The Gen-X Space: Letters to My Mother

By M.Zulkifli

Once upon a time, people wrote letters. Like, actual letters. Where you had to sit down on a chair, whip out a piece of paper, and write down your thoughts with a pencil or pen. More shockingly, people always spelled words correctly and used proper grammar.

But wait, there’s more! Once you’ve completed the task above, you would then insert that paper which you have folded carefully, into an envelope, write the recipient’s address on it, place a stamp on the top right corner, and then find a postbox to deposit it into.

Then as the days go by, you would start to wonder if the letter had reached your intended recipient, be it a family member, a friend, or a pen pal! (more on this later). And back then, it might take anything from three to seven days for a piece of mail to travel a couple of hundred kilometres across the country.

I, myself, used to write a lot. And it was an absolutely wonderful surprise when I found a bunch of letters that I had mailed to my parents still neatly kept and preserved, some time ago.

The letters take me back to my matriculation years in Subang Jaya and Lembah Pantai, from 1989 to 1991. It was the first time that I actually lived in a hostel far from home in JB, so I used to write home every couple of weeks.

Check out exhibit A:

As you can see (hold the jokes on my handwriting, please), it was important for me to report back on how my studies were going, and if I had met up with any of our relatives in KL so that my parents wouldn’t worry too much about me being lonely (awwww)…

Of course, I would also usually remind my mother especially to ‘tape’ football or basketball matches. Imagine, recording important matches of my favourite teams and watching them weeks or months later!

Check out exhibit B:

But as mentioned, writing letters was a common thing for me then. My ‘Letter to the Editor’ even got published by a local entertainment magazine a couple of times when I was still in primary school, and seeing my name on the pages of an actual publication became a huge source of motivation.

And then there were the pen pals. Ah, yes… pen pals.

So, how did we source for these pen pals from all over the world? Well, there was one American show for kids in the 80s (most probably it was the “Big Blue Marble”) that gave an address for us to send a postcard to with our name and address, and they would then match us with another person from another part of the world.

Two of my pen pals that I still remember till today were from Uganda and the USA. The boy in America lived somewhere in Michigan and was a baseball player. It took months for his letters to reach me in JB, but the thrill of reading the goings-on from a place I could only watch on TV then was always thrilling. I actually still remember his name and googled him up some time ago. I think I found the right guy, but he didn’t have a major baseball career as I had expected.

On the local front, I remember receiving a flood of letters after I appeared in the magazine “Taman Pelajar”’s pen pal section. Just imagine how cute I must have looked in the passport-like photo that was published. Haha.

While the correspondences typically didn’t last that long, I did exchange letters with this one guy who was my age and lived in Tanjung Karang, Selangor for a good number of years. Honestly, I had no idea where Tanjung Karang was then, so his anecdotes on kampung life were always interesting to me.

Anyway, eventually I did stop writing letters to my parents as it became easier and cheaper just to make a phone call (plus I was always too busy with extra-curricular activities studies), but I’m glad I have these to remind me of those much-cherished years.

M.Zulkifli is co-founder of mymuslimin.com and a big fan of everything 80s

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