Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Meating Point

You have to watch out for karma. It’s always ready to pounce, just when you’re at your most unsuspecting and vulnerable.
            For years, Amanda has been waging a bitter war against vegetarians, sniffing at the slightest hint of a preference for green leaves instead of slabs of red meat, or cold cuts of left over roast pork.
            Whenever we’re at a restaurant and the waiter asks her if she has any dietary restrictions, her answer will be: “Yes, bad food.”
            “Why on earth would anyone prefer to eat a broccoli salad when you could be cutting into a thick juicy cut of wagyu?” she once asked the world at large as she allowed a strip of said wagyu to dissolve on her tongue. “God, isn’t this so good?”
            Saffy looked at Amanda sideways. Her ample bosom trembled like a pot of water on simmer. “I think you and that sixty dollar steak need to get a room!”
            And then one day, a few weeks ago, on a plane from Tokyo back to Singapore, Amanda, having finished her satay sticks in Business Class, fished out from her handbag a book her friend Janet had insisted she read.
            “It’s life-changing!” Janet had said a few days before, thrusting “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” into Amanda’s reluctant hands.
            “But I don’t need to read this, I have no dilemma!” Amanda had protested as she tried to push the book back at Janet, but she was no match for a hard-core TRX practitioner. Defeated, she dropped it into her voluminous Herm├Ęs Birkin and forgot all about it until she was on the plane rooting around in it for a wet-wipe. With nothing else worth reading, she settled back, turned to page one and started.
            By the time SQ631 landed in Singapore, Amanda had not only finished the book (“I’m a speed-reader,” she told a skeptical Saffy), she was literally trembling.
            The first person she called was Janet.
            “Oh. My. God!”
            Janet was smug. “I told you! Didn’t I tell you it’s life-changing?” she said in her crispest Katong Convent accent.
            “Is it all true though?” Amanda asked as she marched through immigration towards the taxi-stand. “About those poor cows and those poor chicken?”
            “Of course it is! It’s all documented! That book is why I became a vegetarian in the first place! I cried for days!”
            “But…but…isn’t the solution then to just eat organic meat?” Amanda’s mouth started watering at the idea of a steak tartare.
            “Well, that’s what I thought as well, but then my yoga teacher started telling me about how when a cow is slaughtered, they are flooded with adrenaline and fear and panic and anger and pain and it all goes into their flesh, which we then consume and it all manifests in our own emotions and behaviour!”
            “I guess that’s that then…” Amanda sniffled.
            Of course, when Sharyn heard that Amanda had decided she was going to be a vegetarian, her response was to the point. “Aiyoh, you siow, issit?”
            “Those poor cows, Shazz. You don’t…” Amanda began.
            Sharyn waved her hands. “Aiyah, you become vegetarian, how you expect people to invite you to dinner? Or-redi so difficult to cook, now must cook extra dish for you! You think I very free, issit?”
            “But your maid does all the cooking!” Amanda pointed out.
            “Yah, but I have to direct her, you know!”
            “OK, but before you totally condemn me, I want you to read this,” Amanda said as she pushed “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” across the table at Sharyn.
            Sharyn pursed her lips and looked at the book in much the same way a cow probably looks at Aston’s. “Ay, I very busy, you know…” she began uneasily.
            “Just read the first three chapters,” said Amanda in her silkiest sultry voice that has been the downfall of many a married man.
            Two days later, Sharyn announced on Facebook that she was giving up meat. She ended her announcement with “Aiyoh!”
            Saffy was astonished. “Really? Just like that? Whatever happened to all that stuff about having to cook extra dishes and stuff?”
            “For udder people! But if for myself, then OK, what! Saffy, ah, you must read dat book. The England very powderful some time, but hor, easy to read. So scary, I tell you! The poor cow and pig.”
            “And chicken!” Amanda chimed.
            “Yah, and chicken! Aiyoh, the poor chicken!”
            All of which has made Saffy extremely curious about the book. “But I can’t read it now. Bradley is taking me to Morton’s this weekend. I’ll read it after.”
            Me, I’m staying well away from the Devil’s Handbook.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What's in a Name?

One day, when I was in primary one, a new kid arrived in my class.
