Thursday, June 30, 2016

Colour Me Bad

They say it’s a sure sign you’re getting older when you begin to rediscover the very things that gave you pleasure as a child. Now, they probably don’t mean things like sticking your foot into your mouth.
            “Because I never stopped liking that bit,” Barney Chen said to me once, a comment Saffy said both disturbed and intrigued her.
            “Why intrigued?” Amanda asked. She later told me that she really should know better than to engage in this kind of conversation with Saffy. “It never ends well,” she reflected.
            Saffy said it’s not the kind of thing anyone, let alone a functioning, law-abiding, tax-paying adult would think to do. “It’s not, is it?” she asked. “And besides, have you tried it? Sticking your foot into your mouth, I mean. You can’t!”
            Amanda blinked. “You mean you’ve tried it?”
            Saffy shrugged. “Oh sure. You know me, I’m up for anything.”
            “It’s such a shame that Saffy is a girl,” Barney texted me.
            Which is why I was so surprised when, a few weeks ago, he called me from his local bookstore to ask if I’d heard of ‘Secret Garden’.
            “Isn’t that a children’s book?” I asked.
            “You’re thinking of ‘The Secret Garden’. This one doesn’t have the definite article,” Barney growled down the line.
            “The definite what?”
            I could feel my best friend’s sharply manicured eyebrows lift. “Seriously, how are you even a writer? It’s this gorgeous book by this person…let me see…Johanna Basford! It’s just full of amazingly detailed drawings of gardens and flowers and stuff and you’re meant to colour them in.”
            “I have no idea. All the women in my community drama class are doing it. They sit around this table with a big box of coloured pens and spend all afternoon colouring in when they should be rehearsing. I think this is the new Candy Crush! I’m curious to find out more even though it’s so…I don’t know…girly. Even for me,” he added.
            I paused and stared off into space and tried to imagine the activity. Finally, I said, “Uhm…why?”
            “Well, that’s the thing. I asked one of the girls, and she said it’s very therapeutic and seeing as you’re into all this new-agey stuff, I thought maybe you would know.”
            “Oh my God, for the last time, TED Talks is not new-agey!”
            “Every speech I’ve ever watched on YouTube is so mystical and feel-good!” Barney insisted.
            “Seriously, can you please call the girls to continue this conversation?”
            Imagine my surprise when that evening, Amanda came home with several copies of ‘Secret Garden’ and a tray of colouring pens.
            “What is this?” Saffy asked. She picked up a copy and flipped the pages. “There are no words. What are you supposed to do?”
            “You’re meant to colour in the pictures,” Amanda explained. “I got us each one!”
            Saffy’s bosom shifted like an oil leak. “Why?”
            “This lawyer in my office was doing it at lunch and her colouring looked absolutely amazing! She said it calmed her before going into court.”
            Saffy looked at me and I shrugged. “Well,” she said, “you know me, I’m up to try anything at least once. They should write that on my tombstone. Here, give me those pens.”
            With that, she sat down at the dining table, opened ‘Secret Garden’ to the first page, picked out a yellow pen and started colouring in a flower.
            That was a week ago. Since then, Saffy has nearly finished the first picture of a garden in full bloom. Even as someone who is colour-blind, I can tell it’s simply stunning – the pages are drenched in the bright hues of spring. Saffy spends every available second on it. Sharyn rang to complain she has no one to have lunch with because Saffy spends the whole lunch hour shading in leaves and petals.
            “Got squirrel, some more!” Sharyn reported. “Very cute, lah, but now I got no makan kaki. Very chiam, leh!”
            Meanwhile, Amanda’s version of the same picture is a soothing image of deep greens and reds with splashes of sunny yellow. “I am completely obsessed by this!” she told me this morning as she packed book and pens into her briefcase. “It really is so relaxing! I wonder if this is how Leonardo da Vinci felt!”
            Me, I’ve already completed a quarter of the picture, except I have a feeling my garden couldn’t really exist in real life as my birds are purple and my flowers are green and blue. Saffy has already asked why my leaves are red.
            But the point is, just like that, I’m five again, colouring in, fully concentrating on that very moment, and feeling…well…happy.
            It’s really the oddest thing.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sight Inspection

