interaction designer, creative technologist

Let Me Understand Your Language (VR, Storytelling)

Let me understand your language

The Intersection - Culture Preservation and VR



Let me understand your language is a first-person VR experience in which you will hear individuals’ stories by exploring the environment and interacting with objects in two spaces - a traditional bamboo house and a modern concrete house.

As the stories unfold, you will have a better understanding of the lifestyle and customs of Dai ethnic people in southwestern China, who used to live in the bamboo houses but not anymore.


Oculus Rift Room-scale Virtual Reality


Culture Preservation | Non-Linear storytelling | First Person


October 2016 - May 2017


Personal Project

Researcher, UX/UI/3D Designer, VR Developer


Paper, Photoshop, Maya, Unity3D, Unity C#


Aim(Pornsima Duangratana), Chuck Kuan, Yumeng Wang, Fame Nitcha Tothong


Anezka Sebek, Colleen Macklin, Ethan Silverman, Mattie Brice



  • the Interactive Showcase at SPECTRUM - MFADT 2017 THESIS SHOW in Parsons School of Design

  • NYC Media Lab 2017 Summit

  • Immersive Storytelling Symposium (2017)

  • Game for Change 2017




Leverage the power of VR to document, share and extend the culture of Dai

Bringing playful and immersive experience of VR, storytelling into documenting traditional culture to attract the interest of local young generation from Xishuangbanna to their own culture, and empower them to be proud of their native culture.

What is a Bamboo House?

It is a kind of stilt house that uses bamboo or wood from the local area as the main construction materials. It is the traditional dwelling of the Dai傣(Tai Lu in Enligh) ethnic minorities in South Asian, the most typical bamboo house are found in Xishuangbanna, southern China.

The structures are designed to suit the hot and humid weather in the river valleys to avoid floods, snakes and other beasts. They are well ventilated damp-proof.




Stage 1 - IDEATION

Impetus - Brainstorm - Domain Research - Define Project - Define Audiences - Use cases - Storyboarding - Testing

(ITERATION from Domain Research to Testing)


Design - Prototyping - Testing - Analysis

(ITERATION in full cycle)




The Problem

Dai village near Menghai in 1998

Dai village near Menghai in 1998

the same valley, 2008

the same valley, 2008

  • The traditional bamboo house is largely vanishing. These are images from the same village in 1998 and 2008, almost all bamboo house are gone in just 10 years.

  • Intangible culture like certain customs, lifestyles, traditions associated with the bamboo house are dying with it.

  • Younger generations in the local show less and less interests in their own culture.

Growing up in the area viewing all the wonderful vernacular buildings gone makes me think about how I can contribute to preserve the valuable parts of it.


Value of the Project

Other Vernacular Architectures that are vanishing in the world

Other Vernacular Architectures that are vanishing in the world

  • The bamboo house as a representation of Dai culture getting lost is not a single case in China, and certainly, not worldwide, there are other cultures that are dying. There are a lot of other traditional architecture like it that are vanishing.

  • I hope my project can be a valuable assets/reference on the topic of preserving the intangible culture, living the experience of vernacular buildings with virtual reality. Using VR as a method of documentation.



Domain and Concept Research

The uniqueness of Let Me Understand Your Language is approaching the goal of culture preservation by

Creating an Immersive Experience with Visual and Audio

Combining Storytelling with 3D Environment

Combining Intangible Culture Aspects with Tangible Architecture and Objects

Major Iteration on the idea

First Idea and Challenge

The most direct solution for preserving a bamboo house is constructing a real environment. I then consider what kind of emotion I want people to have after experiencing my project

After some domain research about digital ethnography, emic and etic. I realize that to preserve the culture, the key is not actually preserving or representing it, but to enable people to feel the loss of it and attract their interests to the uniqueness of their own culture.


Defined using Immersive Experience

Defined One Key Audience - Local young generations of Dai People.

Raise the question of what’s to be preserved in bamboo house

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 12.37.05.png

Second Challenge

What’s actually lost in the process is the intangibles, the imagination, the humanities of it.


I did some storyboarding, but realize that one story cannot cover all the amazing things that got lost.

Result - Defined Content

Abandoned the outside appearance of the bamboo house, focusing on the inside - actual living environment.

Chose to tell stories from different people


Refining the stories

Third Challenge

How to make people feel the loss of the culture

Result - Defined One Main Interaction

Gives a direct comparison between the two different houses, they cannot co-exist together.


Design & Implementation

Real life experience into traditional bamboo house

I did some new iteration on Lighting and texture

I did some new iteration on Lighting and texture


Objects/furniture comparison with a modern house setting

Story snippets/narratives related to each object and furniture


In both houses, people will encounter different objects, and there are narrated stories attached to each object and furniture.


I Interviewed 5 local people who used to live in the bamboo house and now had moved to a concrete house to talk about their experiences in both houses, and create small story snippets for each object. I found people who speak Thai language(similar to Dai) to narrate the story for me.

Screen Shot 2019-02-27 at 14.58.42.png

Switch of two scenes representing a shift of experience and identity


It sets you in the environment where you will be able to see two different kinds of houses: a traditional bamboo house, but when turn around, you can view the modern concrete house on the opposite side.


In order to let the users feel that they cannot have both environments together, when they are in one, the other is lost. I create this unique interaction.


In the VR environment, people can only see 140 degree of objects, so I used the 360 environment of VR and created two houses on each side.

From 0 to 179, there’s only bamboo house; from 180 - 359, there’s only concrete house.


Real Environmental Sound effects to Create Immersive Audio Experience

I used environmental sound in the environment to create a more immersive experience.

In Bamboo house setting,

There’s summer cicada and wind sound outside of the bamboo house; when approach to fireplace, there’s fire sound

In concrete house setting,

There’s air conditioning sound and TV sound




  1. There were a lot of product strategy to consider outside of pure design and development, it is crucial to define the scope of the project and measurements of success.

  2. In order to complete the project and have a final product, certain assumptions had to be made in the using of technology in cultural preservation, target audiences ethnography, and use scenarios, which needs more in depth research.

  3. In the actual interaction design and production, there’s a lot of potential in embedding game mechanics to make it more playful.

  4. When designing VR experiences, there’re a lot of considerations and compromise I have to make, such as how to help viewers navigate in the environment, safety and comforts of the environment etc.

  5. User testing early on to get feedbacks by observing user behavior is very helpful in terms of VR

Besides the project, I have also written a research paper explaining in depth about this project, given a talk about the topic of intangible culture preservation and VR in thesis symposium

For the purpose of showing the project itself, I didn’t put my long research paper on cultural preservation and digital ethnography here. If you are interested, please feel free to reach out to me. :)