Tag Archives: cafe

Things no one sees

are the ones that keep me occupied for hours. If you’ve read my earlier post –  Had people watching – you must be aware of my penchant for practicing flânerie, especially at cafes and how I channel my people watching / observation skills into making art.


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Just a guy alone with his coffee savouring a quiet moment

So far it’s been fun! Sketching is a mindful exercise and extremely gratifying, but sketching people is enlivening. There isn’t a moment of dullness or monotony because no two people you sketch can be alike. They differ not just in their attire and mannerisms but also in their interaction with/reaction to their surroundings.

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This couple started out acting all lovey-dovey, listening to the same music, leaning on each other, holding hands and then everything went downhill from there in the next 10 mins until one of them stormed out. Ah, the capriciousness of love.

These people captured in my sketchbook can be generically labelled as say, the coffee drinkers of Singapore because that’s what they’re technically there for but that’s not the only thing they do or if you’re observant enough, that’s not the only thing you see them doing. I once sketched a chain-smoker with a lot of swagger sipping coffee and blowing smoke into the ‘No smoking ‘ sign right next to him.

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Two very fashionable ladies and a guy sitting in between them with hand on his head. One of the women was ranting in Japanese and the two were mostly zoned out, I think.

That same week I had also sketched a girl who was part of big group that ate and drank quite liberally at the cafe but right before leaving she was the only person who cleared every bit of trash on their messy table before walking out.

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This bunch of pimply faced boys were from Anglo Chinese School and were studying ‘O level Topical Physics’ at Starbucks. They were all plugged in to their phones, swinging shoulders from time to time and sipping Macha lattes. These surely are different times!

With each sketch I get to peep into a stranger’s life for few minutes and capture them living an ordinary moment which otherwise would have gone unnoticed, unaccounted for. For example the Chinese grandma wearing jade bangles and a frumpy top on what seemed like her first trip to Starbucks was another fun subject to sketch.


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(L) This cute grandma had a strident voice, a blue clamp holding her red hair and jade bangles around her frail wrists. From the way she surveyed the place and the patrons sitting around her from time to time and inspected her cup of latte, it seemed like her first time here at our neighbourhood Starbucks. Don’t miss her colourful shopping trolley!

She looked out of place and excited at the same time to be holding probably her first cup of latte in her wrinkled hand. She may never know this, but 2 meters away I was touched to have witnessed that moment and document it in my sketchbook.


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It was really hard to believe that this guy was eating Tiong Bahru Bakery’s Kouign Amann ( which by the way is top notch) with such indifference.

All sorts of students, specially pimply restless school students plugged in to their music sipping frothy matcha latte are common sight at the local Starbucks and always make great subjects for drawing.


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(L) – Serious discussion taking place. The guy in the centre doesn’t look amused and kept quiet through the entire conversation.

You see them day and night hunched over a pile of books, fervently highlighting something or the other with coloured markers on their notebooks with their laptops open on the side. This subculture is unique to Singapore, something I haven’t witnessed in any other country I’ve travelled to and therefore having them in my sketchbook is also special.

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(R) The rare sight of someone reading a physical book and then looking up to think about and then reading again. That’s an indie comic book in her hand and a guitar by her side.

It’s hard to imagine that only three months ago I had this incredible fear of drawing people which I write about in the post What if and how I get over it and now have come to enjoy it because it feels as if for once I’m not rushing through life and letting it pass by me but consciously stopping to smell the flowers.

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(L)- This woman had an impermanent tattoo on her hand. The word ‘Love’ written in bold with a glitter pen stood out and and yet seemed incongruous with her austere style. She was alone and seemed lost in thoughts. (R) – I spotted these two women on a late Sunday night. They were mostly gregarious but at one point I saw one of them point finger at the other in a menacing way.

Well, I don’t know where it’s going to take me and if anything will come out of this but as long as I cherish these little stolen moments and revel in the ordinary stories of ordinary people, I will continue to document them in sketchbooks and share with you. Hope you can stop by!

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(L)- A chain smoker with a lot of swagger. He didn’t care about the ‘No Smoking’ sign next to him; (R)  – My husband reading ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ on the day it got released.







Two new entries

have been made into my ever expanding repertoire of cafe sketches. As temperatures soar and humidity grows to impossible heights, that’s all I seem to be doing on a weekly basis – hide in air-conditioning, drink tea with fancy names (e.g Nymph of  the Nile) and draw. I should try harder at striking the ‘struggling artist’ image, I know. Maybe next time. Till then meet –

The Provision Shop at Everton Park – it’s cute, cozy, comfy, has a homely, convivial feel to it and smells of coffee and bread. The staff is super friendly.



