Monday, October 27, 2008

Pen Pals and Red Pillar Boxes - 1950 - 1970

Can you remember the first time you posted a letter in Sibu? Did you ever help an older friend post a love letter? Did you drop it into the red post pillar box situated at Island Road Sibu? Did you have loads of pen pals when it was fashionable to have many pen pals ?

Most young students in the 60's looked for pen pals in the Movie Magazines and in the Dolphin Magazines. We also wrote to lots of pen pals who advertised in the local newspapers. We were actually encouraged to use this method to improve our English! Sometimes our expatriate and missionary teachers even introduced their own friends' children to correspond with us. And in order to make sure that we were not writing romantically our family would make us read our letters aloud . Sometimes teachers would also make us read our pen pals' letters aloud in class too.

I wrote to my cousin in Singapore and indeed improved my English. Today we are still emailing each other. I did have one pen pal from Mukah by the name of Winnie. She is some one big now. May be she has forgotten this pen pal from Sibu of the 60's. Life was very simple then. Having a pen pal was like opening a window to another part of the world.

I have often wondered when this significant red pillar boxes were removed from our social scene in Malaysia. Perhaps it was 1978 or early 1980's

I have found some pictures of those pillar boxes for you. Look at these and I hope nostalgia will take you back to those old days. There was one such pillar box right in front of the Heng Kwong Shop. I cannot remember when it was "removed".

Source : Wikipedia

On the brass plate we could read when the post men would come and collect the mail dropped into it. I remember they would come twice every day.

Secondly there is collection of pillar boxes or post boxes in Inkpen Post Box museum in Taunton Somerset England. Isn't it wonderful to see so many of them together? I get all nostalgic at once and remember how much the post office has done for the people throughout the ages. Lovely symbol isn't it? The pillar boxes below:

Source : Wikipedia

Several movies recently also remind me of the signficance of postmen in our lives:

This is a very good movie made in China featuring an excellent actor Liu Ye.

This is Kevin Costner's futuristic movie :

And this is a lovely post card from Malaysia - Bicycle used by Malaysian postman.

And many years ago many post men also walked their rounds to deliver letters.

And finally there is this song Please Mr. Postman by the magnificient Beatles ....

What memories these are!!!!

Extra Note :
Pillar Box
The Royal Mail red pillar box is one of the most familiar items of British street furniture. Introduced in 1853, only 13 years after the foundation of the penny post, it meant that posting a letter no longer involved making a trip to the nearest Post Office.

Its inventor, surprisingly, was none other than the multi-talented English novelist Anthony Trollope, who worked for the postal service in both Britain and Ireland for over 30 years. Pillar boxes always bear the monogram of the reigning monarch, and some of the most iconic examples of this particular icon are those that show the initials V.R., for Queen Victoria, making them over a century old. Though we may take pillar boxes for granted, a tour through their changing designs and an exploration of the part they play in the national postal collection system can be surprising and fascinating...

Source :

11 memories:

Yan said...

Many of my friends married their "pen-pals". One couple who were pen-pals and married later even named their children "bi" (Chinese, pen), "you" (Chinese, friend) to remember that their marriage came as a result of "pen-pal-ling" :)

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Dear P,

How nice of you to write. I am sure you are busy at all times doing the balancing act well.

It is wonderful to know that pen pals did get married in the past. God must have played match maker. the story of Bi and You.

Some of us never thought of getting an opposite sex pen pal...:) :( because we had to read aloud the letters!

May be See Hua can run a series on marriages which resulted from Pen Pal-ing! That would be interesting.

Kai Grey said...

people nowadays dont have pen pals anymore.. even when i was younger, the whole concept was never presented to us in school, or anywhere else

tumi荼蘼 said...


I Am Sarawakiana said...

People continue to have pen pals . Many people write to prisoners for example. The Christian websites all over the world also encourage Christians to write to each other.

Have you read Geraldine Brooks' "Foreign Correspondence" which relates some of her own experiences of having pen pals? G Brooks received the 2006 Pullitzer Prize for her book "March". She is Australian-American.

cheers. Enjoy your studies.

I Am Sarawakiana said...


Yes without our realising it these red pillar boxes have disappeared!

Could we have some in Sibu to mark part of our history? One day I would like to bring my grandchildren nieces and nephews to see the red pillar boxes and tell them stories ....:) :)

Thanks for visiting.

天鵝江畔 said...

Once I mistakenly put an envolope with RM1000 instead of my penpal's letter into the Red Pillar Box in the junction of Island Road and Bank Road......The money was donate by a neighbour who win the 4 digit for the Methodist Children Home, so my Dad need to pay for it finally! Sh....pls don't tell anybody abt this malu matter,Hahaa

I Am Sarawakiana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
I Am Sarawakiana said...

Oi could have paid 10 - 30 ringgit to the Postman to retrieve the envelope with the 1000 the collection time.

That's a huge mistake a small boy ( I suppose you were a small boy then) could make.

天鵝江畔 said...

I think I was in F1 or F2, my brother later waiting at the Mail Box and ask the postmen to check, but it was missing......

I Am Sarawakiana said...

I am so sorry to hear about this and it makes me feel that it ever so important for government servants or any one for that matter to be honest.

I hope the "pillar box" will keep the secret and as it is "buried" we will never know....Some trees can whisper secrets to the wind.


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