Monday, February 29, 2016

Temperature Control

If there are any kids reading today’s column, please pay attention because they won’t teach you this kind of stuff in school. (Which makes you wonder what exactly parents are paying for these days. It’s such a scandal I can’t even begin to think which minister you should complain to.)
            So, listen up.
            The next time you get sick, enjoy yourself. Seriously, this is going to be as good as it gets. Everyone from your neighbour to your granny will be fussing over you, alert to your every sniffle and moan of pain, at the ready with a cool cloth or a bowl of nourishing, freshly brewed herbal tonic. You’ll be let off school. You get to stay in bed all day, watch TV, play games, send pictures to envious friends who are in school learning useless things like calculus and valency tables.
            So, you’re in a little bit of discomfort, but what’s a bit of fever and aching joints against all that upside?
            Because let me tell you now, when you grow up, it’s all going to change. It’s like sitting in First Class where you’re sipping champagne and nibbling on French cheese, and then halfway through your flight, they make you change seats and move down to Economy right in front of a kid that keeps kicking your seat and they serve you sludge in a dinky little plastic container.
            It all happens in the blink of any eye, and suddenly, you’re, like, uhm, what just happened?
            Last week, Amanda’s sister asked her to babysit Jake, her five-year old nephew.
            “He’ll be no trouble at all,” Melanie said handing over a Louis Vuitton bag stuffed with toys, containers of food, blanket and medication.
            “What’s the medication for?” Amanda asked.
            “Oh, he’s had this cough and fever for a week now, but he’s much better. I’ve written down the timing for the meds!”
            As Amanda later hoarsely complained from beneath the depths of her blanket, there should be a law against mothers who lightly dismiss their children’s plague-like illnesses when they hand over their children to casual babysitters.
            Apparently, all afternoon as he played with his reluctant aunt, Jake coughed like a veteran, 6-pack a day smoker.
            “The worse thing was he never covered his mouth when he coughed!” Amanda croaked. Only her bloodshot eyes were visible above the blanket. “God, I feel like death warmed up!”
            “He’s only five!” Saffy said from the relatively safe distance of the doorway to Amanda’s bedroom. Wisely, she was wearing hospital mask, goggles, and gloves.
            “Oh!” Amanda moaned. “I am so sick. And I have an important meeting tomorrow morning!”
            “Call in sick!” said Saffy, HR manager.
            “I can’t! It’s an important pitch and the client is flying in just for this and I’m the only one who knows anything about it!”
            “Well, I’m meeting Indah for a movie, so I’d better get going!” Saffy said briskly. Her voice, muffled behind the facemask, managed to convey an equal measure of concern for a fellow human being, and desperation to be far away from this pestilential petri dish.
            “And where are you going?” Amanda called to me.
            “Me?” I squeaked. “Oh, I’m going to Penang for the weekend. I’m sure I told you about it!” Quietly, I thanked God I had managed to get the last seat on the plane that afternoon.
            There was a pregnant silence.
            “Wait. What, I’m going to be all alone in the flat?”
            “You’ll be fine!” Saffy called out from the front door. “I’ll be back after, uhm, dinner! Just text me if you need anything! But just not during the movie because I’ll be turning the phone to silent. I hate people who text during a movie, OK, bye!”
            On my way to the airport, I bumped into Sharyn in the condo lobby. She was struggling with a tiffin carrier and the bag containing the latest issues of Vogue and Men’s Health for Amanda.
            “Aiyoh, you two, ah, so useless!” she said immediately. “A little fever only, what!”
            I was unmoved. “I’m sure that’s what they said about the first Ebola victim, Sharyn,” I told her.
            “I ever bring up so many sick chil-ren, and look at me! Still so healthy!” Sharyn declared, her eyes disappearing into dots of disappointment behind her Coke bottle-thick spectacles.
            “Well, good for you!” I called from inside the cab. “You should donate your body to science so they should extract a vaccine out of you! Terminal 2, please, uncle!”
            Saffy says she got over any guilt she had about the way we abandoned Amanda when we got news that Sharyn fell sick within two days with the same symptoms as Jake.
            “This is what happens when you have children,” Saffy told me.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Good Old Days

