Monday, September 26, 2016

Up in the Air

People can be so judgemental these days. So, you are not allowed to judge me for what I’m about to say. Which is that I love airplane food. Always have, and all things being equal, always will.
            I don’t know what it is about eating at 30,000 feet. They say your tastebuds are dulled at that height which may mean you’re a lot less fussy about what you put in your mouth. But to that, I just say, add more salt.
I remember taking my first flight as a five year old to Penang from Singapore. Quite apart from the absolute novelty of flying through clouds for the first time, I was beside myself when the air stewardess strolled down the alley handing out white melamine trays wrapped with cling film. I turned to my mother. “There’s food?”
Mother sniffed. “Not like the kind Ma Jie cooks for us at home.”
Very reluctantly, she unwrapped the cling film and set before me a neat geometric row of tiny white triangular sandwiches with their crusts cut off. I even remember the fillings of pink sardines and onions, and cucumber and ham.
It was delicious and, to Mother’s horror, I was instantly smitten. And ever since, on every flight, I’ve looked forward to the arrival of the food trolley.
The minute I settle into my seat, I pick up the menu and begin reading it from cover to cover. Including the Malay, French and Japanese translations, because you never know what hidden dietary gems are hidden in between the tagliatelle with wild mushrooms and the mango pudding.
Like the time I was on a flight from London to Tokyo and the lunch menu featured “stroked salmon” which got me very excited. I had mental images of a team of dedicated fishermen stationed by the wild rivers of Tasmania, reaching out and lovingly stroking fat salmon as they leapt up-stream. Kind of like an aqua-version of the pampering that goes into Kobe beef. Imagine my disappointment when the stewardess apologized for the typo on the smoked salmon.
“Oh, I love airplane food, too!” Amanda said the other day.
Saffy’s bosom inflated provocatively. “Of course you would,” she huffed. “You’re sitting in Satay Class!”
“On some sectors, they even have soya bean drinks!” Amanda’s eyes glowed at her good gastronomic fortune.
Sharyn squinted owlishly at Amanda. “Hah? You pay eight tau-sand dollar for business class and they give you one dollar fifty dau zhui, ah? You sure or not?”
Amanda turned pink and gathered herself against this onslaught of heartland pragmatism and sensible frugality. “It’s all about the experience, Sharyn!”
“You want es-perience, you come to my house, I make dau zhui for you. My mah-dur recipe. Confirm better than SQ, one!”
Of course, just about every article these days tells you to eat very sparingly while flying. Which is all very well if you’re fully occupied and pampered by adoring stewardesses and sitting way up in Business and First where I’m sure they have live concerts or, at the very least, hot stone massages. I suspect this is why they always draw the curtains during the flight. If people in Economy knew that Adele was singing in First, there’d be a stampede to the front and the plane would tilt.
My point is: if you’re languishing in Economy, there’s not a lot happening. It may be cheap, but it’s also a bit boring. And when I’m bored – again, you’re not allowed to judge – I eat.
Sure, I could make my own badly cooked rice and curry chicken that’s covered with multicoloured tinfoil in my own kitchen, and follow that with lumpy dessert. But where’s the fun in that?
And besides, the best thing is that these days so many top-notch chefs are being recruited to create tempting aero-menus. My sister recently flew to Japan on Singapore Airlines just so she could eat celeb chef Shermay Lee’s Peranakan nosh. Yes, it runs in the family.
All which makes for a happier passenger. If you ask me, hungry passengers are liable to get up to all sorts of mischief like sneak into the Business Class toilet and splash on the Hermés eau de cologne.
So my advice is this: the next time the nice stewardess comes along pushing the food trolley, go the whole hog and choose the tough chewy beef with mushroom sauce. Skip the salad and the vegetarian option. This is not the time to be going on a diet. Because the alternative is trying to sleep, or watch Star Wars on a screen that’s smaller than your phone.
That or wondering if you’re going mental because you’re convinced you hear Adele singing behind that blue curtain. Or so rumour has it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cold Front

