Postcards are short stories, each one a time capsule, a seed to grow and a fruit to retrieve at the receiver’s end. I have lots of them and every so often I’d make my journey through the albums, jumping from images to writings, revisiting years, places and events that, if I were not this occasional excavationist, would have been forgotten and buried with time.
Many said we should have discarded 2020, a year so unproductive, so damaging and so wasted away. On reflection, I am really in awe about where we stand, right in the time of a pandemic (and still living relatively at ease)! In the beginning, we thought it was going to last for just a few months, then a few more months, then many more months and extending to another year. The uncertainties leave us hanging with discomfort and fear. Unlike distress and anxiety, our pockets are not that deep.
Retracing the few postcards I received in 2020, I especially like the Sugar cane stems postcard that Glenn sent me in April. Since I mistook the plants for bamboos, it was even better, like collecting fresh breeze, coming along with the sweet sound of music. And winding back to the Winter of 2019, I received a minimal yet very beautiful card from Irina. It came not as a postcard, but as a greeting card tucked inside an envelope. Snow! The first impression I had was snow, and the tire tread patterns on snowy streets. It seemed relevant. But upon further investigation, I spotted them as impressions made by placing twigs on paper and running through a printmaking press. Irina has been playing with print making for years, she is adventurous and, never shies away from experimentation.
In late Autumn 2019, while Ka-sing was away in Hong Kong, our friends Zunzi 尊子, a political cartoonist, his wife Chanya 陳也, a writer and their son Yud came to Toronto. We met up for dinner at Nunu, an Ethiopian restaurant just around the corner on Queen Street West. When Ka-sing and I left Hong Kong, their son was not yet born. It was wonderful to see him now as a delicate teenager. After they went back to Hong Kong I received a postcard from Chanya:
"Holly, me + son has returned to Hong Kong, old Zun was still minding his show business in the West Bank of America. News indicated that Toronto has big snowfall, hope your door hasn’t been blocked off yet! :) From Seymour Road to Gladstone Avenue, the way you treated us is still with the same old warmth. Thx! Hoping to meet again. Take care, say hello to Ka-sing. Chanya 17 Nov. 2019."
The postcard Chanya sent was probably a memorial card for the June-fourth Tiananmen incident. One might not have any idea what the numbers 87( )5( ) mean. The Chinese characters literally mean “Forbidden to say doesn’t mean to have forgotten”. A silent but unyielding way to protest against autocracy. However, on the first day of our existence we knew it as an involuntary birth, its young roots subject easily to, and affected heavily by fair or adverse weather. Destiny has never been on our hands.
The Winter of 2019 looked vastly different from this coming one. We won’t be able to enjoy coffee on the patios worry-free, like these two friends chatting, just a foot or two apart. In fact, it is advised, better no contact, better not to meet at all. This makes the card Shelley sent us last year all the more memorable. For many years, Shelley has made drawing an integral part of her life. She draws everyday, producing endless stories of our city and its inhabitants. Her works are light, whimsical, reflecting our inner and outer lives with child-like metaphorical strokes.
Back in the Summer of 2012, I received what looked like a promotional thing but turned out to be a postcard from Irina. The postcard was sent from St. John’s Newfoundland, where Irina and Gary spent the Summer there in a B&B, in exchange of the free stay they had to perform the host’s duty, like house keeping, and cooking breakfast for guests. On the card she wrote:
"Roughing it on the Boat House - not hot, ocean traffic. Helping with the Rock Bottom B&B. Brought wrong clothes overwhelmed with the heat - looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again soon. Regards from much water - Irina + G"
Irina's writings is pure pleasure. I can imagine her sipping a cup of coffee as she wrote, with a box of water colours on the side, she signed it with her iconic, Greek and Picasso inspired goddess profile. And on the front of the picture postcard, you can see the Admiral’s Adventure B&B nestled under the cliff of a hill. Oh Summer, do you have to go?
Years ago, I believe it might be around early Autumn, Han Xu sent me a postcard that he drew. The drawing was the Little Free Library on Close Avenue, the street where he lives. He was full of happy spirit, so was the scene depicting the small, bird-house like library with some books inside, standing in the centre against the sumptuous backdrop of green and gold. He wrote a few cheery words on his thoughts:
"Every time walk towards in anticipation. Every time arrive at happy encountering. Every time return in hope of revisiting." (The picture: On Close Avenue, passing by a library)
Then a few months later, towards the New Year, another card from Han Xu arrived. It was a New Year’s card, with a bonsai pine celebrating January, celebrating New Spring. He wrote and signed his name Han Xu 韓旭 in Chinese, decorated it with a small square red seal.
In June 2004 a postcard came from the Hauptbanhof of Zürich, but I recognized the picture as the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Yes indeed, in the foreground was a sculpture by the Taiwanese sculptor Chu Ming. The sculpture or the ‘man’ was practising Tai Chi in front of the Brandenburg Gate. The photographer and the sender of the postcard was PK (Leung Ping -Kwan 梁秉鈞). Around that time he was in Zürich University as a visiting scholar. His daughter Anwen was also with him in the trip. Taking place more or less the same time was his photography exhibition and poetry reading East West Matters in Bern and Frankfurt. In the card he wrote briefly:
"Greetings from Anwen and Ping-Kwan in Zürich! Anwen is coming soon!"
Ka-sing almost got to meet him in Paris, as they collaborated on the Poetry and Photography exhibition ‘De ci de là des choses’. It did not happen because he was busy taking care of the gallery in Toronto. In any case, the exhibition proceeded without Ka-sing. Nevertheless, ‘De ci de là des choses’ was arranged to exhibit again in 2006 at Saorge Monastery in the Southern part of France, which Ka-sing, giving a second chance, was still unable to attend.
"Iris, we saw these big cats in Canada. There are way too many people who love cats in North America. But it won’t be easy for you to find them on streets, since almost all of them live in people’s sweet home. These two big cats just wander off for a stroll and discovered by us. They agreed to give this picture to the little girl in Hong Kong who really really loves cats - as a gift. Love from mommy Toronto uncle Fai’s home Dec 26, 1991."
We bought this card when we visited uncle Fai (Tommy Li) in Toronto 1991, six years before we moved to Canada. Oh, right now, at this very moment of writing and to my surprise, I just find out that this Blue Tigers drawing is by Blair Drawson, an illustrator friend whom we met after we immigrated to Toronto! After we set up the galleries on Gladstone Avenue, we had even shown his lovely work of Birds. Small small world.
This cat postcard sent by Glenn was not dated, the barely visible mail press mark facing the cat also bears no date. But I remember it came before the Sugar Cane postcard, so it must be in 2019. Sometime that year, Kai and Glenn came over for dinner. After dinner I showed him a book called From the Ocean of Paintings: India’s Popular Paintings 1589 to the Present. He was surprised to find an image of an almost identical cat of the postcard he sent me weeks ago. Well, there is more story behind. This genre of drawing comes from West Bengal, Kalighat, where this particular iconography of the cat is served as an illustration of the proverb “Fair game” and as a satire on the hypocrisy of some devotees of Vishnu who professed to be vegetarians but in fact consumed meat in private. There are many versions of the calico cats. They may be holding different kinds of fish, a mouse, a prawn or even a parrot. In the postcard Glenn obtained from the gift shop of V&A the cat is holding a fish in its mouth, whereas in my book, the cat is holding a prawn, which at first glance and again out of my usual carelessness, I mistook it for a green carrot.