The mother of one of my old school friends died a couple of weeks ago. She was 84 and bed-ridden on account of a hip she’d broken last year. Matthew says that was the beginning of the end.
            “The moment she was confined to bed, that was that,” he told us mournfully at the wake.
            Saffy, who has long harboured a lustful crush on Matthew’s absurdly ripped, gym-toned torso and biceps, took the opportunity to reach out and pull him into a crushing embrace against her trembling bosom. “Oh, you poor man,” she crooned. “You must let me know if there’s anything I can do! Anything!”
            Much later, after we’d all finished bowing to the coffin, Amanda hissed at me through the corner of her mouth, “Do you see how shameful she is? If she’s like this now, what’s she going to be like at the actual funeral!”
            Fr0m across the crowded parlour, I spotted my Auntie Sook-Ling waving at me.
            That’s another thing about a funeral. Most people just think of it as a somber, teary affair. Which it is. But it’s also an incredibly social event. People come out of the woodwork. Invariably, I’m surprised to see them because I’d always thought they’d died ages ago.
Friends and relatives, mostly aging, you’ve not seen in years show up in their finest black and pearls and they spend half the time gossiping about the deceased and the other half about who’s getting the jewels.
            Which is why I was so surprised when after I’d settled down next to Auntie Sook-Ling and she’d asked how my mother was, the next thing she said was: “Thank God Ying had money! Imagine if she’d been poor!” 
            I blinked. “You mean she’d have nothing to leave Matthew?”
            Auntie Sook-Ling looked surprised. “No! If she’d been poor, she’d have been dead years ago! During the last year, she had a full time day nurse and a night nurse, you know! I don’t even want to think how much that would have cost! It’s so expensive to get old these days! At least Ying got to die in the comfort of her home.”
            At that moment, Saffy emerged out of the sea of black like an irritated squid. She collapsed into the seat next to me. “I am so hungry! Why don’t they serve food at these things? Oh, hello, Auntie Sook-Ling! I love that diamond brooch!”
            “Hello, Saffy, dear. You look well. How is that boyfriend of yours?”
            “He’s in KL for a meeting.”
            “Any wedding plans?” Auntie Sook-Ling asked solicitously.
            “No. Well, not that I know of,” Saffy said. “He could be planning a secret surprise wedding for me right now, so you never know.”
            “Don’t leave it too long,” Auntie Sook-Ling said, her lovely kohl-lined eyes scanning the crowd, registering the quality of the guests and, by default, the social calibre of Auntie Ying’s funeral. “You must start having children soon. You need someone to look after you in your old age.”
            “Oh, that would be Jason and Amanda,” Saffy told her. “If when I get to your age I’m still single and childless, I'm moving in them. They can look after me!”
            Of course, I couldn’t wait for the excuse to slip away. I mumbled something about having to go to the loo and plunged into the packed crowd to find Amanda. She was in the corner, busily tapping into her Blackberry.
            “You’ll never guess what Saffy’s long term health care plans are,” I announced, and told her.
            Amanda’s eyes widened. “My God, she said that? We already look after her as it is, and she’s such a handful!”
            “Yes, but imagine if you also had to take her to doctor’s appointments and clean her bedpan!” I pointed out.
            The image has haunted us for days. And it’s also forced us to focus on the larger question: who’s going to look after us when we’re old?
            Amanda says it’s such a conundrum. On the one hand, the idea that she’d be forced to live with Saffy and me when she’s 75 fills her with the kind of anguish one normally associates with being told that Hermes has discontinued its Kelly Bag. But then, so does the idea of sitting all alone in an old folks home with complete drooling strangers.
            “Why would they be drooling?” I asked.
            “My granny drooled,” she said. “I was forever dabbing at her mouth.”
            It’s all too depressing to contemplate. It sure doesn't help that I’ve just looked at my bank balance and I realize I’m never going to be able to afford a day and night nurse like Auntie Ying.
            One thing’s for sure though, I’m not moving in with Saffy and Amanda. I’d rather die. Oh, wait…


