Causes Week 2014: Scrolling down memory lane

Mr Tan Peng Ann and Ms Eleanor Yap have started an online scrapbook to compile stories from the elderly on their treasured objects. They aim to preserve these items and the memories associated with them for the younger generation.
Mr Tan Peng Ann and Ms Eleanor Yap have started an online scrapbook to compile stories from the elderly on their treasured objects. They aim to preserve these items and the memories associated with them for the younger generation.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Objects may be inanimate, but they can stir up the most animated of conversations.

"Everything you own has a story, so put two strangers with a familiar object together and they will soon start talking like old pals all night," said retired colonel Tan Peng Ann, 66.

The self-professed "hoarder" has been busy accumulating things that cannot, however, be kept in a dusty corner or under his bed. He collects pictures and stories of objects treasured by the elderly and posts them online, hoping they will spark off conversations with the young.

"It is like an online museum, so the young will see that modern things did not just appear in a vacuum but evolved over time, and learn to appreciate the experiences of the older generation," said Mr Tan, who intends to show his six grandchildren the site when they are older.

For example, if in 50 years' time razors and calculators cease to exist, he hopes a quick Google search will allow his great-grandchildren to see what the mechanical calculator that he once used in primary school looks like.

The Magic Brain Calculator given to him by his father has seven vertical columns of digits and is used to add, subtract or multiply.

Then there is the antique razor blade used by his grandmother to shave off her husband's pigtail just before the 1911 Revolution in China that overthrew the Manchus.

These items, and those shared by others, can be found on the website timetraveller.sg

"There are lots of precious memories associated with the objects and even if they are passed on through the generations, some of the personal significance of the items to the original owner may be lost," said freelance writer Eleanor Yap, 45.

She had urged Mr Tan to start an online archive after coming across his collection of some 200 antique pieces, mostly small items, at home.

"These personal stories often tell us about the values and culture of a generation that ought to be transmitted," she added.

 

Ms Lim Guat Khim, 65, a retired music record store saleswoman and grandmother of two, talked about her great-grandfather's traditional iron which is at least 100 years old.

"It reminded me of the hard days when I... needed to help my mother iron clothes till midnight," she said.

Since the online depository was launched in June, Mr Tan and Ms Yap have spoken to seven seniors. Their stories revolve around an eclectic mix of 30 objects, ranging from a laundry stick to retro magazines.

These entries came either from word of mouth or via e-mail.

Eager to debunk the stereotype that old people cannot use technology well, Ms Yap taught Mr Tan to post entries by coming up with an instruction manual. He now does it effortlessly.

Mr Tan hopes this project will encourage the young to start keeping things important to them.

"The memories link the generations in a deep personal way and it is a good way to pass on values," he said.

Teacher Grace Koh, 26, who chanced upon the portal, said it is a good medium to preserve memories for posterity. "They don't take up space (and) can be easily searched for, unlike objects which may rust or go missing over the years. The online space is a timeless one."

jantai@sph.com.sg

For more information, go to timetraveller.sg