Maybe it’s the way I’ve been brought up, but there aren’t many things that I envy about other people.
Like, whenever I see someone driving around in a fabulous car, I don’t think, Gee, I wish I had that. Instead, I think about what how much the COE must have cost.
Or when I see a couple strolling through the park with their three little children, I don’t see a Hallmark moment – I see temper tantrums before bed and furniture that is no longer white. And, when, at a party, I sit next to someone who tells me about the wonderful time she had in New York, all I can think of is the horrific 40 hours it took to get there and back on a crowded, germ-filled plane.
“Really?” Amanda asked. “That’s what you think about?”
I shrugged. “It’s a gift.”
Amanda didn’t look convinced. “I bet your mother is at the root of all this.”
And now that I think about it, she probably is. I remember once when I was about seven, I complained to my mother that all my friends got dropped off at school by their drivers.
“Why do I have to take the bus?” I whined.
“Darling, when you make as much money as your daddy does, you can have Driver drop you off wherever you want. Do you make as much money as Daddy does?”
Even as a seven-year old, I could recognise a rhetorical question when I saw one and that was that.
Anyway, my point is, when that’s the kind of response you get whenever you want something, eventually, you get the message that you should just be happy with what you’ve got.
Except…I’ve always wanted perfect vision. I am cursed by myopia. I started wearing spectacles when I was five and by the time I was twenty, my short-sightedness was 1100 with 300 astigmatism.
“Oh my God, you’re legally blind!” Saffy said to me when we were waiting for a Lasik consultation some years back.
“Why do you think I’m so bitter?” I told her. “I can’t do any sport. I can never see what the hairdresser is doing to my hair…”
Saffy breathed out. “Ah, that explains things…” she murmured.
“I have to wear glasses even in the bathroom,” I went on smartly. “It’s awful!”
So, I had my Lasik operation and it was like one of those YouTube videos of hearing-impaired people who can suddenly hear, except in my case, I could now see. Saffy actually cried watching my expression as I sat up on the clinic bed and stared around in utter amazement. The next morning, I opened my eyes in the morning and instead of seeing blobs, I saw every crack in my ceiling. It was nothing short of a miracle.
Of course, it wasn’t twenty-twenty vision. The doctor muttered something about under-correction. I didn’t care. I felt like Superman.
Then a few days ago, when I was buying shampoo at Guardian, I saw someone try on a pair of black glasses and he had the same look as the YouTube videos. After he marched off to the cashier with two pairs, I drifted over. Vision Therapy Eyewear, said the sign over the stand. There was no glass, just black plastic with lots of tiny holes.
I slipped it on and looked around. Then I took it off, blinking. And put it back on. Then I took it off and looked at it. And put it back on.
I bought five pairs and rushed home.
That night, I gave a pair to Sharyn whose myopia is legendary even amongst optometrists who’ve seen it all.
“What is this, ah?” she said, turning the spectacles around.
“Take off your glasses and wear it this instant!” I instructed.
“You look like that Cyclops character in X-Men, Shazz!” Saffy said. “What’s the matter, why are you crying? Oh my God, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I…”
Sharyn waved Saffy into silence. She turned to me. “What is this? How come I can see so much better?” Tears streamed down her cheeks beneath the black frame.
“I have no idea! But it’s absolutely amazing! There’s no prescription glass but everything is so clear! I got it at Guardian!”
“Aiyoh, why no one tell me earlier?” Sharyn moaned.
“How does this even work?” Amanda said who was wearing a pair I’d given her. “It’s just got holes in it but I can see all the way to the other end of this restaurant! This is just incredible!”
Hannor!” Sharyn said. “I oh-so say!”
“I’m so jealous you guys are all short-sighted,” Saffy pouted. “I feel so left out!”

