HE JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY
A Degree life as a sociology and anthropology student cannot be separated from the fieldwork. In anthropology, the method which are used for a fieldwork is ethnography. It is a way of studying a social group’s emicly or from the perspectives of the subject that we are going to study. The fieldwork is important to increase opportunities for student engagement to achieve the course’s learning objectives so that the student can apply the learning knowledge and skills and face the challenges inside and outside the learning process. The main goal of this fieldwork is to familiarize the anthropology student to the fieldwork and report writing through traveling by public transport.
This study is a qualitative study and myriad approach are available as a methodology. Here, as a researcher, I obtained the data through participant observation method. Prticipant observation is the recording and analysis of a culture or society, usually based on participant-observation and resulting in a written account of a people, place or institution’ (Simpson ; Coleman 2017). According to the early anthropologists Malinowski,
The field ethnographer has seriously and soberly to cover the full extent of the phenomena in each aspect of tribal culture studied, making no difference between what is commonplace, or drab, or ordinary and what strikes him as astonishing and out-of-the way (1922: 11)
He found that the best way to understand cultures was to try and integrate yourself in the group and try and understand how to view the world from the perspective of a member of that society. This method requires me to participate in a social event that is part of a specific culture. So this fieldwork needs me to spend some time to observe and interact with the passengers and also the bus drivers to collect data, jotting notes and gathering the data and reflect upon to gain further insight into the culture being studied to draw conclusions. Beforehand, I have prepared research question to be used as my guidelines throughout the fieldwork which are:
1. What are the challenges that you face when you travel by bus?
2. Why did you choose a bus to travel?
3. When is the most preferable time for you to travel by bus?
4. Where is the most comfortable seat for you in the bus?
5. How did you spent your time during traveling?
The Test in Excitement
On a one fine day, in a course of my study, which is SOCA 4520 : Social Anthropology, I was given a task to conduct 7 session of participant observation during travelling and luckily I was in a group of traveling with express bus instead of grab car, LRT, MRT, MONOREL and others. At the first time I got this task, I am so excited because in my mind, I believe that this is an opportunity for me to go home or travel here and there on the license of completing the assignment. It is quite difficult for me to get a permission from my parents to travel without them. I remembered one day, where my father insisted to send me to IIUM by bus than return to Kelantan on the same day because he was so worried about me. So this task is a great chance for me to explore more and become an independent person.
I believed that life is not all about exploring others as according to T.S. Eliot poem (1978),
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
Our journey of life is also about self-discovery where at the end of the exploration we could know more about ourselves. I found that the poem is very interrelated with my fieldwork. Being a child which never been apart from my parents since my young age is a big challenge for me to live my life alone. Being a student who is away from my own country needs me to travel for hours to reach home. Because of that, I frequently go back home during my first year to relieve my feeling. Then the number reduced gradually when I’m used to the situation and getting better day by days.
I am a Kelantanese in Kuala Lumpur who will always choose buses as my mode of transportation to go home. This is because I have no transport to drive by myself and to take a flight is just too expensive for me. I could say that bus is not a new things for me to explore since I am in my fourth year now. Normally, due to the distance the express bus will take around 8 to 10 hours depending on the traffic’s smoothness from Kuala Lumpur to reach Kelantan. Most of the time, I would choose Perdana express, Mutiara, Mara Liner/Plusliner bus express instead of many others option which in majority of cases are quite comfortable and in good condition.
However, many things has happen throughout the trip and it is eyes opening. I have experienced many challenges which before conducting this fieldwork, it’s not a problem to me. During my first trip for this assignment, I realize that I have a big problem to be solve in order for me to make this fieldwork a success. The problem is to stay focus in the bus and observe the details of the trip which are the bus and other passengers. I get dizzy every time I tried to focus or stay awake in the bus. Then I realize before this, I will close my eyes and dive to the dream world once I entered the bus. Regardless of the time and distance, it is challenging and difficult time for me.
Now it is one of the greatest challenges for me to repair and adjust the situation. Its worries me as my fieldwork could be affected if this problem did not meet its solutions. So, for a trip which would took hours, I tried to arrange a schedule for myself to ensure that I could collect the details. First things first, I set a time for myself to stay awake at least one to two hours where the passengers are awake and do their own activity. After the first hour when there is no activities are detected, I will close my eyes and rest myself until the driver stop at the R&R for their break time and switch the driver. Then I will observe again for an hour and sleep until the bus arrived to the destination.
Figure 1: Waiting for my turn to go out of the bus.
Besides that, I felt uneasiness and anxiety when I need to go and talk to the driver. It is due to the distance from my seat and the driver is far away. On my first tried, I got panicked and intense at the beginning. I stand up and walk toward the driver for halfway but come back to my seat. It’s happen for a few times before I get to interview the driver and I can feel the sensation of the butterflies in my stomach which then led the inability to effectively communicate with them. I think I have experienced a culture shock in completing this fieldwork. Culture shock is the anxiety and emotional disturbance experienced by people when two sets of realities and conceptualizations meet. (Rachel Irwin, 2007). I believed that it is stimulates by the environment and the people around me. Even though I have used the bus for many times, but I never tried to talk to the driver. So this led to the feeling of nervous, fear, worry and so on. This creepy and profound feeling of alienation on arrival at anew field site is accepted and normal. (p 231, Kottak, 2015)
Open My Eyes and Observe!
