Category Archives: Daily Vignettes

Smelling the flowers or..

There is a pine tree lined walking trail behind our apartment. it’s not particularly scenic – just a 2.5 kms long and occasionally dusty stretch wedged between Gangnam’s high rise apartment blocks and a very busy thoroughfare, but it gets the job done. Whenever we feel like stretching our legs but don’t want to venture out far from home, this is where we head to.

Besides offering quick access to nature, this path provides fantastic people watching opportunities! You get to see all kinds of characters engaged in various workout routines. Five minutes into the trail you are greeted by a bunch of retirees bending and stretching every which way at the outdoor exercise facility, then there are the brisk walkers kitted out in gym clothes marching ahead with their nordic walking poles, the joggers zigzagging past ajummas ambling down the path in sun-visors perched on their signature permed hair, you have the dog walkers, the elderly tennis players, the moms energetically pushing kids on swings, the office workers in business suits with TUMI laptop bags rushing home from work, and the families of course, young and old, in groups of four or five, taking leisurely strolls.

One time I saw this guy with his dog kneeling down on the sidewalk looking for something in the bushes. I lingered around for a while to check what he was up to. Was he stopping to smell the flowers or was he searching for his dog’s poop? I couldn’t tell. The rest of my walk was spent pondering over his motive. I had to come home and sketch the scene. The mystery remains unsolved.

Throwback to a chilly afternoon

While watching the Biden-Harris inauguration ceremony the other day I remembered sketching this scene at Terrarosa cafe not so long ago. We were itching to get out of the house that day for some fresh air and change of scene but since it was too cold for a walk, I and my husband opted to take the bus to our favourite cafe instead with our kindles in tow. The thought of settling down by a window with a good book, cup of hot chocolate and the possibility of stimulating conversation put a spring to our steps. The convivial company of physically-distanced strangers was equally beckoning.

The cafe, not far from our house and a fairly new discovery, is located inside a huge warehouse kind of space in the heart of Gangnam and is decorated with retro looking metal furniture, classic black and white chequered floor and my personal favourite (also the reason why I flock to this place so often) – hundreds and hundreds of books on travel, design, illustration, photography, fashion and cooking, all stacked in shelves that run up to the ceiling and wind around the room.

After the mandatory QR code scanning at the door (for contact tracing purposes) we rolled in. The place had just the upbeat vibe we were craving for. A table by the window overlooking some pine trees was secured and the hot beverages were ordered. I had been enjoying Susan Cain’s book – ‘Quiet’ and was reading the part where she explains, via the work of a psychologist Hans Eysenck why introverts enjoy quiet intellectual activities whereas extroverts crave high-wattage ones. Spoiler alert – introverts have wider channels in their brains that allow a lot of stimulation to enter causing them to feel exhausted or overwhelmed easily, whereas extroverts have tighter channels that makes them feel like not enough is happening!

Esysenck hypothesises that all human beings seek just the right level of stimulation, not too much not too little. The book encourages you to consciously situate yourself in environments where you feel optimal. I had a very good feeling about my environment but if I had to be really picky I’d say it was just one interesting subject short of optimal. I had my sketchbook open before me and colour pencils on standby and in between reading, I was also actively scanning the room for a target.

Luckily, it didn’t take much to sniff him out. My husband was sitting across from me riveted to his iPad screen, anxiously watching the 2020 US Presidential election unfold. There were no new updates in the last hour. Actually nothing substantial had happened in a while. There were thousands of ballots still waiting to be counted; the forecasters said the race was too close to call. I sketched him watching the CNN anchors repeat and rehash the same information over and over again.

Rebeginning

It should be new year, new beginnings but this post feels more like a rebeginning after the 3-months break I took from blogging.

It so happened that the pain from my shoulder injury I was recovering from last year paid a little visit recently and overstayed its welcome. While I couldn’t draw much or use the computer or do anything that strained my shoulder, I read a lot during this time which is never a bad compromise! I also made quite a bit of progress in Spanish which I am learning on Duolingo. It’s coming in very handy. I can now say sentences like Mi esposo nunca quiere se ducha to my husband with a straight face and watch him go nuts because he doesn’t understand a word. To set the record straight, he does shower everyday.

The sketch above depicts how we spent our holidays leading up to the new year. It was freezing outside. Temperatures had plummeted to -17°C and the city got placed under stricter restrictions due to surge in covid cases. There was simply no where to go except be at home tucked under a blanket with a cup of hot tea and a book. After finishing two non-fiction books, a short story collection, a novel, here I was devouring a murder mystery by Keigo Higashino which is set in Tokyo, a city I love spending time in and cannot get enough of. Although following detective Kaga through the quaint neighbourhoods of Tokyo hot on the heels of the murderer made for some pretty decent armchair travel and was the next best thing!

