The joy of letter-writing

I read with interest how letters written by a Chinese shopkeeper in Singapore to his family in China at the turn of the 20th century are being studied by modern-day scholars ("Migrants' letters give new insight into Chinese overseas"; Oct 12).

Their handwritten script was often rendered in flowing traditional Chinese calligraphy, and that requires lots of practice, discipline and hard work to perfect.

My mother told me that when she was a child, her brothers would often write letters in Chinese, in either the regular or cursive script. The very beauty of the words, if well executed, is an art form in its own right.

Students in the past used to be able to write a decent piece of calligraphy. But when I was a secondary school student in the 1980s, Chinese calligraphy lessons were phased out.

With the advent of the Internet, the faster, more convenient and instantaneous correspondence via e-mail and social media has replaced handwritten letters.

The contents of a typical e-mail are often simplified and the use of abbreviations is common. We rely on the spell-check function of computer software rather than memorise the spelling of the words. Some students have even been said to use e-mail abbreviations in their school work.

I used to enjoy exchanging letters with a friend studying overseas. The days of waiting in between the letters actually made the receiving even more joyful.

E-mail has done away with paper, pen, envelope and stamps, and that has made writing a letter a breeze.

Writing letters is a good exercise for the mind, and trains the writer to write concisely and creatively. My writing skills have improved significantly since I started writing to The Straits Times' Forum page. As with any other publication, some letters would inevitably be rejected. But I just keep on writing, and honing my skills.

Lee Kay Yan (Miss)