Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Eh Poh Nim Crosses Proverbs

The Star, 16 November 2005

It is a slow day at work for Eh Poh Nim. This being a Friday sandwiched between a public holiday and the weekend, several of her colleagues had taken the day off.

She stifles a yawn but upon seeing Paul from Sales Department approaching her desk, she makes a big show of it.

“Hi, Ms. Eh. How are you? Rather quiet here today, isn’t it? I bought some cheese buns from the bakery downstairs. Have some.” Paul hands over a plastic bag with two buns in it.

“Thanks. The cheese looks rather burnt, don’t you think,” Eh Poh Nim says as she scrutinizes the bread.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Paul winks at her as if they were the best of friends.

“Sorry. I shouldn’t question the value of the gift. Do you know the meaning of the proverb, beware of Greeks bearing gifts?”

“Don’t trust enemies who bring gifts because they may be playing tricks. But I’m not your enemy, Ms. Eh. Don’t be so suspicious.”

Eh Poh Nim gives herself a mental talking-to. Paul’s right. Though he’s as phony as a counterfeit bill, he’s hardly an enemy. She decides to change the subject.

“You look smart today. New shirt?”

“You noticed,” he sounds pleased. “Looking smart is one way of getting up the corporate ladder. As they say, clothes make the man.”

“Someone also said clothes do not make a man. Surely you’ve heard of the proverb, don’t judge a book by its cover?”

Paul wrinkles up his nose as if he has smelled something distasteful. “Are we having a lesson in proverbs here? You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

“One should never be too old to learn, Paul. Knowledge is power.”

“And ignorance is bliss. Just kidding. You’re right. Speaking of knowledge, I was wondering if you could let me have a set of your seminar material,” Paul says.

Aha! That’s what the cheese buns are for. Eh Poh Nim asks sweetly, “Which one?”

“The negotiating seminar you attended last week.”

“Oh, that one. I lent the file to my sister and she’s taken it to Singapore for bedtime reading. She’s on work assignment and won’t be back until a fortnight later.”

“It’s okay. Good things come to those who wait,” Paul says.

“It’s the early bird that gets the worm.” Eh Poh Nim bites into a cheese bun and can’t help thinking that the dry squiggly cheese bits look like worms.

“So your sister will be away for a fortnight huh? Is it a case of out of sight, out of mind for you?”

“On the contrary. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. When she’s around, we argue a lot. But when she’s away, I miss her. I suppose sometimes familiarity breeds contempt.”

There’s no reply from Paul who’s staring intently at Eh Poh Nim.

“What are you staring at? Is there a crumb on my face or something?” she asks.

“I just realized that we’d been crossing swords with each other the whole afternoon.”

“You mean the dueling proverbs?” she asks nonchalantly.

“That’s right. I say a proverb and you mention another which is contradictory to it. Okay, let’s see how good you are at this. What’s the opposite of look before you leap?”

“That’s easy : He who hesitates is lost.”

“How about empty vessels make the most noise?”

Eh Poh Nim stops munching on the bun and wrinkles up her forehead.

“Tough, isn’t it? Even I don’t know the answer to that one,” Paul says with a smirk.

“I know! The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

“You made that up! I’ve never heard of this proverb.”

“I can prove it to you. Come over here.” Eh Poh Nim beckons Paul over to her side of the table. She pulls out her computer keyboard from underneath the desk and clicks on Internet Explorer. Then she googles the phrase “squeaky wheel gets the grease proverb.” She clicks on a result and scrolls down the list to the squeaky wheel.

“This website has a list of contradictory proverbs,” she says.

Sure enough, it’s there as a contradictory proverb to “a hollow pot makes the most noise.”

“Admit it, Paul, I’m right.”

“You’re quite smart, Eh Poh Nim. How about if I buy you a drink after work today? Birds of a feather flock together.” And he winks at her again.

“Thanks but no thanks. For me, opposites attract. I can’t stand it if my companion is as smart as I am,” she says with a straight face.

“Never mind. Remember to lend me those notes when your sister returns from Singapore, okay?” Paul says as he walks away.

Eh Poh Nim heaves a sigh of relief. She hopes he doesn’t ask her out again. It’s her policy not to date a co-worker. Especially not Triple P : Phony Pompous Paul.

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