There are rules and regulation that need to be followed for a certain reason. Other than that, there are also rules that are not necessarily a law but people follow them on a day to day basis to ensures and sustain the stability. The people embraces the laws once a person has started it. So the others will become the followers. This culture was also exist on the basis of common sense to ease oneself and also other people. Based on my observation and interview throughout the seven visits, there are five unwritten norms that can be listed.
First of all, the passenger would choose the seating based on their convenience for a pleasurable bus trip travelling. According to a passenger,
“She will choose the first row because she need to see the scenery and traffic. She said if anything happen during the trip, she can know immediately what happen to the bus. Sitting at the back make her dizzy. (FN3: 31/3/18).
As for me, I preferred a seat which is near to the window in the middle of the coach, so that I can see the scenery outside the bus. This seat also plays a significant roles for me to place my head on it and the wall is useful to lean my body when my seating partner is a male. Other seating will results to a bad trip experience for me.
I noticed that every time the bus arrived to pick up, the passenger would form a queue either it is straight or bent, long or short. I think the people did not rushed because they have their own seat already when they purchase the ticket. So they don’t need to rush to choose their seat.
“All the passenger queue in front of the counter.” (FN5: 12/4/18)
Other than that, queueing will help the driver and the worker to check their ticket and also will ease themselves to enter the bus accordingly. So first come first serve basis is applied.
Figure 2 : Queueing to check the ticket and ride the bus.
Secondly, throughout the fieldwork, either it at night or during the day, majority of the passengers choose to fulfill their time with sleep. They will only active for the first one or two hours but the rest of the time sleeps will employ their time. It is the same during the day or at night. The passenger might talk to their seating partner or play with their devices at the beginning of the trip only. After that, most of them will dive into the other world. Same goes to me, I felt automatically sleepy when I am doing nothing in the bus. I could not bring any reading materials also because it makes me dizzy. In addition, a passenger told me that, it is a time for her to rest after a long day working.
“She is working during the day and get tired to drive, so the night bus is convenience for her when she do not have to drive and think, just ride the bus and sleep.” (FN 3: 31/3/18).
The surrounding also one of the factors that lead the passenger to sleep. Environment is quite silence even during the day, cold and dark at night without any light.
Figure 3: The atmosphere in the bus at night.
Thirdly, adjusting the seat and air conditioning. Every time a passenger enters the bus, the first things that they will do is reclining their chair to a comfortable position to get a spacious leg space. It enables the passengers to seat comfortably during the journey because express bus usually had a long journey to be faced. So a good body posture will really help the body to not to ache in the bus and the after effect also. Besides, the air conditioner which is placed on their head will need to be adjust so that they can grasp the coldness in the bus because the body comes from the warm weather outside the bus.
“I can see that most of the passenger raise their hands to adjust the air conditioner and their seats once they sit on their seat.”(FN 1: 15/3/18)
Besides that, all the express bus are fully air-conditioned coaches to keep away the warm weather in Malaysia and allow their passengers on board rest in peace. However the Malaysian are not used to a freezing temperature.
“The passenger would cover covering themselves with sweater and blanket to keep warm. (FN 1: 15/3/18).
This is because of the temperature in the express bus is automatically fixed where the passenger could not increase or reduce it as they like and it was placed on the head of every passenger with some few small lamp. Moreover at night, the temperature is already low. We can only close the airways but the cold will still functioning through other hollow. So most of the bus express user put on their sweater for protection against the particularly cold weather. In general, I think it is the rule of thumb for staying in a cold environment. Ones would use sweaters as it can accommodate the situation.
Experience is a Great Teacher
Although some people think that best way to learn about life is by listening to our elders and friends but I believe that people learn the best by their experiences. This fieldwork is a significant stepping stone for me as an anthropology student. Even though the period of observation is very short and limited but it teaches me a lot. Learning by my own experiences is significant, long lasting and provides better learning. Experiences also help me to learn more and better prepared for the future. So whenever I experience the same problem or a new one, I know the step to overcome it because I knew not only the solution but the process to reach it also.
Throughout the seven session of my fieldwork, five of it is done at night and only two session in conducted during the day. So I have a problem to interview the passenger. Besides that, most of the passenger were sleeping and those who were awake was away from my seat. In the bus I could not walk as I want like the train, so the only passenger that I can interview is a person who sit beside me. Even though, the passenger seats near me, we need to talk in a slow volume so that we will not disturb the other people. Because of that my fieldwork has a limited number of participant to be interviewed.
So for further research, I recommended that , the participant to be interviewed are not those who ride the same vehicle with the researcher only but they could be anyone who has experience riding any express buses. Other than that, the study should has a fixed time either during the day or night because the variables may change according to time. If the time are fixed, I believe that the researcher can have a more relevance findings because they will enters the field with a similar environment for a few time.
Overall, I considered this fieldwork as a new experience for me which enhanced my skills of collecting data, communicating and reflecting myself. The fieldwork teach me how to put myself as a researcher and participant at the same time. I also get to discover a new things about my own self which I thought I know myself. It is a meaningful experience to be kept in my heart and used as a guidelines for any further fieldwork later.