What is home? That is the question asked each week in “Home on the Dot,” a podcast led by NUS Japanese Studies Associate Professor Chris McMorran. The podcast consists of 10 episodes, each revolving around a particular aspect of Singapore related to the idea of home, such as public housing and hawker centres.
Sharing the inspiration behind the project, Assoc Prof McMorran said that while designing one of his modules — a General Education module titled “Home” — he wanted students to be able to apply what they had learnt in class to their own lives, in order to make their learning personal. He was also inspired by the British Museum and BBC’s project “A History of the World in 100 Objects” as well as “Life 101”, a podcast about the life of university students in the US. “I considered how I might blend these ideas into one, so I could learn about students, they could learn about home, and together we could share their stories with the world.”
More than 10 students were involved in the podcast, from writing scripts and recording interviews to editing and composing original music. Some had taken the Home module, while others applied to be part of the project team. “I was looking for great storytellers,” shared Assoc Prof McMorran.
The podcast’s varied topics — including intriguing ones such as Chinese offerings to the dead and haunted houses — stemmed from student research in the module. For example, one student submitted an essay on the comfort she experienced from the sound and vibration of her grandmother’s sewing machine. This prompted Assoc Prof McMorran to visit the grandmother’s home, interview her about the machine’s history and record its unique sound.
Work on the project was not all smooth sailing. “The greatest challenge has been translating student projects into an audio-only format. Some student work is very visual, so it takes some thought to make it accessible in an audio format,” said Assoc Prof McMorran.
Ironically, a concern which Assoc Prof McMorran thought would be a stumbling block did not materialise. “I thought the greatest challenge would be technical: recording, editing, uploading and managing audio files. But I have been fortunate to find students with amazing skills. They have either been self-taught, or they have completed a course in audio engineering at one of Singapore’s excellent polytechnics. We at NUS are truly fortunate to benefit from the country’s great academic institutions,” he elaborated.
Mr Stanley Chow Jun Hao, who recently graduated from NUS Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), is one of the students with audio engineering skills. Serving as the principal or second sound engineer on most of the episodes, Mr Chow said that obtaining a clean and usable recording was a main difficulty, as was gathering unique sounds for inclusion in the podcast. He added that working on the podcast has made him ponder much more now whenever the topic of home is raised.
Ms Abirami Ashok Kumar, another recent FASS graduate who took the Home module, worked on an episode about National Service — military conscription for all male Singaporeans and second-generation permanent residents. While finding it difficult initially to write for a listening audience, she felt the project team overcame the challenge with “lots of meticulous editing and revising”. She added, “As it turns out, the challenges of the auditory medium also offer opportunities for sound design that a written piece clearly would not”.
Having worked on the project, Ms Ashok Kumar has developed a new appreciation for podcasts as a learning tool, saying, “There is a certain authenticity and vulnerability in the human voice that often goes unheard in a written piece.”
As to whether the podcast will have a sequel, Assoc Prof McMorran said it would depend on the listeners. “If we get a sense that people are listening to and enjoying the podcast, there will be a Season 2 and possibly a Season 3,” he said. Season 2 would still be about home, with possible topics being Changi Airport and Lucky Plaza, a shopping centre popular as a home-away-from-home for foreign workers on their days off.
The podcast is available at the Home on the Dot blog or via iTunes by searching for “Home on the Dot”. Six episodes, each about 20 to 25 minutes in length, have been posted, with another four to be shared in the weeks to come.