Stranger’s Reunion cafe on Kampong Bahru Road, which on the other hand is spacious, chic, has a touch of hushed elegance associated with fine dining restaurants and smells of truffle fries. The staff seemed slightly distant and reserved but they served tea in pristine white victorian style teapots which was an acceptable trade off for me.




Coffee with kids in tow? Maybe!

Eat Play Love Cafe

I have always been amused by the predicament of folks visiting cafes with small kids. Unless the child is tiny enough to be strapped to a stroller with a pacifier inside its mouth – basically tied and gagged – parents have a problem. Okay, not so much a problem, but a challenge, a herculean task, of engaging a pint sized energy ball with the attention span of a hummingbird such that it is sedentary, at least for a little while so they can sip at their drinks and let their sleep deprived minds wander.

Now, if there are pigeons in the vicinity of the cafe, which is quite common in Singapore, that is good news, not for everybody though. These urban birds are the least flighty and the most purposeful creatures I have come across on this island. They have adapted surprisingly well with the country’s economic boom and change in lifestyle. Instead of gouging out worms from the soil (which is so last century!) they swoop down on molten chocolate cakes or puff pastries lying in front of unsuspecting patrons and parade in between tables, hawk-eyed, puff-chested and taut-bodied, without a tinge of remorse.

And it is this sight of pigeons marching on the tarmac, that holds an universal appeal to kids across the world. They would tear away from protective arms, squeal in ecstacy and scuttle after the birds, who are surprisingly unflustered, till they are about to be stepped on, which is when they spread their wings and fly few meters away only to be chased again. This hobnobbing can continue for hours, giving enough time and space for the guardians to ‘keep calm and enjoy their drink’.

However, if thou cannot spoteth pigeons, do not despair. I have also watched anguished parents slowly relinquish their grip on electronic tablets or smartphones and surrendering them to tiny hands that urgently tap away at them for hours on end. So there is that. Another trade-off for solitude and a cup of coffee.

Some make their kids carry homework or sketchbooks to cafes. But that doesn’t quite cut it. While you sit back, relax and are about to zone out with the steaming cuppa, the last thing you need is to be badgered for help in Math or to be asked what crayon to use to paint the hut. This is also when the spouse flashes the ‘I told you so’ look.

With a thriving cafe culture in the country, new cafes sprouting like mushrooms, and Time Out featuring yet another list of ‘best cafes on the island’, I was surprised some entrepreneurial 20-something-Melbourne returned-grad student hadn’t thought of catering to this niche already. With a book cafe (“a book themed cafe that offers a relaxed ambience and casual dining”) and even a cat cafe (‘we strive to give you the perfect combination of cats, coffee, tea and pastries‘) around, it seemed such an oversight. Untill one day I stepped inside ‘Eat Play Love’ on 28 Aliwal Street.

Eat Play Love

For S$5, kids get 2 hours of unlimited access to Eat Play Love cafe’s collection of crafts

From the taxi’s window, this calm cerulean blue space, fitted with wooden hand painted furniture and vintage signages, barrage of colourful crafts, toys and knick knacks looked especially eye catching. Once inside, prepare to be drowned in the cacophony of gleeful kids huddled at a crafts table – playing, painting, sketching, sticking, cutting, wrapping and what not, all by themselves. Their guardians have the peaceful look of a Zen monk. Life’s sorted.

However, if you’re there minus the bambino, well, a slightly uncomfortable feeling akin to showing up for class without books, may tug at your sleeve. Obviously, you cannot share or borrow these metaphorical books! But thankfully the cafe has enough room for you to slink away from the hubbub, grab a table by the window, sip a latte or aromatic tea infusion, read a book, paint and chit chat with your spouse.






People watching and more coffee chronicles

Working as a freelancer from the confines of ones home isn’t as palatable as the images it may conjure. Besides a disciplined work environment – which needs to be strictly self imposed by freelancers – you miss out on the day to day office camaraderie, the human connection, the collective sense of belonging to a place.

A starbucks outlet

While not contesting on the shade of the grass on either side, when I find the scales tipping in other’s favour i.e  when I start feeling cooped up and lonely, I simply carry my work, 5 mins from my house, to the nearest coffee shop, where I get people to sit around me while minding their own business, listen to pleasant music and have access to air-conditioning, wifi and plug points.

To my surprise and delight, there is no dearth of the like minded, so much so that between 9 to 5, it is hard to find a place.

