Thursday, October 02, 2014

Memory Trail: Pen Pals From Foreign Lands

Pen pals or pen friends are people who regularly write to each other, particularly via the post and was a practice way before the age of the Internet.

I gave a letter to the postman,
He put it his sack. 
Bright and early next morning, 
He brought my letter back.

Elvis Presley's 1962 hit, Return To Sender, with its unique postal theme reminded me of  those years when, as a teen, I used to write to people in foreign lands. You waited a whole month before you received a reply.  Then if you're lucky and when you get one, it was an envelope all thick, with 10 pages of light-blue paper inside and a photograph of the writer tucked neatly between the sheets.

The envelope itself was bursting at its seams.  You felt the tension as you gingerly opened the envelope, feeling for the photograph and reading revelations of your new pal from this far-off land. 

"Gosh, what a pretty girl!" you exclaimed, looking at the photograph sent.

On the other hand, if you were unlucky, and like Elvis Presley (above) you got your letter back stamped with the phrase, Return To Sender on the envelope. And that was a big let-down for a teen.

Writing to strangers was the rage in Singapore in the 60s especially when popular magazines like Movie News, Her World and local newspapers like the Radio Weekly had pages with a Pen Pals Column listing names of  people, both males and females with their full addresses in print. The fun part was these requests for pals came from all over the world. And the Internet wasn't even born yet!

I had never published my own name under a pen-pal's column but I knew it was a thrill to have it on the pages where you stated the full significance of your identity, with age included, together with your home address and country with an extension describing your hobbies and preferences.

The hobbies were always about the same, i.e. stamp, coin and record collecting, sports indulgences like badminton or table-tennis and the inevitable, listening to music.  Some of these individuals had requests for a personal photograph or postcards of your home country.

But it was so much fun as we used ordinary white paper with lines, a fountain pen (we didn't have ball-pens in the 1960s) to write our "missive" to this stranger in a strange land far away. Our instruments of writing, so to speak, also included dark-blue ink and it came from a bottle (called Quink I think).

Red ink was a no no but there were instances when pen pals wrote in green but it had nothing to do with greening the earth.  As a rule of thumb black-ink was never ever used but Charlie Brown didn't think so.

Then there was the final ritual of putting the sheets of paper into the envelope, the glueing of the flap and the final lickin' and stickin' of the stamp on the top right hand corner (emphasised) of the envelope.

A run to the nearest post-box sealed the deal and you waited anxiously for the next 30 days for a reply. 

Did you have pen-pals?  Come on, tell us.

You Tube Video.

Songwriters: Scott, Fitzgerald / Obika, Lemar Return To Sender lyrics © EMI Music Publishing.

Images from Google.  

Slip Note: (April 17th 2014)

"RETURN TO SENDER - An Exhibition” where Elvis Presley fans can view stamps and collectibles associated with the King.  It is on at the Singapore Philatelic Museum at 23 Coleman Street.
                                Elvis Presley: Return To Sender - Video by RPCchannel.

The exhibition is named after one of his most popular songs. Some stamps feature the singer himself and date back to the 1970's and coming from countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands.


chakap chakap said...

But nowadays all done within the confines of your own study-room and the reply is instantaneous.


Before Facebook wasn't there an interest called Pen-Pals?


And with FACEBOOK, one could lose a "Pal" or two for writing the wrong stuff!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Gee my kawan. You are right, never wrong. Thanks. How's France now? Getting cold eh?


Not all the leaves are brown, and the sky is still not gray


Thanks to Adeline Pang SH, Tan Soo Khoon and Toh Richard.

David Lawler You Tube said...

E-mails have killed romance! And now they have privatised my postman. Rest in peace Elvis.

Older Man (You Tube) said...

Those stage mannerisms were in use since the 20's in black clubs and joints. Elvis introduced them to mainstream white America. Otis Blackwell(a black guy) wrote that song for Elvis and several others. Elvis did not steal anything he just took it to another audience.

Margaret Ravel You Tube said...

Thanks a million Andy, I just love this. The KING.

Brigitte Rozario said...

Hi Andy,

I would like to interview you for an article.

I'm also trying to reach Joe Wu or Vernon Cheong.

Any help would be great.

Pls email me.


Trevily-Pigeon. said...

It also offers an intimacy that email can't, she says. "It's like you are having this conversation with a friend, but it's on paper, and sometimes the friend is on the other side of the world. Through snail mail I've shared secrets, I've shared dreams and drama and sorrows, but also joy."

BBC News: "The Allure of An Old Fashioned Pen Pal."

Click her name to read.

Kelli Suterman said...

“I don’t think most people know what pen pals are. We live in such a high-tech age, people don’t write letters anymore,” Leek said.