“Everybody,” said Miss Nam, our formidable form teacher, “you have a new classmate. His name is Eng Khong! Be nice to him!”
Over the years, I’ve often wondered why she said that. “Be nice to him.” Could she really have read us that well? Were we six-year olds already displaying sadistic tendencies to torture innocent classmates?
It didn’t help that by recess, a limerick was already spreading through the school quadrangle. The culprit was Victor, an abnormally bright kid who would grow up to be an important poet.
“Please don’t use my name,” he begged recently on Facebook Messenger. I’d just told him what my topic for this week’s column was. “I have a reputation to uphold!”
“Names will be changed to protect identities!” I assured him.
“Oh good! I’ve got a new book coming out, so I shouldn’t be associated with that kind of juvenile rhyming couplet. But you have to use Eng Khong, right?” he asked.
I stared at my screen and frowned.
“What do you mean?” I typed.
“Well, if you don’t use his real name, how is the rhyme going to work?”
I blinked. I hadn’t thought of that. I typed: “Oh, I’m sure he won’t read 8DAYS! Besides, no one’s heard from him since school!”
So, as I was saying, by lunchtime, Victor (not his real name) had come up with a limerick and we were all chanting it. Even kids from the other classes.
‘Eng Khong went to Hong Kong to play ping-pong with King Kong, and came back gong-gong!
The poor kid smiled bravely. Happily, by the second day, we’d all lost interest in the limerick because someone else had joined our class, and her name was Regina.
“Children can be such beasts!” Amanda pointed out. “And so expensive to bring up!” We were on our way to the hospital to see our friend Betina who’d just given birth to a son. There was a traffic jam on the CTE and to kill time, I told her about my column.
“Well, this is what happens when people get bored,” I said.
“Yes, but still. That poor Eng Khong!”
“Well, it was only for a week, because then Victor had come up with a limerick for Regina Hung.”
Amanda shuddered. “Don’t tell me what it was. I know what the rhymes would have been!”
“Speaking of names,” Saffy piped up, “do we know what Betina’s kid is called?”
“Something sensible, I hope,” Amanda said firmly. “I simply can’t deal with any more unusual names! I’m still getting over Billion!”
As one, the three of us groaned.
“Seriously, what was Penny thinking?” Saffy asked no one in particular.
By the time we got to the maternity ward, it was clear that half of Singapore had already dropped by Betina’s room to offer congratultions. The air that wasn’t thick with the perfume of flowers, was crowded by a cloud of congratulatory balloons.
Betina sat up in bed in a puff of white, cradling her new-born cost centre.
“How adorable!” we cooed on cue. “What’s his name?”
Betina glowed. “Lucifer!”
You could hear the air go out of the room, though Saffy later said that might have been her bosom deflating.
“Oh…,” Amanda said.
“As in Satan?” Saffy asked.
Betina’s smile stayed fixed on her face. You could tell she’d already gone through this all day. “Actually, as in ‘Shining One’!” she said stiffly.
Saffy cocked her head. “Really? Since whe – ow!”
Amanda took her elbow out of Saffy’s ribs. “Just lovely!” she said in the same soothing tone one uses to when confronted with an angry tiger in a confined space.
We couldn’t get out of that maternity ward fast enough. Not a word was uttered till we fell into the cab.
Amanda spoke first. “Oh. My. God.”
“I didn’t mishear, did I?” I asked.
Saffy sighed. “That poor kid!”
“What’s going to happen to him when he gets to school?” Amanda wondered. “He’ll be destroyed by recess. What is she thinking? She might as well have named him Adolf!”
“There should be a law against such things,” Saffy said. “That’s child abuse, is what it is!”
When we told Sharyn, she didn’t seem particularly fazed. “Why? Is nice name, what!”
“If you’re a devil worshipper!” Saffy snapped.
Sharyn waved her hands. “Aiyah, you so old fashion! Nobody know what Lucifer mean, lah! Anyway, she is Buddhist, right? Can, lah!”
“Better than Eng Khong, right?”



Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Wong Turn

They say – and by ‘they’, I mean, of course, Saffy – that you never really know someone till you’ve travelled with them or actually lived with them.
            “It’s so true,” she insisted the other day.
