[by Don Low, Singapore] I knew I came to the right location (Geylang Lor 31) to sketch because it felt like a happy place. An empty table in a kopitiam (food and coffee place) await me. It has a good angle overlooking a handsome 2-storey shophouse painted in a beautiful coat of subdued amber. On the front facade hung a sign that says "lim kopi" which literally means "drink coffee" in half Hokkien and Malay. I ordered my drink and happily settled down to sketch. A group of uncles in their 60s were drinking happily at a table beside me, and was bantering loudly how life was hard on them. I wasn't really listening intently because I wasn't very fluent in the Hokkien language they were using except for some curse words, but I mindfully told myself I have to draw them later.
Shortly after, one of the uncle, out of curiosity, came over to watch what I was doing. When I said hi to him, he started sharing about his interest in art but couldn't draw for nuts. He told me he loved to watch artists draw or paint, turning blank canvases into works of art. In simple words, he said a good drawing needs a good angle, which I think what he meant was composition and design or depth. When I told him he said it well, he let out a loud satisfying laugh.
I sketched from 8pm to 1030pm. All the while he was going back and forth from his table to mine whenever he needed to smoke. I counted, within the 2.5 hours I was drawing, he has already puffed 5-6 cigs. When he laughed, he would be wheezing and letting out a raspy smoker's cough. I have half the mind to tell him he has to stop smoking so much. When his friends left, he asked to sit at the same table with me. That was when the real conversation began.
Uncle's name is Tan Hou Ping (*uncle - a respectful way to address an elderly person). He proudly announced that he is 67 years old (younger than my parents), has served in the National Service as a pioneer, and is a grandfather of 6 grandchildren. He is happily semi-retired, living with his wife apart from his children, and is financially independent. He doesn't do much now except some simple exercises in the morning, odd jobs in the day and then drink with his friends in the evening. Most of the time he dominated the conversation as what most uncles would do.
When it was time (already 1030pm) for me to leave, I decided to take a selfie with Mr Tan who obliged happily. I told him I would be writing about him and our new found friendship in my diary. He seemed happy to hear that and showed reluctance for me to go. He sounded like he has a lot more to tell me.