There are official meetings presided by dapper looking men and women over cappuccino and cookies. And these madams and sirs care to perch their prissy bottoms only on the plush leather sofas with handrest (also the most coveted in the entire cafe) by the windows with the lovely view. If this coincides your entry, it pays to linger around, as they usually leave as soon as they finish their drink or their talking.

School kids working on their assignments

School kids working on their assignments

But the same theory is redundant when it comes to the cafe’s biggest headcount – the scraggy school kids finishing assignments over a glass of plain water and maybe, just maybe a tall sized green tea frappe that was finished eons ago and has the frothy bits left at the bottom. Now, they cost the cafe, the entire upper and lower deck with high stools and convenient plug points.

And they also kind of live here, only getting up for toilet and food breaks (which is usually a packet of chips).  While away which sometimes is for an hour, their personal laptops in dayglo covers, scribbled notebooks, stationaries, chargers, headphones, snacks, wet wipes and sweatshirts scattered on the table will stand sentry. Yes, it’s Singapore, nothing gets stolen but avoid this zone like plague, if you wish to be seated in this lifetime.

More students

More students

Then there are the moms. All kinds of moms. The ones feeding chocolate fudge cake to their  primary schoolers sitting upright (only at the behest of mommy), and doing their home works; and the ones with toddlers learning to use cutlery and making a gruesome mess by repeatedly stabbing the delicate chicken puff, while their eyes are peeled on the iPad; and lastly the pregnant ones with a wailing brat in tow, struggling to get a heaving stroller (from the weight of groceries) inside the cafe door with one hand and shoving the pacifier into the child’s mouth with another .

Al fresco seating at the cafe

Al fresco seating at the cafe

Moms populate the cafe’s alfresco seating so their kids can run around and chase pigeons, when they can tear away from their wondrous gadgets. If you’ve been around for a while like me, you’ll know – smaller the kid, battier is the mother, and the fidgety she gets, higher is the probability of finding a seat. So hover like a bee over a bed of flowers. Your luck might just turn.

The rest belong to the mixed bag, where taking your chances could be be a bit hit and miss. Like the older school kids in uniforms caught in between school and private tuitions or college goers, congregation of elderly people or maids on their off days. They could leave in an hour or lounge for half a day. I’d play it by the ear.

Possibly a fashion designer

Possibly a fashion designer

But if you are desperate for a seat and nothing else has been working, you might want to sneak up on those sitting all by themselves – alone with their coffee and reading a book/newspaper or updating their blog or looking at Google maps. Most of the time, they get bored with themselves too easily and leave. Jump right in.

Saving the best for the last because you spot this kind only if you are alert and have been paying attention – the kind that rolls in, does their business and leaves. Pin your hopes on anybody without a laptop. Or without a smartphone, but that’s asking too much in Singapore.
An evening at Starucks

An evening at Starbucks

Watch out for people with big shopping bags, or those with dogs, or those taking quick interviews ( I’ve been witness to many job interviews over coffee – lasts as long as the drink), making a hurried presentation, mulling over houses with property agents or bickering like the two local film producers I came across, trying to prove whose job sucked more. I could swear, their heated debate rose to a crescendo but cut out as soon as the last drop of coffee trickled down their throat. After which they left and I moved in.

It is within this group that, if you are lucky, you get a seat that isn’t already choped – a typical Singaporean phenomenon of reserving seats by placing a harmless tissue or hasn’t been pooped upon by one of the three notorious pigeons that pick at the leftovers.

I have honed my seat grabbing skills over three years of Starbucks patronage at my neighbouring outlet where I’ve worked, planned vacations, played scrabble, finished several tomes and drank gallons of coffee and tea. And only recently, have I started sketching and it isn’t surprising that in my 90 page sketchbook, which I finished recently, there are more than twenty sketches done at this location of the same individuals, groups and clusters I talk about. I observed them only because I sketched them.
This is why I accompany my stories with hand
drawn sketches instead of photographs. More than any other medium, sketching requires complete immersion of senses, gets you to pay attention and slow down.
Any sketch when looked at several days or months later, evokes the moment, in its tiniest details.  Like this hand carved wooden panda bear pen that was sold to me at the cafe by an ex-convict with heavily tattooed legs.
Hand carved panda pen sold by an ex-convict

Hand carved panda bear pen sold by an ex-convict

The opening line of his very impressive speech, that led to the sale was, ” Do you believe in second chances?”.  Cheesy, yes? But the sketch helped me pin that memory down.