Day out in Euljiro

After spending a sunny weekend afternoon exploring the dusty alleys of Bangsan Market – known for its incredible range of baking supplies – we decided to rest our feet at the nearby Horangii cafe located inside Sewoon Plaza, a timeworn shopping mall that used to be Korea’s first electronic market back in 1968.

Today the place is a maze of identical looking stores crammed with audio devices, security cameras, room heaters, TVs, air conditioners, electric fans, arcade games and a vast selection of light fixtures. Because everything looks alike it’s easy to get lost, which we did, several times before finally locating the staircase that led us to the third floor where the scene was noticeably different – one made of trendy cafes, eateries, shiny boutiques and a flock of hipsters posing outside Horangii, clicking selfies.

Once inside, the cafe reminded me of the poignant setting of my fav Wong Kar-wai film – In the mood for Love. The narrow and dimly lit space with pale yellow walls, dark wood furniture and vintage lamps evoked nostalgia.

In stark contrast to this plush setting, the stained wall exterior, exposed wires, and the air-conditioning units were a lot of fun to sketch. The shopping plaza overlooks old print shops and metal workshops with tin roofs. Loud banging noises interjected the hum of conversations from time to time which seemed like a part of the setting.

We found a table right outside the cafe from where we enjoyed our lattes and scones. Interestingly, each coffee cup comes with a sticker of a tiger (or Horangii in Korean) which you can peel off and take home as a keepsake!

Before leaving we walked over to the skywalk and soaked in the sweeping views of the ever-changing Euljiro skyline with its old buildings – some still standing while others already demolished with rapid construction underway. Below, the streets were packed with cars and Cheonggyecheon stream flowing right through the middle of this urban jungle, reflected the cloudy sky.

Content that the day couldn’t get any better, we took the bus home, which is where I spotted this lady wearing the neatest pair of frilly white socks with little hearts on them! The edgy black loafers complemented her delicate side-slit pastel dress. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t see her face but remember seeking refuge from time to time in the visual delight of those little red hearts on that boring 40 mins bus ride.

Happy Chuseok!

Today is Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving, one of the most important holidays in Korea when people travel across the country to their hometowns (or to the place where the eldest family member lives) and get together to share food, spend quality time with each other, and offer thanks to their ancestors.

Ever since we started living in Seoul, this time of the year has meant two things for us – one, a short getaway to a nearby destination, and two, the arrival of a fancy gift pack at our doorstep from my husband’s workplace containing mega-sized, perfectly shaped apples and pears! In Korea, if you’re visiting family during this season, showing up at a relative’s place with a gift appreciating your host’s hospitality is considered good manners. For Korean companies, offering gifts to their employees during Chuseok is a way of recognizing their hard work and also to boost morale.

But why fruits? I remember being very curious about the significance of a fruit gift set when we received our first one and found out that it reflects the traditional meaning of Chuseok, which is to celebrate the harvest season. As the holiday falls in autumn, newly harvested apples and pears serve as popular presents. Also, both these fruits (along with several other items like persimmons, chestnuts, jujube, meat, steamed rice, soup, dried fish etc) are placed on the memorial service table that is set in order to honour the ancestors in a ceremony called ‘Charye‘. 

The above sketch is of my husband carefully unwrapping his Chuseok gift from work few days back. It came in a very secure package marked ‘fragile’ all over it. Inside was a bottle of Sauvignion blanc and a bottle of Chardonnay, well, big morale boosters considering how this year has been faring! The fruit basket arrived a few days later.

With no where to travel to, I can’t think of a better way of spending our five-days holiday during a raging pandemic, than being at home and clinking our glasses to making it thus far. 

 

 

The Elevator story

elevator story copy - low res

A few months back the most adorable incident happened in the elevator of our apartment building. It was Children’s day in Korea, a public holiday, so a lot of kids were out enjoying the day. We saw a few at the bus stop licking ice creams. Some were walking into restaurants with their parents. Parks were teeming with toddlers chasing each another as their slightly older siblings threw frisbees and rode bicycles and scooters. Evening saw these frisky moppets return home in their mom’s arms or on their dad’s shoulders, happy but tired faced, tightly hugging giant soft toys and balloons.

It was nice seeing the neighbourhood peppered with little humans in place of adults in suits and ties marching in and out of offices.

We spent the day outside too on a long walk by a lake. Later, we got some food packed for dinner and headed home. As we were going up to our apartment, we saw this boy, about 4 or 5 years old enter the elevator with his family.

He may not have seen many foreigners in his life, because as soon as he laid eyes on us, he was transfixed. There was no stealing furtive glances out of the corner of the eye for this little guy; he caught us in the most innocent, full-on face to face, mouth agape, utterly bewitched kind of stare! The look of wonderment lasted from level 1 until level 12 which made his mom very uncomfortable. Just before leaving, she bent down and asked him to say hello to us. Once out of his trance our starer became very shy. He did wish us eventually, spurred on by his dad, mom and sister who chimed in with a nice long – Annyeonghaseyo.

