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Postboxes & Postcards from Penang

Going_Postal

I was in Penang over the weekend, a short trip to explore a small-ish city I’ve heard a lot of good things about. I also wanted to check out all the hipster cafes that seem to have sprouted all over George Town in the last couple of years.

I wasn’t expecting it to be such an postal-filled trip! I saw no less than eight (eight!) different types of postboxes in the weekend I was there.

Malaysian postboxes are generally quite squat, and the slots are for mail being sent within the state and mail for everywhere else, including overseas.

A photo posted by Raven S. (@ravensilvers) on

BUT, to my excitement, I spotted two old UK-style pillar boxes! And both were in great condition, and still working postboxes!

This pre-WWI postbox was in great condition along a pedestrian-only part of Jalan Penang, directly opposite the Eastern & Oriental Hotel. It’s well-maintained, and the cypher of “GR” (George Rex, otherwise known as King George V, who reigned from 1910-1936) was in great condition.

Incidentally, the E&O was founded by the same Sarkies brothers who helped make Raffles Hotel in Singapore a success. If you’d like to find out more about their shared history, I can recommend the Oct-Dec 2014 issue of BiblioAsia.

The next day, I stumbled upon a Victorian(!) postbox at The Whiteaways, a colonial-era shopping arcade in the heart of historical George Town. I spotted it from across the street and just had to see it.

I’m not gonna lie, my heart actually skipped a beat when I saw it because look at how beautiful it is. The cypher is still so sharp, and it’s in absolutely fantastic condition!

It’s just so rare to see such pillar boxes in the former UK colonies! Especially considering that Malaysia’s been independent since the late 1950s, several years before Singapore. It’s just so awesome to see evidence of Penang’s rich history around.

In Singapore, we removed the cypher upon independence but I think we kept using the red pillar boxes for a while. The last operational colonial postbox is outside the Singapore Philatelic Museum.

The Postcard Shop, Penang

Turning attention back to postcards, I also read about The Postcard Shop, which is exactly what it says on the tin. If you like postcards, Postcrossing or just sending snail mail, I highly recommend making this a stop on your trip! It’s postcard heaven~

The Postcard Shop, Penang

Rows and rows of postcards, printed by them

It’s an unassuming shop along Gat Lebuh Chulia, deep in the historical (and hipster) quarter of George Town. I couldn’t quite figure out where it was, but I stumbled upon it while I was looking for a street art! It’s just around the corner from swing mural.

Brother & Sister On A Swing

Brother & Sister On A Swing

TPCS has a huge range of postcards and most of them have a distinctly Penang twist. It’s all a mix of modern photography and vintage-style prints, and of course they also have the touristy types. This is a great place to pick up postcards of the quirky, cheeky side of George Town.

If you buy the postcards, they’ll let you use their range of very cheerful ink stamps to decorate your post. They also sell postage, and they’ll even help you mail the postcards!

Decorate your mail with their fun ink stamps!

Decorate your mail with their fun ink stamps!

I told myself I’d go to get a few, but I ended up walking out with quite a lot of their gorgeous postcards, heheh. (Plus: they have a cat.)

You can find The Postcard Shop at their Facebook page to see some of their wide range of postcards!

At the end of the day, I’m quite fond of Penang because of the amazing food and also, it feels like what Singapore could’ve been, if our cultural awakening had come a few decades earlier and we hadn’t torn down so many old buildings in the name of progress. There’s a deep respect for George Town’s history, even though the shophouses and buildings have been renovated and repurposed over the years.

The Lives of Books

What constitutes a ‘good’ book is ornery. There are so ways to argue it, none less valid than the next. It’s why I hesitate when recommending books to others, because the same book can be many things to people.

I recently came across this quote:

It holds some truth, I think; sometimes a book is really good, and sometimes it really is about timing.

Many of my ‘good’ books are Star Trek books. In hindsight, I can’t quite understand why, since some of them weren’t actually any good.

♦ ♦ ♦

I discovered Star Trek at a near-perfect confluence of its availability in Singapore. Star Trek: The Next Generation was on cable after school (ST: Voyager would follow, a year or two later) and we finally had broadband.

