, Auntie Wai-ling!”
            “Busy, your head, lah! You’re always at the airport going somewhere!”
            “I love Auntie Wai-ling!” Saffy later said with approval. “She really doesn’t hold back, does she? So what was the video you hadn’t watched?”
            “The ad for the Apple Watch. She wants to know if she should get it.”
            The thing about technology is just when you think you’ve gotten a hang of it, it turns right around and heads screaming off into another direction. I remember, not that long ago, when all a phone did was, well, make phone calls. And now look at it with its maps and music and games and stuff – it even talks to you.
            The other day, Amanda asked Siri if she’d watched ‘Her’ and she replied, “Is that you, Joaquin?”
            “How do they do that?” Amanda asked, thoroughly freaked.
            Saffy’s impressive bosom inflated. “Well, clearly, there must be some kind of call centre thing in Mumbai that’s feeding answers to the phones!”
            Amanda stared at Saffy.
            Saffy blinked. “What? You think it’s not possible? There’s a reason why Mumbai has low unemployment rates, you know!”
            Just the other day, I wanted to send a document to Barney Chen and I suddenly realized I had no idea what his email address was.
            “Doll, nobody has email anymore!” he growled over the phone when I rang to ask. “Only old people over 25 email.”
            “But you’re th…Hello? Oh my God, did he just hang up on me?” I asked Saffy.
            “People can be so rude,” she observed. “Excuse me, I just farted.”
            And now the Apple Watch. Once upon a time, all a watch did was tell you the time. Or if you were really fancy, it had a stop-watch function. And if you were really really fancy, it told you the date.
            After watching the Apple commercial for its new watch, I turned to Amanda. “Why would I want to know what my heart-rate is?” I asked.
            She shrugged. “Some people do,” she said. “They’re probably training for the marathon or something.”
            “Auntie Wai-ling is 80 and she wants an Apple watch but I don’t think she’s training for the marathon! It also tells you if you’ve been sitting for too long and need to stand up!”
            “Why?” Amanda asked.
            I shrugged and confessed I’d not given much deep thought to the matter.
            “What if you’re lying down?” Saffy wanted to know.
            “I’m sure there’s an app for that too,” I said, thinking bitterly about the fact that I had come up with the idea for the Cloak app first and someone else beat me to it on development and launch.
            Amanda scrolled down the Apple website on her phone. “I like that they have so many bands. You could have one for every outfit! Maybe I should get one too!”
            “But you have a Samsung phone,” I pointed out.
            Amanda looked surprised. “So? I’m not getting the iPhone. I’m getting the watch.”
            “You need to have an iPhone for the watch to work. It doesn’t work otherwise,” I clarified in case I hadn’t been clear.
            Amanda was incredulous. “What, to get the Apple watch, I also have to buy a new iPhone?”
            “It’s marketing genius!” Saffy said. “God, I wish I had Apple shares. You know how people are always asking you if you could go back in time and meet your 18 year old self, what advice would you give them? Well, I would advise me to buy Apple shares. As many as I could. Oh my God, imagine how rich I would be today!”
            “Who’s always asking you?” I said.
            Saffy’s bosom slowed down as she replayed the last few minutes of the conversation in her head.
            “People do,” she said finally.
“Yes, but who?”
People! God, you’re so annoying! If I had an Apple watch on right now, it would be telling me that you’re stressing me out with your inane questions.”
Meanwhile, Auntie Wai-ling went and bought herself an Apple watch, but she says she has to take it off whenever she plays mah-jong. “It keeps telling me to stand up!” she WhatsApp’d me. “Play mah-jong, how to stand up? You must sit! I am not a dog!”
“You tell ‘em, Auntie Wai-ling!” Saffy said.


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Cook Top

My mother always says you can tell a lot about people just by what they eat. Apparently, this was how she decided my father was worthy of contributing to her children’s gene-pool.
            “On our second date, he took me to a Chinese restaurant and ordered fish. He zeroed in on the cheeks and the soft underbelly. That’s when I knew!”
            Of course, my sister has always felt this is a ridiculous way to decide on a husband.
            “It’s superficial, is what it is,” she said once to Mother. “Just because he likes fish cheeks didn’t necessarily mean he was a nice man! Sorry, Daddy! You’re lovely!”
            To his credit, Father, sitting at the other end of the table, shrugged and kept sipping his fish soup. Mother stared serenely across the dinner table at Michelle and replied, “Darling, why are we even having this discussion?” she murmured. “You’re nearly thirty and still single!”
            Well, that was the end of that conversation, though Michelle later e-mailed me wondering if it was at all possible that she might have been secretly adopted.
            Lately, I’ve been wondering what my Mother would make of Saffy and Amanda’s dietary habits and just what that might reveal about their personalities.
            “I’m sorry but I just don’t have time to cook!” Amanda said the other day after listening patiently to me moan that we were always eating out and that I was getting zits from all that heaty hawker food.
            “You’re sitting on the sofa reading Vogue,” I pointed out.
            “Sure, when you say it like that, it makes it sound like I’m being lazy,” Amanda said stiffly, or as stiffly as one can get while lounging provocatively in  Victoria’s Secret pajamas, “but reading Vogue is an essential part of my general knowledge. Some people watch Anderson Cooper on CNN, I read Hamish Bowles to keep up to date! And besides, why don’t you cook something for a change?”
            “Hello, I made chicken congee for lunch!” I said, praying that Amanda didn’t look into the rubbish bin in the kitchen and see the instant congee packet.
            “Hello, you made that from a packet!” Amanda snapped. “Don’t think I missed that in the bin!”
            Defeated, I turned around and went to my room. There are days, I reflected, when it’s just pointless to go head to head with a woman who came second in her class in Harvard while wearing hot-off-the-runway Marc Jacobs and Gucci.
            Of course, through some strange instant telepathy that women seem to have, Saffy heard about the argument two seconds after it happened because I had barely closed my bedroom door when my phone rang.
            “It’s me!” she announced. “I heard about your congee incident!”
            I blinked at my bedroom door. My hand was literally still on the knob. “How…”
            “So listen,” Saffy went on, “I’m at the supermarket. Shall I get something for dinner tonight?”
            “Is there another reason that you’re at the supermarket?” I asked.
            Saffy giggled. “I wanted to get hold of the latest Vanity Fair! The one with Caitlin Jenner on it! I always get my magazines at the supermarket. But I think it’s not out yet, so I might as well get some food while I’m here.”
            “What are you thinking of cooking?” I asked. Later it occurred to me that in all the time I’ve been living with Saffy and all the thousands of conversations I’ve had with her, I’ve literally never spoken that sentence to her.
            “Oh, don’t ask me! Cooking is so pointless. I don’t know why people do it. The time and effort it takes to do the groceries, wait in line for the check-out, get into a cab, excuse me, are you sure you don’t have the latest issue of Vanity Fair, unpack everything in the kitchen, cook and clean-up...It’s hours and hours. Next week? But the article is already up online! And it only takes twenty minutes to eat the stupid meal! Gosh, you know what that all sounds like? It sounds like dating!”
            Who are you talking to now?” I yelled over the phone.
            The idea that the tedious process of cooking is identical to dating has absorbed Saffy’s attention for days now. She says it explains her ambivalent attitude to housework in general, and cooking in particular.
            “I mean, why would you in general?” she asked this morning. “The payoff is so pitiful! Especially if after all that effort of getting that date, you end up fat!”
            Sharyn thinks she lives in a world gone mad. Her exact words were, “Aiyoh, how like that?” If I wasn’t so distracted wondering what's for dinner, I’d be inclined to agree with her.