Thursday, April 22, 2010

See the World 85 years ago – part 2 (Peter Chan)

My grandfather never stopped his hobby until the day he passed on. Just before that he summoned my cousin and I to his bedside; being the senior male descendants of the family clan, he told us of his parting wish. Being the elder of the two, my cousin made his choice of a colourful world atlas and I was left with his other collection.

I was devastated because I was eyeing the world atlas book. What was the man thinking then? Since then I have kept this pristine collection in some dark corner for the last 40 years.

Photo 1: Postcards of two well-known hotels in New York at that time. Only the Vanderbilt Hotel remains but as a posh apartment (c1925)

When I now closely scrutinized the postcards several questions came to my mind, some I had answers but many we don’t.

Photo 2: The reverse of a post card (c 1925). The Yokohama-Specie Bank has a place in Singapore’s history. It was the Japanese bank which arranged the S$50 million Chinese community contribution to Japan’s WW2 efforts. After Japan lost the war in 1945, Japanese assets were seized. Today HSBC occupies the same spot where this Japanese bank once stood. Yokohama Specie Bank is now Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

For example, how did my grandfather see the world 85 years ago? How did he find so many Caucasian pen-pals willing to correspond with a Chinese man from Singapore? I discovered he used a moniker “Chan Kim Kwong” and the corresponding address of his office (Yokohama Specie Bank) and the family home (12 Pasar Lane in Jalan Besar). What is even stranger if you examine the hand-writing of postcards received from Europe and the Americas? I am certain it was my grandfather’s hand-writing but how did he get franked postcards of so many countries? Later my grandfather turned to a typewriter instead of handwriting. He gave up collecting postcards and found a new direction; covers.

Photo 3: Cover of a special occasion (c1936)

My grandfather’s collection of postcards and covers has become a fascinating subject for me, though I beg to differ that I am a stamp collector. There is so much interesting information I can gather because he has left me with so many written commentaries. Come think of what a stupid thing I could have done if I had decided to offer it to the “Kalang Guni Man”.

30 comments:

R. Burnett Baker said...

Very interesting post, Peter. I seem to remember that back in the day, one could give mail to some kind of courier and have it posted from other locations. Perhaps your grandfather did something like that??

I just cannot recall how that was done or why....

Edward said...

Peter, can you confirm if the postcode of the Yokohoma-Specie Bank is 8.8 in Photo 3? That’s quite unusual for postcodes in Singapore, to have a decimal point in between. The old postcodes were one or two digits, going as far back as the 50's. For example Sembawang Hills Estate’s postcode was 20 and I think postcode 8 was somewhere in Thomson Road, not far from St Michael’s School.

Icemoon said...

Edward, I think that's not the postcode but S.S - Straits Settlement?

Just a wild guess. In Photo 2, we have d.d. after Singapore. What's that?

Icemoon said...

My "penmanship" not good. Can anybody confirm whether that is d.d or super cursive S.S in photo 2 after Singapore?

Edward said...

Icemoon, in that case the "d.d." in photo 2 is probably "S.S." for "Straits Settlement". Notice that the strokes are similar to that of the capital "S" in Singapore? Ha, I feel like Hercule Poirot now - although my eyesight is not as good as yours. I saw "8.8" in photo 3 whereas you thought it wass "S.S". Very elementary ...

Icemoon said...

In photo 2, we see Straits Settlements and Singapore, the 'S' is pretty obvious. The "S.S" below looks different, more like "d.d".

peter said...

Icemoon + Edward,

S.S. = Strais Settlement

R. Burnett,I am not sure wehtehr courier had come of age in those days like in the U.S. Maybe you can provide some insights. From what I have agathered, my grandfather did use a postal agent in another country BUT only fro some postcards. I came across postcards from Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Fiji, Australia, Belgium, Turkey, etc and no postal agent was used. I can't quite figure out how the postcards were franked and sent back to Singapore.

Edward said...

Peter, are you sure that “Chan Kim Kwong” and “Chan Chun Wing” are the same person? Could there be two Chan’s working at the Yokohama Specie Bank? Not that this will provide any clues to the mystery of how the postcards were franked overseas. Just another curiosity being aroused ...

Thimbuktu said...

What an awesome blog, Peter. I am very glad to post the extracts of the old Outram Annual you shared kindly with the "Outram Secondary School Alumni Group" on Facebook.

Its not a "stupid thing" Peter. You have a meaningful mission which your father and grandfather have a rare treasured Singaporean collection to share on GMY blog.

