Friday, 13 September 2013

The Beauty of Letter Exchanges

When I was a primary student, one of my English teachers once said writing to a pen friend, preferably a foreigner who doesn't know any Chinese, is a good way to practise English writing. But I never had a pen friend. Not even a Chinese one. The only writing practice that I had at school was the composition class, which took place merely once a week, and any other writing exercise given as homework every now and then. I had tried two times to start a personal diary, but dropped out before long. Apparently I was too lazy, and too young and careless to identify anything interesting and worthy of writing on a daily basis.

This doesn't mean I hate writing though. To the contrary, I enjoy it very much. I never run out of ideas for composition class and language exams. I find great satisfaction in writing, usually with a sense of accomplishment or great relief, perhaps even katharsis, as Aristotle explained in The Poetics.

Indeed, writing letters is a good way of practising one's writing skills. Yet it is completely different from writing for oneself, either to make a personal point or to provide some sort of emotional comfort. You have a reader in mind and should take care of him/her, at least in comprehensive and emotional terms. He/she should be someone you care and love, and with whom you are eager to share special moments of your life. Otherwise, why bother?

When emigration to Australia and North America became a fad in the mid-1980s, I used to write to some of my classmates who followed their families to start new life in foreign lands, though not frequently. Later when emails began to flourish, we switched to emails, which were supposed to be the electronic and instant form of letter. Soon we disposed of the habit altogether. We could have been too busy to write. We could have run out of things we wanted to share with someone living thousands of miles away. Whatever, you name it.

More recently, we choose to update our Facebook page to keep friends around the world informed of what we are up to. None of my friends writes a blog on a regular basis as a medium of expression and emotional therapy as I do. Writing a short note on birthdays and festive occasions on the Facebook wall has now become the norm. Receiving a hand-written card for birthday or Christmas and for that matter already gives you an excitement greater than getting the grand prize in a lucky draw. All because it has been too long ago that your fingers could feel the love, warmth and all sorts of emotions passing through the sheets of paper that make a tangible letter, be it printed or hand-written.

This is why I feel so blessed and privileged to have come across someone who now writes to me almost every day to share something personal, be it delighting or frustrating. Of course we write emails instead of tangible letters, but the emotional journey of longing for a reply and writing one is pretty much the same: Writing a personal letter or email to someone you take seriously is like saying a prayer. Receiving a reply is to have your prayer answered.

Over the past three weeks since we first ran into each other, we have already exchanged more than 40 emails, which were split evenly between us. This means all my "prayers" were answered. Can you imagine the joy, excitement and gratitude involved? Apparently we both enjoy writing, share the same views and interests in many aspects and our personalities seem quite compatible. I don't know how long this exchange is going to last, but it is certainly a Godsend gift to be cherished and treasured to the best of my effort.


  1. 我以前會寫信給海外朋友,後來就變了通電話,現在還多了FB作溝通.

    1. 因為時差和價錢問題(以前只是學生嘛),很少通電話;到畢業後有經濟能力時,又開始通電郵了。

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  3. Anonymous11:42 pm

    I should congratulate you for having found someone with whom you can exchange your mind. People these days are reluctant to express their inner feelings on paper even to their intimate ones. They would never have the enjoyment of receiving a long-awaited hand-written letter from someone they care, delivered by the postman.

    Enjoy while you can.

    Ontario, Canada

    1. Indeed, I'm so grateful to have run into this friend. Everything happened by coincidence but we feel like long lost sisters finding each other in a rain forest.


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