Each installment of “The Friendship Files” features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.
This week she talks with two men who first met while doing national military service in Singapore. They didn’t talk much then. More than a year later, they reconnected online, took a hike together, and found that they clicked really quickly. They discuss how the hikes became a tradition, and how they got a second chance at friendship.
Le Yuan Kwan, 28, a luxury real-estate broker who lives in Singapore
Troy Lee, 27, an entrepreneur who lives in Singapore
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Julie Beck: How did you meet?
Troy Lee: We met in the military. In Singapore, we have two years of mandatory military training. I was selected to become an officer—we had to attend a nine-month training program before being certified. In the training program, Kwan was the storeman in charge of giving us food and equipment. Before that, he was a classmate of my best friend from high school.
We didn’t really talk a lot in that program, because our roles were different, but I saw him almost daily.
Le Yuan Kwan: I was in that camp for about two years, and he was just there for nine months. So to be honest, after the nine months, I barely remembered him. I was doing logistics for the entire company, and at any point in time there were 120 officer cadets. It was hard to recognize all of them, especially with the same short hair. But of course, I remembered that he was my ex-classmate’s very good friend.
After the two years of national service, we both separately went on trips to Europe. I was in London and Iceland.
Troy: I was in Croatia.
Kwan: Through Instagram, we connected again and started chatting.
Troy: I can’t even say we were chatting. We were just replying.
Beck: Commenting on pictures and stuff?
Troy: Yeah, just reacting.
A year and a half after the Europe trips, I was scrolling through his Instagram story and thinking, He seemed like a really friendly person, so why not just ask him out and catch up on life?
Beck: What did you do?
Kwan: We went hiking in MacRitchie, one of Singapore’s national parks, for about three to four hours. We talked about life, our national service, and what we had been doing.
Beck: Was it strange to go from not talking at all to having four hours of uninterrupted time? Did you form new impressions of each other?
Troy: In the military I knew he was very into fashion, and sneakers. He’s sort of a hype-beast type of guy. He is still now. I had the impression that because he was a hype-beast guy, and because he grew up in the upper middle class, he might be a little bit arrogant. But as I started talking to him, I saw that he was more down-to-earth than a lot of my friends. He’s very grounded and meticulous. He wants to work hard to prove himself based on his own merits and not just depend on what his father left him. After 10 minutes, I knew that it was going to be a good four hours.
I also remember: He doesn’t like to exercise. When we were halfway through that trek, he says, “My legs are breaking. Please call me an Uber.” So we rested at a pavilion, and we saw a beautiful sunset.
Kwan: I’m very impressed by how much he can remember. I don’t remember too much. I thought, This guy is a bit weird. The way he thinks is unlike any of my friends. It intrigues me. I think he’s wise, very smart.
Troy: It’s a compliment.
Kwan: Weird in a good way.
Beck: The seven-mile trek in MacRitchie is a tradition for you guys now, right? How did that happen if, the first time, you were begging for an Uber?
Kwan: After the very first hike, the next time we met was probably when I was in Perth for my last semester of college, and he was in Brisbane. My then-girlfriend, now fiancée, was flying to Brisbane over my mid-semester break. It was a chance to meet up with my girlfriend and visit Troy. We met up in Gold Coast with another friend of Troy’s and had a lot of fun. We also did some hikes.
After, I think we did more than once a year in MacRitchie. Maybe once every six months. I got used to it, and my stamina got better. Seven miles won’t kill you. When you have very meaningful and deep conversations, it passes much more easily.
Beck: Are there conversations that stand out in your memory?
Kwan: Being a real-estate agent is a lot of sales, but at the same time a lot of company management. Most of my friends are not entrepreneurs, so there aren’t a lot of people whom 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 positivity. I feel enlightened each time I talk to him.
Beck: What’s really interesting here is your friendship had a second chance. You didn’t really click the first time you crossed paths, but the second time, that was the time.
Troy: I’m very pleasantly surprised by the second chance as well. I don’t think there are a lot of second chances in life. Ours happened in spite of the fact that we aren’t sharing a common physical space. Bonds get built when people spend a lot of time together or they’re working toward something together. But for us, it was neither of these things. It happened because both parties were interested to make it happen.
Beck: What have you learned from your friendship?
Troy: A lot of times when he shares his difficulties, I listen and I give him advice. In that activity, I’ve learned to listen better. I’m not in his shoes. There are a lot of things I do not know and can’t solve for him. But I believe that the way to help him is to listen with a nonjudgmental perspective, to open up and to let everything he has pour into me and we can talk about it. A lot of times, actually, I don’t share advice. I just reflect back what he said and then he finds the solution himself.
Kwan: Every time we talk, we connect. This guy knows me. We talk a fair bit, but we don’t meet very regularly, because we live quite far apart. We don’t do impromptu. It was always planned. Despite not meeting too regularly, I consider him one of my best friends. You don’t have to talk every day to be real, true friends.
Troy: I believe everyone has experienced this before: You meet a person and you connect with that person in three days more than you connect to someone you have known for three years. It works mysteriously, very serendipitously, and you just have to be aware when it comes. You have to be prepared and not just go about life the same as you have done before, because then you would have missed the chance of that friendship.
If you or someone you know should be featured on “The Friendship Files,” get in touch at email@example.com and tell us a bit about what makes the friendship unique.