Monday, February 15, 2016

Bite Size

The Japanese have something called koans, which is a whole series of very ancient existential questions that have no answer but which are supposed to make you think so hard you swear you’ll pee in your pants. That’s how powerful they are.
            “If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there, does it still make a noise?”
            Or “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
            It’s enough to drive you mad. Though kids today – ie, anyone born in a year beginning with a 2 – would probably sniff and say, “Yeah, well, how about this one? ‘How big is Kim Kardashian’s butt?’”, a question that would probably keep a Japanese monk all tied up in knots till the end of time.
Or at the very least, till lunch.
Which brings me to the subject of this week’s column.
In the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda, nothing exercises our imaginations more than the question “What’s for lunch?”
            Every day, round about 11.30am, we ask the same question. We could be in a tiny little boat on a lake in Nepal and Amanda will stop rowing suddenly and ask our tour guide, “So, what’s for lunch?”
            Saffy once shot her hand up during an intense management meeting on succession planning for the board of directors. The chair, expecting a probing question from the HR director, beamed down the long conference table and said, “Yes, you have a question, Saffy?”
            Sharyn, sitting two chairs down, reported that Saffy’s chest puffed up to a dangerous volume. “Yes, please, I do. When are we breaking for lunch? And do we know what’s for lunch? Because I wasn’t in charge of catering for this meeting, so I have no idea.”
            As Sharyn later said in a distinctly disgruntled way, “Like that also can get pay increment!”
            The root of the problem is, of course, Facebook. Have you noticed how all people seem to do these days is post food shots? Every time you refresh your page, there’s another picture of food. A big plate of sashimi. Big chunks of barbequed meat. A tray of muffins so freshly emerged from the oven you can almost smell the chocolate chips. Every second of the day, someone somewhere is eating something and is making sure it all ends up on Facebook.
            “It’s so annoying!” Saffy said the other day. It was 10.30am and she’d called me to complain.
            “Doesn’t your company have some kind of Facebook restriction during office hours?” I said. “And weren’t you the one who implemented it?”
            Saffy sniffed. “I only banned Facebook on office computers. I never specified that you couldn’t look at Facebook on your phone! Which is what I’m doing. God, Anne just put up a picture of a big bowl of laksa!”
            “Ooh,” I said. “I wouldn’t mind some laksa for lunch!”
            “Right?” Saffy said. “Stupid Anne. She’s always tormenting me with her fabulous food shots!”
            “And some rojak,” I added, suddenly thinking of it.
            Of course, weekends are just sheer torture seeing as we’re usually too lazy to step out the front door to even go down to the local hawker centre – a sad state of first world problems that led Amanda to wonder why hawkers didn’t do home delivery.
            “Isn’t that a niche market?” she wondered.
            I gently pointed out if hawkers home delivered, that $4.50 plate of char kway teow would end up costing $10 to which Amanda, owner of five Hermes Birkins, shrugged.
            “No, seriously, what’s for lunch?” Saffy asked.
            Amanda struggled off the couch and staggered into the kitchen. She poked her head into our fridge.
            “We’ve got some leftover roast lamb!” came her muffled voice. She stuck her head around the corner out of the kitchen. “I also found an old Prima Taste packet the other day. I could make a vegetarian curry with the lamb.”
            Saffy blinked. “How would it be vegetarian if it’s got lamb in it?”
            Amanda looked perplexed. “Well, it’ll be a vegetable curry with lamb! What? Why are you looking at me like that? That makes total sense!”
            “Well, how long is all that going to take?” Saffy said, the edge of a whine creeping into her voice.
            “The rice will take 20 minutes in the cooker. I just need to sauté the lamb in the spice mix, add a tin of coconut and some chopped vegetables and we’re all set!” Amanda said brightly. Then her face fell. “Except…except we don’t have any coconut milk and I juiced the last of our carrots this morning.”
            “And we have no rice,” I added.
            Sharyn says it’s a good thing none of us has any children. “Confirm all die, one!”

