“notes in my drawers, songs in my pocket, fragments of letters that you sent…“
when i was 10, i had a penpal from greece. her name was maria kopoulou and she lived in athens. we exchanged letters and gifts and photographs for a couple of years but the correspondence was already dying out by the time i started secondary school. when the 1999 earthquake shook athens, i fired off a series of letters to maria, asking if she was alright. i never received a reply.
i had many more penpals during those early secondary school days. i sent emails to a boy in sierra leone who told me he wished the civil war would end soon so he could use the internet more often. there was a girl, hemy, who claimed she was dating sean from 5ive (yes, that boyband). recently, i was reunited (?) with an old penpal through the wonders of facebook.
and how could i possibly forget the occassional letters i wrote to and received from my qbs friends? it’s incredible that we’ve kept in touch for 15 years!
my mother was probably the one who started me off on writing letters. i grew up with the sight of her sitting at the dinner table with a list of things she wanted to write about and an empty aerogram. she took her time, filling every empty space available on the paper with something meaningful, her pen forming beautifully-written chinese characters that i could not read. by the end of the hour, there would be a neatly folded aerogram on the table, addressed with my mother’s lovely handwriting, ready to be sent the following day.
she told me stories of how her courtship with my father was almost entirely based on the letters they wrote to each other while teaching in separate schools, in separate states. even after they were married, she never failed to write him letters everytime he went outstation, which was pretty often. she wrote to him while he worked in pahang, johor, while he studied in manchester, california, while he lectured in hong kong, macau.
a couple of years ago, i found my mother’s collection of diaries which she had kept from the age of 13. it made me wonder where she kept the letters my father sent to her, and whether my father ever kept the notes she wrote to him. i wondered if she felt the same kind of nostalgia and elation i felt every time i rummage through the shoebox of letters that i’ve kept from my various correspondences.
i have said before that one of the greatest joys in life is receiving a handwritten, personally-addressed letter, in an envelope delivered by the postman on his motorcycle. my mother’s almost-daily letters while i was in singapore gave me something to look forward to.
i have adopted her habit of taking ages when writing a letter and sealing it carefully before sending it off. unfortunately, that means it takes quite alot of time and effort for me to write letters. it has served as a deterrent from me sending them anymore, eventhough it is that very effort and time that i appreciate most from the letters that i receive.
perhaps we should take up the art of sending handwritten letters to the people we love again. after all, we could all use some positive energy.