Monday, June 13, 2016

Nothing but the Tooth

I don’t know about you, but nothing scares me more than going to the dentist.
            Now, before the dental demographic of my enormous readership gets all huffy and outraged and writes into 8DAYS cancelling their subscription, let me just say that this is not personal. I know what an invaluable public service all you dentists provide to the world.
I mean, if it weren’t for dentists, Hollywood movie stars would all have rotting, disfigured mouths. Going to the movies would be like watching an Orc fight scene in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. And really, isn’t half of Tom Cruise’s appeal his smile? So, I get it. Dentists rock.
  ’s the thing. The second I walk into Dr Chan’s little dental surgery in Tanglin Shopping Centre, all my nerves are on edge. First, there’s that weird ozone-y, anti-septic smell that, if I didn’t know any better, is the scent that hits you just before a mass alien invasion. Or at the very least, a major end-of-the-world tornado.
            And then, the whining, drilling sound starts screeching, rising in intensity till it’s almost in the range that only dogs can hear.
            This is when I usually turn right around and head back out the door.
            “You are such a baby!” Amanda said the other day when she told me she had an appointment for her half-yearly check-up, and I told her about my odontophobia.
            “That’s because you have perfect teeth to start with,” Saffy piped up. “I’m totally with Jason on this one! Dentists are scary. Like clowns.”
            I turned to Saffy. “You’re scared of clowns?”
            Saffy’s legendary bosom inflated. “Oh, totally!” she told me. “My worst nightmare is being stuck in an elevator with Bozo!”
            “Mine is falling into a coffin full of snakes,” I said.
            Amanda stared at us. “Are you for real?” she said eventually.
            Saffy shrugged. “What? It could happen! Didn’t you read about that guy who was walking past a hotel and a sofa fell right on top of him? Tore half his face off. My point is,” she said, noticing Amanda’s look, “anything can happen.”
            “It’s a dental appointment!” Amanda said, rolling her pretty eyes.
            Which, as Saffy later pointed out over a bowl of ice kachang at Chomp Chomp, is just the sort of thing someone who doesn’t have a single filling would say. “It’s like when Lady Gaga said you have to stop compromising your values and find your authentic self and say no.”
            “What a ridiculous thing to say!” I said.
            “Tell it!” Saffy huffed.
            “Issit?” Sharyn piped up, peering around her mound of luridly coloured shaved ice. “Why, ah?”
            Saffy drew herself up, pleased at the captive audience. “Well, people only ever say rubbish like that when they’re really, really rich. When they’re starting out in their careers, they’re all poor and, like, they’re living on a friend’s couch…”
“Or in a car,” I said.
Saffy nodded as she dug out a spoonful of atap chee. “Or in a car. They’ve not had a paycheck in, like, six months, so they’re desperate. They’ll do anything. Pose nude for Playboy, sell Tupperware, make car commercials. Anything to pay the rent. You never ever hear them say, ‘Oh, but this is my passion! I’m doing what I love! Money’s not everything!’”
“Oh yah!” Sharyn said. “I ever hear Oprah say that once. Dat time, ah, I hear and I say, ‘Wah, this woman, siow, one!’ Where got money is not everything? You don’t want, give me, lor! I quickly pay my mortgage!”
“Exactly!” Saffy said turning pink as she warmed up to her theme. “But once they’ve made it big and they have a bazillion dollars in their bank account, suddenly, it’s all about being true to their purpose in life! Well, lemme tell you something, my purpose in life is to never having to worry how I’m going to pay my rent!”
Later that evening, when Amanda came back from her appointment with Dr Chan, she flashed us a radiant smile. “Oh, I do love that man!” she said. “He just did a quick scaling and said I had perfect gums! I was done in, like twenty minutes. The only thing is, he’s raised his charges to $150!”
Saffy coughed into her tea. “How much? Oh my God, that’s how much it costs to get your teeth cleaned?”
“Why, how much do you pay?” Amanda asked.
Saffy paused. “I can’t remember…I’ve not had my teeth cleaned in two years. But $150 for twenty minutes work! That’s amazing. How much must he make in a day?”

