Tag Archives: coffee

Winter sketching

Seoul winters are long and cold. And as much as I love the cold, I don’t especially cherish the fact that it puts an end to my outdoor sketching routine. By November temperatures fall to single digits, winter coats are out, room heaters are on, signalling my retreat to the warmth of cafes along with my art supplies.

Friends who live in similar climes have suggested wearing fingerless gloves. Pictures on social media showing artists sitting in snow covered landscapes in their winter gear doing oil paintings makes you wonder if you’re trying hard enough?

Last winter I did try. And quickly realized in barely one sitting how ill-equipped my body is to pursue something like this. In a matter of minutes, my fingers became numb and refused to move across the page. My nose was running, lips froze and the ears started hurting. It was over.

A year later, the older and wiser me heads straight to the warmest spot inside any cafe and parks herself there. These sketches are from those visits. Each sketch tells a different story but one thing common across all sketches is the pile of winter coats you see about the cafe drinkers. They’re either hung at the back of the chairs or piled on top of the table or on empty seats. I find the floppy sleeves sticking out of their crumpled masses really funny!

crayon alver

These women were talking loudly about something very funny. I was amused just looking at them laugh so hard. As I don’t speak Korean, every overheard conversations feels like a missed opportunity!

crayon startbucks

The Christmas trees were out early December and a lilting voice from the speakers urged Santa baby to hurry down the chimney every single night.

craypn starbucks

This hygiene-conscious couple had a big bottle of hand sanitiser with them which they took turns to take to the washroom each time one had to go. I never know what i’m going to see next!

PBsanta

During Christmas, the Paris Baguette next to our house had Santa cut outs all over the store and had installed an excellent Christmas tree which made the hideous looking Christmas tree in our building lobby look even more drab.

Alver cafe1

On weekends Alver cafe is packed to the gills. You can always see a bunch of people standing nonchalantly waiting for other people to finish their coffee and leave. As long as they have a phone, waiting doesn’t seem to be a problem!

dino kid

Vrooom Vrooooom…pow..pow..pow..vroommm..whooosh- we were treated to an intense Dinosaur flight with sound effects by this little guy. There was head butting, arm wrestling and a lot of pushing and shoving. It was by far the cutest thing I came across in a cafe!

starbucks patrons

Underneath the powder blue coat this lady was dressed like a character from Great Gatsby. Only partially, though. Top half- Sequin top, vintage looking chandelier necklace with matching bracelet and earrings. Bottom half – distressed denims

alver cafe 2

The crowd at Cafe Alver

Christina day out

After spending an afternoon with my friend Christina exploring the insanely busy Dongdaemun Shopping Complex we stopped by a nearby cafe with big windows and sketched. This was the view from my side of the table. I love how Christina has no qualms about me sketching her! She always says yes when I ask for permission and is never bothered by the outcome

Alver cafe

Interesting couple at Cafe Alver

Alver 3

Alver 2

The guy seated in front of me was reading, listening to music, eating and drinking all at the same time. Meanwhile someone in the corner started applying makeup as soon as her companion left the table to go to the washroom

Alver 1

When the food arrives the food paparazzi goes click, click click!!!

Starbucks sketch

The Girl With The Strawberry Tote Bag

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Trip to the Antipodes series : Melbourne

 

25th December 2014 : Singapore to Melbourne  –  The flight was decorated with mistletoe and holly and in the middle of service, flight attendants pinned snowflake shaped brooch to their uniforms. “As a part of our special Christmas Menu, we have turkey today! Would you like to opt for that, Ma’am?” I was asked by the flight attendant, with immense hope and expectation, as if there was some tacit Christmas turkey consumption target, she had to meet and my choice of meal would greatly affect her cause. No thanks. I’ll stick with chicken I said and tried to smile as bright as her. I really tried. “How about you Sir?”, she moved on. ‘Ummm..what the heck..I’ll try the turkey!’ said my husband with enough benevolence for both of us.

