28.6.08

makers, keepers

On my morning commute the past week I've been reading the Tangent's latest issue of its journal on "The Makers and Keepers of History".

The short essays by historians and researchers describing their experiences of trying to access documents, archives and memories are humbling. Some are fairly straightforward accounts of the difficulties of getting government agencies to allow access to their files and archives. Most of these experiences have been negative. The descriptions are matter-a-fact, but the reader can sense the frustration or is invited to wonder at the suspicion and the impenetrability of a "no". Others are more personal accounts of interviews, chance encounters and the politics of documenting. These are stories of relationships forged, grown.

Who are the "makers" of history? The larger-than-life politician or the many individuals who collectively lend power or privately shape lives; the government archivist or the historian? And are the makers of history themselves "keepers", a repository or a self-appointed/state-authorised gatekeeper? Where is history indeed situated?

These questions distracted me from the marching feet, anxious glances at the time and bodies trying to stake their space in the cabins of the morning train. Besides, there have other makers and keepers I encountered the past week -

Another kind of makers

J and I have always lamented the lack of appreciation on this island for craft, for the ability to make things, for work and jobs that cannot be done behind a desk or in a boardroom.

In this month's issue of I.D., sociologist Richard Sennett makes a more eloquent advocacy for connecting the head and hand.


A stranger kind of keepers

In Pa J's house are several canaries, "putehs", a pair of parakeets, a grey parrot, and a fish tank that used to be home to 9 red fishes with fat lips. The birds are still caged up, but after Ma J passed away, the fishes were given away. Instead, the fish tank now houses a 10-inch arowana. One of J's many brothers, the keeper of the birds, had bought the fish to improve Pa J's luck at 4D.

Bro J: How, what do you think of the fish? Can you spot the difference after so many weeks?
Y: er ... yah, it seems to have grown.
Bro J: What else?
Y: Er... it's scales are getting less red now. This kind of fish not supposed to be red, right?
Brok J: [looking slightly worried] Is it? No lah, actually this kind of fish can be red also. You can't see the difference ah?
Y: ... [attempts to look more closely at the trapped creature]
Bro J: Eh, eh, I tell you? [lowers his voice to a whisper] But I tell you, here. Come, don't stand there...
Y: Huh, why?
Bro J: [continues to whisper] the fish is very sensitive one, it is very pan tang (trans: superstitious), so better don't let it hear what we are saying...

J's side of the family never ceases to amaze.

You talking to me?

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