Let it be said that Singapore has many conundrums.
            Like, why do guys still carry their girlfriend’s handbags? Though, as Amanda once pointed out, it’s only the young boys who do it. “You never see it happen when a guy is in his thirties. Have you ever noticed that? I wonder if it’s a hormonal pre-pubescent thing.”
            To which Sharyn replied, “Aiyah, you know why or not? Because, har, when the guy is young and he pak tor with the girlfriend, he want to please her, mah. Whatever she tell him to do, he do. But den, hor, after they mare-lee, no need to please her anymore. He or-redi got her, what, so you carry your own handbag, can? You dohn like, then die-vorce, lor!”
            Amanda looked at Sharyn in silence, a little frown forming on her otherwise flawless forehead. She later told us that Sharyn ought to be on Oprah. “When she says stuff like that, it just makes so much sense. Maybe it’s Singlish. If anyone else said it, you’d be laughed out of town!”
            “Hannor!” said Saffy, who is practising her Singlish.
            The other conundrum about Singapore is why it’s so cold everywhere you go.
            Just the other day, the girls and I went to watch ‘Suffragettes’.
            “That Meryl Streep is so talented!” Amanda said as she settled into her seat at Shaw Nex. “She can do anything!”
            “I wonder how much money she makes,” Saffy said, stuffing her face with popcorn. “Her children are so lucky.”
            I sat up in my chair and looked around. “Is it just me or is it really cold in here?”
            “It’s arctic!” Saffy said. “Thanks for reminding me.” She handed me her popcorn carton and pulled out a big woollen Muji cardigan from her vinyl G2000 handbag.
            “Oh, I brought mine too,” Amanda said as she fished her favourite Prada wrap out of her crocodile skinned Birkin.
            As always, Saffy gave the bag serious shade. “You know that your bag probably cost the same as this movie?”
            Amanda waved her hand and giggled.
            Meanwhile, I was seething with jealousy that the girls had brought warm outerwear. I could barely concentrate during the movie, I was so cold. My shivering may account for the fact that I practically missed Meryl Streep’s appearance.
            “Oh my God, she was in that movie for like two seconds!” Amanda complained as we filed out of the cinema.
            “Honestly, she shouldn’t even have been on the poster!” Saffy said, her enormous bosom struggling to emerge from beneath the cardigan. “She might as well have been an extra!”
Amanda turned to me. “By the way, you were very distracting! You kept fidgeting!”
“I was so cold! I think my bits have fallen off!” I told her.
“Please don’t talk to me about your bits!” Saffy said. “Especially not just before dinner!”
Well, you can guess what happened next. The restaurant was freezing cold, too.
“Why is your restaurant so cold?” I asked the waitress. She stared at me with the kind of blank horror one normally associates with someone watching an axe-wielding murderer approach her cabin in the woods at midnight. Slowly, she backed away and whispered something to a colleague. He stared over in my direction and advanced.
“Yes sir? How can I hep-choo?” he asked cautiously.
“It’s very cold in your restaurant!” Saffy piped up. “Can you turn up the temperature?”
You could see him relax. His face wreathed in smiles. “Oh, you are cold, issit? I’m so sorry, but the temperature is set by the building and we cannot adjust it. Can I bring you some hot water?”
“You really should bring a jumper next time,” Amanda told me.
“I just don’t know why everything needs to be so cold?” I complained, aware of a rising whine in my voice. “It’s ridiculous! Let’s eat quickly and get out of here. I am about to get pneumonia!”
And of course, the 105 bus from Serangoon to Toa Payoh had the ambient temperature of an igloo in high winter.
“You have got to be kidding me!” Amanda snapped. “It must be, like, 15 degrees in here! Is it always like this?”
“I’m so miserable!” I moaned.
Sharyn later said I should just stop wearing shorts and tee-shirts.
            “But it’s so hot out there!” I said.
“Aiyoh, hot outside, cold inside, how liddat? How come I don’t feel cold? Maybe because I so fat and no es-sersice!” She giggled good-naturedly.
“You are just skin and bone, Shazz,” Saffy said. “You should be colder than the rest of us!”
“Yah, I don’t get cold. At night, I sleep with air con set to 18 degree!”