Sketched on flight from Singapore to Melbourne

25th Dec + 26th Dec/ Melbourne :  Inflight sketch from from my seat; Hot chocolate and muffin at Starbucks; Rice paper rolls bought on Flinders street consumed at Fed Square with seagulls and people.

In the evening, we jostled against hundreds of people to watch the Christmas light show projected on Melbourne’s Town Hall, had great dinner, clicked some praiseworthy photos of Flinders station, sipped warm coffee and munched on deliciously fluffy chocolate muffin at Starbucks. If the first day on the trip is any indication of what’s to come, we were pretty optimistic. Then, came the abrupt uncalled for, unprepared for rain right after the coffee people shooed us away at closing time. Without umbrella and jackets, we shivered in the cold under the shop’s awning in the peak of Australian summer, and after a very long wait, deep in the throes of the night with hobos and drunk for company, we finally trudged back to the hotel in clumsy rain soaked shoes.

Karma caught up with me. I should’ve accepted the turkey. And with grace.

26th December 2014: On our Own – As much as I love the Indian cricket team, I didn’t accompany my husband to the famous Boxing Day Test match between India and Australia held at Melbourne Cricket Ground. While my husband walked to his pilgrimage early morning, I set out to soak the city, explore, observe, experience and make impressions. It was a day with no itinerary and no agendas. I perched on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral and watched a sea of people, cars, trams criss crossing each other at the traffic signal.

26th Dec / Melbourne : Flinders Station sketched from the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral

26th Dec / Melbourne : Flinders Station sketched from the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was extremely breezy. I had a hard time holding on to the paper.

When my interest waned, which was by the time I finished this sketch, I crossed the road, bought myself some Vietnamese lunch from a Flinders street eatery and came back to Fed Square to finish it. The seagulls begged and begged for scraps but I was too hungry. The inimitable Immigration Museum consumed my entire afternoon and in the evening I went back to the same Starbucks for coffee and was quite pumped when the lady at the counter got my name right the first time. That instantly erased memories of the night before.

26th Dec / Melbourne : Right in front of the Starbucks was a green patch where stood this giant Christmas tree which everybody queued to take pictures with; Greek Dinner in the heart of Greek precinct

26th Dec / Melbourne : Right in front of the Starbucks was a green patch where stood this giant Christmas tree which everybody queued to take pictures with; Greek Dinner in the heart of Greek precinct was chicken and lamb souvlaki with pita and beetroot dip.

Having checked off one of the items on his bucket list, my husband joined me for sumptuous Greek dinner at DION. Between mouthfuls of souvlaki and pita, we talked about our day and tried to prove which one of us had a better time.

27th December 2014: Initiation to the Laneways – Vicolino Cafe on Degraves Street served the most surreal Egg Benedict I had ever tasted in my life. This breakfast perked me up so much that I immediately landed a detailed sketch of a creperie right opposite Vicolino in my sketchbook, while shuffling on the tiny stool I was perched on, in the cramped corner of a grungy back lane riddled with graffiti, exposed wires and torn posters. It was unconventionally atmospheric and an unkempt tipsy man slinking through the shadows with his beer bottle fitted the scenery seamlessly. Reams of tourists and locals streaming in and out of the narrow cobbled street, eating, drinking, shopping, people watching, fed to the palpable energy. We kept coming back like hopeless addicts.

27th Dec / Melbourne : Breakfast in the laneways;State Library of Victoria; Captain Cook's Cottage

27th Dec / Melbourne : I sketched this cute eatery called ‘Creperie’ while having breakfast at Cafe Vicolino on Degraves Street; a portion of the magnificent La Trobe Reading Room was tackled inside the State Library of Victoria; a tiny Captain Cook’s Cottage in the extreme right was sketched in the late evening under the tall shadows of English Elms.

Part of the day was spent admiring the fabulous octagonal La Trobe Reading Room in the State Library of Victoria. Ever since I read Pico Iyer’s insightful article ‘Shelter from the storm’, where he says, “..one of the best places to visit in any new city is the library”, I’ve been actively frequenting these emblems of stillness. Imagine cozying up to a musty smelling tome on a period reading table fitted with bottle green-reading lamps, under a spectacular white dome! I was wielding a sketchbook, but it had the same effect.

