Mapping “Cherita”

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While marking the map, interviewer also identify information gap that required further clarification with the interviewee

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A partial view of the “Cherita” map (draft) marking locations of significant places, events, businesses, activities mentioned by the interviewees.

Last night, the interviewer team (except for Izuan who has to go back home town), came together to celebrate the completion of the interview phase. It was a great opportunity to share our interview experiences and stories that each of us have collected. An A0 size map was put up on the wall where we marked locations of significant places, events, businesses and activities mentioned by our interviewees. It was interesting to make connections between stories and memories, and we were able to imagine fragmented pictures of how life was on Chulia Street from 1945-1970.

Based on recurring stories and memories, we identified some popular topics for further interpretation and dissemination:
1. Secret societies
2. Popular businesses on the street
3. Games and pastimes
4. Night life
5. Festival and procession
6. Housing
7. Transportation
8. Food

Lesson Learnt: This mapping method is useful because it helps visualizes underlying trends and values, which in turn, contributed to understanding of the sense of place on Chulia Street during the selected period (1945-1970).

Interview (part 6)

Interviewee: Mr. Yew
Interviewer: Li Feng
Time: 1pm
Venue: Mr. Yew’s shop

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Interesting Cherita: In George Town, it was very common to find many people living in a house. The house we lived in had about 32 people, next door housed more than 50! At that time, the town was full of people because of job opportunities, and affordable rental under the Rent Control Act.

Missing Stories (Part 2)

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Wei Meng at work re-shooting some framed old photographs

We went to Mr. Lim again, this time to scan the selected old photographs and to take picture of some artifacts for visual reference. He couldn’t quite understand why we were not interested in everything “Baba Nyonya” (which is very much sought after among antique collectors).

Mr. Lim: Oh, so you are looking for something common?
LF: We are looking for old photographs that shows everyday lifestyle of common people.
Mr. Lim: You mean this type of photographs are valuable? But people only wants to buy photos of Baba Nyonya.
LF: These photos may not be valuable in terms of money, they are valuable for research and education purposes. The younger generation can learn how was life like in the past.
Mr. Lim: Oh… then you must scan this.
LF: But this photo is out of focus.
Mr. Lim: This is important la! It shows people’s life in the past.

At that moment I didn’t think much of the conversation. Indeed, I decided not to scan the photo suggested by him assuming it was a random pick among the over 20 photos on the table. Now thinking back, his decision kind of makes sense because the photo (possibly taken in the 70s or early 80s) shows a group of young men posing in front of a timber house.  Mr. Lim belongs to that age group and the timber house setting resembles his living environment. He could relate to this photo because it might have connected to his similar experience in the past. Should have encouraged the remembering and telling of his own memories evoked by that single photo. But instead I narrow-mindedly observed the pre-set objective of the day, “I come, I see, I scan”. Listening to the people whom you come to contact with? Not included in the agenda!

Lesson Learnt: There, I betrayed the principle of shared authority by putting myself in an “I-know-best” position and reducing Mr. Lim’s role to a mere photo provider. More significantly, I killed an opportunity to create a meaningful experience for a man who so kindly shared with us his personal collection without asking for returns, not even wanting us to acknowledge his name. Oral history is foremost about the people whom we come into contact with, one should not sacrifice that in the name of “meeting objective of the day”!

Interview (part 4)

Interviewee: En. Aleem (64 yrs old)
Interviewer: Dr. Mahani Musa
Time: 4.30pm
Location: En. Aleem’s shop cum residence
Duration: 1.5 hour

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Interesting Cherita: Chulia Street was popularly known as the Mamak area. Chulia refers to people who wear sarong from India, the Islamic people (Indian Muslim).

The Reluctant Interviewees (part 2)

Case 2: Interviewee (75 yrs old receptionist)

Li Feng: Auntie, when do you think you will be free for me?
Interviewee: Aiya, now cannot already, don’t even have time to sleep. Very bad timing, you better find other interviewee to replace me.
Li Feng: Your memories are very precious to us, I just need about 2 hours of your time. Shall we make it in the evening after your work then?
Interviewee: No no, I’m busy for the election…change government…. (side track to talk about politics). You come back after the election la!

Lesson Learnt: It’s all about timing! I propose the ideal time gap between preliminary interview and proper interview is no longer than 1 week. Unforeseen circumstances may arise if the gap is too long. Avoid period with active social/political happenings.

The Reluctant Interviewees (part 1)

10 days into the interviewing phase and we have lost 3 out of 10 interviewees. Common line: I’m busy, you better find other interviewee to replace me. Death sentence: I don’t want to get into trouble. So what went wrong? When we did the preliminary 2-3 weeks ago, the responses were positive.

Case 1: Interviewee (80+ yrs old housewife)
Ke Shin: Auntie, can I make an appointment to interview you?
Interviewee: (about to speak, but…)
Interviewee’s friend: (speaking to the interviewee) Are you sure ah.. later you talk something wrong then get into trouble lo…
Ke Shin: There is nothing to worry about, auntie. What we want to talk about is your personal experience living on Chulia Street… The purpose is to preserve local stories and memories for the next generation…. (interrupted by the interviewee’s son who took Ke Shin to the roadside)
Interviewee’s son: (while pointing to shops opposite) This shop and that one are also very old on this street, you can go to interview them. OK, bye bye.

Lesson Learnt: Best to approach the interviewee in private. Presence of other people poses peer pressure that will affect opinion and attitude.