Most importantly, I was surrounded by bookstores that had an alarming number of Star Trek books. The well-worn Pocket Books paperbacks from the secondhand bookstore shared pride of shelf space with the shiny new releases from the now-defunct Borders at Wheelock Place.

It was at Borders that I stumbled upon Tales from the Captain’s Table and The Lives of Dax. If Star Trek had been an eye-opener, these were the books that stopped my eyes from ever closing again.

stbooks01

Here were short stories that delved into the possibilities of ST beyond its main series. We’d use the term expanded universe now, but I didn’t have that word back then. All I knew was that it was amazing.

As much as I loved Picard, a bald middle-aged white man wasn’t the fictional self that this particular 9-year-old Asian girl was looking for.

But in Captain’s Table and Dax, for the first time in the Star Trek universe, perhaps even for the first time in my entire short life, I saw women protagonists in the spotlight, exploring the universe and coming across conflict from human and alien alike.

And in them, I saw myself. I saw that I could do anything, that I had a place in this amazing future.

That’s a powerful thing to discover, when you’re 9 years old.

It’s why we still need diverse books. It’s a belief that I’ve always held, even if I still don’t know how to articulate it or how to un-learn my privilege.

♦ ♦ ♦

I lost these two books over the years; perhaps lost in a move or accidentally donated. But over the last decade and a half, I’ve never forgotten about them. I’d underestimated their impact on my younger self. I would always regret losing them.

By the time I was old enough to afford online bookstores, they had long gone out of print. When I could find them, they were far too expensive. I was bereft. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be. But one late night a few weeks ago, I found myself staring at Better World Books and their impressive selection of old, affordable books.

What if…?

And there they were. Condition: Used Good. At a price within reach.

Yes.

♦ ♦ ♦

It’s entirely possible that I’m in love with the memory of these books and not the actual stories in them. I’m entirely prepared that they aren’t as good as I make them out to be.

But that’s okay. Maybe most of what makes a book good, is that we’re reading it at the right moment in our lives.

That right moment might be when you’re 9 or 25. It might be when you’re looking for reassurance that you’re more than just a single cog in a very big machine.

The right book, at the right moment, might remind you that people like you can be the hero of a story that’s bigger than you.

Maybe that’s what makes a book ‘good’.

Assassins & Postboxes

Going_Postal

I had two great obsessions as a child: Star Trek and Victorian England. I think some of that carried over to my adulthood love of all things postal, particularly British postal history.

I was lucky enough to see a Olympic gold postbox in Cardiff, a Victorian era wall box in Oxford, and even the very last remaining Liverpool Special!

A photo posted by Raven S. (@ravensilvers) on

I also play a lot of video games, so I was excited when I found out that Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was set in Victorian London. When I fired up the game, I was blown away by how beautiful it is. London of 1868 Syndicate is absolutely gorgeous.

I was delighted to come across an in-game postbox! I couldn’t help but stop to look. And I discovered how weird it can be when your two hobbies cross paths, because there was something that didn’t seem right…

A postbox in 1868 London

A postbox in 1868 London

So I pulled out my favourite history book of letter boxes, Old Letter Boxes by Martin Robinson (WorldCat), now sadly out of print. It’s a great micro-history of UK postboxes; I can’t recommend it highly enough, because the evolution and types of postboxes are much more interesting than one might imagine.

While Wikipedia’s entry on pillar boxes is pretty interesting too, it lacks the charm and earnest interest of the book.

Lo and behold, I was right that this was an anachronistic postbox! The box in the game is the 1872 Penfolds model where the aperture (slot to insert letters) was moved.

A bit more about the Penfolds boxes, per Robinson:

Probably the most familiar and best loved of Victorian pillar boxes are those known as Penfolds, which were made between 1866 and 1879. They are named after their designed, the architect J.W. Penfold.

[…] The third type was brought about in 1872 by the complaint that letters could be trapped inside the top of the box, so the aperture was lowered to change places with the coat of arms below. Only four examples of this type still exist.

