Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Going Public

The other day, Saffy, fully reclined on the lounge like a lizard in the sun, looked up from her iPad and asked, “Did you hear about Goldman Sachs?”
            As out of the blue questions go, especially from Saffy, this one took the cake. Even Amanda looked up from her latest issue of Vogue to stare hard at Saffy.
            “Where did you learn that name?” she asked.
            “You are so rude!” Saffy puffed. You could tell she was trying to look and sound offended, but her heart wasn’t really into it. “I bring it up because I am just reading here that they are paying the New York Attorney General a five billion dollar fine!”
            A silence settled over our lounge room. A number of unspoken thoughts struggled to be the first to be uttered.
            Finally, Amanda coughed. “Who are you and what have you done with my flatmate?”
            Saffy struggled to sit up. “Haha,” she said flatly. “No, really. Listen. How can people like Goldman Sachs be giving away five billion dollars like that? And more to the point, where is all that money going to?”
            “You just said they’re paying the New York Attorney General,” Amanda pointed out.
            “Yes, I know, but the New York Attorney General can’t keep five billion dollars for himself. So where is it all going?”
            It was Amanda’s turn to pause. I looked with interest from one flatmate to the other. It’s not often that you get to see a Harvard law graduate stumped.
            “Well…I think it goes to the…to the…uhm…banking regulators. Or something.”
            Saffy pursed her lips. “OK, so what do they do with all that money? And haven’t all those banks been paying up tonnes and tonnes of fines? How is all that money being used? Are they building new roads?”
            As Amanda later said to me privately, just when you thought that Saffy had the intellectual depth of a shallow puddle, she turns right around and surprises you with questions like the disbursement allocation of a legal authority.
            “I have no idea what you just said,” I told her.
            Amanda ignored my ignorance and pushed on. “And this morning, she asked me what five billion dollars looks like! What kind of a question is that?”
            A very good one, I thought. I mean, it’s not as if everyone has five billion dollars just lying around in a savings account that they can just GIRO out to pay a fine.
            “I’d love to be in a room that’s filled with five billion dollars,” Saffy said. She was having lunch with Sharyn at Golden Shoe Carpark. “How big would the room need to be? More to the point, I wonder what it would smell like.”
            “Like wok-hei!” Sharyn said.
            Saffy looked intrigued, “You think?”
            “Yah! Confirm. Dat’s why, hor, I love Chinese New Year. I go to the bank, withdraw two tau-sand dollar, put in plastic bag, and I smell. So shiok! Like very atas hor fun. They should make perfume and call it Oh der Money!”
            “Eau de Money!” Saffy breathed out. “Honestly, that’s genius!”
            Sharyn turned pink.
            Meanwhile, Amanda says all this talk of money is making her nervous. “The markets are going down the toilet!” she announced this morning. “We could all be out of a job by Christmas!”
“Choy!” Saffy said.
Amanda lifted an eyebrow. “I think it’s time for an austerity drive! We have to put in some cost cutting measures.”
“Don’t look at me,” Saffy said. “I’m already living by the skin of my teeth. Every single one of my meals this week has been less than four bucks! Any cheaper and I’ll be eating toast and kaya for dinner!”
“I don’t know where else we can cut down expenses. We already don’t turn on the air-con at night, and it’s been so hot lately,” I pointed out.
“And don’t forget,” Saffy said to Amanda, “your idea of austerity is to take Uber!”
Amanda blinked. “What? That is public transportation!”
“That’s probably what Marie Antoinette said just before they chopped off her head!” Saffy said.
Of course, Sharyn thinks the whole idea of us being on an austerity drive is the most hysterical thing she’s ever heard.
“Aiyoh, you don’t have chil-ren, how you know how to save? You have chil-ren, you always poor, ah, I tell you! School fee, tuition fee, lunch money, school book, holiday, new clothes, school camp, new shoe, dentist, haircut…wah!”
Amanda says that Sharyn’s constant one-upmanship is getting really boring. “She’s always rubbing our noses into her children!”
Saffy says Amanda really needs to work on her metaphors.



Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Warts The Matter?

