Once, when she was a child, my sister said she wanted to travel the world like our parents.
I remember Mother smiling indulgently. “Oh, my dear. You have to grow up and go to school and study!” she said. “Then you have to become a doctor and work really hard and make lots of money. When you retire, then you can travel!”
It was just the sort of thing you can’t un-hear and it sticks in your mind and years later, it’s still a subject that comes up every so often during Michelle’s therapy sessions.
“My therapist says my inability to relax and let go can be traced to that conversation,” Michelle sighed recently on FaceTime. “She says it explains why I’m always pushing myself and feel so much guilt when I’m on holiday. I am not giving myself permission to enjoy my down-time because apparently, I feel like I don’t deserve the moment.”
I stared at my phone. “What, so when you retire at 65, suddenly, you will get that permission and you’ll become less uptight about having fun?”
Michelle stiffened. “We don’t use the word ‘uptight’ in therapy!”
When I recounted the conversation to Amanda, she said it’s such a typical Asian parent thing to say to their kids. “My dad said the exact same thing to me that one time I was in university and I wanted to come home to Singapore for the holidays. He said I was so spoilt and that I should just stay put and study for the next semester’s courses.”
“Oh. My. God,” Saffy sighed. “My mother said the exact same thing, too! What, is there some guidebook out there that Asian parents read about what to say to their kids?”
“He said I would have plenty of time to travel when I retire!” Amanda went on. “Exactly what Jason’s mum said!”
Saffy’s bosom inflated. “You see, that’s the sort of thing that qualifies as fake news. If people said that sort of rubbish today, they’d be arrested!”
Apparently, Amanda told her father that if she waited till she was 65 to travel, she’d be lucky if she was able to lift her cabin luggage into the overhead compartment.
“You’d be lucky if you’re still alive at 65!” said Saffy, whose Uncle Max literally dropped dead on his 64th birthday while walking from his bed to the bathroom. To hear Saffy tell it, it was the sort of thing that made you want to cash in your CPF and blow it all on a First-Class round-the-world trip.
“I mean, he died on his birthday! I can’t even imagine it!” Saffy’s bosom inflated. “He woke up and thought to himself, ‘Happy birthday to me! I wonder what presents I’ve got waiting for me downstairs. But let me pee first’, and literally 10 seconds later, he’s face-planted on the floor!”
“What a crappy birthday present,” Amanda said, shaking her head.
“Well, his wife said the upside is that he didn’t linger and suffer from some malignant disease that took years to finish him off,” Saffy said. She paused and gave the matter some thought. “She really is a glass-half-full kind of person. It’s not the kind of thing I would ever have thought of.”
For Amanda, the moral of the story is, have fun now because you never know —tomorrow, you might be stuffed into a coffin.
“If you want to have an affair, have an affair!” she said airily to Sharyn who turned goggle-eyes at her.
“If you want to go on that cruise to Spain, go now!” Amanda went on. “Don’t wait till you’re retired. Your hips may have given out by then!”
Sharyn looked unconvinced. “Yah, but if I spend all my mah-ney now, and then when I’m ninety-tree and I’m still alive and by den, I got no more money, then how? Next week, my mudder turn 99 and my fah-der is 94, so proh-blee I oh-so got same gene!”
Amanda pursed her lips. “When you’re 99, there’s no way you would be able to travel, so, either way, you should travel now!”
Sharyn drew in a breath. “Yah hor! You are right. Should travel now. And if I spend all my money and I am still alive at 99, I come live with you lah, Saffy!”
“I wouldn’t count on it, Shazz,” Saffy replied. “I’ve got no money now, so I can’t imagine where I’ll be living at 99. Maybe I’ll be living with you, Amanda!”
Saffy later said the look of panic on Amanda’s face was priceless.