During my 2 year stay in Shanghai, the highlight definitely was discovering the obscure story of the Sikhs in Old Shanghai. With much trepidation, I navigated my way to Shanghai Municipal Archives (SMA)- this was my first attempt at researching untold histories. But, the smattering of Mandarin & pinyin I’d picked up during my stay came in handy –  the staff was all businesslike,complying to this laowai’s incessant requests in a polite fashion. My time in SMA was now spent wheeling through the microfilms and figuring out how to unroll the reel from the spool and position it in the right fashion on the viewer machine, so that the content was not upside down. Clearly, I was source of endless mirth to one SMA security guard. My weak attempts though laid the foundation for a peculiar researcher-overseer friendship. Initially, he would lecture me, guide and demonstrate the correct technique. But, soon as familiarity grew, I was given the royal treatment. As soon a I sat with the U1 discs, preparing myself to jot down or print the contents, this gentleman would appear automatically by my side and take over. At first it was a tad bit aggravating but then I realized it was working to my advantage. The SMA printer breaks down every hour and on the hour – and minute I showed my frustration, the good ol’ security guard was back, instructing the front desk staff to notify the printing company technician. And, sure enough by afternoon the technician would unplug the overworked printer, lift the lid, inspect the ink ribbon and get to work. It would be fixed for that day and my printing would proceed at a comfortable pace. Not smoothly but it was better than writing or typing gazillions of data. It was a time saver.

Navigating the archives for images is a different story. Most images are  categorized according to some logic – hard for me to say what that is. Meaning, searches based on a simple and straightforward database query will yield incomplete results. Sorry my database programming slip is showing – but eventually I had to resort to wildcard %like% characters or parsed data subsets.  I don’t have a basis for comparison though.- I haven’t sifted through reams of information elsewhere like  say the UK National archives. It would make for an interesting study – a laywoman’s perspective.

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