We were having afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton. Barney Chen held us up for a good five minutes as he insisted on Instagramming all the food that arrived at our table.
            “Oh, seriously, who cares?” Amanda sighed. “You have, like, fifty followers!”
            “Yes, but those fifty are influencers!” Barney rumbled, his ridiculously large biceps rolling under his tight teeshirt as he fiddled with the filters on his phone.
            “They got take antibiotic or not?” Sharyn asked through a mouthful of chocolate cake.
            Influencers, Shazz, not influenza!” said Saffy, who is fluent in Sharyn-speak.
            “Oh, issit?” Sharyn continued munching, the living embodiment of bo-chap. 
            “Anyway, as I was saying,” Saffy continued, her bosom inflating as it warmed up to the theme, “do you remember Betty Wong?”
            Amanda frowned. “Why does that name sound so familiar?”
            “She was Saffy’s best friend before she met us,” I told her.
            “That’s the one,” Saffy said. “We were inseparable! We did everything together. Well, everything except conceive a child!”
            “Aiyoh!” Sharyn coughed up some chocolate crumbs into her napkin.
            One year, to celebrate her birthday, Betty invited a group of friends, including Saffy, to Bangkok. Due to a combination of budget, room availability and the sheer need of some women to talk through the night, Betty ended up sharing a room with Saffy.
            “We were in Bangkok for four days and Betty brought one pair of panties!” Saffy announced in ringing tones that caused the passing waiter to pause and cock his head in our direction.
            “Oh,” Amanda said.
            “And she didn’t wash it every night either!” Saffy added, anxious that everyone was clear about the point of her story.
            “Yes, yes, we get it!” Amanda snapped, as Sharyn put down her smoked salmon finger sandwich and pushed the plate away.
            “And at the end of the trip,” Saffy went on, “she cut out a triangular patch from, you know, the front of those panties, and wrapped them up separately in newspaper. She threw one in the hotel bathroom bin and one in a bin outside the Boots chemist in Sukhumvit! Can you imagine?” she wondered aloud.
            “Why are you telling us this truly vile story?” Amanda asked.
            “Well, all that time I hung out with her, I had no idea!”
            “To be fair, no one would!” I told her.
            “We came back to Singapore and I stopped talking to her!”
            “Aiyah, you so siew hey! Liddat oh-so can stop talking to someone! Give chance, mah!”
            “I moved offices because of Betty. It’s how I ended up at Ong, Yi & Wu and met you! All of you, in fact!”
            “Oh, issit?” Sharyn turned pink with pleasure. “Aiyah, I good luck, lor!”
            “Well, in that case,” Barney said, raising his flute of champagne, “let’s drink a toast to Betty Wong and her Cut Up Panties!”
            “Yes, cheers!” Saffy said. “Actually, doesn’t that sound like the title of a Nancy Drew novel?”
            They also say that the universe moves in mysterious ways. A few days later, Saffy received a Facebook message from none other than Betty Wong.
            “Oh. My. God!” Saffy moaned. “How is this possible?”
            Barney said this is what happens when you talk about someone. “Karma knows!” he said, his voice rumbling like a landslide.
            “She said she’s been out of touch because she moved to Los Angeles and now she’s moving back to Singapore and wants to reconnect! Seriously? Isn’t that a bit rude?”
            “I want to meet her!” I said. “She sounds like good material for my column!”
            Saffy gave me a baleful glare. “She’s gonna give you plenty of material because she wants to stay with us for a week while she sorts out her new flat!”
            When she heard about it, Amanda put her foot down. “Absolutely not! If she doesn’t wash her panties for four days, imagine what else she doesn’t wash!”
            Saffy began to say that it can’t get much worse than unwashed panties when she caught Amanda’s knowing eye, and her slow-moving panicked brain finally caught up. ‘Oh. Ewwww!”
            “Tell her my parents are here, so the guest room is taken,” Amanda instructed.
            “She’ll probably say she can sleep on the couch,” Saffy moaned.
            Which, as it turns out, is exactly what happened. Amanda says no one is sleeping on the couch. “She can sleep with you in your room!”
            Saffy says she’s never been so stressed in her life.
            “Wait till day four,” I suggested.