"Can you draw my sister's picture?" a girl asks. She's come from a different train car to ask me this. She's brought her family along: mother, father, sister. I look at the stations. "Sure," I say. "Oh well you'll have to hurry," she realizes. "We get off at Outram Park station!" I smile. "That's my stop too."
We sit at a bench at that station, and as I draw her and her sister, the family asks me about myself and what I studied and why I do what I do. The two girls ask questions about what they should do with their lives. I leave walking on clouds.
They write me, after. "I'll know I've done the right thing with my life," she emails, "if I find something that makes me as genuinely happy as you were that day."
That chapter ends. I fly away from Singapore, back to working life in Germany, memories tucked away for another time. A new chapter starts.
The story continues in 2019. "Again, in Outram Park?" I write the sisters. I'm travelling through Asia again, and after a marathon of reunions in big cities across five countries, I swing by for a few days in Singapore. "Outram Park?" they ask. "There's really nothing to see there." This much is true. but it's a fitting point for a reunion.
We decide to take the LRT together, first heading this way down the island, then the other. They're happy to just watch me draw people along the way, making conversation with a few of the people I surprise with portraits. We have lunch in Little India. That chapter closes.
2020 was supposed to bring many visits to the little island nation of Singapore. Afterall, I moved to its neighbor, Malaysia. But soon all smiles were hidden behind masks, and not long after all travel was locked behind restrictions.
2022 I visit for Hari Raya holidays. "Only nine days in Singapore?" a friend's mother asks. I can't help but laugh. Only nine days? The entire country is roughly the size of the city of Berlin. And I've already been twice. But I keep coming back.
Of course, I've come to see friends. Friends I haven't been able to see in three years. "How've you been?" I write many letters to organize reunions. One has the subject line: "Again, in Outram Park?"
This latest chapter we decide to visit at a little coffee shop in the Joo Chiat district of Singapore. The sisters are friends with the people who run the shop. "Is this the guy you were talking about?" the barista mentions. They pull up a seat for her.
We head to a hawker center for lunch. When we return to the coffee roastery, there's more staff who've heard of me. "Hey um..." one staff member approaches me. "I don't want a portrait, but could you draw this for my friend?" she hands over her a photo on her phone. My hands get to work.
Soon, another staff member. Soon, another portrait.
"You know I actually brought my drawing stuff with me today?" Elspeth mentions. She pops open a plastic case with pencils in different hardness and materials of different quality. She unfolds her small doodle notebook. "Should I draw you too?"
She gets to work on drawing me.
A few minutes later we've pulled up a chair for her and given her a set of materials. She takes a lot of coaxing, but I walk her through each point in the portrait drawing. She was born with cerebral palsy, but she manages the portrait all the same. Holding it up after dating it, she smiles. It looks like me, for sure.
"Please wait a minute," she says, heading back into the restaurant's back room. She comes back out with two copies of a book. "I wrote this," she says, holding out the memoirs to us. "I'd like for you to have this."
I have to go. It's funny, this chapter ends with an actual book.