been a competitive sport, the shelves in my house would be heaving under the weight of trophies. It’s true! Given the bonafide introvert I am, observing the world keenly from inside my bubble of solitude has always been my schtick, perfected with years of practice starting with those long train journeys my family took during school holidays when I’d keep myself endlessly entertained while my sister and parents nodded off as soon as the train moved.
Between looking out the window and reading or pretending to read, I’d scrutinize fellow passengers, examining their face, expression, posture, hairstyle, attire, demeanour, language, idiosyncrasies, almost anything I could see, hear, smell or touch and build colourful profiles in my mind and fine tune them as I gathered more information. If someone snacked, I’d take a peek at what they were eating, if someone spoke I’d try to discern the accent or diction, if someone read, well, you can tell a lot from the kind of book/magazine a person reads. By the time my parents woke I could single out the person most likely to be trusted with our bags while we took a trip to the toilet.
It wasn’t just entertaining and edifying (from a sociological perspective) but a great way to feed a curious mind. It still is.
Replace the stifling railway cabins with university dorms, doctor’s chamber, social gatherings, long queues at taxi stands and now cafes – my venue of choice for practicing flânerie with all the flair it deserves.
This is where I must tip my hat to the French for coining a word for ‘sauntering aimlessly’ but (mind you!) not mindlessly and thank early 19th century flâneur writers such as Balzac and Zola who strolled the grand boulevards of Paris actively observing passersby for raising a seemingly frivolous practice of ‘people watching’, the prerogative of the indolent, up the lexicographical and social ladder to an art form even.
And to cultivate this pursuit in the same spirit, this 21st century denizen has picked up sketchbooks, pens, watercolours, crayons and what not. Observing manners and mores of people can be amusing but immortalising them in drawings is certainly more gratifying. All these drawings done on location capture fleeting moments that I, the flaneuse had witnessed on several occasions over the last month.
(L) This old man had ordered an incredible number of pastries which he finished at lightening speed before his wife ambled into the cafe. All she saw was a cup of coffee on the table. (R) My husband reading on his kindle while I was drawing.
(L) This bald guy in green had a very difficult discussion with the woman sitting opposite him. After she stormed out, he looked extremely despondent.
These three guys who I drew around my husband (to keep him company on the page) were having a heated political discussion about the relation between China and Hong Kong.
(L) This old guy wearing very colourful clothes and a funky hairstyle with spikes seemed like someone who did not want to age at all.
(L) A little girl making her daddy feed her soft toy before she agrees to take a bite! (R) My husband reading a Jo Nesbo thriller.
(R) A Starbucks employee on a cigarette break. He looked exhausted and seemed to be contemplating something.
(L) A studious guy with the most innocent smile had three fingers missing from his left hand, but he couldn’t care less. (R) From his formal attire, this guy looked like someone straight from work winding down at the cafe. He was tapping really hard on his phone screen.
Two intense gamers who looked liked they were in a serious relationship
(L) I couldn’t hear what she was saying but whatever it was, she was saying it with plenty of gusto. Don’t miss the clenched fist!
(R) The cafe I walked into had at least 30 people plugged in to their laptops, tapping away at the keyboard with a drink on the side. They looked like corporate clones.
This guy had really tiny hands which seemed to have a life of their own. His audience (whom I didn’t get to draw) were at the receiving end of his frantic gesticulations.
(R) The girl was reading, writing, consulting a book, listening to music, checking her phone drinking latte all at the same time.
She said : “So if I die, you get 2 million?”. He said, “..Yes, that’s right, in Singapore dollars”.
Spied upon two guys with pompous hairstyles. They had an incredible number of wires coming out of their various devices.
She threw away every bit of trash on her table into the garbage can and wiped the table clean before leaving. It says a lot about the person.
(L) This hip grandma was fawning over her grandchild the entire time. She was wearing green eye shadows and just before leaving she touched up her makeup, put on red lipstick and gave me a thumbs up for drawing her. (R) A guy who kept fidgeting and sweating in his chair until he couldn’t take it anymore and left.
Just two guys chilling at our neighbourhood Starbucks.
People eating lunch at a food court on Orchard Road. And since we’re in SE Asia, you see a a lot of noodle bowls and chopsticks.
A guy wolfing down his breakfast.
Ending this series with the sketch of this very cute grandma I found dozing at a cafe yesterday. She was waiting for her granddaughters to finish shopping and fetch her.