Flies were darting in and out of my mind one day. They just flew into my thoughts when I realised that there wasn’t a single fly buzzing around this hawker centre I went to for lunch in Telok Blangah with a friend. I was certain that if I took my eyes of my plate of chee cheong fun (rice sheet rolls drizzled with sweet sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds) a swarm of them would have landed, and which was why my hand was poised to swish them away. There wasn’t any. Back in Bekasi, Indonesia, fly-swatting and eating were like hand and glove. The flies would attempt to dive into the plate of food only to be met by swishing hands.

Is the absence of flies the symbol of First World country status? Conversely, is the presence of flies the definite sign of a country’s backwardness? Compare Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore. Indonesia and Philippines are not part of the First World Club, but have pockets of First World such as the central business districts and posh residential areas of Jakarta and Manila where fly-swatting is non-existence. The latter is a bona-fide member of the First World Club with its functioning justice system, sound taxation practices, high standard of living and awe-inspiring infrastructure. Adding to the list – hawker centres devoid of flies, which is a welcome respite because eating I can read my book while eating and not worry about flies sharing my bowl of noodles or plate of chee cheong fun.

But, whether First World or Third World country, flies still abound in Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore. With this kind of fly, fly-swatting isn’t as easy as wielding the handy fly swatter. The Filipino aphorism –Parang langaw na nakatuntong sa kalabaw – comes into play here, which loosely translated into English, reads “like a fly sitting on a cow”. It usually refers to people putting more importance to their functions than there really is to it. Imagine a personal assistant strutting around like the CEO of a multinational company. Or picture a mediocre journalist and her pot-boilers strutting around as if she were a journalist for The New York Times.

Such flies are not easily swatted away because they’re more devious than the commonplace flies. More often than not, fly-swatting becomes a protracted battle of duplicity – evil fly engaging in deceitful shenanigans and you deciphering his/her double-dealing ways. Take this journalist friend of mine who had to lock horns with a colleague who wanted to rise up the journalist ladder with a snap of the fingers. Nobody believed in o respected her because her idea of writing- editing was cutting-pasting texts and improving the layout meant copying the styles of other publications. Never mind what the graphic designers say – she dismissed their comments like she would brush off lint from her Mango or Zara outfit (her concept of high-fashion).

She had a way with words and her dressing as well. She twisted her words to suit her needs and played the sensual kitty gambit with miniskirts as often as possible dovetailing them with orgasmic groans while swallowing an oyster or sipping wine. She threw hissy fits and, like a petulant child, went running to the bosses with her grievances. This she did complete with Bambi eyes and the heaving of her flat bosom.

This was one fly my friend swat verbally every now and then eventually ignored. It was enervating trying to make her see the errors of her ways given her myopic view of life so, following my words of wisdom, my friend looked for the silver lining in the situation. She summed it up in two words – comic relief. My friend laughed at the irony – women have long fought to be recognised as intelligent persons and here was this social-climbing pretentious journalist turning their achievement on its head with her bosom-thrusting and lip-pouting modus operandi to get what she wanted.

My friend also saw the lesson behind it. What does one accomplish by being a fly on a cow? Is becoming a pompous cretin something to be applauded? In the case of the pretentious journalist, one walked away exhausted from the repartees that were far from witty or enlightening. My friend’s nugget of wisdom: Choose your battles and ignore the flies sitting proudly on the cows.


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