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Monday, January 14, 2013

A box of memories

A box of memories
by CS Wan

Through the dim glass of the wooden cabinet, I see  it, sandwiched between dusty files. It is just a plain rectangular cardboard box with discoloured yellow lid, its edges partially tattered. The words Kodak photographic paper’  printed on the cover, suggest it is from a bygone era. 
However, not a single photographic paper is inside, instead  slides, postcards and photographs fill the box. At the very top  are six slides, now stained and mouldy.  I remember they were taken on a motoring trip round southern England with my Kirkby friend,  the late Nadarajah and  three lady Kirkbyites. After all these years I wonder if any of them can still remember that trip: the climb up the grassy slope at Land's End to take in the breathtaking views of the sea ; the walk along  the pebbled beach of Bristol; the visit to  Anne Hathaway's thatched-roof cottage with its  English garden and an apple tree laden with luscious, red apples.

8,000 miles away from home

Below the slides are some moth -eaten postcards of  countries we visited during our college breaks.

A postcard with the words 'North Wales' on it bring back memories of the time my friend, Jak and I went hitch-hiking in Wales and Scotland.
A postcard from North Wales

 I remember, one spring morning we went trekking through a pine forest in Wales with a few teachers and a group of school girls from Manchester. Suddenly we came upon a bluebell wood: a carpet of blue that stretched between tall pine trees.

A bluebell wood
Photo courtesy of Petr Kratochvil

 That magic moment still remains vivid in my mind.

I pick a photo which has paled with age and show it to my wife.
"That's a photo of me and my friends at the  Nurses' Hostel," she explains.
" Lost track of them. Wonder where they are?" she says, musing about her nursing days.  

Siew Leng(2nd from left) with her nursing colleagues

A photo of young smiling faces catches my eyes. It is a group photograph taken with my brother, cousins and friends. I remember in the early sixties, during the long December holidays, when I came back from Kelantan we would organise  a get-together dinner at one of the restaurants in Melaka town and after that we would adjourn to Happy Studio for a group photograph. The get-together came to an end when some of us got transferred to other states while others left the  country

Our Batu Berendam gang

Happy Studio along Jalan Kee Ann  as it is today.

Six small black-and-wide photographs with serrated, white borders, at the bottom of the pile, catch my attention. Most probably, they were from a long-forgotten pen pal. I remember  those days,  newspapers and most magazines like the Radio Weekly usually had a column for pen friends and we would exchange photos, postcards and stamps with our pen friends.
   The buildings and other landmarks in the photographs are not familiar to me, but fortunately on the reverse side of each photo is a handwritten caption and immediately below it I can just make out the word: Anthony, 8.10.1959. 

The photographs with serrated, white borders

As I study the photos and read the captions on the photos, I somehow feel  I have to post them on my blog. Maybe,  the photos  may help rekindle memories for those who lived through the fifties and sixties. 

Buildings in Ipoh town

Ipoh clock tower

Taken somewhere in Ipoh

Bridge to Kuala Kangsar

Fire at Tiong Bahru, Singapore
The kind of road we traversed from Singapore to Penang

The last photo with the caption 'The kind of road we traversed from Singapore to Penang' strikes a chord with me, as I remember driving on the same kind of road in the late sixties and early seventies when we visited my wife's hometown in Penang. Although the journey was long and tedious, we enjoyed watching the changing landscapes and the panoramic  views along the way. We would pass cluster of Malay huts that nestled cozily among coconut groves and surrounded by a sea of verdant paddy; Chinese farmers in broad-brimmed bamboo hats busily engaged in  watering and tending  vegetable plots and Indian rubber tappers tapping rubber trees in the shadowed wood. 

One of the scenes along the way, as I remember it.
( Oil painting, 1995)

At intervals we would pass through small towns, many with pre-war shops. I remember, except for the large towns of Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh, our journey would take us through many small towns:  Bidor, Tapah, Kampar, Sungei Siput, Taiping, Parit Buntar, Nibong Tebal and Simpang Empat. We would stop at Bidor for lunch, buy some fruits and biscuits, before proceeding to Ipoh where we would put up the night at our friend, Tjien Tho's place. Early the next morning we would continue on our journey to Penang. 
" This is Tham Leong's hometown, that's where Chow lives, " I would tell my wife as we passed through Kampar and Sungei Siput, remembering my friends from USM. 

With Tham Leong, Chow and other USM friends

Except, for Tham Leong who visited us on a few occasions, I have not seen or heard from  the others. 
Along the way my wife would point out the small towns where she used to stay and visit when she was doing her midwifery course. 
Then as we caught sight of  mangrove trees and irrigation canals with dark, brackish water we knew we were approaching Butterworth. On board the ferry to Penang island we would stand on the deck to enjoy  the cool sea breeze and  look out for a familiar face. Then as  the shoreline of the mainland receded from our view and  the island of Penang loomed  ahead of us, I could see the joy in my wife's eyes as she waited  for that moment when she would be reunited with sisters and friends. 
Chinese New Year is just around the corner and my wife is busy clearing the drawer: throwing away letters, envelopes and magazines that have accumulated through the years.
I look at the faded photographs and moth-eaten postcards in my hand. I am tempted to throw some into the garbage bag, but somehow find myself  returning  them to the same old box. And maybe, there is still  space for another photo  _ a photo to hold and rekindle another memory.



  1. This nostalgic blog entry will certainly kindle memories when we see it again, and also be a bridge to the future...

  2. Dear Sir/Madam,

    On behalf of the National Library Board (NLB), we would like to invite you to pledge your blog to the Singapore Memory Project as part of efforts to collect memories that are already manifested in existing online channels.

    The Singapore Memory Project (SMP) is a national initiative to collect, preserve and provide access to Singapore’s knowledge materials. Spearheaded by NLB, the SMP aims to build a national collection of content in diverse formats (including print, audio and video), to preserve them in digital form, and make them available for discovery and research.

    By pledging your blog to SMP, you are affirming that every memory matters. Whether your posts are an account of your daily life, or an expression of your thoughts, the SMP hopes to find a home for your memories so that it can help build towards an understanding of Singapore. You will also receive a badge that you can display on your blog in recognition of your contributions.

    Contributors to this blog pledging initiative will be listed on Singapore Memory portal’s blog pledging webpage. All blogs pledged to SMP will archived using NLB’s web harvesting software, in addition to images of each blog’s landing page.

    If you are keen to pledge your blog to SMP, simply fill up our response form at this following URL: http://singaporememory.simulation.com.sg/Public/Pledge.

    You may find out more about this initiative at http://www.iremember.sg/?page_id=2822.

    We are looking forward to your contribution.

    Simulation Software & Technology (S2T) Pte Ltd
    583 Orchard Road #14-02 Forum The Shopping Mall S(238884), Singapore
    |w: www.simulation.com.sg

    1. Dear Sir/ Madam,
      I feel greatly honored to be invited to contribute to the Singapore Memory Project. I will send in my application soon.