Friday, February 05, 2016

Naked Ambition

You know how the Universe is always throwing out random questions at you? Like, when you’re on a hot date, you might suddenly think to yourself, ‘Why didn’t I wear that other pair of underwear?’. Or, you wake up the morning after a wild night out with the boys and you think, ‘Now…how did I get home?’
            Of course, some Universe questions are a bit more nuanced.
            Like a few mornings ago, when Amanda suddenly looked up from her iPad and asked, “Where did they go wrong?”
            As Saffy later pointed out, the question was just so loaded, you might as well have asked why Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’ was snubbed for Best Video of the Year at the MTV VMA.
            “Yah, lor,” said Sharyn, a huge Nicki Minaj fan though you could never have told from her auntie get-up. “So suay! Aiyah, they all lay-cist, lah! Fann Wong oh-so never nominated what!”
            Saffy stopped mid-sip of her honeydew bubble tea. “Wait, what? Fann Wong sings?”
            “Abuden? You think, what? She just Chris Lee wife, issit?”
“Gosh, how did I not know that? She’s so multi-faceted, that woman!” Saffy said, admiration soaking every word.
“Haizz… So, Amanda say who go wrong?”
Some people start their morning by reading the Straits Times to see what’s happened in the world. Some do a bit of meditating while others go for a jog. Amanda, third in her class at Harvard Law School, kicks off her day with ten minutes on, surely the world’s best and bitchiest gossip site.
Which is where she spotted a picture of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner looking really glum. Which is what prompted her existential question.
“I thought they really had it together,” she went on. “Such cute kids. But then look who he married. That Jennifer is gorgeous. With that kind of gene pool, how could you not produce cute kids?”
From the first time she laid eyes on Ben Affleck in ‘Good Will Hunting’, Amanda has always entertained fantasies of being married to him. She has followed his career with the same kind of dewy-eyed fanaticism that in some jurisdictions would qualify as stalking. And if she ever lived in the same city as he does, you’d be seeing her name all the time in the tabloids in the context of restraining orders.
Gigli. Daredevil. Jennifer Lopez. Gwyneth. The children, Violet, Seraphina, Samuel. Pearl Harbor. Armageddon…Every up and down, Amanda has gone through it all with Ben from a safe, legal distance. And when he finally settled down and married Jennifer Garner, that marriage became the template upon which she based all her relationships.
That is, until she saw the shower scene towards the end of Gone Girl.
As Amanda later said, at first, she couldn’t be quite sure she’d seen what she’d thought she’d seen. “I mean, it was like a two millisecond flash right?” she said at lunch, after she and Saffy had caught a morning screening.
“My God, that amazing bubble butt!” Saffy had cooed at the time.
“Well, yes, that butt, but what about his…other bit!” Amanda had said, carefully looking around the occupied tables at Crystal Jade. “Was it just me or was it…enormous?”
“Well, if you were Jennifer Garner, you’d have your hands full, if catch my drift!” Saffy cackled.
            The question haunted Amanda so much that when Sharyn announced her sister had bought a pirated DVD of Gone Girl from Johor, she rushed over to Sharyn’s to re-watch the scene.
            “Aiyoh,” Sharyn later complained. “She, hor, keep rewinding and freezing that shower scene, I get headache, ah, I tell you. Ay, I ask you, she never see naked man before, issit?”
            “Not a naked man like that!” Saffy said. “Honestly, it’s just so beautifully shaped and proportioned! I totally get it now. That Jennifer Garner is so lucky!”
            “Right?” Amanda said.
            “Totally!” Saffy told her.
            The all round perfection of Ben Affleck – seen in all its side-frontal close-up glory in a steamy shower – continues to consume Amanda’s waking hours.
            Just this morning, she looked up from her Retina-enhanced MacBook on which she was gazing at a screenshot of That Shower Scene and asked again, “Seriously, where did it all go wrong? How could Jennifer Garner give this up?”
            “Maybe he’s not very good in bed?” Saffy said.
            Amanda looked at her screen. “I seriously doubt it. Not when you’re packing that kind of equipment!”
            Maybe, I ventured, a successful marriage is more than just about sex? To which Saffy replied that this was surely the stupidest thing she’d ever heard.
            “The second the sex goes,” she said, her bosom rising impressively like over-yeasted bread dough, “so does the marriage. Just ask Kris Jenner. She’ll tell you!”