In the blogging world, Brandon Stanton is king. You might know him simply as the guy behind “Humans of New York”, the photo-led Facebook page with nearly 16 million likes.
Stanton’s formula is simple: spot an interesting-looking person. Snap their photo. Ask them a few questions, (Stanton says he always opens with, “What’s your greatest struggle right now?”) and hey presto, you’re left with engaging portraits bolstered by personal stories.
Stanton’s work has spawned dozens of imitators around the world (there’s a lovely Humans of Singapore page, too). So we decided to jump on the bandwagon, and see if we could pick up a few portraits and stories around town too.
Peeling Like a Clockwork Orange
By Sarah Liu
At a fruit stall in Maxwell Hawker Centre, one of Singapore’s busiest food-stall hubs, my colleague Iva was particularly impressed by one owner’s ninja-like peeling.
Iva: What, whoa — skills, man, skills! S-K-I-L-L-S! Look at the aunty peel the orange under 30 seconds! I WANT TO TRY! CAN I TRY? CAN YOU TEACH ME?
Aunty: Okay lah. [Demonstrates] Like that.
Iva: [Hyperventilates] Oh my god, I’m screwing it up. Oh. My. God.
Aunty: Never mind, is okay. You peel too hard already.
Iva: Sorry aunty! Sorry for destroying your orange! Oh my god, I’m so sorry.
[She returns the knife and the wounded orange, sulks and hesitates.]
Iva: I pay you back?
Aunty: Never mind lah.
The Cat Collector of St John’s Island
By Daniel Seifert
[A confession: this is a throwback photo, taken during an assignment on Singapore’s smaller islands last year.]
How many cats do you actually have?
But… I can see at least a dozen. There are three cats sleeping on top of each other over there.
“Those? The rest are just wildcats.” [With a chuckle, he opens a tin of cat food for his grey kittens to feast on.]
Do the cats fight each other? Or the roosters? You’ve got a lot of chickens here, too.
“Nah. Though sometimes, the cats go for the little birds. You find the chicks disappear pretty regularly.”
Sweet Shop Smiles
By Andrea Edwards
Shahid Kamal is closing his shop in Singapore this day. He has been running it for eight years, providing an awesome service to everyone based in Maxwell House, including the Novus Asia office. Medication, office supplies or cans of Coke when you’ve had a few too many wines the night before — he stocks it all.
Kamal was my obvious choice for Humans of Singapore, because every time I have visited his shop he has greeted me with warmth, humour and a great smile. A person to be treasured. But who knew his story went so much deeper?
“I was born in India, but my family had to move to Pakistan during partition when I was a baby. Obviously I don’t remember it. I did well at school and then set off around the world, working in global banking and this took me from Pakistan to Nigeria, London, Paris and Rome. Then I was offered a position as CFO for a group of companies in Singapore, which I leapt at.
“Unfortunately bad luck struck after I arrived. The combination of SARS and the in-fighting between the family members who owned the group of companies, meant I was out of work. I couldn’t get a job. Everyone told me I was too qualified or too old!
“It was a challenging time, but many friends, from far and wide, helped me. I am most grateful for that. Then one day, a friend asked me if I wanted to buy his business, but I was so reluctant. My specialisation was in foreign trade, and I had really enjoyed my career, travelling the world, and meeting with global business leaders. But the idea of running my own shop? I didn’t even know the difference between A4 and A3 paper. It all just felt too daunting.”
Kamal’s wife stepped in, the deal was done, and while the early months were nerve wrecking for Kamal as he adjusted to his new life, he found his feet and has been a valued person within the Maxwell Road community ever since.
We’ll miss him at Novus Asia and hope someone says: Have you seen this man’s credentials? We have to give him a job! I wish we could give you a job Kamal. We think you’re awesome. Good luck.
Singapore’s Grooviest Security Guard
By Daniel Seifert
What was one of the happiest times of your life?
In 1985, when I was a musician working aboard a cruise ship. You meet people you’d never see on land. It was a beautiful job. That cruise ship, all the crew were Russians. Right from the captain downwards. We entertainers were the only Asians on board. Those were the days when Russians were Communists. So they couldn’t mingle with passengers much.
Because it was the Communist era, their life was very limited. The passengers were all Australians. So I learnt from these two very different cultures. The Russians were very conservative. The way they dressed was limited, because they earned their pay in rubles. We used to give them some of our T-shirts and jeans. It was the best time of my life.
Why are you passionate about music?
I’m passionate about music; it’s in my blood. I turned professional at the age of 19, I played bass at the Tropicana, opposite the Hyatt hotel. The feeling when I’m playing… Wow. It’s great, man. It’s very hard to explain in words. That feeling goes right down to your soul.
If you could go back in time and impart a lesson to yourself, what would you say?
Take up music seriously. Go to Berkeley [home to the University of California] and learn music. My dream is to play music again. I want to retire with that kind of life.
What’s one song you want played at your funeral?
“What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. It’s beautiful, rich in melody and simple lyrically. This kind of music will live forever. It’s a positive message: what a wonderful world. So simple.