Visual Culture

The Value of Things From a Bygone Era

Many would understand the meaning of “One man’s meat is another man’s poison”. In short, it means what works for one person may not be so for another. For me, this is equivalent to “one man’s treasure is another man’s trash”.
Buttons that were designed and handmade by my late paternal grandmother. The one on the right has a loop that catches onto the one on the left that has a complex Chinese knot design. Thus, fastening the blouse. Photo credit: Jinchi.

Let me explain. I am a sentimental person who has an eye for quirky designs and things that may not appeal to others. I keep things that remind me of my loved ones and my younger days. Some of these things I use in practical ways, others I use as home decoration while the rest lay quietly in my drawers BUT they are never forgotten. Once in a while I will take them out to clean them, admire them and then back into the drawer they go.

I am sure many can relate to me. So why is collecting so important to me? I believe that for humans to function wholly, understanding and remembering our past is just as important as embracing and adapting to the latest technology. Something as “trivial” as keeping my mother’s old, expired passports may be laughed at as something useless but if you look at her picture in each of the documents, you will see a different look, a different style and a slowly changing face as she ages. They are reminders of the years gone by and allow us to treasure every moment.

The paper jewelry I created for a design project back in my Diploma in Graphic Design days, almost three decades ago, is well-kept in my bedroom in good condition. It reminds me of my days as a design student and the bittersweet encounters I experienced in my studies. Indirectly, the experience of creating paper jewelry for a diploma project has contributed to my teaching today.

A glimpse into some of my priceless treasures that are kept in an antiquated suitcase. Clockwise from top right: A now-obsolete VHS tape of my degree graduation ceremony; a trophy personifying the invaluable memory of a race I participated with my father years ago; my grandparents’ marriage documents signed in the 1940s – a true piece of art to me; my own printed and bound degree dissertation; my primary school report cards and finally a “portfolio bag” that I made out of yellow manila card when I was 9 years old (note the “Hello Kitty” drawing). Photo credit Yip Jinchi © 2022.
This series of Reader’s Digest Encyclopaedic Dictionary that was published in 1964 had been with me since I left home to study in Kuala Lumpur in the mid-90s. Although it no longer serves as a point of reference due to its age, it has been my companion, reminiscent of my growing up years when I would pore over the illustrations and tried to emulate the style in my own drawings. Books were the main source of knowledge then. Photo credit: Yip Jinchi © 2022.

My late paternal grandmother used to make her own clothes AND buttons. The buttons’ designs are usually floral and intricately sewn by hand, one by one. Unquestionably, it takes skills and practice to make a perfect pair. I am so lucky to own one of grandmother’s blouses that came with her own buttons. They are living proof of an era when a woman’s worth was measured by her ability to sew well, among other household chores that she was expected to undertake once she was married. What we experience today is a stark difference from the past. This blouse is therefore not merely beauty to the eyes but also a reminder of the freedom and plenty that we enjoy today.

Pictured here with my supervisor, Prof. Dr. Esther Daniel, I am wearing my grandmother’s blouse at my PhD viva voce that year grandmother passed away. Wearing the blouse signified my fulfilment of grandmother’s wish for me to continue my studies. She had always emphasised on the value of education. Picture credit: Yip Jinchi © 2022.

The late Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

The minute and mundane things of the past could have the potential to spark ideas and innovations for the future. My collection of unwanted things have essentially become little miracles in their own right.

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