By the time we ambled through the splendid Fitzroy Gardens and arrived at the doorstep of Captain Cook’s Cottage, nobody was home. It was way past visiting hours. But the silky grass, the lulling breeze and the slanting rays of the golden sun causing the stately English Elms to cast tall sombre shadows called for a brief stopover. I captured some memories on paper before ending the day at Nandos. I sketched our food order number, which was 29, while listening to our neighbours blithely discussing their recent trip to Singapore. They sounded very pleased.

28th December 2014: Away from the CBD – Starting the day with a Laneway breakfast was a no brainer! Back on Degraves, Cafe Andiamo served the most scrumptious crepes with strawberries and vanilla ice-cream that melted by the time I finished my sketch. Well, the day was hot. And by the time we finished a 2 hours walk along the waterfront from Southbank Promenade to South Wharf along the Yarra, we were cooked and toasted by the blazing sun.

28th Dec / Melbourne : Laneway breakfast

28th Dec / Melbourne : Laneway breakfast at Cafe Andiamo

A very long ‘passion fruit smoothie’ break later, we landed ourselves on a silky green patch of land beside the Ornamental Lake in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, where I sketched this scene because sometimes you’re so overwhelmed with what you see, you need to express your joy and gratitude in some way.

The evening was quiet except for the screeching of the cockatoos. It was getting colder, pleasant actually. I took my shoes off and rubbed my feet on the grass, releasing a raw earthy smell. A slanting golden light coloured the trees, plants, bushes and shrubs of variegated foliage, arranged like little jewels along a turquoise lake, that held their reflection in absolute stillness. It was one of those rare moments when you sense a primordial connection with your environment.

28th Dec

Dinner was at Blue Train, back at Southgate promenade, which was now teeming with evening strollers and joggers. The lesson that I took away from eating here, was to garnish my future homemade pizzas with spring onions – it makes a phenomenal difference!

29th December 2014: Taking it easy – Just when I thought nothing could top my love for the stately English Elms of Fitzroy Gardens, we found the conservatory. It is one happy rendezvous of plants and flowers in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colours, arranged in pleasing designs. There are empty cages hanging from the top, a tiny bridge  with railings at the centre and old fashioned benches for people to rest and take photos. Soft muted light streams in through the beautiful arched transom windows. Obviously I sketch.

Lunch was at Cumulus Inc. at nearby Flinders lane and I cannot say this enough – If you’re ever in Melbourne, eat here at least once. Unparalleled customer service (which seems to be the norm in Melbourne, though) pales in comparison with the food. Your taste buds will experience a firework of flavours. Probably this should be their tagline.

While I was sketching the conservatory, an old British couple breathed over my neck. They were pretty intrigued and while leaving said. "You're clever, aren't you?".

29th Dec / Melbourne: While I was sketched in the conservatory, an old British couple breathed over my neck. They were pretty intrigued by what I was doing and while leaving said. “You’re a clever girl, aren’t you?”. Ahh..ummm..mmm..I’ll be better prepared next time.

St. Kilda’s Pier hogged our last evening in Melbourne. We strolled hand in hand (more so coz I needed something to cling on to) on the historic pier with waves crashing on either side and the wind throwing us off balance. It was an exciting change from what we’ve been doing past four days. The day ended with an intensely golden sunset and the sight of penguins swimming to the shore at dusk.

 

Coffee in a historic shophouse, anyone?

Killiney Kopitiam

An artist’s impression of Killiney Kopitiam

Singapore is not all high-rises and glitzy malls. Occasionally, just like a mirage in a abounding desert, a series of pre war shop houses loom up on a side street which you would’ve missed, had you blinked twice. Beautifully restored, these historic gems seem stuck in time with their wide arches, thick columns, colourful louvered windows and ornate motifs.