Pls keep up and best wishes for the accomplishment of your grandfather's generous wishes.

peter said...

edward

Initially I shared the same opinion like you on the existence of the 2 Chans. I checked through all possible records, the Chan Kim Kwong does not exist as an employee of the bank. Mind you there could not have been a coincidence that a different Chan lived at Pasar Lane. Before my grand-uncle passed away in his 90s (my grandafther's younger brother) last year, I checked and the asnwer was the same.

Edward said...

OK Peter that dispels my theory of the 2 Chan’s – that one could have gone overseas and sent postcards o himself and your grandfather. I wonder why your grandfather used two names to have the postcards addressed to him. In this case the given names are so different that it cannot be an issue of translation. More mysteries coming up …

Poetikat said...

Dear Lam Chun See,

I have a photograph taken at the Shackles Club in early 1951. My father was stationed in Singapore with the British Army and this photo was in his personal effects. He died in November, 2008.

The photo is apparently a farewell dinner for a Lt-Col. H.F. Trewby. I can send you a copy, if you like. Perhaps you can find some information about this event.

E-mail me at poetikat46@yahoo.com if you would like to see it.

Yours sincerely,

Kat Mortensen

peter said...

Kat

There's something wrong with yr email address. Can't get through.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Kat. Thank you for your generous offer to share your father's photo of the Shackles Club. Yes I certainly would like to have a copy. In fact I think I have a few other photos of this place sent to me by other ex-British servicemen. Personally I don't know much about this place. But I will find out more and post these photos on my blog..

Russ said...

Peter ... jolly interesting mystery. Can you give a little more information...
1. What exactly was your grandfathers occupation in the bank
2. The wording of one of your comments above is a little confusing, the postcards from other coutries such Germany, Greece etc, am I right in assuming they were foreign postcards and not Singapore postcards sent from these foreign countries.

peter said...

Russ

Thanks for helping out. Here are the answers to your questions. I am also curious.

1. He was a clerk at that point in time. When he retired he was in a more senior position. I'll talk about it more in my next blog, "Yamashita's Gold" that refers to the treasures that were purportedly hidden by the Japanese at the end of WW2.

2. All the postcards in my colleciton are postcards from foreign countries. They were not local postcards sent from foreing countries to him. All foreign postcards had foreign stamps including the proof of mailing. The difference was the handwriting on the acrd which belonged to my grandfather.

Edward said...

Peter, as a matter of curiosity, have you ever thought of asking your grandfather or granduncle how all this came about, before they passed on? That is – the mystery of the foreign post cards posted from overseas addressed to him? I assume that he has definitely not visited these countries. Do you know his circle of close friends? For example could one of them been a frequent traveler, perhaps someone who worked in the shipping or airline industry?

peter said...

Edwad,

My grandfather never left the shores of Singapore. That is why I am perplexed as to how he got so many postcards and they were not from pen-pals.

I don't know his circle of friends because I have never seen them at all. My grandfather never talks about who he knows. He is quiet man by nature, so much that I think my uncles/aunties got much of his DNA. But my uncles and aunties knew he loved to collect stamps, postcards, etc.

I wish I had "interrogated" him before he passed on. He could hardly talk due to a terminal illness and shortly after giving us the stuff, he passed on.

Russ said...

Peter ... you need to become an 'ace' detective!

I think, at the moment, the 'sticky wicket' in all of this lies in the handwriting of the postcards. I gather from the opening blog part 2 you think the handwriting on all the postcards is that of your grandfather....

However, I worked out a theory which maybe 'scuppered' because of the handwriting on the postcards but would still be interested in what others think, particularly Edward.

The answer might be in the transferring of foreign money. I have no idea how banks work with the moving of foreign currency, certainly not way back in the 1920/30's, this was not a time of mass tourist travel. As an example, a visitor to Singapore arriving say from America with US dollars would need to change it to local currency, I guess in a bank. The bank is then stuck with the US dollars, would the dollars then be sent back to a bank in America, would it have been the same with other countries and their currencies?

As your grandfather was a bank clerk I think it quite feasible to have contacts or working relationships with other bank clerks in the banks of foreign countries for this purpose.

His postcards may have orignated through these contacts, for example, I collect foreign postcards please send me one from your country. Friendly gesture, minimal cost.

Working practices were more rigid in those far off days and this type of practice might have been frowned upon by those at the top, hence the use of a 'monicker', the postcards being intercepted in the postal room when they arrived.

All good stuff.....eh!

Ok! putting theory aside....As I and others do not have access to the postcards in person I think you need to spend a few minutes doing a little more research to help solve this mystery.

1. If you are absolutely positive your grandfather never left the shores of Singapore I will return to the writing of the address and any message on the reverse of the postcards.

