I am not a philatelist, but once I liked to save up stamps. I have a passion for ‘small pretty pictures’ and there was a time when so many of them flying around, above our heads under the sky, across valleys, mountains, oceans and country borders. I netted them effortlessly, I rescued them in small boxes and stamp books. It could be one of the reasons why I love to accumulate postcards, especially those written to me from friends and people that I knew. One can enjoy so many things from this usually 4 x 6 inch card: stories, news, aspirations, the spirit of the person through handwritings, and of course the pretty stamps - those little pictures that the sender chose.
Twenty years ago, I initiated a postcard correspondence project with Tomoko Kikuchi, a Japanese friend I knew from Hong Kong. She travelled, spent a lot of time between Hong Kong and China, researching Chinese culture and living style, and supported herself working freelance in photography. Unfortunately the correspondence lasted only from 1999 to 2000, and it gradually, without awareness from both of us, came to a stop.
Since we both forgot to date most of the postcards, I can only guess that we started in the middle of 1999, when she sent me the first card, which I never received. I sent out my first one around June (not sure), and I mentioned that in April Nunavut had become one of the three territories of Canada. Based on a Canada Post promo card of the new $2 coin made by the Royal Canadian Mint, I collaged some more images and wrote the text in Chinese. Since I had to mail the card to Tomoko, I photo-copied it first, front and back so that I could keep a copy. The audience wearing 3D glasses in the front of the card was cut-and-pasted in deliberately, since I had mentioned (at the back) Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s production ‘Monsters of Grace’, a digital opera in three dimensions that required viewers to wear 3D glasses for full effect.
The second card I received from Tomoko was amazing. It was a postcard made in North Korea, tucked safely inside an envelope and mailed from Beijing. The stamp was huge, printed as part of an image to commemorate the return of Hong Kong to China. The Korean 3D lenticular printed postcard was from an early 1950s poster, showing the founding ceremony of the People’s Republic of China at Tiananmen Square, where Chairman Mao delivered a speech to the enormous cheerful crowds and parades. This card was printed in 1993, to celebrate the 100 years’ birth of Mao Zedong (1893-1993).
Toronto started bidding for the 2008 Olympics in 1998, and by July 2001 all hope was dashed. Our postcard correspondence ended around the end of 2000 and we never had a chance to talk about it, and she never sent me pictures of her photo project on the comfort ladies in Shanxi (山西). When the new millennium began, I was also working on some works to be exhibited at the inaugural exhibition of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. We still lived in Markham but had just bought a unit in the Candy Factory Loft. For the last few months in 1999, Ka-sing and I drove almost every day down to Toronto to renovate the new space. Even though we had inherited the smallest loft unit in the former candy factory, the space looked quite gorgeous and needed very little renovation and cosmetic make-up. In fact, after we'd installed the first exhibition on wall, our gallery looked really great. It exceeded all our expectations. We organized many memorable exhibitions in this beautiful place until 2006.
The third millennium started off well, skipping the Y2K problem, but only a year and half after, the horrendous 9/11 occurred. In 2000, Toronto’s Mayor Bad Boy Lastman followed suit Chicago’s Cows on Parade, to place throughout the city 326 life-sized moose sculptures, all decorated by local artists. That was a happier time, our lives were simpler and things were full of hope. But I envied Tomoko for her mobility, doing things that I’d love to do, but couldn’t, like visiting decades old historical Chinese buildings and meeting interesting people…I followed her footsteps to Shanghai, Anhui…yet in reality all I could travel to was Toronto, I moved to a new address, I followed some moose in different parts of the city. There was no more correspondence between us after the moose talk. Perhaps she did send me another postcard, which would be no. 10, still using the old address. Even then I shouldn’t have missed it because I remembered clearly I’d forwarded all letters to the downtown address for a few months. In any case, the true reason for the cease of communication was not sure. Perhaps we were both too busy, and as you know how busy people could miss a lot of things that they’d later regret on. Or perhaps, the postman was also a philatelist! And in a moment of weakness, he had taken the postcard himself, the one that’s missing, the one we’d have labelled it number 10.
是四、五月間發生的事罷。Nunavut 成為特區。看了Philip Glass 的 Monster of Grace，後來也明白了加國早期歐洲移民在海上搬遷的奇境。屋子都變成了大船。Nunavut 人的舞姿真好看，邊打鼓邊跳舞。在台下看 Philip Glass 和 Atom Egoyan 的對話，音樂和影像徐徐起落，彼此都在追尋對方的軌跡。
(translation) It happened around April, or May? Nunavut has become a territory. Saw Monsters of Grace by Philip Grass, and understood later on, the amazing scene of how early European immigrants moved to Canada. Houses all became big boats. The Nunavut danced wonderfully, they beat their drums as they danced. Sitting in the auditorium watching Philip Grass interacting with Atom Egoyan, music and images rose and sank slowly, searching for each other’s traces.
Celebration of the establishment of PRC (Tomoko)
How are you? This postcard is made in North Korea. Only 1 month left till millennium. Wow! Macau handover will be soon, and communist 50 years anniversary in China was on 1st of Oct. So many historical memorial days recently. Now I’m working on photo project of people who are living in Hutong, (old BJ style house) which is disappearing. The government announced all Hutong except around Forbidden City gonna be torn down till next few years. god! Right now a big Hutong area which has a few hundreds years history is being torn down. Just next to Tiananmen. Old people who lived there like 80 years have seen all the Chinese modern history like the picture of this postcard. But the history changes. Those people need to move new building even though they don’t want. China is changing. People’s thinking changes must change very fast. Love Tomoko.