Amanda wonders if Sharyn has heard of global warming.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bad Fruit

Have you ever been at a restaurant and looked around you at the other tables and wondered what people are talking about? If they’re talking at all, that is. I’ve seen entire tables ignore each other as they look at their phones.
But the ones that are talking…what are they discussing? Do they debate, for instance, how much money Kim Kardashian has in her purse? Or what Jennifer Lawrence’s bathroom looks like? What Brad Pitt’s will says?
            A few nights ago, if you’d been passing by the Thai restaurant Saffy, Amanda and I were at, this is what you would have heard.
            “You know,” Saffy said, looking up from her fruit platter, “have you ever wondered how they get these pomelos so perfectly clean and perfect?”
            Amanda stuck another spoonful of red ruby into her mouth. “What do you mean?” she asked, crunching noisily on water-chestnuts.
            Saffy held up a pink crescent. Amanda and I leaned in. “Look at this. You can see every single bit of pulp. And there’s not a streak of white on it. I’ve never been able to achieve this at home. It always breaks apart at the edges or there’s bits of white skin on it. But when you go to restaurants, they all look like this. Perfect!” Saffy turned the pomelo piece around, staring at it the way a cat eyes a mouse. “I wonder how they do it?”
            As soul-searching questions go, this wasn’t one for the books, but it says something about how intellectually unstimulated we must have been because straight after dinner, we swung by Cold Storage and picked up a pomelo.
            Back at home, in our kitchen, Saffy took out the sharpest knife we had in the drawer and proceeded to cut up open the fruit. First, she sliced off the ends, and then made shallow cuts around it.
            “I’ll always remember Esther saying I had to make longitudinal cuts and not latitudes,” Saffy said as she sawed away. “I had to look up with that meant. She’s so brainy. I wonder what she’s up to now.”
            “Please concentrate,” Amanda murmured.
            Once the cuts had been made, Saffy started peeling off the pieces to leave behind a considerably smaller fruit encased in cotton wool white fibrous peel.
            “See, and this is where it all goes south,” Saffy said, warming up to her geographical theme. “I cut through this, I see the pink flesh…I start peeling away the white stuff…See?! See how the whole thing breaks apart? And there’s all this white stuff stuck between the grooves! It’s so aggravating!”
            So, we called Sharyn.
            “Wah, you all very free, hor!” she said. “How I know? I neh-ber peel before. My maid always do, but I cannot ask her now, she go home on holiday, so I very busy! All I do is wash clothes! Sian, ah!”
            “You have to say ‘helper’, Shazz,” Saffy pointed out. “No one says ‘maid’, anymore!”
            “Who say?” Sharyn asked belligerently. As Saffy later observed, clearly, doing the laundry was not a mood-lifter in Sharyn’s household.
            So, we went onto YouTube, or iGuru, as Amanda calls it. “I swear, you can find everything on it!”
            “Well, most things…” Saffy said significantly.
            And there it was. An entire list of videos on how to peel a pomelo. “That’s so weird,” Amanda said. “People must be very free. Why would you ever take the time to film the peeling of a pomelo?”
            “Sharyn would just die if she was here right now!” Saffy observed and giggled disloyally.
            “Let’s just pick one. Here, click this one,” Amanda said to Saffy.
            We watched the video in silence. It just showed a pair of hands, a knife and a pomelo. Oddly, there was no sound, just cutting and peeling. The silence grew increasingly fraught. At the end of the eight minutes, Saffy blinked and sat back in her chair. “Huh!”
            “Is it just me,” Amanda said, “or is that a lot of touching and handling of the fruit?”
            “That’s really gross!” Saffy said, her bosom rising in emphasis. “No one seems to be wearing gloves!”
            “Think of all the germs we’ve been eating!” Amanda added.
            “I’m sure people wear gloves,” I said.
            “You don’t know that,” Saffy said darkly. “This could be the next raw fish scandal!”
Amanda moaned. “I swear, I’m never eating a pomelo in a restaurant ever again!”
Just then, Saffy noticed a YouTube video on how to cut a pineapple. To take our minds off the pomelo, we watched that. And after that, we watched one one cutting a watermelon. Then, a papaya. A mango. An orange. We didn’t get to bed till 1 a.m.
Sharyn thinks we should all be deported. “Waste of space, you all!”   

