Tag Archives: reportage

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.

A little victory and the big win

Two kinds of people attract unwarranted attention at cafes.

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Out of office but chained to work – I saw this guy sitting at our neighbourhood Starbucks with one hand on his head and the other checking emails on the phone oblivious of the beautiful breezy evening, the sound of  birds and music flowing in the air. 

One, babies because they are tiny, cute, cuddly and non-judgemental humans who if you happen to catch after a recent feed-poop-nap session will bear smiles that will warm the cockles of your heart. From what I’ve seen one doesn’t even need to know the baby. It is perfectly acceptable to nod, wave or point at them from your table  without offending anyone around.

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(L) How many ways are there to hold a pen? This girl was wielding it like a dagger! (R) Here’s a elderly woman seen at Tiong Bahru Bakery wearing a short polka dotted dress and red lipstick( with matching nail polish!) rocking her wrinkles and laughing with wild abandon. I never liked the phrase – ‘twilight years’. This is how you turn it upside down.

The other kind is me. I have nothing in common with babies. But I still get pointed out, fussed over and smiled at by strangers. Shy reluctant children have been shoved in my direction by mothers with utmost urgency.”Go kiddo go, see what she’s doing!”. And then right behind the kiddo you find the guardian standing at a safe distance peering at me with equal interest.

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Spotted at Coffee Academics on Scotts Road. This guy demolished a heaped plate of food in mere seconds and left. I had a really hard time keeping up!

The sight of an adult playing with crayons and watercolours in a room full of adults doing adult stuff like buying bread and drinking coffee is often met with the same amount of incomprehension as is reserved for all kinds of anomalies. What’s interesting though is how people react to this anomaly!

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(L) Even though it’s difficult to hold a large baguette sandwich in one hand and eat, do not ever, not even for once free the other hand by letting go of the phone –  that kind of guy.

That same reluctant kid would turn around chuck the phone, notepad or whatever he was being engaged with and demand a sketchbook pronto. If not that day, I will see him or her appear the next weekend armed with a colouring book, efficiently applying a green crayon over a lion’s mane. Little victory!

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(R) Quick sketch of my husband eating his free birthday cake (from Starbucks), reading Vikram Seth’s Suitable Boy on kindle and watching the 5th One Day International : India vs NZ on his phone, all at the same time. Indians beat the kiwis by 190 runs that night. 

Adults on the other hand need an acceptable reason for doing something they were weaned off in fifth grade. “You must be an architect/ engineer/designer.” – I am not asked this but told. Only then can they explain to themselves why I have the permission to sketch or paint and they don’t because they are none of these things.

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A passionate speaker seen at Starbucks who used her hands much more than her voice to get the point across. I was very convinced even though I don’t understand a word of Malay.

I do it for fun, I say and am met with blank stares. Even an year ago I’d have been uncomfortable with such attention and would have looked up Craigslist for a cloak of invisibility. But not anymore. I’ve been sketching rather feverishly over the last couple of months to know that practice not only makes perfect, it also makes courage and confidence in reasonable amounts.

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(L) This guy had a laptop cover that looked exactly like a shiny marble countertop! I had a teeny weeny urge to chop vegetables on it but it passed very quickly. (R) This lady was eating alone at the table next to mine and before taking each bite she’d hold the sandwich in front of her with both hands and contemplate.

So now I hold my ground and sound convincing not to defend my actions lest I am adjudged frivolous but to get at least one of them to pull out the child that got buried under years of adulthood. And sometimes it works.

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The most common sight at our neighbourhood Starbucks is that of students of all ages studying alone or in large groups.

I am plied with questions starting from how expensive my sketchbook is to what paints I use to where I bought the paint box from. And then I’m invariably told how much each one of these people loved to draw when they were small.

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(L) Girls in cropped halter neck tops, nose rings, green hair highlights and beaded bracelets. The cuddly soft toy didn’t seem to fit in but it was trying very hard. (R) Stripey here had little hope of getting his assignment done that night coz he constantly looked up to check out every passing girl. 

I don’t see them wielding a sketchbook the next day or the week after but the stares become infrequent. Maybe some day I’ll catch one of them absentmindedly picking up a stray pencil and doodling the coffee mug they’ve been drinking from on the back of a receipt. What a big win that would be!

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Behold the rare sight of a man holding and reading an actual newspaper, turning pages instead of scrolling up and down or zooming in and out on a screen. Sorry about the morbid headline but that’s what he was reading.

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Two random people eating and drinking at the same cafe, minding their own businesses, oblivious of each other’s presence but united on a double spread.  I like when that happens.

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This lady looked like someone who’d look fabulous in a mid 19th century Victorian gown complete with a flowery hat, silk gloves and a parasol! 

These sketches above are from my latest sketchbook of random people I’ve seen in various cafes in the city along with my observations. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I have enjoyed drawing them!