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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pen Pals

In 1950s Singapore and Malaysia were still ruled by the British and together was known as Malaya. During my secondary school days, there was a students' magazine named Young Malayans. It was first published in 1946 in Kuala Lumpur. The monthly publication was distributed throughout Malaya, British North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak. I subscribed to the magazine as there were not only many interesting articles including those contributed by students, especially from Leslie Fong who wrote Chinese stories about filial piety but also a pen pals column. I wrote to many whose names appeared there. Writing to pen pals was my favourite past time and I spent a lot of time and money buying stamps, envelopes, writing pads and taking photos. In school I studied Malayan geography and travelling to the mainland gave me the opportunity to see the various plantations and tin mining methods. As the saying goes "a picture is worth a thousand words". I also got to meet my pen pals. Actually it was like killing 2 birds with one stone.

I travelled by bus and train to Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, Klang, Malacca and Segamat. It was difficult to fix an appointment with my pen pals because of communications. We had no phone at home, the mail was slow and unpredictable. It was also a problem finding their homes especially those living in small towns like Kuala Lipis, Betong and others. Nevertheless, I manage to meet up with pen pals in KL, Klang, Seremban and Malacca. My most memorial visit to them was the one at Klang town. She invited me to lunch with the family in her house. Later she gave me a guided tour to Port Swettengham, now known as Port Klang. My male pen pals were all in Malacca. They came from rich families. One is now a private medical practitioner in Orchard Road, Singapore.

A pen pal wrote love letters to me. She usually signed off her letter with drawings of two hearts overlapping with the abbreviation of our names P & E. I met her in her hometown Seremban, but her parents allowed us to meet for a very short time. See the reverse side of her photo below.

Rex Theatre at Seremban (1952)

Theatre at Pudu Road, KL near the prison (1952)

Pen pal Winnie Joo on the right

Lily Goh of Seremban

Irene Ong from Ipoh

Pen pal Lillian on the left from Seremban

Steven Chong (left) and Charlie Koh (centre)

A letter from a Malayan pen pal studying in England

Letter from Maureen Lim of Klang

Maureen Lim C Bee

In Port Swettengham (Port Klang)

Port Klang Pier
All the beautiful girls above are by now grand mothers with many grand children. How time flies!


Lam Chun See said...

Hey .. how come your pen pals are mostly girls; and very pretty ones I must add. No wonder you still keep their letters and photos after half a century.

So which one is the lucky Mrs Chew? Don't tell you also marry an Ipoh girl?

PChew said...

I agree with you that the Ipoh girl is very pretty. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see her. I went to her house when she was out. My wife is local lass and much prettier than all my female pen pals.

Victor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
PChew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PChew said...

Victor, sorry I accidently deleted your comment. Thanks for your compliment.

Victor said "PChew, you are very lucky in love. And it is little wonder too. Your photo in the avatar looks very handsome. That explains why you have so many (pretty) pen pals.

Lam Chun See said...

I did write a couple of letters to penpals but the hobby never stuck. That was in my primary school days and writing was too much of a chore in those days unlike today's internet and emails and chatrooms etc.

professor said...


You got charming look in your young days, smile and hair style. Must be those "Aunty Killer" eyes - depp set eyes. Girls adore men with goggy eyes you know.

One time I also interested in a girl when i was in primary school. Also like you write letters but she always ask me to put a spare stamp inside the letter when I wrote to her. This way her mother won't know she took the stamps from the drawer.