Certain of the women on the balconies above struck languorous poses, or stretched out a slender leg as if to straighten a stocking. One idly lifted her skirt as if to check that her underwear was all in order (alas, she appeared to have forgotten it altogether); another forced a breast to bulge out of its hiding and palped it thoughtfully. The Singapore Grip, J.G. Farrell (1978)
Another great book, immensely amusing and informative about the Singapore of old, set in the era of the fall of Singapore.
The lady on the balcony sans culottes is the first mention I'd heard of that great Singapore tradition, the Sarong Party Girl. Girl wears only a sarong, likes to party, geddit?
The latest incarnation, my flatmate for the past two years or so, is Isabella, Izzy, MissIzzy, or often Bella. She was blogging her sexual exploits (pretty tame actually, but outstandingly brazen for a then 17 year old Singaporean girl) under the SPG moniker back in 2004, maybe earlier. She was getting squizillions of hits during those 'grand old days of blogging' (four or five years ago). I once put up a photo showing her with mrbrown and a few other local bloggers and it was mentioned in a local forum and before you know it I had 2,500 hits for that one post (nearly 400 unique visitors for just one day!) My previous high was around 100.
For a while there Izzy was quite notorious, world famous in Singapore to coin a phrase, creating controversy over posting topless photos of herself (artistic ones, taken by her boyfriend), much to the horror of many other female bloggers, such as XiaXue and Singaporeans in general. She was on TV debating her mid-pacific accent, she was in the papers, she was temporarily writing the sex-column for FHM at 18, she was pretty much everywhere. Then it all died down. She was getting harassed by commentors on the PG site and decided enough was enough.
She started publishing in other blogs for a while, first the now defunct MissIzzy site, then most recently another blog for her semi-philosophical geekery or art related stuff but in the past few months she has needed publicity again in order to gain a new-generation of readers, and maybe some more paid writing stints. So she started blogging about her sex-life again in a new incarnation of the old SPG site.
Any blog-posts of hers that mention me are not sexual in nature BTW!
It was mid 2007, maybe closer to early 2008, while she was breaking up from her long-term relationship that she needed a place to crash for a while. Ex-blogger(joking) Indy actually suggested she give me a call, and in a trice she was at the door of my 1800sqft (including window-sills) palace pleading with those big eyes... This was not long after the photo below was taken at WalaWala in Holland Village, but I can't be sure.
What could I do? The Mouse (my maid) had left, so I did have TWO spare rooms. Couldn't say no, could I? That crash turned into quite a long while indeed. But there have been no regrets.
We've had some great times in those years, chatting on about nothing and everything from David Foster Wallace to religious history, atheism and political theory. This was usually best after Izzy's spaghetti or something I'd brewed up and a few glasses of nice red wine. That's when the opinions flow. That's when we'd laugh and get all serious, and she'd lean forward and say softly, "What?" She had trouble with my accent you see. And I'd repeat what I clearly enunciated previously. Then when she'd speak, I'd nod my head, smile and say to myself "What?" because I had trouble with her (infamous) accent as well, but I'd usually let her go on. (It's a habit I've developed over the years living in Asia, trying not to interrupt. Making people repeat themselves in a work situation eventually will generate some tension/resentment.) At home though, at the end I'd often say to Izzy, "I'm sorry but I have no idea what you just said."
Our social lives have been pretty much separate, though we've had lots of boozy nights with Indy and others of my friends and unsteady breakfasts ditto, either in (I taught her about Vegemite for hangovers!) or out, often at Epicirious on Robertson. Mostly she'd be pool-partying on KM8 on Sentosa, then carry on at some club with whatever 6-packed geek she could find, I'd be overseas. Watching FTV.
I think what she appreciated about me, and why we never even had a disagreement, let alone an argument, is that I never judged her or indeed made any indication that I was negative about what she was up to. None of my business. She was a big girl at the time she moved in, 21 or so. Heck, I was married with a kid by that age; don't you think I wish I could have let my hair down then instead of changing nappies, etc...? Whatever.
Live your life, have fun, have sex, just don't scare the animals and don't leave any indelible stains the Persian rug. And I'll call with a five minute warning when I am on the way home from the airport... (She didn't always pick-up in time.)
And of course, as readers would have gathered over the years, I couldn't be holding myself up as a paragon of traditional sexual values, so I knew I was in no position to judge. We talked about her history of escort services (she's mildly disguised in a chapter of Gerry Lim's Invisible Trade II - that's her on the cover), and I asked if she thought I should try it myself! She laughed and told me not to waste my money! She did try to get me onto OKcupid and start internet
In a recent post about her imminent plan to go overseas, postponed until after a hastily planned trip to Thailand and new tattoo, she thanked me "for being the dad [she] never had." Awww. Father figures, young girls... hey, stop right there!
(Her family background is interesting. Best not to speak. At least I think that was dad's rule to himself. But let's not get all Freudian here!)
She'd come and go at all hours, and I'd come and go weeks at a time. Often as not she had the place to herself. Her family were supplementing her income while she was at Uni doing her design/animation courses (I was never clear on what Degree she finally obtained) and life seemed to be for the best in this best of all possible worlds.
But when her degree was finished the parental ATM seized up and for the last few months she has been looking around for a replacement to that income. Nothing really worthwhile seems to have come in that didn't involve sleazy but rich business travelers...
Naturally I was too nice a guy to kick her out... And no, still no "rent money".
So the day has arrived. Isabella has flown off to Holland. Her platonic (not gay either) buddy took her to the airport about 3 hours ago.
She has left Singapore, as all young Singaporeans should do, at least they should for a while. But she hopes to have left it for a seriously long time.
I wish her the best of times out of this, not quite the best of all possible countries.