Sunday, December 31, 2017

Face Off

In the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda, we are all still reeling from the brave new world of Instagram.
            “Why did we not get on this earlier?” Amanda marveled the other day at brunch at the Ritz-Carlton as she slowly scrolled through @thegarrettswann. He’s part of the new generation of silver fox models – cute, well-built guys with white hair who look old because of their white hair, but aren’t actually old. Like Anderson Cooper. Apparently, there’s a huge market for guys like that. “Goodness, he’s lovely,” Amanda murmured.
            Saffy lifted her eyes from her phone and looked at Amanda sideways. “Would you like us to leave the room?”
            “No, really, look at this shot!” Amanda thrust her phone at Saffy. “And this is him with clothes on! Why do I never meet men like him?”
            Saffy gave Garrett the benefit of her attention. Her lips pursed. “Yes, I see the attraction,” she conceded. “But he looks like he has more skincare products than a woman. Do you really want to be with a guy who’s actually higher maintenance than you?”
            “Well, I don’t necessarily want to be in a long-term relationship with him,” Amanda told her. “A short-term fling is perfectly acceptable to me. Just to see what the fuss is all about.”
            From the other end of the table, Barney Chen said silver foxes are overrated. “I knew this model once? Had the whole Anderson Cooper look going on. He said it really was hard work. Turns out he’s a natural brunette, so he had to spend hours dying not just the head on his hair, but also his chest hair and his Australian hair! Can you imagine?”
            “Really? Isn’t that, like a lot of work?” Amanda asked.
            Barney growled. “Can you imagine?”
            “Yah, Australian very han-sum! I oh-so like!” Sharyn piped up, as she struggled with the shells on her prawns. You could tell she was anxious not to be left out of the conversation.
            Barney frowned. “Matt isn’t Australian. He’s German.”
            Sharyn paused in her deshelling and looked up at Barney over the top of her thick spectacles. “Then why he have Australian hair?”
            Saffy leaned in and whispered into her ear. Sharyn turned pink. “Aiyoh! That is called Australian hair, meh?”
            Barney shrugged. “That’s what I call it. Cause it’s Down Under? Get it?”
            “Eeee, like that oh-so can dye, ah?”
            “That’s why it’s a lot of work,” Barney told her.
            “Wah lau!”
            “Well, I for one, am still unable to tear myself away from watching Dr Sandra Lee!” Saffy said. “I was so worried that giving up Facebook would mean I couldn’t watch any more pimple pops, but here she is multi-tasking like a true blue Singaporean on Instagram!”
            There was a collective sigh around the table.
            “I love her,” Amanda moaned.
            “I start each day watching one of her clips while eating my muesli,” Barney said, his voice booming like boulders falling from a great height. “I’ve had a lot of one-night stands walk out on me because of that, but I don’t care. She’s way up there with Wonder Woman!”
            A few days later, out of sheer curiosity, I logged onto Facebook to see what everyone was up to. As I reported to Saffy, it was dire.
            “All that moaning and complaining!” I said.
            Saffy rolled her eyes. “Ugh. I checked in too. First thing I saw was Hilda’s post. Did you see it? She took screen shots of conversations she has with guys on Tinder and she and her friends were all laughing at how ugly and delusional they all are.”
            “Which one is Hilda?” Amanda asked.
            “The one with the big mole on her forehead.”
            Amanda raised an eyebrow.
            “I know,” Saffy said grimly. “Pot, please meet kettle!”
            “People can be so cruel,” Amanda said piously. As I later said to Barney, my eyes were rolling so far back, you could probably only see the whites.
            “Speaking of,” he growled, “did you see Kim’s Instagram posts of the fabulous white dress she had on after the Met Ball?”
            “Kim who?”
            My sister says it’s a strange world we live in when we’re literally on first names terms with Hollywood celebrities.
            “You need to be on Instagram!” I told her.
            “I know,” Michelle said. “My Facebook wall has become such a hostile environment. Every other post is of someone bitching about something or someone!”
            “Here,” I said, reaching for her phone. “Let me introduce you to Instagram and Garrett.”


