My mom recently sent me a letter that was written (typed) by my paternal Grandfather to my Grandmother in 1938. He was in the US Navy and stopped over in the Singapore Malay Straights and it just so happens that he did a little shopping in Singapore. Go figure…
I never really knew my Grandfather but I find it incredibly fascinating to picture him bargaining with the local vendors, probably along the Singapore River or over in the Arab Quarters area at that time, for camphor boxes, silk cloth and “pajama’s” much the same way I do now only in China Town or on Arab St.. They probably weren’t pj’s but he thought of them that way. I did know my Grandmother and I can imagine her face when she saw the fabrics and the beautiful things he brought to her. She loved nice things so I’m sure she did not care about the money at all. She was a dancer and I can imagine the dress she might have had made with the beautiful white Shanghai silk. I can imagine the sweet reunion when he got off the ship. My Grandmother and Grandfather divorced in 1957 but it’s obvious from family stories and especially from this letter, that they did love each other.
So many years ago. A whole different world. But still ‘same same but different’, eh?
A glimpse into the past…..
February 16, 1938
Singapore Malay STS,
Well, I still haven’t received any mail from you up until this time but I know it is impossible to get any yet. I have written lots of letters to you sweetheart but I don’t mind at all. I know you will get them sooner or later, and just as long as I keep writing and letting you know how I am you will feel lots better and will know that I still love you and am thinking bout you.
Sweetheart, I went ashore yesterday and I bought some of the most wonderful bargains I have ever seen in my life. The first thing I brought was a pajama suit for you. When I asked the price of the suit the salesman said twenty-five dollars. He said it was pure shanghai satin, and it was three pieces. A jacket of the most beautiful cloth and the heaviest cloth I ever saw, then there was a little short coat to go over the jacket, and last of all there was the pajama shorts or rather the pants to go with them, and I’m telling you sweetheart they are the most beautiful things I have ever seen and the heaviest. Just guess what I paid for them. Four dollars and fifty cents. Think of it four dollars and fifty cents of their money. The lowest he would come down was from ten dollars to seven and he finally came down to five. And I forgot to tell you that it took me about four hours to finally bargain him down that much. Walter tried to find something like them for Gertrude but he will never find anything like that. Gertrude is going to wish she had a set like yours when she sees what you have. I really never expected him to come down to as much as fifteen dollars because of the quality and the work on them. I was just bargaining with him because that is the way you buy out here. You ask the price first of all and if they say thirty dollars you turn around and start to walk out and say ten dollars and that is my bet price. They grab you by the arm and pull you back in the store because it isn’t very often that American Sailors come here and they know it will be long time before they will be able to get rid of such things. The natives never have the money to buy them because they are too high priced. They don’t want you to walk out. When they say alright (I give you for ten dollar Mex) you say (naw not worth more than five dollar Mex) and start to walk out again. This goes on until they sell to you, and it is usually at your own price. I bought eight yards of pure satin (white) satin you know the evening gown type for twenty-five cents a yard. Just think of it, sweetheart. You get an evening gown Pattern and I have the material for one of the finest evening gowns you ever had on. I paid two dollars mex (their money) for the satin. That would be about 15 cents of our money per yard. Then I have the four yards of pure silk I bought the other day for you and the other things I mentioned in a previous letter. I didn’t by anything for myself but a bath robe for two dollars and two boxes of silk sox. I got eight pair of silk sox the regular fifty cent sox in the United States for one dollar their money. Just twelve and a half cents a pair and you can’t buy good cotton sox in the US for that price, so I bought two boxes. I will have plenty of sox when I get out of the navy for a long time. You understand honey, that I didn’t have very much money to spend but I bought everything I could while I am here because I’ll never get another chance to get you so many things at such a reduced price. Honey you are really going to be dressed up with an evening gown, if you can get a pattern to make one from. I will be glad to get the other things you will need to finish making it. It is pure white and so pretty I don’t like to handle it. Walter bought some also. He said he couldn’t let me buy something he didn’t get for Gertrude because she would be mad at him. He tried all day yesterday to get a pajama suit like yours but he will never find one like it., not for 4.50 and the same quality I know. Just think a suit like in the United States would cost at least twenty-five dollars. I know because it would cost that much for the material without the work done on it.
Well, honey I just about spent all the money I had put away but I know when I show it all to you you will be satisfied. You should trust me to do the best things for you anyhow, because that is what I did. I had rather bargain with fellows than eat, I get more kick out of doing that than actually buying from them.
These chests (camphor wood) Walter and I bought for you and Gertrude are sure going to be nice honey. They are large and roomy, plenty large for you to put all your handkerchiefs and a good many other things also. They are about a foot and a half long and over a foot high and wide. And they sure do smell good. Hand carved and will go good with any kind of furniture. They are something like the color of our radio sweetheart. A real dark rich brown color. Well honey this is late in the afternoon and I have the mid watch tonight from one o’clock until seven thirty in the morning and I will have a better chance to write to you then so I am going to close this letter sweetheart and write another one to you tonight. My darling I miss you and love you so much that it really hurts to be away from you so long. When I get back to the United States I will just have six months to do Sweetheart in this Navy and then we will start our life together in ernest won’t we Honey. I can hardly wait until that time. I hope you look forward for it as much as I do. There is nothing on earth will ever get me back in here as long as I love you sweetheart. Well I will write to again in a few hours so cheerio until then my darling.
Lots and lots of Love,
This is a photo of one of the boxes he brought back.