I sketched the scene as soon as I got home.

Orange on my desk

desk with orange copy - low res copy

With the onset of this pandemic, we’ve all had to make adjustments to our lives some of which I still feel like I’m coming to terms with. For example, spending inordinate amounts of time at home for days on end. Being in my own company isn’t foreign to me. I work from home and I enjoy it a lot but you still miss the social contact like meeting friends or in my case, meeting friends and going out with them to sketch especially in crowded places. Countless pages of my sketchbooks have been joyously filled with drawings of people at cafes, restaurants, parks, and subways.

But with strict social distancing measures in place back in February, when Korea saw an alarming spike in COVID cases (highest after China), stepping out of the house for anything other than buying masks or groceries was out of the question. By next month many offices were letting employees work from home. My husband and I weren’t just sharing a workspace, it dawned on me that we were going to be spending entire work weeks with each other.

The thing with an unprecedented situation is, however hard it rocks your boat, you look around, take a stock of your situation and say – ‘well, it could’ve been worse”. It took a while for us to learn and eventually adjust to each other’s schedules. And have a bit of fun in the process, at least one of us did. A month or two into the lockdown, I noticed an orange appearing on my work desk, every day.

Desk drawing low res

My husband couldn’t help notice that I forget to eat my fruits during the day. Instead of reminding me to eat one, he started placing a random fruit at different sections of the house where I hang out to check if my behaviour alters and discovered that only by keeping it here on this desk does the fruit get consumed. Indeed a lot of oranges were consumed this way!

I made this sketch on the day I found out that I was the subject of his social experiment. If anything has come of this besides a good chuckle, it is that I now eat my fruits without needing a stimulus. Not too bad!

Of all the changes that we are making in our lives right now, I hope this one sticks.

Draw your mess

wardrobe 1

Am I the only person who hasn’t put away their warm clothes yet? We’re halfway through August and now I am thinking how far can fall/winter be anyway? I may need that trench coat or the down jacket sooner than later. All that effort put in sorting, folding, stacking, and arranging would go to waste. This here is the train of thought that got my wardrobe looking like above.

I have been meaning to organize it for a while now but every month I end up carrying forward this task to the following month. Spending longer hours at home during this ongoing pandemic hasn’t exactly increased my productivity at housework. If at all, I’ve been slacking off.

It ain’t a pretty sight, I admit. Finding a somewhat coordinated outfit in this closet requires equal amounts of luck and patience. Meanwhile, belts have gone missing. Socks are hiding themselves in corners and crevices. Scarves have never become more elusive.  A wardrobe as cluttered and disheveled as this should stick in one’s craw but if you’re an artist, this scene can also get you all excited! And you find yourself picking up a sketchbook, some colour pencils, and drawing the mess instead of tidying it up. Well, there’s always tomorrow.

 

Longest monsoon

South Korea has been pummelled by torrential rains since late June and from what I’m reading – it isn’t over yet! Today marks the 53rd day of the monsoon season. The skies have been ominously grey forever. Humidity is so high that everything feels sticky all the time, even the apartment floor.

Compared to the inland regions that are experiencing floods and landslides, I’d say we’re lucky to be getting on with our lives with the least amount of disruption in this part of Seoul. If the pandemic has us wearing masks on a daily basis, the incessant rains that don’t seem to have an expiration date have us carrying umbrellas wherever we go, so much so that it feels like a part of our attire. Or an extended limb.

coffee bean in rain

I sketched this cafe scene on my way back from an appointment. We were a few days into the monsoon, a time when one could still trust the weather app and if it said no rains for a few hours, you believed it and didn’t carry the umbrella. It rained a lot and I had to take shelter here for a while. Luckily I had my sketchbook and a hot cup of tea on the side.

smoker with Umbrella

In the following weeks when the rains ceased to stop, we became inured to the wet weather and acted like this tattoed guy, probably a chef or a kitchen staff who I saw coming out from the back of a restaurant into the alley for a quick smoke. Even for a break as short as this, he couldn’t risk leaving without his most trusted accessory dangling from his arm!

Grandma in EBT

A few days back I was eating churros at Express Bus Terminal when I spotted this interesting character approach the table opposite me. She may have been in her late 60s and was wearing a bright green chequered shirt over a white tee paired with grey tights and classic slip-ons. Placed at a slightly jaunty angle on her head was a straw hat with a flower attached to it. The thing that caught my eye though was her yellow umbrella which gave this ensemble a cheery look!

