Trades by Postal Code: Interview (Part II)

Posted by on Feb 25, 2016 in SG50 Showcase | No Comments

In the previous post, we have shared selected stories from the Trades by Postal Code, a documentation project done by Nicole on some of the vanishing trades in Singapore. In this part II continuation post, we shall complete the journey of discovery with a short interview of Nicole; where we go behind the scenes and delve into the processes, thoughts and feelings which Nicole has experienced in her project. And it is through such honest recount that the best of humanity is revealed – unassumingly.

YY: Hi Nicole, it is interesting to note that while you belong to the younger generation in Singapore, you chose to embark on this journey to document the old and their trades. Can you share with us on what inspired you for your project and your choice of its theme?

Nicole: Trades by Postal Code is a continuation of a project I did for my Final Year Project (FYP) at LASALLE College of the Arts  revolving around the same theme of vanishing trades. It started one day when I visited the wet market in Bedok. I thought it will be interesting to explore areas like these; the market seems like an essential part of everyday life where we get our fresh produce. It felt like a place of a forgotten time. And soon enough, I was visiting more and more of such old trades, which eventually led to me documenting them down.

YY: Can you bring us through the efforts you have taken for your project?

Nicole: The book took about a year to produce. There wasn’t a particular process or methodology that I had set out to follow. But looking back now, there was a pattern to the way I had worked. I was constantly on a look-out for old trades wherever I went, be it on my way to work or during my lunch breaks. Then during the weekends, I would head down for an actual visit.

Usually, the store owners and I would get carried away talking. So much so that by the time I was about to leave, the day was over. Then I would go home to sort the photos and pen my thoughts.

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Photos taken from Hee Motor Cycle Service

YY: Were there valuable insights or learning points you have gained from the process?

Nicole: One particular aspect which amazed me greatly throughout the project is this sense of “人情味” (human touch) which these old tradesmen had shown me. Many times, they had invited me for lunch and tea breaks even though I was the one asking them for a favor by taking up their time for interviews and photographing them. I am really grateful to have been let into their lives and their stories even if it was for only those few hours.

Many of them expressed that they wouldn’t want their children to take over their businesses. They said that an office job would be much better for their children, in terms of the number of days-off and less worry on a day-to-day basis. However, I firmly believe that these old tradesmen have paved a way for the next generation, and that their work contributions are important to Singapore.

I’ve also come to the understanding that these old tradesmen are not that different from us (younger generation). Before I had started on this project, I’ve always viewed the older generation as very distant people. Embarking on this project made me realise that there are many interesting topics and subject matters which I could discuss and share with them easily. The stories which they had shared with me were very intriguing; it’s a Singapore before I came along. One I never knew.

YY: Was there an emotional moment for you while doing the project?

It was particularly heart-wrenching to see her signboard being yanked out; it felt like the history of her place was being carelessly tossed away.

Nicole: There wasn’t a particular tear-jerking moment, but when I visited Aunty Lan from Xin Chai Hong last year to give her a copy of the book, coincidentally it was her last day at the apartment. They’ve been evicted. I feel lucky to be there when it happened and to help her a bit with the moving out though it was sad watching Aunty Lan pack her things.

It was particularly heart-wrenching to see her signboard being yanked out; it felt like the history of her place was being carelessly tossed away.

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New Chay Hong Beauty Parlour’s signboard when it was around

YY: What do you hope to achieve through your project?

Nicole: Whenever I returned to the store owners to give them a copy of the book, they would be quick to share it with their friends or other customers. Immediately, conversations were started and smiles were all over. I’m glad that I could at least retain some of these memories for them. My hope is that somewhere further down the road, these store owners can share them with their family and friends.

When I started out this project, I did it because I thought it would be fitting to document these trades before they are gone. But it was only after working on this project for the past two years and having actually seen some of these trades vanishing right before my eyes did I truly come face-to-face with the realities of these disappearing trades. So archiving them in books is important to me: that in a way now, they will never be forgotten.

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The last moments of Chong Seng Tailor shop

Trades by postal code is now available for loan at various public libraries (click here to find out more). Alternatively, you can get a limited copy of this book from us if you share an interesting story with images of a local vanishing trade to iremembersg@nlb.gov.sg. We hope we have inspired you to embark on your own documentation journey today.

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Trades by Postal Code’s book cover

 

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Ying Ying
Editor, irememberSG
Singapore Memory Project

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