I couldn’t help but wonder, had Dr Chan found his passion? Or was he too busy looking at his bank statement and laughing? I know I would.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Taylor Made

I didn’t know this was a thing, but apparently people – and by people, I mean, Saffy – daydream about being friends with Taylor Swift.
            Just the other day, we were both on the 238 bus to Orchard Road to have lunch with Amanda. Saffy had grabbed the window seat on account of the fact she hates standing up for anyone.
She’d once surrendered her seat to a woman whom she swore looked six months pregnant only to be shouted at.
            “How can you be so rude? You think, what? I’m fat, issit?” the woman yelled. Saffy panicked, opened her purse and stuffed twenty bucks into the woman’s hands and leapt off the bus at the next stop.
            “Hah?” Sharyn later said. “You give her money for what?”
            Saffy wrung her hands, still traumatised by the event. “Oh, I don’t know what I was thinking! I wanted her to shut up. The whole bus was looking at us! I’m just amazed no one video’d it and uploaded it onto YouTube!”
After that incident, which she’s since dubbed The Pregnancy Episode, Saffy has made it her life policy to only ever stand up if the person looks like Betty White. “It’s just not worth risking that kind of abuse,” she says.
 Which is why whenever we catch a bus, I’m usually the one staring off into space in the aisle seat. After a few minutes of watching endless rows of HDB blocks pass by, Saffy suddenly turned to me and elbowed me in the ribs.
            “Uhm…ow?” I said.
            “Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be friends with Taylor Swift?”
            “Uhm…” I said again. “No?”
            “It must be so much fun. All those girls’ nights at her place, in silk PJs and singing and dancing! I wonder how I would go about friending her.”
            “I think you would have to be someone famous. Or at the very least, be a supermodel,” I told her.
Saffy pouted her lips, chafing at the unfairness of life in general and, specifically, the arbitrariness of genetics that makes the chances of her ever becoming a supermodel completely non-existent. “Karlie Kloss is so lucky!” she grumbled.
            As I later said to Barney Chen, it’s just so crazy what some people are thinking when they stare out the window of a moving bus. “You’d think she’d be wondering about…about when the haze is going to lift, for example!”
            Barney Chen put down his strawberry and chia seed soy smoothie to admire his biceps in the cafĂ©’s mirror.
            “Oh, I don’t know,” he growled, his baritone voice rumbling like grinding boulders. “It would be fun to hang out with Tay Tay and sing songs all night! I do a killer version of ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’!”
            I put my peppermint tea down and stared at him. “You do? Why?”
            “It’s my personal anthem. I’m always singing it in my head when I’m walking around. It’s very empowering! You haven’t said anything about my new tee shirt. Do you like it?”
            Of course, as soon as our coffee catch-up was done, I was on the phone with Amanda. “Do you have a personal anthem?”
            “Oh sure,” Amanda said. “It’s Jamelia’s ‘Beware of the Dog’!” From the 2006 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.”
            On the other end of the line, my jaw dropped. How do you live with someone at such close quarters and not know something like this?, I wondered.
            “You mean you don’t?” Amanda asked.
            Sharyn later told me that her personal anthem is ‘I’m Every Woman’.
            “But not the Whitney version, hor! Is Chaka Khan, the original, ok? Every time the chairman of the board scold me, I sing this song in my head. Confirm I don’t cry, one!”
            I was completely bewildered. “Who are you people?” I asked. “Does everyone except me have a personal anthem?”
            Saffy says her personal anthem is the theme song to ‘Wonder Woman’.
            “Of course it is,” I sighed when she told me.
            Saffy’s legendary bosom inflated to a superhuman volume. “It’s just so empowering! Sometimes, I swear, it’s the only thing that gets me through a day at the office!”
            “So, you actually sing it out loud?” I asked.
            “Only if no one’s around! You don’t want people thinking you’re a nut job! But, sure, I sing it, or hum it under my breath. Especially when I’m walking into someone’s office to fire them!”
            Of course, now whenever I’m in a crowded room, I find myself looking around me and wondering what people are singing in the quiet privacy of their head. Meanwhile, I’m searching for my own personal anthem. If you ever see me on the bus staring off into space, that’s probably what I’m thinking about.