SOON Choon Hor has never had a formal music lesson and yet, every day he sits in front of the 14 Living Story shop on Armenian Street playing a musical instrument and entertaining the passers-by.
When we met him, he was playing the “taishogoto”, a stringed musical instrument (also known as Bulbul Tarang in India) and behind him lay a wooden flute and many other musical equipments.
“I have never had a formal music lesson,” said the 65-year-old man who learned to play the instrument by watching his friends.
He has tried to teach the younger generation how to play these instruments and is yet to get them really interested in playing them. Soon said that the youngsters have not much interest in traditional instruments and give up easily.
When he was younger, he helped out his mother at her char kuey teow stall. But later, his mother sent him to learn woodwork so he could learn a skill to sustain the family.
He says he never had much interest in studies but he always loved arts and music. When asked where he gets his inspiration, he answered, “Before I fall asleep, I just get my ideas”.
Acquiring the skills proved to be useful and some of the souvenirs sold at 14 Living Story were made by Soon, using damaged goods. He also knows how to make furniture and fix broken appliances.
He lives in a house beside 14 Living Story and often walks around the area and it was during one of these walks that the staff members found out about his talent and offered him a spot in front of the shop to play the Chinese musical instruments.
As the shop is located in one of the historic houses along the famous Armenian Street – these houses are heritage houses built over 200 years ago – it gets a many visitors.
Established two years ago, 14 Living Story contains memorabilia that hold lot of memories and history and the concept of this shop is to preserve childhood memories of the older generation.
Tan Lay Heong, 38, is the curator of the photo gallery there. She started working at the shop about a year ago and has always had a keen interest in arts – especially photography and painting.
“When you have an interest in a certain field, you just feel happy and satisfied, like there is a connection between the both of you”, said Tan who was involved in drama and theatre while in secondary school.
At 31, Tan decided to further her studies in fine arts at the International Taiwan Arts University as she is very interested in installing and preserving arts but admits that not everyone is interested in the field. However she believes that more things are slowly changing and more young people are taking an interest in arts and history.
“In those days, most people thought that doing arts was a non-sustainable job, but things are getting better now,” she said. “More people are starting to understand the importance of keeping the traditions and history alive for the current and future generations.”