Most of these are now homes to pricy restaurants, artisanal cafes, bars, patisseries, art galleries, designer boutiques and such, presumably for a clientele with aesthetic tastes and deep pockets. Therefore, paying little over a dollar for a cup of joe, while lounging inside one of these timeless spaces, seemed like an inexpensive way of experiencing history and local culture.

Couple of days ago, on my way back from the Singapore National library, I spotted a brick red awning that says ‘Killiney Kopitiam on Purvis Street; Established in 1919’, in the same breath. Kopitiams ( Kopi for coffee and tiam for shop) are traditional coffee shops, very popular in Southeast Asia, that serve simple meals like egg, toasts along with coffee and tea.

Something about this place, perhaps the convivial banter of families, animated conversations between friends and the murmur of hunched retirees cross-leggedly poised on wooden stools on the patio, sent a message that it’s okay to walk in without hurting your wallet.

Alice ushering guests in with a smile

Alice ushering guests in with a smile

Its spartan interiors look like a canteen from the 80s. The walls are white and bare saving few signboards with Killiney’s history, a photograph of its flagship store and few items from the menu. Handful of bright tube lights light the mosaic floor; ceiling fans creak above dark wooden tables with emerald green tops and round stools, making for a simple, unpretentious homely setting, where you are almost tempted to put your feet up and holler your mother for a cup of coffee.

Coffee inside a shophouse

Coffee inside a shophouse

“Don’t let your food get cold. You should eat quickly”, booms a matronly voice into my ear before trailing off to another table. Meet Alice Tan, the 70 year old aunt of Killiney’s owner who has lived her entire life on Purvis Street,  and has been at its helm for 12 years, right from day one.

Kopi O and a French toast served with kaya and butter

Kopi O and a French toast served with kaya and butter

The warm reprimand gets me back to my half eaten french toast. I spread a layer of butter and kaya served alongside and wash it down with the Kopi O – sweetened black coffee – from an impersonal white melamine cup. Clad in bright pink trousers and a laced shirt with a satchel slapped across her shoulders, short haired, round faced Alice has the agility of someone half her age. “When I say I am 70, the kids laugh. They say – Auntie don’t bluff ah!” she says animatedly, pointing towards some of her younger patrons. ‘Now they call me “Amah“, used to address older people, you know’.

Alice chatting away with me

Chatting away with Alice

Alice is the soul of this kopitiam that flitters about like a butterfly on a roll. One moment she rushes inside the kitchen, the next she is out, patiently resolving a staff issue before joining in the camaraderie of her patrons at a nearby table, graciously slipping off to another and asking a lone woman who just walked in about her day at the office. Nothing escapes her hawk-eyed vision and overflowing warmth. Glancing over a charming group of silver haired patrons, she says, “You see, those are Purvis Street boys, who grew up here and have been visiting my shop since it opened. These days they meet for Kopi every Monday.” They wave at me and I wave back.

Alice and the Purvis Street boys

Alice in pink and the Purvis Street boys

It seems she knows everybody, and everybody knows everybody or wants to know everybody. I am constantly greeted by patrons passing by me, with a smile, a nod that segues into short conversations. With a Starbucks loyalty card snugly tucked in my wallet, I am already bemused at the difference in scene and my experience over a simple cup of coffee or rather Kopi.

But if the modern coffee chains come with all the fancy stuff like air conditioning, plush seating, Wi-Fi and charging points, what makes such no-frill joints tick, I wonder aloud. “Personal attention”, says Alice. “I am friends with anybody who walks through that door, black or white; Indian, Chinese or Malay”. While I take a long sip of my coffee, she adds with a beaming smile, ” And now you are my friend”.

I gobble up the rest of my food and order a tall glass of lime juice to beat Singapore’s sultry weather. The Purvis Street boys are getting ready to leave and so is Alice. They wave at me and smile gleefully through their wrinkles. “Hey girl!” one calls out. I look up from my drink. ” Come back on Monday.” Maybe I will.