Thursday, June 02, 2016

Poor Relations

When I was in the eighth grade, I woke up one day and decided that I wanted to be an astro-physicist. The fact that I had, till that moment, shown absolutely no sign of interest in astronomy – or that I had no maths skills to speak of – didn’t trouble me in the least.
            “But darling,” Mother said at the breakfast table where I had just made my momentous announcement, “last week, you said you wanted to be a banker! What happened to that? Besides, you’re colour-blind! How are you ever going to tell the difference between a super-nova and a black hole?”
            Next to me, my sister piped up. “That’s not what colour-blindness is! Colour-blind people can see black!”
            Mother turned to Father. “How did this happen? We live in a city of skyscrapers. How would he know what stars look like?”
            To his credit, my father shrugged and raised his copy of the Straits Times higher.
            For days, I walked around feeling like Captain Kirk aboard his brand new Starship Enterprise. The world seemed bright and sparkling, full of possibilities. I imagined going to work each day at NASA in a lab full of white-coated scientists who stared at computer screens all morning and wrote marvelously complex formulas on white boards after lunch while monitoring giant radio telescope discs beaming pings into deep space.
            A month later, I woke up and decided my new career was going to be in clinical psychology.
            “I’m very perceptive!” I told my mother at breakfast.
            “In that case, I’m sure you can tell what I’m feeling right now!” she said as she scooped up some chicken congee with an unusual degree of force.
            When my brother Jack announced that he wanted to be a drummer in a rock band, my sister said you’d have to have been blind, never mind a psychologist, to work out how our mother was feeling.
            “It just goes to show,” Michelle said with grim satisfaction, “it can always be worse!”
            Years later, Saffy said that when she was growing up, she wanted to be a ballerina.
            “Oh my God, I was obsessed with Margot Fonteyn. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I was obsessed with Rudolf Nureyev. I was absolutely in lust!” Saffy’s bosom shivered at the memory.
            Amanda frowned. “But…wasn’t he…”
            “Well, yes, he was, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was five!”
            “Then what happened?” I asked.
            Saffy shrugged. “Well, I went to ballet classes for six months, but by the third class, I knew it wasn’t for me. Have you seen how ballerinas walk when they’re not dancing? Like ducks!”
            Amanda says she’d always wanted to be a supermodel. Growing up, she plastered her bedroom walls with pictures of Claudia, Naomi, Cindy, Christie – all those super tall glamazons with big hair, impossibly long legs and eyes that just glowed off the pages of Vogue.
            “Then what happened?” I asked again.
            “My stupid parents insisted I go to law school instead. It’s their fault I’m in this crazy dead-end job.”
            “That pays you tonnes of money!” Saffy added. “You two are so lucky. You’re a lawyer, Amanda, and I think you had a great job as a restaurant critic, Jason! I do payroll and sack people all day! I hate my job!”
            I rolled my eyes. “Ugh. I just felt fat all the time!”
            “But it’s so nice to eat at fancy restaurants and not have to pay!” Saffy sighed.
            That’s the problem with a lot of jobs. Everyone always thinks everyone else has a better gig. I look back now and all I can remember are endless rich meals and coming home feeling bloated and sick.
            I wonder if George Clooney rolls his eyes whenever someone says he’s got a great job as a movie star.
            “Abuden?” Sharyn asked the other night. “He so han-sum. Got house in Lake Como. Millions and millions of dollars in his bank ah-count. His wife so swee and cre-ver. Always fly first class. You give me, I oh-so like, ah!”
            “Yes, but Sharyn, he’s got no privacy. Everywhere he goes, he’s got paparazzi following him. He can’t even go to the supermarket!” Amanda said.
            Sharyn gave Amanda a look that said Are you sure you went to Harvard?
            “You siow, issit? Where got people enjoy go to supermarket, one? If you tell me I neh-ber have to go to Sheng Siong again in my life, confirm, I start crying with happiness!”
            “What about Cold Storage?” Saffy asked.
            “Carrefour, NTUC Fair Price, any supermarket!” Sharyn snapped.

            Saffy later said you can tell Sharyn is a great mother. “She’s just so scary!” she said with approval.

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