Say it with cards

Some cards I received including the pretty postcard
 I mailed home from a recent travel assignment in Japan
How many greeting cards did you receive this lunar new year?  I remember how we used to get so many cards that it was enough to string them up in a long line as our festive décor.  But the truth is, the number of greeting cards we received last Christmas and this lunar new year is at an all-time low and the number of cards we received so far can be counted by the fingers on one hand!

Giving and receiving is a part of our culture and even in primary school, Chinese classmates used to exchange lunar new year cards with each other by passing it over by hand.  I remember observing how these cards, distinguished by their pink colour envelopes, were sometimes left under books or slipped inside the desks.  The joy of sending and receiving a card or letter is universal and in the days before electronic technology, the postman was my favourite man-in-uniform because he’s the guy who delivers my mail!

I derive much pleasure from receiving cards and letters and am sure others do too so I make it a point to send out cards even when there is no particular reason.  When Hallmark and Memory Lane cards became too expensive, I buy blank-inside cards from own-design card makers wherever I travel so that I can use them for any occasion.  My sister in the UK, who is a postcard collector, is the happy recipient of interesting postcards that I send her from every destination that I travel to!

Human connection and reaching out to one another is a basic human need and in our family, we have a tradition in sending greeting cards to friends and relatives for each festival, particularly at Christmas and the lunar new year.  Every year, I will buy the cards for dad to write before I affix the stamps and post them.  Dad has several mailing lists that he uses for reference at each festive season and he keeps them safely within the boxes of unused cards for easy retrieval next year. 

A design by Quinlan Maling, a nephew in the UK,
reproduced on a greeting card we received last year
Aware of the delivery time necessary for overseas addresses, dad has a method of sending to those abroad first and then writing to the local addressees later.  Every year, the sending and receiving of greeting cards keeps us in touch with friends and family members near and far and we are always delighted to hear from old friends, even if it was just once a year.  If we received a card from someone who is not on dad’s list, dad will add him to the list and reciprocate by sending him a card!

A few years ago, as usual I posted the first batch of lunar new year greeting cards to relatives abroad, including those in Singapore.  About a week later, dad received a greeting card from a grand-uncle in Singapore who enclosed a small note with a stinging rebuke for causing him the inconvenience of paying a fine for insufficient postage.  When dad showed it to me, I was simply mortified that I inadvertently put the wrong postage for his card and since that embarrassment, I always pay closer attention to the card addressed to him so that such a mistake is never repeated!

While I have embraced the use of modern technology, there is nothing like the feeling of opening a stamped envelope that someone had taken the time to choose, write and post to me.  Granted that there are cute icons and easy apps for sending electronic greetings, social media messages and emails but nothing can replace the joy of receiving a traditional card.  We can say that we want to “save the trees” but something is definitely lost when we join the modern trend to send no cards, e-cards or group emails.

Dad's mailing list that I used for reference to send out
lunar new year greeting cards
Handmade or personalised cards are works of art and unique gifts that I will always treasure.  A friend in the UK sends me greeting cards designed with his family photo on the cover and this gives me an annual update of how they look like as the children are growing up.  A greeting card we received last Christmas that was created with a design by Quinlan Maling, a nephew in the UK, will certainly join my collection of precious card mementoes!

This lunar new year marks a milestone in a new chapter for us as dad, who is getting on with age, decided to retire from writing greeting cards and handed the responsibility over to me.  Using dad’s mailing list for reference, I sign off the cards with mum and dad’s names along with mine as I’m aware that their contemporaries who receive my cards, may not recognise who the sender is if my parents’ names were not there.  There is a bittersweet feeling as I write the cards and read with a tinge of sadness that at least five name should be dropped from the list because they are no longer with us.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 29 January 2014

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