Smith said her family knows “all about” Leek, whose picture is included in a family photo album.

“I’m not sure what my grand kids think. It’s an entirely different age, with computers and Facebook and texting. Nobody has a pen pal,” Smith said.

The Gazette: "After 70 years Pen Pals Have Never Met"

Click name to read full story.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi Brigitte,

Thank you for writing and visiting.

You can write to me again leaving me your e-mail address but I won't publish it.

FL said...

Ya, Andy, I used to correspond with a Japanese girl in my teen in the early 1960s. Most of my secondary classmates did so. Of course, we got the names from magazines in pen pal column, e.g. movie world mag. I remember the stamp postage to Japan was 50 cents. Well, 50 ct was considered a big sum then ! I remember it hurt my pocket, then I changed to write to local pen pals !! People of my generation. Very interesting, right ?

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Yes, FL. Thanks for writing again. I was actually thinking of you while writing this post because I had this idea that you could be a Pen Pals person since it was a popular past-time those years.

I remember the price of stamps too and 50 Cents was big money then. Also a Japanese pen-pal was unique and many Singaporeans learnt Japanese, French and Russian then. These languages were the "in" thing.

Appreciate your continuous support all these years.

Larry Lai said...

Good post!

FL said...

Hi, Andy, thanks for your comments. Also, your blog is interesting. To write to pen pals can be costly for students like us then because most of us were from poor families, myself included. We need to buy proper writing pads, envelopes, stamps,etc. I still recall that during my teen years, for local letters it was a 6-cent postage. Those years we never hear of today's tools, like internet and emails.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Again thanks FL for you comments and visits.

I remember cycling all the way to a post-office just to buy a 50-cent stamp to stick to the fat envelope with PAR AVION (by Air-Mail) labeled on it.

I found it was much cheaper to use the blue "aerogram" to send my mail to pals overseas.

But then, space on the aerogram was limited!

CYLin said...

Hey Andy,
just read your posting... mind goes back to time when after sealing the envelope we'd write SWALK/ITALY & HOLLAND on the flap. Wonder if these acronyms ring a bell with many. (Sealed With A Loving Kiss; I Trust And Love You and Hope Our Love Lasts And Never Dies) LOL!!!!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank YLin for the comment. I do remember. Is there one with FRANCE ie Friendship Remains And Never Can End or something?

How old were we then? Just teenagers.

"Those were the days my friend.
We thought they'd never end..."

FL said...

Andy, to add on to the acronyms from yourself and CYlin, there is another one acronym SINGAPORE. Do you all know what it stands for ? This one is used by teenagers in the early sixties who had failed relationships$368 ! I will provide the answer if you cannot solve it.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Oh no!!! This one has floored me. Anyone can help?

FL, Thanks again for your contribution. Truly appreciate your gesture.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Miater X knows all the answers. Mister X are you reading this one? Naw, he's too young.

CYLin said...

Sorry, am stumped. Was no more a teen then, didn't speak their lingo but would love to know what it stood for.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi FL, nobody seems to know the answer. What does SINGAPORE stand for?

FL said...

Hi, Andy, forgot to tell u and the readers that "$368" after relationships was a typo error which should be deleted. It has nothing to do with my question.

I wish to express that the SINGAPORE version is not coined by me, but from one of schoolmates in the early sixties, and I really cannot remember his name. If he happen to read your blogs, he should be able to provide the answer right away. Should I wait till Monday 13 Oct to give the answer ? Thanks all for the interest.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Again thanks FL. I hope your friend will read and write in. Why 13th October? What is its significance?

Please provide the answer soon.

FL said...

Andy, there is nothing important about 13 Oct, just wanna give your readers a bit of time. To be fair, I give a small clue as follow: "S I N G A P Our Romance Ends". I promise to give the full answer by Monday if no one complete the sentence.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

OK thanks FL. Let's hope we get some answers from out there. Come on you guys. What does SINGAPORE stand for? If "O.R.E" read "Our Romance Ends" what do the letters S.I.N.G.A.P mean?


Dear Andy,

Many thanks for the photograph. I also have a piece to send later which refers to pen friends.

Best wishes

FL said...

Andy, without further ado, SINGAPORE is "Since I Never Get A Photo Our Romance Ends". I just can't believe at my schooling age, someone could invent this ! I don't think any pen pals in the heyday, would want to write SINGAPORE in their letters, most prefer FRANCE, ITALY or HOLLAND ! Thank you all.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi FL,

I was laughing and laughing when I read your mail. It's truly a funny and imaginative acronym and you are right, I cannot believe any person could have composed such a gem. Truly a work of art.

What a way to end this posting, one of the most popular, with so many comments.

Thanks again FL. Without your constant support this blog could never have been. Please visit anytime and stamp your dhoby mark.