As we now travel in Asia, I’ve continued to ask people met along the road, not only one, but two common questions: “What’s your philosophy in life?”, as well as “Tell me a Story.”
I’ve just posted the first video on this theme – though this wasn’t the first interview – so this seems a good time for an update on the project, its approach and challenges.
In the previous post I shared some tips on how to do video interviews based on what I learned during the ooAmerica road-trips. In the case of ooAsia, it’s often been difficult to introduce myself and the concept to strangers in a foreign language. Let alone convince them to be on camera, conducting the interview, and, of course, understanding their answer. Here’s how I’ve proceeded so far, since I lack the resources to have a guide or interpreter:
– Find someone who speaks English and the local language to explain the project and get an audio recording of the questions – or their ‘closest intelligible equivalent’. Also if possible get the question written down on a piece of paper.
– Ask local people, using the audio recording and piece of paper, if they’re willing to answer on camera.
– After a high percentage of refusals, recording an answer I don’t understand – and not even being sure how well the people understood the question.
– So far, many interviewees were also English speakers – while I’m always happy to collect more answers, this also limits the range of interviewees to relatively educated, English-speaking individuals. It’s important for this projects and its approach that the answers come from people of all tides and social backgrounds.
– Ending up with a number of interviews both in English and in foreign languages, which must eventually be translated – how I’m not yet sure, through both friends and perhaps the online community – in order to build a documentary.
“Tell me a Story” – the concept
The rationale of the new “Tell me a Story” question was two-fold. First, I was hoping that this new ‘question’ would be even more open-ended and elicit a wider variety of responses: some people might tell a good joke, others a story about their childhood, some might introduce themselves and their daily life, or describe their relation to a place, and so on. Secondly, I was hoping these answers, and the choice of the story, would implicitly reveal something about people’s life philosophies and what they hold to be important (which might not otherwise be apparent through their explicit answers to the life philosophy question). Though a project of its own, as was once suggested to me, these stories could also feed the “What’s your philosophy in life?” project by giving an anecdotal or narrative illustration to people’s answers, or why they came to have a particular outlook.
Another reason for the new question was, well, simply to spice things up with some novelty.
Cultural differences and foreign language
I was also aware of the challenges posed by doing this in a foreign language: I might not be able to properly phrase a question as complex as ‘What’s your philosophy in life’, or get people to understand its meaning. Asking people to share a story seemed like a good way to get them to talk on a topic of their choice they might be comfortable with.
I’ve learned though that the new question is sometimes too open-ended, or rather because of the language barriers, it’s hard to gear the interviewees in a particular direction – just as it’s near impossible to chat with them and get a better feel for their personality and interests (this annihilates many of the tips discussed in the previous post on how to introduce yourself and your project and convince interviewees to answer). So I might proceed differently in the future.
There are also some cultural differences between the United States and Asia. People are generally not as willing to express themselves publicly (furthermore to foreigners who can’t properly introduce themselves) about their personal views – especially in countries where freedom of speech might be controlled or repressed.
And, as mentioned by a couple of locals I’ve spoken with, people are also sometimes less educated, more down to earth (not my words, but I tend to agree). They might be less concerned about verbally expressing their views on things like ‘life philosophy’ when life itself is a daily struggle.
Keeping the story alive
For these reasons, getting video interviews has often proved arduous. But it remains important to hear out people from all tides, to give everyone a voice: I’ll keep asking, and finding new ways to get people’s answers.
On a more positive note, the project is moving along, albeit at a modest pace, and I’ve managed to collect a range of interesting answers to both questions in all countries visited so far. I’m not yet sure when they’ll be translated, and in which video format they’ll eventually appear, but I’ll be sure to share more as we go.
As for the ooAmerica “What’s your philosophy in life?” movie, it will soon be released.
So as always, share the ooa!
And now, on to China and about a dozen locations all over the world’s most populated country!