Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Bitchy Fren

Reading this article in Sunday Times set me thinking.

How often are we able to truly share in other's joys or sorrows, without any personal agenda? And on another note, how often do we share joys or sorrows with loved ones, with the sole purpose of sharing the feeling, rather than inciting a certain reaction in the person you're relating the news to?

Due to our selfish nature, most times, whenever we learn of any good news, our instinct is to relate it to ourselves and react accordingly - all the sinful emotions like pride or envy would then rear its ugly head. If we succumb to this nasty voice in our heads, we engage in cruel acts such as seemingly unintentional remarks or gestures - subtle enough to seem innocent, yet sharp enough to hurt where it matters. When the damage is done and we see the deflating joy or enthusiasm on our dear one's face, we feel a prick from our conscience, but self-righteously assure ourselves that we did not mean to hurt, while secretly feeling victorious. Or worse, there were times when we hear of bad news, and while feeling sorry for the person it happened to, we're also secretly glad that we're better off and spared of the fate.

Sad, isn't it?

I have to admit that this happens to mi, and there are times when the bitchy side of mi jus forges ahead, ignoring the voice of reason, wilfully seeking to gratify my instability caused by the news. In these instances, I find myself filled with self-loathe after that, not to mention the tremendous guilt from knowing the hurt caused. There's no way to make it up, cos once the moment's gone, you just cannot restore the joy that was there.

And yet, if I could manage to snap out of this egocentric mode and look at it from the perspective of a loved one, I could truly share in the joy or sorrow shared. This way, my dear one's joy would be doubled, or sorrow halved, from the sharing and empathy.

So, which is the win-win approach? Seems obvious isn't it?

Then why is it so hard?


Dec 11, 2005
Bosom buddies yet worlds apart
By Cheong Suk-Wai
My best friend Emilda said over the phone the other day: 'Suk, I'm pregnant again.
It will be her fourth child, and yet it seems like only yesterday that I first met this quiet Malay girl at school with whom I later pooled books and comics to run a free library for our poorer classmates.
In 1988, as I was about to leave our small Malaysian town for Singapore, we had, at her suggestion, made a pact - our second, as our first was that we would set up a law firm one day.
Millie (as everyone calls her) said then: 'No matter where we are or who we become, we must let each other know immediately whenever there's a defining moment in our lives.'
So it is that, separated by a causeway, we know of every love we've lost and found, our parents' medical histories, her kids' first words and our many hospital stays, among other turning points.
Thus far, the only time we broke our pact was on Sept 18, 1997, when she fought for her life on the operating table after delivering her first child, a boy.
That night, I woke up in a cold sweat after dreaming I had gone to her house, only to find her mother weeping. I called her home the next morning and learnt from her Mum that Millie had skirted death - just.
Strangers have mistaken us for sisters more than once. If only they knew.
Millie said it best when, on my assignment to Kuala Lumpur last year, she popped into my hotel room, took off her headscarf, sprawled on the satin-duveted bed and said: 'Ahhh, I wish I had your life.'
And I wish I had yours, I thought.
The way she sees it, I'm the glamorous one who gets paid big bucks (well, only when you consider the exchange rate) to jet about and meet movers and shakers.
The way I see it, she's the lucky one, a still-practising lawyer with a kindly husband who's a dentist and quite the handyman in doing up nicely their new RM385,000 (S$171,502) semi-detached house in the upmarket KL suburb of Ampang.
On the strength of two As in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination, Malaysia's equivalent of the O levels, she won the country's top scholarship to read law at the University of Sheffield in Britain.
I managed 10 As in the same exam, and got a place to read history at Oxford University, which I had to give up because, well, my results were apparently not enough to secure that same scholarship.
Sure, it grated. It grated when she sent me posters of Big Ben, and it grated when she wrote of eating smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches with her rich relatives in London on weekends.
So, yes, for the longest time, each of us has longed for the other's life. But, as God's sense of humour goes, what we want and what we need are two very different things indeed - and sometimes, it can cut mighty close to the bone.
I felt the sear of resentment in her voice last year when she told me that her father was dead, while my Dad, much older than her father and a tottering medical time bomb, tottered on.
When her husband wanted to put their son in a Chinese language school recently - so that, as he put it, 'he would be good in mathematics' - she huffed: 'Why should my son learn Chinese? What's so good about that school?'
I had to smile, even as my cheeks burned, that we were so comfortable with each other that she could say this to me while I was a guest in her home.
Then again, there was Hari Raya Puasa back in 1986 when, sitting on the carpet and chatting with our classmates in her house, I said blithely: 'Well, you know what they say about the Malays ...'
'What do they say about the Malays, Suk-Wai?' Millie demanded, appearing suddenly with a big tray of drinks, which she was holding over my head. Gulp.
But while blood may be thicker than anything else, one does not blow more than 20 years of friendship on a few choice remarks.
Twenty years of each tutoring the other in mathematics and Malay, egging each other on to make the school netball team, leaving home for the first time together to see the bright lights of Penang and then KL.
Today, there seems nothing to stop us from setting up that law firm we talked about every evening after our daily jogs in the town park all those years ago.
Except that she is still enduring the morning sickness I wish I had, and I am writing this column she wishes she could.
Such is life.

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