Are you aboslutely positive all the postcards are written by the same person and if so compare the writing in minute detail with other handwritten correspondence from your grandfather to establish beyond doubt it is your grandfathers writing.

If they are written in your grandfathers handwriting, we do have a real mystery....!

Next question, if it is not your grandfathers writing, by the same minute examination, are the postcards still written by the same person, as Edward suggests they might have been written and sent by a travelling friend.

2. Just how many postcards are we talking about here?

3. Now can we try and establish a pattern.

Can you take a few minutes Peter and sit down with an atlas and with the postcards in date order by the postmark work out if the postcards, or some of the postcards, could have been sent in one single trip around many countries in a reasonable time span or were they sent over many years.

Air travel was in its infancy as was airmail correspondence, so I guess the postcards would have been mostly by surface mail.

Interestingly...in part 1, the first postcard displayed, the one with the airmail sticker, appears to have a Rangoon, Burma postmark on the lower left corner, what's on the reverse of this card.

Good luck, have fun.... Russ

Edward said...

Whoa Russ, we could almost write a book on trying to solve this mystery! I think that foreign currencies are kept in the bank or transferred/sold to the central bank – in this case the Reserve Bank or Federal Reserve. Most countries have restrictions on the amount of local currencies you can bring out of its borders to prevent a drain on its supply at home. If foreign currencies are routinely sold back to its country of origin then there would not be a pressing need to stem its outflow. I’m only guessing.

Peter, in photo 2, on the left hand side of the cards I note the name “Max Kloeppel” with a PO Box address in New York. Is this the name and address of the sender? Russ’ suggestion on ordering the dates of the post marks may have some merits. I am thinking along a different line though. As a bank clerk your grandfather would probably not have much dealing with overseas banks. This looks more like the duties and responsibilities of a more senior staff. Do you know when he was promoted? We do need Charlie Chan to solve this puzzle!

peter said...

Thanks Russ + Edward, you raised some good points. This is what I found out after you prompted me to look again.

1. The postcards all use the "moniker", up to 1932. My last count, was <200 pcs, having me giving away another <100+ to my other cousins.

2. My grandfather seemed to have lost interest in foreign postcards and started with the theme on "Malayan stamps" and covers. This time, he used a typewriter although occasionally he would do with hand-writing.

From 1932/33 onwards, he began to use his actual name using the bank address and his new home in Tanjung Pagar area. This was at the time when he got a raise on his salary - I have a letter confirming his pay rise.

I did lab test on the handwriting -postcards and covers - and compared to those in recent times. The lab says they are the same although in the 1920s the "manuscript-type pen" was the writing device rather than the fountain pen.

peter said...

Russ

You are in the hospitality industry in the U.S. I know there is a Hotel Commonwealth Boston but no Hotel Commonwealth New York. Are they related?

Edward said...

Peter, very interesting point you discovered – that your grandfather used a moniker until he was promoted in 1932. This adds weight to what Russ said about such practices being not well received by management - having personal mail sent to your workplace. Even today this would be “professionally discouraged”. Presumably all mail would be sorted out at the bank’s registry. After he was promoted he used his real name. As a senior staff his personal mail would not be subject to the same degree of scrutiny or criticism. So far we’ve only “explained” his use of 2 names. The core of the mystery lies in how the postcards were sent to him at the bank or his home at Tanjung Pagar. I assume that Max Kloeppel is the sender of the postcards in photo 2. What about the other postcards? Do they also have the names and addresses of the senders?

Thomas C B Chua said...

Peter, tks for sharing a rich legacy. Your grandfather lived richly.

peter said...

Edward,

For some countries, my grandfather used a postal agent like the guy "Max Kloeppel". In some cases, I see the handwriting of a real penpal which contains that penpal's handwritten message but addressed to Chan Kim Kwong. But on most occasions, there were no messages, no real pen-pals but addressed to Chan Kim Kwong.

felixawilliam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jaz said...

Some hostels do offer en-suite rooms with more comforts but these are probably more in the price range of a hotel suite.

Pousadas Em Natal

Max said...

My name is Max Kloeppel. It was also my Great Gandfather's name who lived in NYC around that time. He was a baker and very involved with the baker's union at the time. Hope that helps in some way.

max said...

The @yahoo.com e-mail address you posted on buymaxabeer.com seems to be wrong. If you'd like to get a hold of me drop me a line at max@ the url above about beer.

Thimbuktu said...

You are very lucky to have a great grandfather, Peter. Your family heirloom is priceless to be inherited with these rare treasure for posterity.

Thank you for sharing these photos on the blog.

Cheers!