14th Feb 2005
There was the unmistakeable ringing tone signalling a message. The girl sitting opposite me on the no: 7 looked at her handphone, and a smile spread across her face as she recognised the sender. She turned bright pink matching the scarf around her neck as she read the message.
14th February 1979
The young girl sitting uncomfortably in the rickety trishaw, as it zig-zagged its way at suicidal speed across Light Street, ripped open the padded envelope with the registered London stamp, and pulled out a tape. She inserted it immediately in her small tape recorder, pressed the play button and put the recorder close to her ears. She smiled as she heard the message but turned bright red with anger as the trishaw puller increased the volume on his transistor, drowning her recorded Valentine's message with Mohamed Rafi's rendition of Junglee, filling the evening air.
Yes, how time has changed, thanks to technology! A press of a button and your loving message, complete with kisses and smooches emoticons, reaches your loved one. In those days, I had to wait days, if not weeks, before I received those much awaited bulky letters that brought much laughter, tears of joy and the sweet pangs of sorrow that comes with long distance relationship. In the absence of dirt cheap phone cards that are available now, international calls were resorted to only in times of emergencies.
Nowadays, there's the yahoo instant messaging service, the sms and cheap phone cards that bring people together.
However, looking back, nothing beats old traditional letter writing. They were worth the wait. And now, 25 years on, they are neatly catalogued and kept in a bag under the bed.
Working at the old office in Light Street, Penang had certain advantages that outweighed the disadvantages. One advantage was of course, the package as described above was flown from the London office, where the love of my life was then based, together with other official documents to the head office in Jalan Riong. A conspiracy with the then Personal Secretary to the Big Boss, meant that the package was slipped discreetly in an envelope and flown out by the old Fokker Friendship to the Penang Bureau. Danny, the office boy would sort out the documents and again discreetly put the package in my drawer. Mission accomplished.
The downside was of course, ordinary letters were not delivered directly to the office. I had to cultivate Danny's friendship to fetch the letters, which used to come in threes, from the Penang Post Office. I could guess when there were letters. The hint of a smile on his boyish face as he walked up the creaky stairs of the old building, and he'd pretend to do other work, while my heart was bursting with suspense and agony.
"Wah! Manyak lorr!" he'd beamed as he finally handed me the letters. If there were morning assignments, the letters would have to wait, though I'd disappear regularly to the ladies to satisfy my curiosity.
Most of the time, I'd wait for the tea break, took the letters with me and sat myself down under the big shady tree in front of Ho Peng Cafe. Danny, young, trusty and dependable Danny, just knew that I needed to be in the right mood to devour the contents of the letters. He'd choose some of my Abba favourites from the old juke-box. Or most of the time it'd be Hopelessly Devoted To You, over and over again as I read and reread his jottings, his jokes, his diary. Nothing mushy.
"Play it again, Danny," I'd murmur dreamily as I reread para 4 of page 20. Danny would faithfully drop a few more coins in the box, and as the ships passed by unnoticed and the mee goreng mamak that I ordered remain untouched, I'd continue reading, with Olivia Newton John tirelessly belting out Hopelessly Devoted To You.
Oh, did I say phonecalls were for emergencies only? Yeah, he did call one night to propose. And I breathlessly said, "Yes!"