Meet Candy Tan Hui Shi (22), Koh Xin Yue Karen (22), Phang Su Hui (23), and Tan Huay Peng (22), the gang of four who are behind Avenue 1960s: Stories of Live, Laugh, Love in Singapore. Avenue 1960s is an initiative by the four undergraduates at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communications and Information at Nanayang Technological University to connect young Singaporeans with their heritage, as part of their final year project. The campaign, which runs from December 2013 to March 2014 and supervised by Associate Professor Dr Lee Chun Wah, seeks to reach out to some 10,000 youths to get them to develop an appreciation of where they did come from by encouraging conversations with their parents.
How did the group get interested in heritage?
Between the four of us, we’re really interested in how Singapore was like in the past, and it never fails to amaze us. For example, Candy likes traditional toys, whereby Karen likes old photography and cameras, Huay Peng likes old maps and places, and Suhui thinks that kampong life was a very different experience.
What motivated the group to start this initiative?
It started from a group meeting that we had. Some of us were talking about how our parents came from the kampong, and Candy always thought that her dad lived in a HDB flat since young. But she later on found out that it wasn’t true! Although we laughed about it, it got us thinking whether young Singaporeans know about their parents’ stories, or even how Singapore was like in the past. So we started a heritage campaign that is focused on the youths, to help them know more about Singapore’s past and heritage by encouraging them to find out more through talking to their parents about it.
What do you hope to achieve through the effort?
As a youth-centric heritage campaign, we would say that our campaign is actually one of the first few times that heritage promotion is specially targeted at the younger Singaporeans.
Through this project, we hope to let more young Singaporeans know more about how life in the past was like and in the process, young Singaporeans would feel more connected towards our heritage.
With that, we hope to motivate them to start looking for more stories about Singapore heritage, starting from their closest and intimate source, their parents.
Why did you decide to focus on the 1960s to the 1980s?
We chose to focus on the 1960s because it was the nation-building years where, Singapore was in the midst of an important transition.
Also, our parents would find the 1960s familiar. They probably lived through the 1960s as young children, and they have seen how Singapore has changed, and now they’re in the best position to tell us about it.
How successful do you think you have been in meeting your objective of connecting youths with heritage thus far?
I guess the most useful indicator of our campaign’s success is really when we interact with young Singaporeans of our age during our outreach activities and our exhibition. We’ve heard good feedback from students saying that they really enjoyed our exhibits, and that they’ve actually learnt new things and have many takeaways from our campaigns.
Also, for those young Singaporeans who participated in our postcard competition (where they brought from postcards with several questions, which served as conversation starters to get them to ask about their parents’ childhood stories), the very interesting stories that we get from them also shows us that they actually did take the extra effort to find out more about Singapore back in the 1960s.
Our aim is to spark the curiousity of young Singaporeans towards Singapore’s past, and we feel satisfied with the positive responses we had thus far.
Singapore is evolving at a rapid pace and some say we shouldn’t dwell on the past but look towards the future. Who we are does evolve – for example the childhood games that my parents played are very different from me, and the same can be said for me and my children – and certain aspects of the past may not have a place in the future. What are your thoughts on this?
It is true that with each coming generation, the stories of how life was like changes – but what my team is concerned about, is a seemingly lack of oral tradition between the parents/grandparents and the young Singaporeans of this generation. Knowing what happened in the past helps us understand that there was more that happened before we were born, and by knowing our parents’ stories, we think that this would also help us bond better as a family.
Why do you think it is necessary or important to connect with our heritage?
We also strongly feel that our knowledge of Singapore’s past should not solely consist of history (significant dates, milestones, events), but also heritage – it is the Singaporean way of life, culture, food, etc.