Irfan Shah, 26, is on a quest to uncover and share lesser-known historical facts about Malaysia, mainly on his TikTok account.
"Ironically, I grew up disliking history as a subject in school, yet I enjoyed sharing fun historical facts with friends and family. I also dreamed of becoming a content creator, fascinated by the lives of YouTubers.
"Over the years, I read several articles online about some facts about Malaysian history. I also realised how little content was made about these facts. I saw the potential in this niche, and I knew then this was what I wanted to do after completing my degree in electrical and electronics engineering," said Irfan during a Zoom interview from Bayan Lepas, Penang recently.
The full-time content creator has posted over 150 videos on topics ranging from Malaysian stamps, Pudu prison, origins of Rukun Negara to fruit preserve Mo Far Kor and snack Mamee Monster on his TikTok and Instagram accounts.
To date, the Penang-born has garnered over 3.4 million likes on TikTok.
"My birth name is Irfan which is defined as wisdom and knowledge. I came up with the name Wise Defies as a way of showcasing how I, Irfan, showcase true stories, theories and histories that defy the conventional logic of everyday places and objects – revealing lesser-known facts and theories to the simplest of things."
Irfan prefers to highlight stories and facts which are not in Malaysian history books, or simply overlooked. By sharing little nuggets of Malaysia's history, he wants to foster a sense of identity, and preserve the rich tapestry of the nation's past.
"The topics that I find most intriguing are those that revolve around forgotten or dark Malaysian history. These topics usually bring up stories and events that have taken place decades ago, in areas that some people currently live in.
"It is interesting to think about how life was like not so long ago, and how Malaysia has evolved past those times. There is no shame in remembering the past, instead we should learn from it," said the father of one. Often, he highlights stories which he believes viewers would enjoy. The secret, he says, is to aim for simple stories.
"Whether if it is the first car owner of Malaysia, or why a town has such a peculiar name, it is the simplest of things that catches the people’s interest. I decide based on the idea that if it is interesting to me, it might be interesting to others. I tend to just go with my gut feeling.
"Generally, my followers would leave comments by thanking me for sharing information that they never knew existed in Malaysia. The positive responses they give are important as it encourages me to make more content. It's incredibly motivating too," said Irfan, who has close to 100,000 followers on TikTok.
For content, he has travelled to Penang, Selangor and Perak.
"Even so, there are many more places that I have yet to discover. I also do have future plans to cover each state, all across Malaysia, including East Malaysia.
"I usually start by choosing a certain topic I want to cover. Whether it is crime, history, or facts, I would start browsing the Internet using several keywords for stories that may relate to the topic."
Once he identifies a story, he delves deeper into media agencies and official online archives from Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia, ensuring the accuracy and credibility of the information he shares. He often spends hours or even days researching a single topic, especially when the events occurred in the distant past.
"The further in the past the story is, the trickier and harder it is to obtain. To ensure the accuracy of the facts, I employ a strict verification process where one source is never enough. With the information found on these credible sites, I would look for the same information on other credible sources to compare the information obtained. I find this the best way to stay true to the facts and ensure that I understand it well before sharing it with the public," said Irfan, who has also been featured on Astro Radio’s Mix FM.
What he likes best about his job is learning new things about Malaysia.
"For instance, there is a meteorological site known as Bukit Bunuh in Lenggong, Perak. This unordinary site was determined to be one of the oldest sites in the world that shows signs of life outside of Africa, according to researchers. Yet, the hill was only named during World War II when the communists established a base there, only to torture and murder their captives.
"I never knew this site existed, until I found it on Google Maps. It utterly amazed me to think that this may have been the true origins of the first humans to settle on Malaysian soil."
Looking ahead, he plans to visit public libraries to conduct further research on Malaysia’s past.
"I am especially keen to visit the elderly who may have lived or survived the tough times in Malaysian history, in hopes of obtaining photographs or documents.
"I do also plan to request more information from my followers, to find more stories, photographs or events that have happened in the past that they are willing to share.
"I am looking towards creating a space for them to share useful information to other fellow Malaysians. If Malaysia alone has so much content to discover, I cannot imagine what else we are missing from the world."