Monday, September 05, 2016

Death Vaguer

This was written way back in the beginning of the year, but famous people are still dropping like flies. Troubling. - JH

What a month January has been so far.
            First came news that David Bowie died after a very discreet battle with cancer.
            We heard about his death when Sharyn rang Saffy in a flood of tears.
            “He’s dead! He’s dead!” she sobbed.
            Saffy gasped. “Oh my God!” She immediately turned to Amanda and shrieked, “Chee Wai is dead!” Of course, Amanda immediately screamed, her huge eyes welling with instant tears.
            From my end of the couch, I looked up and frowned. “Who’s Chee Wai?” I asked.
            Saffy turned her bosom towards me. “Are you serious? Sharyn’s husband!” she said.
            That’s his name?” I asked, vaguely aware that my inability to remember people’s names had just reached an all-time low.
Saffy suddenly remembered Sharyn was still on the line and was currently babbling about something. “Oh, Shazz,” Saffy said, talking over her best friend. “I’m so sorry, how did it happen? Wait, let me put you on speaker.”
            “Aiyoh!” Sharyn’s voice floated out in a penetrating wave. “I never say Chee Wai dead, lah, aiyoh, you ah! It’s Bowie, lah! He just die!”
            All of us paused and looked at each other. You could hear a soufflĂ© collapse in the silence.
            Eventually, Amanda took charge of the situation. “Um, is that your dog?”
            Sharyn sucked her breath. “Ex-cue me, but my dog is call Bonnie, ok? David Bowie is dead!”
            I breathed out. I was on much safer ground now. “Oh, as in the singer?”
            “Oh,” Amanda said. “That’s…sad!”
            Hannor!” Sharyn said. “From young, I love his music! I got all his album! I can sing every song he ever sing! Aiyoh!” She began sobbing again.
            Later, after promising Sharyn we’d come visit her for a Bowie night of remembrance – “We play my favourite album ‘The Lice and Fall of Siggy Stardus and the Spider from Mah-ss!’ – we turned to Facebook and found our walls full of devastated posts.
            “Huh!” Amanda said. “There are a lot of very upset people out there!”
            “I know,” Saffy said, her fingers scrolling through her iPhone. “Victoria says his death is more devastating to her than the death of her father!”
            “She would,” murmured Amanda who has never liked Victoria ever since Victoria announced at a party some years ago that she generally had a low opinion of Harvard graduates.
            “I can’t say I’ve ever been really conscious of his music,” Saffy said. “I mean, I thought he was really handsome and everything and I totally adore the fact that he married Iman, but his music…not so much.”
            “Peter says Bowie was the most important musical influence in his life,” I read from my Facebook wall.
            “Huh!” Amanda said again. “I feel kind of left out here. I’m sorry he’s dead, but I’m not relating to this level of grief.”
            My mother always says you should be careful about what you say. Four days later, we woke up to find Amanda sitting on the couch sobbing softly into a handful of tissues.
            Saffy’s impressive bosom, inflated at full capacity, collided with Amanda first before the rest of her body arrived.
            “Oh, what’s happened?” Saffy cooed, pulling Amanda’s head deeper into her bosom. “Don’t cry, what’s wrong?”
            “He’s dead!”
            Over the top of Amanda’s head, Saffy looked at me. I shook my head and shrugged.
            “Uhm…David Bowie?”
            Amanda pulled herself up. “No! Alan Rickman!”
            Again, Saffy looked at me. I was pleased I was able to assist.
            “Harry Potter!” I said.
            Saffy’s eyes widened. “Oh my God! That’s tragic! What did he die of?”
            “Cancer,” Amanda sniffed.
            “That’s a bit young to die of cancer, isn’t it?”
            Amanda stopped in mid-sniffle. “Well, he wasn’t old, but he wasn’t exactly young either. He was 69!”
            Saffy cocked her head and stared at Amanda. She turned to me. “Harry Potter can’t be 69! Isn’t he like 15?”
            “Oh God,” I sighed. “You’re thinking of Daniel Radcliffe! Alan Rickman was Professor Snapes!”
            Saffy later complained to Sharyn that she hates it when people just throw names at her. “I never watched Harry Potter, so how the hell am I supposed to know who’s who? When I ask who died, and you say Harry Potter, what am I supposed to think?”
            “Wah, you all, ah, you so terrible! You don’t know David Bowie music, you don’t know Harry Potter! How liddat?”
            Saffy’s bosom inflated to full volume. “Listen, FYI, I love Taylor Swift. She’s current! And besides, there is just too much information out there and I have a life!”
            “Aiyoh, Taylor Swift! Ay, you listen to this!” Sharyn said.
She called up ‘Starman’ on her iPod, closed her eyes and started weeping again.