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A second chance at friendship

Each episode of “The Friendship Files“ shows a conversation between The Atlantic‘s Julie Beck and two or more friends exploring the history and meaning of their relationship.

This week she speaks to two men who first met while serving in the military in Singapore. They didn’t talk much then. More than a year later, they met again online, went on a hike together, and found they were clicking really fast. They discuss how the hikes became a tradition and how they got a second chance at friendship.

The friends:

Le Yuan Kwan28, a luxury real estate agent living in Singapore
Troy Lee27, an entrepreneur living in Singapore

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Julia Beck: How did you meet?

Troy Lee: We met in the military. In Singapore we have a two-year compulsory military training. I was selected to be an officer – we had to attend a nine-month training program before we were certified. In the training program, Kwan was the storekeeper responsible for giving us food and equipment. Before that he was a classmate of my best friend from high school.

We didn’t really talk much on this show because our roles were different, but I saw him almost every day.

Le Yuan Kwan: I was in this camp for about two years and he was only there for nine months. To be honest I could hardly remember him after the nine months. I did the logistics for the whole company and at any one time there were 120 cadets. It was hard to spot them all, especially with the same short hair. But of course I remembered that he was my former classmate’s very good friend.

After two years of military service, we both traveled separately to Europe. I’ve been to London and Iceland.

Troy: I was in Croatia.

kwan: We reconnected via Instagram and started chatting.

Troy: I can’t even say we talked. We just answered.

Beck: Comment pictures and such?

Troy: Yes, I’m just reacting.

A year and a half after the European trips I scrolled through his Instagram story and thought: He seemed like a really friendly person, so why not just go out with him and catch up on life?

Beck: What did you do?

kwan: We hiked about three to four hours in MacRitchie, one of Singapore’s national parks. We talked about life, our national service and what we had done.

Beck: Was it weird going from not talking at all to four hours of uninterrupted time? Did you gain new impressions of each other?

Troy: In the military, I knew he was very interested in fashion and sneakers. He’s kind of a hype beast guy. He still is now. I got the impression that he might be a bit arrogant because he’s a hype beast guy and grew up upper middle class. But once I started talking to him, I saw that he was more down to earth than a lot of my friends. He is very down to earth and conscientious. He wants to work hard to prove himself on his own merits and not just rely on what his father left him. After 10 minutes I knew it was going to be a good four hours.

I also remember: he doesn’t like to train. Halfway through this hike, he says, “My legs are breaking. Please call me Uber.” So we rested in a gazebo and watched a beautiful sunset.

Kwan sits in front of a reservoir during sunset
Kwan watches the sunset during the friends’ first hike in MacRitchie. (Courtesy of Troy Lee)

kwan: I’m very impressed with how much he can remember. I don’t remember too much. I thought, This guy is a little weird. He thinks differently than any of my friends. It fascinates me. I think he’s wise, very smart.

Troy: It’s a compliment.

kwan: Weird in a good way.

Beck: The seven mile hike in MacRitchie is a tradition for you guys now, isn’t it? How did you end up begging for an Uber the first time?

kwan: After the very first hike, we probably met next when I was in Perth for my final college semester and he was in Brisbane. My then girlfriend, now fiancee, flew to Brisbane during my semester break. It was an opportunity to meet up with my girlfriend and visit Troy. We met up with another friend of Troy’s in the Gold Coast and had a blast. We also did some hikes.

After that I think we did it more than once a year at MacRitchie. Maybe once every six months. I got used to it and my stamina improved. Seven miles won’t kill you. When you have very meaningful and deep conversations, it goes by a lot easier.

Kwan and Troy on a hike in Australia
Kwan and Troy on a hike in Australia (courtesy of Troy Lee)

Beck: Are there any conversations that you particularly remember?

kwan: Being a real estate agent is a lot of sales, but also a lot of running a business. Most of my friends aren’t entrepreneurs, so there aren’t many people I can talk to about my work stress. Because he’s an entrepreneur, he gets me. This guy is really wise; He gives me a lot of advice and positive attitude. I feel enlightened every time I speak to him.

Beck: What’s really interesting here is that your friendship had a second chance. You didn’t actually click the first time your paths crossed, but you did the second time.

Troy: I am also very positively surprised by the second chance. I don’t think there are many second chances in life. Ours happened despite the fact that we don’t share a common physical space. Bonds are formed when people spend a lot of time together or work towards something together. But for us it was none of those things. It happened because both parties were interested in making it happen.

The two friends on a hike in Singapore
The two friends on a hike in Singapore (courtesy of Troy Lee)

Beck: What have you learned from your friendship?

Troy: When he shares his difficulties, I often listen and offer advice. This activity taught me to listen better. I’m not in his shoes. There are many things I don’t know and I can’t solve for him. But I believe the way to help him is to listen with an unbiased perspective, to open up and let whatever he has flow into me and we can talk about it. In fact, I often don’t pass on advice. I just reflect on what he said and then he finds the solution himself.

kwan: Every time we talk, we connect. This guy knows me. We talk quite a lot, but we don’t see each other very regularly because we live quite far apart. We don’t do anything spontaneously. It was always planned. Although I don’t see each other very regularly, I consider him one of my best friends. You don’t have to talk every day to be real, true friends.

Troy: I think everyone has experienced this before: you meet a person and bond with that person in three days more than you would with someone you’ve known for three years. It works in mysterious ways, very randomly, and you just have to be aware of it when it comes up. You have to be prepared and not just carry on as you have been, because then you would have missed the chance for this friendship.


If you or someone you know should be featured in The Friendship Files, contact us at friendlyfiles@theatlantic.com and tell us a little about what makes friendship unique.

https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/05/friendship-after-national-military-service/629919/?utm_source=feed A second chance at friendship

Jessica MacLeish

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