I remember a biology class in high school when our teacher Mr Pendleton said in a tone of complete and utter boredom, “The human body is an amazing thing!” as he pointed at the skeleton model.
            Everyone of us in that class – fifteen years old and hormones raging – thought the more amazing thing was that Mr Pendleton, an ancient, balding, slightly overweight man of 35, was actually married to Mrs Pendleton, our super hot maths teacher.
            “Thirty-five?” Saffy said years later. “How is that ancient?”
            “When you’re fifteen, that’s ancient!” I told her.
            Saffy paused and gave the matter some thought. “Yes, I guess so. Children can be such ageists!”
            We were sitting in the waiting room of Dr Tan, our beloved dermatologist.
            “It’s such a pity he’s married,” Amanda said, dissatisfaction oozing from every pore. “All the good ones are.”
            “You’re not!” Saffy said in her most loyal tone, though we left unremarked the ambiguity of her emphasis.
            Earlier that day, Amanda had emerged from the bathroom slightly panicked. She dropped onto the couch and stuck out her left foot. “What the hell is this?” she demanded.
            Saffy approached with great caution. She bent down and peered.
            “What is that?” she asked eventually.
            Amanda sighed. “Honestly, if I knew, would I be asking?”
            Saffy bent closer to inspect the small raised lump. It had a dark centre surrounded by a circle of white. “Is it a splinter?”
            “I doubt it. Aren’t splinters normally long and not circular?”
            “Do you think it’s a planter’s wart? I just saw Dr Pimple Popper shave one off her kid’s foot!”
            “Oh, I saw that one. That kid is such a whiner!” Amanda said. “And his mother had already given him local!”
            “I was a bit disappointed that there was no pus, to be honest,” said Saffy.
            I told the girls to focus.
            “Oh, right,” Amanda sighed. “It hurts when I step on it. I think I should go see Dr Tan.”
            Saffy’s fabulous bosom rose like a soufflé. “Ooh, I’m coming with you!” she cooed.
            Which is how the three of us found ourselves sitting in our dermatologist’s waiting room looking at a wall pasted with family snapshots of Dr Tan and his wife in various holiday destinations.
            “When do they find the time to go on holidays?” Amanda murmured. “Don’t they both work?”
            “Imagine being married to a dermatologist!” Saffy said, her voice bouncing off the walls of the small waiting room.
            Amanda turned pink. “Seriously, your voice!” she hissed.
            Just then, the receptionist popped her head over the high counter. “You can go in now, Miss Amanda!”
            “Thank God!” Amanda said getting up. She pushed Saffy back down.
            “But…” Saffy began.
            “No! Stay!” Amanda barked as she disappeared into Dr Tan’s room.
            We heart muffled animated chatter.
            “She’s so bossy!” Saffy grumbled. “I was hoping I could video the procedure and put it up on YouTube and get a million views like Dr Pimple Popper! Did you see that huge comedone she extracted on that woman’s back?”
            And not for the first time, we wondered just how people can allow pimples and cysts to grow to such stupendous infected sizes before getting them looked at.
            “I mean, look at Amanda,” Saffy said with approval. “One tiny bump and she’s scheduled an emergency session with the dermatologist. That’s how you should do it!”
            Fifteen minutes later, Amanda emerged beaming. “OK, thank you, Dr Tan!” she trilled, waving and tossing her luxuriant hair in a shamelessly provocative way.
            It turned out that the lump on the foot was a benign form of wart that Dr Tan said Amanda had probably picked up off the changing room floor of the gym.
Saffy squealed. “Oh my God!”
“I told him that’s not possible since I always wear flip-flops in the gym, even in the shower. So he said maybe I picked it up from the floor at home.”
Saffy stopped at the top of the escalator. “Shut! Up!” she said. “We have warts at home?”
I begged Saffy to lower her voice.
“We better get some heavy duty Dettol on the way home for Ah Chuan to mop the floors with,” Amanda sighed. “I’m not getting another one of these wart things!”
I asked what Dr Tan did to her foot.
“Oh, he took this small blade knife thing,” Amanda said with deplorable scientific imprecision, “and he just shaved off the skin in layers like Parmesan cheese till he got to the base of the lump and there was nothing left. He has such gentle hands!”
Saffy pulled a face. “Seriously, if that doesn’t put me off eating Italian for a while, I don’t know what will!”



Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Days

I don’t know what it is. Maybe there’s something in the air, but the marriage of another friend of ours is making its way to the lawyer’s office.
            Amanda has known Margaret since their Harvard days but whilst my flatmate came back to Singapore to become the kind of high-flying lawyer you normally see in a Shonda Rimes TV show, Margaret became a housewife.
            She met Matt in the law firm where she was doing her pupillage. A month later, they were married. And before you could say ‘Real Housewives of Nassim Hill’, she’d popped out two children, left work, and was having leisurely afternoon teas with the ladies from her Pilates class.
            “What a waste of an expensive education,” my mother would always murmur whenever she bumped into Margaret’s mother at the Tanglin Club.
            Mrs Chen would wince and beg my mother not to talk about it anymore. “It just breaks my heart!” she would immediately go on, evidently unable to let go of the topic. “It’s not as if she can’t afford a full-time nanny. Matt just got a promotion at Goldman Sachs, they can afford two nannies, but Margaret says she wants to be close to her children.”
            Mother would sigh and finger her pearl necklace. “Young people have such strange ideas these days. It’s not like our time when a woman only had three choices. Become a nurse, a teacher or a housewife. Today, they can do so many things! If I had my life all over again…” Here, she would trail off, her mind wandering off into a parallel universe in which she is a gang-busting secret agent. 
            Meanwhile, Amanda has always been torn between complete envy of Margaret’s happy life ferrying the kids to tuition and swimming classes, and feeling a warmth in her belly every time she gets a letter from her bank.
            “I know money isn’t everything,” she once said as she gazed at her bank statement with the kind of love you normally associate with a puppy, “but really, it’s hard to beat have all this money come into your account every month!”
            This would lead Saffy to immediately complain to Sharyn that some people have the sensitivity of a sebaceous cyst. Ever since she’s come out about her obsession with Dr Pimple Popper, her conversations are littered with dermatological references.
            Anyway, a week or so ago, my mother rang me to tell me that Matt has been cheating on Margaret.
            “With his secretary!” she said, her voice laced with outrage and class snobbery. “Margaret found a lipstick stain on his underwear! Honestly, why is it always the secretary?”
            Perhaps it was the seduction of the handsome boss? I ventured.
            “Handsome! Who, Matt? Are you joking? He looks like a toad!”
            “A toad!” Mother insisted. She rang off to rush to Mrs Chen’s side only to find the old woman sitting in her lounge room popping open a bottle of champagne.
            Mother stood at the entrance to the living room and looked a little uncertain. “Uhm…Jane?”
            “Oh, Mei-ling!” Mrs Chen trilled. “You’re just in time to celebrate!”
            Apparently, Matt’s affair was exactly what Margaret’s mother had been praying for. “When they got married, I forced them to sign a pre-nuptial and in it, if there’s an affair and it’s followed by a divorce, that frog doesn’t get a single cent! I haven’t been this happy since Jonathan bought me that emerald necklace from Bulgari!”
            When Saffy heard all this, her impressive bosom rose in admiration. “Goodness, that’s what I call forward-planning! Who would have thought of such a thing?”
            “Apparently, all the tai-tais of District 9,” I told her.
            “It must be nice to be so rich. How is Margaret, anyway?”
            “Devastated, of course,” Amanda said. “She dropped into Matt’s office after lunch with an Old Chang Kee curry-puff for his snack and found him snacking on his secretary in the filing room!”
             “Disgusting!” Saffy pronounced. “I’ve never liked him. He has this oily, fishiness about him. Like a…a…”
            “A toad?” I ventured.
            Saffy blinked. “Well, I was going for a sardine, but I guess a toad works too. They’re both disgusting. Imagine…sacrificing her career and spending all those years raising the kids and looking after the family and he does that to her! It’s a wonder anyone wants to get married at all!”
            The last we heard, Margaret’s mother had marched her hysterical daughter straight into the office of the most expensive divorce lawyer in town and apparently, the paperwork is all done. Just like that: The end of a lifetime.