An 1868 postbox would have looked like this. Note that the aperture is right at the top:

Photo from MorgueFile

Photo: MorgueFile

Given their comparative rarity, however, I’m willing to forgive the Ubisoft team for their anachronistic postboxes.

However, things got really hinky in another part of the game. (Spoilers beyond the cut!) Read more →

Dear Santa…

Going_Postal

It’s November, so it’s time to send your letters to Santa!

Remember the address?

Santa Claus
North Pole H0H0H0
Canada

If you send a letter and include a return address, you’ll get a letter back! Remember to send early, especially if international mail takes a while. Mail between Singapore and Canada does take an awfully long time.

xmas15

This letter has got a ways to travel

You can find some fun templates on Canada Post’s website if you’d like somewhere to get started.

Happy holidays ahead! :D

On SG50

The proudest I’ve ever felt to be Singaporean was in 2010, when I was a volunteer for the first-ever Youth Olympic Games.

For two weeks, 20,000 of us were deployed across the island at competition venues. We came from all over the world, although most of us were from Singapore. I met people from Russia, Greece, Kazakhstan, and so many other places.

Hard at work

I was at a downtown convention centre, where six sports were competing.  We manned the media helpdesk, helping foreign press and spectators with information and directions. It was pretty intense, because everything moved so fast. We had to deal with so many people, all with different needs.

It was also one of the best times of my life.

The team at the International Convention Centre

*   *   *

Over the years, I’ve become more aware of the flaws in the basic historic narrative we are taught, and which underscores much of our life. This has a lot to do with my growing understanding of social justice, privilege and racism, and how easily history can be shaped to suit our master’s needs depending on the balance of power.

I’m nowhere near as critical as some of my learned friends, but I’m beginning to understand that not everything is as it seems, and how certain groups have been left behind at the expense of progress.

That, as you can imagine, takes the shine off things.

*   *   *

My family has benefitted immensely from our nation’s progress. We live comfortably, and I’ve never lacked anything important.

I’ve had all the support I’ve needed, through school and beyond. We want for nothing and therefore can want for everything.

I’ve grown up healthy, happy; and firmly middle-class or better.

*   *   *

In more recent years, I’ve seen the worst side of people. I’ve read truly awful things that their writers truly believe. Real hate and deliberate ignorance is nauseating and deeply unsettling.

I’ve had too many days where I hestitate before going out for fear that these people will find me the enemy. I’ve had too many nights where I want crawl out of my skin and soak in industrial-grade cleaner.

It’s not a pleasant feeling.

*   *   *

The other day, I looked at the people who surround me. I’m surrounded by a diverse group of passionate people who love what they do.

They draw their comics, they write their stories, they make their fan art, they rage about social justice – but all of this, they do out of love. They love, unironically, wholly and sincerely.

They’re not without their flaws, but by and large, they’re wonderful. I am incredibly lucky to know them all.

*   *   *

I am usually ambivalent about National Day. I don’t like the chest-thumping declarations, the pats on the back, the rah-rah about the oversimplified story of growing from a fishing village to First World country. Suddenly we’re so proud to be Singaporean when the rest of the year we complain?

I’m still ambivalent. I’m not nearly as patriotic as I should be, particularly as it’s SG50 and all.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m pleased. Happy, even. As a nation, we’ve overcome some pretty rough odds and done really well.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is: We’ve done well these 50 years. For the next 50, it’s time for us to do better.

And we can, even though self-realisation can be a painful and upsetting process. We’ve got a long ways to go before we’re a truly equal, regardless of our background. I’m waiting for the day where I can feel the same way I did on the day we closed the Youth Olympic Games.

There are days when I despair at the state of affairs. But then I look at the people around me. They who love fiercely; who are passionate; who are, in their own ways, trying to change things. And I think we can do it. It’ll take us a while, but hey, we have another firty years before SG100, right?

Majulah, Singapura.

I’m looking forward to it.

A photo posted by Raven S. (@ravensilvers) on