The other night, our friend Jodie invited us to her home for yet another Chinese New Year dinner.
“Are you sick of lo hei, yet?” she’d asked earlier on the phone.
“I’ve had 12 so far,” Amanda told her.
“I’ve had 33!”
There was a brief silence as Amanda struggled to wonder if she’d misheard. “Thirty-three?” she said eventually. “How can you have had 33 lo hei? This is only like the fifth day of Chinese New Year!”
“Oh, I started about two weeks before and as we approached the New Year, I had it for lunch and dinner with the family and my clients.”
“Thirty-three?” Saffy said when Amanda told her.
“She’s so competitive! Just like at Uni!”
“I feel sick just thinking about all that sweet sauce!”
“Which is why tonight’s version is going to be Indonesian!” Amanda said. “She’s basically doing a gado-gado.”
Saffy blinked. “And what’s she using for the fish?”
“It’s going to be cooked, right?” I asked. “Because I’m not eating raw spiced mackerel!”
“She said she’s just unpacking the whole thing from the banana leaf.”
Saffy shrugged. “That’s just weird, but whatever. She just shouldn’t call it lo hei or Instagram us tossing,” she warned. “Can you imagine how that would look? All those great chunks of tofu and otah-otah flying up in the air? I don’t want to become a viral sensation for all the wrong reasons!”
Screaming with laughter at the image, we piled into a cab and zoomed towards Jodie’s apartment at Peach Garden.
“God, that Jodie is such a China Doll,” Saffy said. “Even her condo sounds like a restaurant.”
When we arrived at the guard-house, Amanda poked her head out the window to announce who we were there to see. She hadn’t even opened her mouth when the security guard waved us through, leading Saffy to wonder if this sort of thing would also happen if we’d dropped by the Istana for lo hei with the President.
“The same thing happened to me the other day when I visited Shaun’s mother, do you remember?” Amanda said as the taxi pulled up at Jodie’s block. “I don’t think the guard even looked up from his phone. I mean, I could have been a robber for all he knew! He just happily waved me through.”
“Well, you’re in top-to-toe Chanel. You don’t exactly look like a robber,” Saffy pointed out, though I couldn’t help but think neither did the girls from Ocean’s 8.
Amanda turned pink with pleasure that someone had noticed what she was wearing. “You know what the problem is? Singapore is just too safe! Which makes me wonder why anyone bothers with security guards anyway.”
“So that retirees have something to do!” said Saffy, HR executive to the Nation.
“I mean, who would be stupid enough to commit a crime in this country?” Amanda went on, warming to her theme, though as Saffy later said privately, you could tell she was mentally role-playing her favourite fantasy as a PAP minister on the campaign trail. “You’d be tracked down, charged and jailed before you even had a chance to put your bag down to count your stolen cash!”
When we finally made it up to Jodie’s apartment, she said that after years of living in New York and being regularly terrified on her way home from work at night, she fully intended to live out the rest of her life in this country, secure in the knowledge that probably the most dangerous thing that would ever happen to her would be to go through an ERP gantry without enough money in her Cashcard.
“So, did you read about that Go-Jek driver?” she asked as she carefully assembled her gado-gado loh-hei, which she’d since renamed galoh-gahei. “I’m telling you, this dish could fund my retirement. It’s just a question of clever marketing!”
“What about the Go-Jek driver?” Amanda interrupted. “You mean that girl and the ERP?”
“Yes! Did you see the video and how she was yelling that she was being kidnapped?”
“Hadn’t the driver brought her to the police station or something?” Amanda said, surprising us all with the depth of her knowledge of Singapore current affairs.
“Only in Singapore,” Jodie said, in the solemn tone of a BBC newsreader announcing the birth of a new heir to the throne, “can you be kidnapped and the kidnapper brings you straight to the police station so that you can file a complaint!”
Amanda giggled while Saffy’s bosom inflated. “You see, that’s the kind of viral sensation you don’t want to be involved in!