The envelope Tomoko used to send the Korea made postcard. Below was a note she attached within.
I didn’t know that you haven’t got my first one. Probably it’s stolen Pls let me know if you get this by E-mail email@example.com
View from Austin Drive, Markham (Holly)
It’s great to receive your postcard. Sorry to have missed your first one. The back is a view from our balcony. The year was 1997, the first year we arrived Canada. Life here is as expected, not as 密度高 as in Hong Kong and China. I’m experiencing another kind of life, the “freedom” and space as never experienced. That gives me more time to reflect and think of how different cultures come to meet at this point. Canadians have never ceased to respect the seniors. Though some historical buildings were torn down once they quickly learn to preserve the rest. I hope some of the 胡同 can really survive. Love Holly. (Dec. 13, 1999)
Translation of Chinese text in red, written vertically from left to right - Do you have a chance to meet photographer friends like Rong Rong? EC will come to Canada in December. Today is not so windy has Beijing begun to snow? Is there a chance to see your pictures of the Hutong folks?
No. 2 from BJ
Happy new year! How you gonna spend Chinese new year in Canada? I spent Millennium in H.K. with EC. This year I will spend Chinese new year at Beijing. It seems quite boring to spend new year in BJ (!) I need to work in BJ. In BJ or Northern China people get together & eat dumpling. I rather prefer to spend Chinese New Year at rural area. Last year, I went to Hakka village in Fujian province. I stayed at earth building called 土樓 of round buildings. Very unique buildings. I want to visit festivals which will be held 2 weeks after Chinese New Year. Keep in touch! Love Tomoko
« this year is dragon! (I couldn’t find one so I put this) It’s from Mongolia.
High School Fashion (text from front)
I seldom miss Japan but every new year’s eve and first of January I miss Japan. Only new year & the season of cherry blossom I miss Japan. How about you do you miss H.K.? How is Iris? She must have grown up. If she’s in Japan she must wear like this. « This uniform looks like my high school uniform.
Performance Fleece Old Navy (Holly)
So this is March already. Couldn’t believe I live to see 2000 - such a fantastic year. Beijing is competing with Toronto to host Olympic 2008. Beijing stands a good chance. I couldn’t do a lot of traveling with life and work here but hopefully can do that real soon. Iris is fine. She’s happy with all her friends here. (5) «our numbering system. Please write me Postcard 6 when u receive this. This is a postcard I’ve got from a Thai kitchen in New York, free of charge. It feels like 洗衣粉 ad. to me.
Via Air Mail, Yayoi Kusama (Tomoko)
How are you? I start to feel Spring is coming in BJ. It’s nice feeling. I’ve just come back from H.K. (I stayed there almost 3 weeks) I met Patrick & I show him my photo story of comfort ladies. Next time I go to H.K. I should scan them and send by E-mail. I still visit them every 3 or 4 month (they live in 山西 ) It’s good to show my work to other people and sometimes they give me good ideas or what I hadn’t realize. And now I try to use different light & do portrait in my office’s studio (They have many broncolor) It’s good practice. By the way if Olympic 2008 in BJ, BJ gonna take the place …I hope see you soon in H.K. Love Tomoko
Flower Boats off to Market (Holly)
Dear Tomoko, (7) from Toronto
Spring is here and we still have snow this week! But I know warm weather won’t be far away and we still have light after 7 pm, unlike the cold winter months when 4 will be like 8 or 9 at night. I know its warmer in Beijing and Hong Kong will now be hot and humid. Are you very busy at work? Manage to continue your Personal Project? I’m going to be in a group show in October 2000 in Hong Kong Heritage Museum and am now trying hard to begin with my photo project. Ka-sing and I work a lot on websites these days. But I really miss photography. “Flower Boats off to Market” This art work is from a Toronto artist Saskia Wassing-Shepher, 9x5 in., 1998, embroidery on organza Toronto is also bidding for Olympic 2008 and they've just rolled the campaign out with a maple leaf bursting into Fireworks. I will send u something on this campaign next time. Meanwhile carry on with the good work! Love Holly
Addition text on front: We love your high school fashion postcard, it's so cute! Iris is doing fine and all of us miss U! You're such a good friend with energy & heart. When do we have a chance to see your new photos? I want to see the "comfort women" series.
Dear Holly 8! (6)??
How are you?
I’ve never gotten your letter since April, I was wondering whether you missed my no 6 postcard. I have been ill for a month but now I’m ok. I went to Shanghai in July and Anhui to see old buildings (dwellings) They were really beautiful and I really enjoyed. (I send you postcard next time) And Shanghai…!I was really surprised and amazed how much it changed within 5 years! It looks like almost NY! and changed dramatically from old style communists city to such a impressive urban city. Keep in touch! Love Tomoko
(9) Hello Tomoko
I did get your No. 6 and returned No. 7 to you. It was a drawing with two boats. So your last postcard is No. 8. We had a splendid Summer in Toronto and the city is filled with moose. Anyway we have moved downtown. Please note the change of address. Are you still working in the photo studio? How is your project coming? I will show you new work soon. I miss 上海 一切安好 平安祝福 Love Holly Oct. 9, 2000
(translation - I miss Shanghai, hope everything is fine, be safe and our blessings)