Back in 2021, Shi Han was working full-time as an architectural designer in Singapore. That is, until she quit her job.
“As a passionate student, I envisioned that I could apply my passion in the real world and make a change. However, the actual working experience didn’t provide the opportunity for me to explore that direction.”
It’s a thought that many of us probably have upon graduating. The real world, as they say, can be quite disappointing, especially for dreamers.
Feeling lost, she decided to pursue her Master’s in Architecture in Shanghai while figuring out life. But then her scholarship application was rejected, causing her to reconsider furthering her studies.
That’s how she landed in Langkawi, an island that’s a near three-hour ferry ride from her hometown of Alor Setar.
This subsequently led to her kickstarting Human Edition—a project documenting the stories of the people in Malaysia with unconventional lives.
An unplanned adventure opens new doors
It all started when she was working as a creative manager at Bon Ton Resort, Langkawi in August 2022.
There, she had the opportunity to meet with people from all walks of life, individuals that lived a lifestyle she never thought was possible. People with alternative ways of living, where lifestyle came first before financial considerations.
Just take William Koong of Ghetto Playground, one of her interviewees, for example. He left a stable job in the corporate world to start a brand making art sculptures out of unwanted scrap metals.
It’s not impossible, but it’s not the path that most people take. Neither is it something that’s actively encouraged by societal norms.
“I was once blinded by the illusion that a certain amount of money or specific certifications were necessary for such a life. Yet, these people were content and happy,” Shi Han expressed. “I realised that everyone is interesting if you take the time to listen to their stories.”
And so, after her contract with the resort ended in November that year, she decided to officially move to Langkawi and kickstart Human Edition.
Seizing an accidental opportunity
There’s a universal belief that life will eventually lead you back to your inherent interests. For some, it could be to work as a chef or artist, or maybe even to launch their own startup.
In Shi Han’s case, it’s her love for video storytelling.
Ever since her university days, she had wanted to create quality content that catered to society. But due to financial constraints and time management, she didn’t have the chance to realise that dream.
So when she was in Langkawi, she figured it was now or never. What better time to start this project than the present moment?
Besides that, the geographical context of Langkawi helped. Being a small island, it was easier to talk to people who would lead you to others and more stories.
Hence, she took her chance and got to work, meeting new people and learning more about herself along the way.
Focusing on human contentment
Explaining the name, Shi Han shared that “Human Edition” refers to a broad idea of the story of humans. “I needed a name that can fit into any context and something I will never get bored of. Hence, ‘human’.”
It’s been about a few months since the Studio HUED (short for human edition) launched in May 2023, and Shi Han has documented a good deal of stories.
Many of them are shared on her Instagram page, including the stories of:
- Han, a full-time surfer that runs a coffee shack near Cenang beach part-time
- Beatrice, who left her career as a traditional illustrator to be a watercolour children’s book artist
- Taufiq and Julia, who converted an abandoned Malay house into Langkawi’s first fully plant-based cafe
There’s no real rhyme or reason as to whose stories Human Edition covers. The selection has no limits in terms of career path, location, or even ethnicity.
“We are all human, and we all have one desire in life which is contentment,” Shi Han stated. But upon further reflection, she realised that every person the project has featured so far answers her own personal questions.
Specifically, on how to feel content in life and how to carry out alternate ways of living that’s sustainable in the long run.
Making use of her architectural background
At the moment, the project is unable to sustain itself as of yet. Which is why she also incorporated a money-generating arm under the studio.
Along with her partner, Jie Xin, the two provide services like photography and videography to clients. This includes portraits, architecture photography, process documentation, and also social media strategy.
“Jie Xin mainly focuses on videography, while I focus on photography, writing, editing, storytelling, and creative direction,” Shi Han shared.
It’s quite a lot of work to take on when broken down like that. But the 27-year-old explained that her architectural background helped her acquire many transferable skills that can be used in the creative industry.
Soon, the duo will be restructuring Studio HUED to have a more sustainable system to grow the project. Because while the idea started with covering the island’s people, Shi Han has bigger goals.
“We aim to uncover more hidden stories in different parts of Southeast Asia, but we won’t limit ourselves only in these areas. We’re open to any country as long as the stories fit.”
“There will always be a story to tell”
Next year, the team will be releasing a book titled “Humans of Langkawi”. It features newer stories and elaborated versions of the ones already posted.
Giving us a teaser, Shi Han shared that the book is segmented into four main chapters. Namely on community, taste, architecture, and artisans.
Each chapter will cover the tales of five to seven individuals (or groups), all of whom Shi Han explained are doing great things on the island.
But generally, it will include photos, interviews, write-ups, Shi Han’s personal thoughts of living on the island, how she sustains her lifestyle on the island, and the process of documenting stories.
Speaking candidly, she confided that taking Human Editions to the next level will be slow, because they want to ensure the brand’s core values remain intact throughout the expansion.
So it’s a good thing that she’s not in a rush to get there. After all, the goal is to provide a platform for the unheard community. In her own words, “As long as humans exist, there will always be a story to tell.”
Featured Image Credit: Human Edition