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Talent Time

I’m not one to put myself down about anything. I’ve always been kind of lazy that way.
            When I was growing up, my mother did her best to instill a sense of competition in us. When my brother Jack came home with a medal for coming second in the school’s 200m race, she asked who came first. The one time I scored 91 percent in my science exam – a real fluke considering I was normally hovering around the 60 percent mark for science – she pursed her lips and wondered aloud how I could possibly have missed the other nine percent. And when my sister Michelle got into Yale, her second choice after Harvard, Mother told all her mahjong kaki that Yale must have been really scrapping the bottom of the barrel that year.
            Some people might think of this as child abuse at the very least – my sister being one of those people – but I’ve always thought Mother’s unique method of child rearing gave me a very real sense of my capabilities. I never grew up with any crazy idea that I was ever any good anything. All of which meant that when I was first yelled at by my boss, I barely blinked. After years of being subtly told that I was an underperformer, I was bullet proof against a tirade from my boss about my incompetence.
            “I totally see your point,” Amanda said the other day at lunch. “You should see some of the juniors in our office. I mean, they don’t even qualify as strawberries. We have this Cambridge grad in my team? I asked him to redraft a contract because it had too many badly drafted clauses and he literally threw the contract back at me and walked straight to HR to complain that I was being unprofessional and a bully!”
            Sharyn put down her chopsticks and pushed her thick spectacles up her nose. “Yah, the young ones today, hor, cannot make it! Any ting go wrong, sure complain, one! My time, hor, kena boss scold and scold! Got one time, hor, scold until I cry, ah! But dat’s how you become better, mah! How can I manja you twenty four seven, I ask you?”
            “You can’t!” Amanda told her firmly. “If someone isn’t any good at their job, they need to be told and they should just accept it, or resign. It’s that simple. I honestly don’t have time to be dealing with your mother issues and over-inflated sense of importance!”
            Sharyn’s head bobbed and down, her chopsticks pointing at Amanda. “Yah, what she say!”
            And then you have people like my friend James Fung. The nicest guy to ever walk the planet, and also the most accomplished. He’s the founding partner of a huge engineering firm in Singapore. At any given time, he’s working on a dozen huge projects around the world. He works all day and yet, somehow, he has time to paint, sculpt, write big fat books, stage exhibitions of his huge canvases, and watch more TV than I do.
            “How are you doing all this?” I once asked him, very aware that there was a plaintive, almost distressed quaver in my voice. “I think it’s a major accomplishment if I get out of bed in the morning!”
            James shrugged. “You’ve got 24 hours in a day. There’s plenty of time! Just sleep less! I only sleep eight hours these days.”
            “Eight?” Saffy said later. “He sleeps eight hours? And he does all that extra stuff in what…” She paused to work out the maths in her head, “sixteen hours?”
            “Sometimes he goes home for a half hour nap!” I told her. “And he also has a personal trainer come over every day for an hour!”
            Saffy frowned. “So, what, that leaves him…five hours?” she asked, demonstrating once again her unrivalled ability to do mental arithmetic.
            “Don’t forget he travels like four times a month to Europe and America for meetings. He told me he works on his artwork on the plane in between watching entire seasons of ‘Friends’ and ‘24 Legacy’!
Saffy pursed her lips in dissatisfaction. “You know, normally I would just hate someone like him, but he’s just such a nice guy…and he’s Henry Cavill-cute too, don’t you think?”
            “I would marry him in a second!” Amanda sighed.
            “And rich, hor,” Sharyn added. “Don’t forget he oh-so very rich!”
            My sister Michelle says sometimes you don’t have to look very far to find evidence that life is a rigged game.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Working Class

