Ocean Liner Stories from the Past

Had a chat with both my Uncle A and Aunt S since they happened to be there at the same time. They are siblings 7.5 years apart, but the age gap seems to be negligible.

Wanted to gain more insight into what it was like to take an ocean liner back then. So having them both there was an invaluable opportunity.

My uncle said the Ocean Liner (Asiana) was spartan compared to cruise ships now. But my aunty (Oceana) claimed that there was a swimming pool on it and even entertainment, which surprised me. There were two different Ocean Liners but I believe the facilities were similar. (I’m waiting for my relatives to correct me and I’ll keep updating my historical posts in an effort to be accurate.)

Life was truly slow paced then, but definitely had more of a romantic quality with long sea journeys and letters sent back home – ink on thin blue paper. Probably took ages to arrive too and I was transported back in time seeing a young Queen Elizabeth stamp affixed.

A young Queen Elizabeth II on the Ceylon stamp
Beautiful penmenship. Pity children don’t learn cursive these days.

Quite a valuable document that my uncle kept for 62 years. He kindly made a photocopy for me when I told him to keep the original carefully. Although he was generous for me to handle the original I was reluctant too. The paper is so fragile. Remarkable if you think about it. He wrote it to his siblings back home when he was 17, but had the presence of mind to keep the letter once he returned home.

My mum read it for the first time today and was very keen to. She was 14 years old back then, and just starting secondary school. Perhaps in the chaos of everyday life and their father’s sudden demise, she wasn’t shown the letter then.

It was probably read by my eldest aunty and her husband. They took care of the family. My mum said her brother in law was very kind and caring, echoing the sentiments of many of the relatives who knew him.

Back then nobody discussed anything like we do these days. They just were too busy with all the household chores and life.

But I guess it makes sense as she said that when she was growing up, children were often sent away when guests came. A lot was kept from them, so I think they got used to that kind of existence. Being kept in the dark. I think it’s super unhealthy, but yeah those were repressed times.

It’s also makes sense that they wanted to shield the children from any of the ugliness of life. Yes I would have liked my childhood to remain pristine with that glow through rose tinted glasses. 

In contrast I truly admire how open my cousin is with his children. If it’s age appropriate he doesn’t keep it from them. As they result they grow up with so much self assurance. Your parents trusting you, gives you the strongest feeling of confidence and security. But that’s the new generation and they know a lot more based on their own experiences and read up on the latest in child psychology and development. We improve with every generation and new discoveries I guess.

I so wish I could be shown that I’m being trusted. It’s a quality I appreciate so much about my dad. That he trusted me and needed me, the way my uncle describes that his dad was with his eldest daughter. I miss that terribly. By needing me that way he was my anchor. All of us need to feel wanted and that gives us value.

To be fair, even though my dad was very open, I’m not too sure about his side of the family who seem much more repressed in terms of emotion. On deeper reflection I think it was unique only to him. He was the anomaly. And I was blessed by that. 

I feel honoured now that I get to be the vessel for all this information from my uncle and aunt. My uncle even gave me the assurance that I could share all of it. I’m sure my cousins would appreciate the information too. 

My youngest aunty of course didn’t read the letter either as she was only 10 and in Sri Lanka with her parents and my uncle. She poured over it too giggling and commenting that my uncle sounded very formal indeed. She was impressed that he included interesting minute details like the speed of the vessel. 

As the youngest she was taken by my grandparents to continue her primary schooling in Sri Lanka for 2 months.

She related (and as confirmed by written details in my uncle’s letter) that the Ocean Liner didn’t stop at the harbour in Colombo. They had to take another boat to land. They were greeted by relatives at Columbo and stayed a night at a relative’s house. The day after they took an overnight train to Jaffna. 

My aunty said that was the only time she had a chance to get close to her father as she fell asleep on his lap. She said a whole hoard of relatives came to hug them all and she found it very frightening. In just that last month of her father’s life she became closer to him than her mum. My uncle added that his father was softer with the girls. And the sisters always said their mother favoured the boys.

My uncle went on to relate that his father’s mother (my great grandmother) was originally living in a mud house. Her name was Vairamuthu. I said how come it sounds so masculine and my aunty said it means diamond pearl. Literally. 

My grandfather sent back money for his mum to build a brick house in place of the mud one. His mother lived in it with his sister. The son of his sister went on to marry his daughter. First cousins marrying was more common then I think. 

Besides this retirement and sadly last trip, Grandfather went back to Ceylon soon after his marriage on 13 nov 1933.

My grandmother, eldest Aunt P and eldest Uncle M went back to Sri Lanka in 1940 before war. My grabdfather thought they would be safer there. How ever my grandmother didn’t like it there so came back and my uncle was then born in Singapore in 1942. Imagine if he didn’t exist because my grandmother decided to stay on in Sri Lanka. My mum and me and all my cousins would probably not exist then. It’s incredible to think about. 

My uncle A said that his eldest brother used to fall ill all the time. He was very sickly and had great difficulty putting on weight. Why didn’t I get those genes, I lamented. 

I am an open book and if you ask me I will tell, even if it’s something I’m sensitive about and I hate being misjudged. I can be an over sharer too even more so after my father’s death and the cancer diagnosis. I often feel embarrassed about how much I overshare especially if the response is just shocked silence.

But life is way too short for secrets and repressed emotions. I think that’s what I appreciate about my partner. He never keeps anything from me. Neither of us could be with someone whom we felt was repressed. Repressed in the sense that even after spending years with that person you don’t know them any better because they don’t reveal their emotions.

I don’t believe in anything being too shameful to reveal. In fact it makes for a more colourful history. Who wants to hear about a pristine history anyway. You can’t learn anything from that and I believe no one has that. Its what made Nobel and Booker prize winning author V S Naipaul so revered as a writer.

The biographical, A House for Mr Biswas was presented with brutal honesty, warts and all. A marvel I want to reread and relish as I’m very much into biography right now and hope to write my own.

And if I do, I won’t shy away from my own shortcomings as unflattering as they may be.

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore & recently cancer too.
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