Before settling down she got herself a cup of coffee. Then she kicked off her shoes, plonked the rest of her stuff on the floor, and put her feet up on the chair. An electric hand fan appeared out of one pocket and a piece of paper from the other which she held in her hand and studied for a long time.

Metro - peeps with Umbrellas.jpg

This year’s protracted rainy season has elevated the humble umbrella from a functional object to a fashion accessory. Instead of moping about the miserable weather, people are having fun carrying umbrellas in varying designs, colors, and fabric, sometimes matching them with their outfits! I saw some interesting ones on subway line 9. As you can see, everyone was keeping up with the times with their masks, color-coordinated umbrellas, and mindless phone-scrolling.

 

Happy Birthday Singapore

On the occasion of Singapore’s 55th birthday, which is today, I am fondly remembering the trip I took early this year to the tropical city-state and the sketches I made in the few days I was there.

To give you a bit of background, before moving to Korea in 2017, I and my husband spent seven years in Singapore and have some lasting memories of that place. Needless to stay I still have a hankering for my old home once in a while. So when the opportunity arrived for a short visit, I couldn’t refuse. I called all my friends to check their availability, applied for visa and dug out my old city transit card that I had kept as a souvenir.

This was one trip that wasn’t going to need any planning!

Starbucks at Raffles City Mall

One of the best places to meet someone in the city is at the Starbucks inside Raffles City Mall. It’s the first thing you see as you climb up the escalator from City Hall subway station. The mall air-conditioning shields you from the heat and humidity and the constant stream of people makes it an unparalleled people-watching spot.

SG1

While waiting for a dear friend,  I made a quick sketch of some coffee drinkers, including this woman with a beige scarf draped around her body with pictures of bugs on it!

Singapore National Library

After lunch at Sin Swee Kee chicken rice restaurant on Seah Street opposite Raffles Hotel, we popped into Straits Commercial, like old times to peruse art supplies. Not only does the place have a superb collection of art materials, it is also the most likely place to bump into local artist friends, which I did! After swapped stories and checking out each others’ sketchbooks we crossed the street and walked over to the Singapore National Library.

SG3

The library’s handsome collection of books on literary and creative arts had drawn me to its shelves more times than I can remember. Getting myself a library card was the first thing I did after settling in Singapore. While sketching this scene of people reading and snoozing on the library sofa, a little schoolgirl came over to watch me draw. Soon her friends joined me on the sofa. They seemed amused at the sight of an adult playing with colour pencils and crayons!

Tiong Bahru Bakery

For tea and cakes, I hopped into a cab with my husband and headed to our favourite cafe in Singapore- Tiong Bahru Bakery. I have sketched here so many times over the years that the bakery’s manager, Christine knows me well and was over the moon to see me walk through the doors once again with a sketchbook in hand! She got us a seat with good light, just like before. We ordered tea, coffee and a Kouign-Amann, just like before. I started sketching. There were moments when it felt like we hadn’t left Singapore at all.

SG2

TBB

Before leaving Christine brought us a complimentary pineapple tart that had been newly introduced to the menu. I drew it for her as a way to say thank you and the sketch went up on the community board.

TBB 1

TBB community board

After leaving the cafe we walked around the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood, past our favourite Art Deco buildings. Some new cafes and boutiques had sprouted while some old ones had bitten the dust. Tiong Bahru Market was still there, abuzz with activity.

Newton Hawker Center

I wanted to spend the evening at Newton which used to be our old neighbourhood and later have dinner at Newton Hawker Center. It is a food haven for Southeast Asian cuisines. Seated on these very wooden benches surrounded by food stalls, we had gorged on Bak Chor Mee, Thai pepper chicken, Aloo parathas, Curry laksa, and Nasi Goreng on countless occasions.

Newton FC.jpg

Upon returning, my first impulse was to get a taste of everything! But I didn’t act on that. Perhaps the heat was taking a toll on my good senses. I let a glass of sweet refreshing lime juice help me settle down. The evening crowd was arriving and the tables around us were getting snapped up.

SG6

SG5

The heat was also melting my crayons and they became soft and mushy, really pliable which helped me work faster than usual. By the time I finished sketching, I had worked up an appetite. I got myself a steaming bowl of handmade meatball noodles, rejoiced every bite of it and left the place completely satiated.

SG4

Throughout this trip I realized how much I wanted to remember everything I was doing before I left Singapore again for good. So I did them well, however small or insignificant, something was, I paid attention. I really engaged. There was this excitement of revisiting the familiar – friends, food, sights, sounds and smells – but then there was also this new, unfamiliar urge of holding on to them as long as I could.

Before going back to the hotel, we walked past our old apartment building. It looked exactly the same. Apartment 03-02 was brightly lit and someone was watching TV in the living room. The building caretaker recognized us and said that incidentally, a Korean family had moved in right after we move out and left for Korea!