Sometimes when I’m bored, I fantasize about what it’s like to have a billion dollars. Like…what does a billion dollars even look like? How many rooms would it fill? More to the point, what does a billion dollars smell like?
            “Haven’t we already had this conversation?” Amanda asked the other day.
            “Many times,” I told her. “But it never gets old. I mean, seriously, if you had a billion dollars in your bank account, what would you do?”
            Amanda cocked her head and gave the matter some thought. Eventually, she asked, “Is that US dollars or can we have it in pound sterling? Because the pound is worth so much more.”
            In the real world, I’d cross the road for a twenty-cent discount, but in my fantasy world where I have a billion dollars, I’m nothing if not generous. “Oh, take the pound sterling!” I said generously.
            Amanda sighed as she contemplated her life as a billionaire. “I wonder if I’d still be working. What would be the motivation? What would be the point?” she asked the world at large. “Maybe I’d just get on a mega-ass yacht and sail away for a year or until I get bored, whichever happens first.”
            “I’d set up that old auntie who clears dishes down at the hawker centre with a nice little flat in Orchard Road,” I mused.
            Amanda blinked. “Oh…you’re going to do the whole good deeds thing?”
            “Well, I wouldn’t be doing it personally,” I said. “All that paperwork would just kill me. No. I’d set up an office, give them some money and get them to do it. I could even hire Sharyn on some ridiculous CEO salary and put her in charge. She loves organizing people and bossing them around.”
            When we told Sharyn about her new fantasy job, she was immediately on-board. “Yah, yah! I very good at dis sort of ting. But you must oh-so give me CPF, hor! And company car!” she added with a desperate flourish.
            “Whatever you need, Shazz!” I said. “And I’ll send your kids to Oxford, too!”
            Sharyn glowed at her good fortune.
            Unfortunately, word of my generosity got back to Saffy and she was immensely put out. “Excuse me, but can you please find someone else to be generous to? She’s my best friend!”
            I shrugged. “Fine, I’ll put someone else on my huge payroll then. And while I’m at it, I might build a whole bunch of super fancy retirement homes for old people around Singapore. I’ll get Frank Gehry to design them, and Nate Berkus to do the furnishings! And maybe I’ll have Nobu do the catering!”
            Sharyn sighed. “Wah, liddat I oh-so want to get old, ah!”
            Saffy screwed up her nose and went back to her list of things she’d do if she had a billion dollars. After a week, she only had one thing on her list: Quit job.
            “I can’t think of anything else!” she moaned to her friend Ching. “I’m having such a mental block!”
            “I so know what you mean!” Ching said, putting down her cup of tea. The overhead light sparked off her twenty-carat Tiffany’s diamond ring. “I’ve just left my job at Ernst and I have no idea what I’m going to do next!”
            Saffy paused and stared. “Wait, what? You worked at Ernst?”
            Ching blinked.
            “Since when?” Saffy pressed.
            “Saffy, I’ve been with Ernst for the past 15 years!”
            “Wait. All this time I’ve known you, you’ve been working? As what?”
            Ching frowned. “Um, an auditor?”
            Saffy leaned in. “Seriously? How has this never come up?”
Now it was Ching’s turn to think. “Huh. I guess you’re right. We’ve never talked about my job. We’re usually moaning about men!”
“But you’re rich!” Saffy said. “Your father owns two banks in Indonesia and your mother owns three islands! I’ve seen your holiday home in Switzerland on Instagram! And all this time you’ve been an accountant?”
“Same thing,” Saffy said flatly. “Honestly, I am in shock.”
            That evening, it was all Saffy could talk about. “I mean, she is literally a billionaire and every day she went to the office to work as an accountant! How much could she have been earning for all that stress?”
            “I oh so say,” said Sharyn.
            Amanda rolled her eyes. “I think the bigger question is how you can be such good friends with someone for 15 years and not know what she does for a living?”
            Saffy turned to Sharyn. “Wait, are you a secret billionairess?”
            “Yah, so secret I live in a five room HDB! Siow, lah!”