Je vais au bureau de poste.
I go to the post office.
Having been one of those kids who moved a fair bit when I was a kid, I spent a significant part of my schooling days writing letters to friends and family overseas. In Secondary 1, a classmate asked me to join a penpal service with her. Already used to writing letters regularly, I agreed, and ended up with a penpal in Australia, and then another in Canada (a bonus penpal, the agency informed me). By the mid-90’s however, most of us had migrated to communicating by email, and that, coupled with preoccupations with the multitude of demands on the attention of the regular teen, resulted in dwindling communication at best.
Intrigued after a junior college trip to Thailand, I wanted to know more about the country from a peer’s perspective, and so I signed up with the Bangkok Post Student Weekly’s pen pal column, intending “to help a Thai student practice his English” as the paper advertised. My details were published, and for countless months later, my mailbox would be continuously inundated by aerograms from Thai students from virtually every province; their alarmingly identical letters focused largely on pleading me to reply their letters so that they would get extra marks from their English teacher. Increasingly bored, but feeling obliged, I eventually resorted to stock responses. Some continued to write after, and from these folks, I learnt a little bit more about the lives of the regular Thai teenager. But with the concerns of university entrance preparations looming, these too fell by the wayside.
As we prepared to enter university, we gals received and sent snail mail c/o the Ministry of Defence, to the guys doing national service; stuck in basic military training, or on a RSS (Republic of Singapore Ship) somewhere in the world, and regaled them with stories of our travels and university life; a teaser of the life they themselves would soon partake in years to come. Once the guys completed national service, the need for those letters stopped too.
And so it became that the mail I sent mostly comprised postcards to Mummy and Daddy, from my various travels. When work started, travel became shorter, such that I’d arrive home before the postcards, and what good was that? Soon the postcards stopped too.
So it was with a gleeful sense of nostalgia that I stuffed a little envelope with a doodle of a friend and a little note, and popped it off at the post office yesterday. Someone back in Southeast Asia will soon have something nice to greet her when she next opens her mailbox. To think I’d almost forgotten how much joy I get from sending a little surprise out in the mail!