My mother says Jane Chen has invited her and a bunch of friends to a celebratory lunch at the Summer Palace.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I Wonder, Woman

I have a friend Jen. She just gave birth to her second child a year or so ago. She runs an enormously successful business. Tall and gorgeous. On Facebook, she posts pictures of cupcakes she makes for her son’s kindergarten parties. She runs a side business where she sells ceramic pots that she makes in a shed in the back of her enormous house in Nassim Hill. She and her husband show up at all the fancy parties around town looking impossibly glamourous.
            Amanda hates her with a passion.
            “That’s because you want her life and you can’t have it,” Saffy once told her. “Instead, you’re stuck in Toa Payoh Lorong One with me and Jason!”
            “Thank you for that reality check!” Amanda snapped.
            Saffy shrugged, her enormous bosom inflating helpfully. “Just keeping it real!”
            A few nights ago, Saffy and I bumped into Jen and her husband at a restaurant just as we were arriving and they were leaving.
            “We have to head out to the opening of a client’s boutique,” she said, her soft dulcet tones wafting over her Chanel No. 5. “And after that, I have to go home and bake a birthday cake for my sister.”
            Saffy turned from shamelessly admiring Jen’s six foot two Swedish banker husband to look at her. “You’re going to bake a cake at midnight?” Saffy asked in the kind of tone she normally reserves for people who say they’re about to run a marathon.
            Jen shrugged. “It’s the only time I have. I’ve been in meetings all day since eight this morning! And this dinner was with a client.”
            Later, as we settled in to read the menu, Saffy said that she really ought to hate Jen too. “But I just can’t! I love her! I really do!”
            “You are one short hair cut from turning into Ellen Degeneres!” I told her.
            Saffy giggled. “No, really. She’s just amazing. She’s our age, and she’s so incredibly successful and she does so much!”
            Of course, when we brought this up the next morning, Sharyn sniffed with all the hauteur of a heartlander working mother. “Cheh!” she huffed. “That Jen, she got two maid. You give me two maid, you think I oh-so cannot bake a cake at midnight, meh?”
            “She didn’t just bake any old cake, Shazz,” Saffy said, shoving her phone at Sharyn. “Here, look at this. She posted this on Facebook today. She baked this at two in the morning!”
            Sharyn inspected the picture of the pretty chocolate cake with tiny twirled ganache frosting. She sniffed again. “Hmm. I dohn like chocolate cake. Unless it’s Lana, but that one close shop soon, so then how?”
            My sister who went to school with Jen says women like Jen give women in general a really bad name.
            “I mean, how do you possibly live up to that kind of standard?” Michelle asked on FaceTime all the way from Sydney. “If I had two maids, I’d be at the spa all day! You know whose fault it all is? That bloody Beyoncé!”
            I blinked.
            “Oh, didn’t you see that post on Facebook? It kind of went viral for a while. It said something like ‘Beyoncé also has 24 hours in a day’, or something equally stupid. What does that mean?” Michelle went on. “Well, it means that we should all quit complaining about how busy and stressed we all are and how we have no time because Beyoncé, in the same 24 hours we complain is not enough, writes songs, records bestselling albums every two days, raises a family, does interviews, photo-shoots, runs side businesses, goes to parties, rehearses, travels for concerts, holds three hour concerts every day, holidays and just generally is Beyoncé. God, I hate her and Jen and women like them!”
Michelle sighed.  
“Well, when you put it like that…” I trailed off thinking of the two hours I’d just spent watching Dr Pimple Popper on YouTube.
“I know right?” Michelle said. “It really makes you feel so inadequate, like you’re wasting the air that could be oxygenating highly productive people like Jen!”
“And Beyoncé,” I said.
When I repeated the conversation to Saffy, she said Michelle has a point. “I really do waste so much time,” she admitted. “Just sitting on the loo takes me half an hour! And imagine if I didn’t have to commute each day! I bet Beyoncé doesn’t commute. And even if she does, she’s probably doing something productive and money making instead of reading other people’s Instagram posts like I do. Ellen Degeneres probably doesn’t waste time either,” she added.
 Amanda says she’s unfriending Jen on Facebook.