Yesterday Jaclyn and I went to Touch Community Services to meet with the elders who will be participating in our intergenerational drama project. The elders range in age from 69 – 82, and are all friendly and eager to share their stories with young people.
The langua franca of this program will be Mandarin. All of the students speak Mandarin (in Singapore, school instruction is done in English and students are required to study another language which is often, but not always, their first language or Mother Tongue) and all of the elders can understand Mandarin. Two of the elders speak Hokkien, a Chinese dialect.
Jaclyn translated for me yesterday, but the language issue will be a challenge for me. I would like to know the stories that are being told, share in the laughter, and help shape the stories for sharing. However, I told them, it’s my job to guide them through this journey, but the journey is theirs; it’s not essential that I understand everything.
My lack of Mandarin comprehension will impact my research as well. I had thought of using some language phrases (using “uncle” or “auntie” to refer to elders, for example) as an “empathy marker” to use in evaluating the data. I may be able to learn these words in Mandarin, but I’m sure it will not be as easy to code as if I was fluent in the language.
So, I’ve got to rethink my research methodology and how / what I will be facilitating. I want to rely on translation as little as possible and downplay my role as facilitator. I want the students to lead the sessions as soon as possible, when they are ready and confident.
Our meeting with the seniors went well. They applauded when I spoke the two words I know in Mandarin. That cracked me up. They smiled and told stories. I was inspired and impressed that they were willing to take a risk on me, on this program, on drama. They are amazing people. I am looking forward to getting to know them.
During the meeting, I mentioned that I wanted to learn mah jongg. After we had finished our talking, two aunties said, “Come. Come.” and lead me to another room. In about four seconds a mah jongg table was set up, and I was surrounded by about ten people, all of whom alternately played the game for me and taught me how to play. It was a joyful experience. I can’t wait until I can go back and pay some more!