I inherited my brother’s stamp collection when I was 12. He had graduated from college (the university) and as a direct result, also from some hobbies of his, and he had passed on to me his precious and extensive stamp collection. I was ecstatic. I was excited about knowing all these countries and their histories, their culture, and I flipped through giant world atlases and thick geography books. I spent hours organizing and re-organizing the collection in various albums. Sometimes I organized them according to countries, and sometimes according to themes. I loved philately.

I thought about ways on how to add stamps to my collection. I joined a philately club in the city and combed book stores and specialty stores for more stamps. One of my aunts lived in Italy and we always had letters coming from Italy and I added those to my collection. And then it came to me – what better way to add stamps but to receive letters! I only didn’t get stamps, I also got friends!

I signed up for the International Youth Service (IYS) – a service I found through some clubs in my high school in Naga City.

“IYS (International Youth Service), founded in 1952 and based in Turku (Finland), was an internacional penfriend organization which arranged foreign penfriends for children and teenagers between 10 and 20 years of age. In exchange of a fee per address, IYS provided addresses of one or more penfriends (matched in age, country, interests, language abilities… through a computer system). Sadly, IYS closed down in 2008 as this Finnish firm couldn’t compete with the communication through the Internet.”
*Source

I remember being 13 and holding this form. I filled it up, checked the boxes with the names of the countries I wanted to have pen friends from, and mailed it to Finland. Basically, I checked the countries where I had wanted to get stamps from, and have some unique friends from – like Brazil because to my 13-year old self Brazil sounded far, far away and totally exotic! (Heck, to my 31-year old self, Brazil still sounds far, far away and totally exotic! :P)  I also checked the box for Thailand because the Miss Universe Pageant was held in the Philippines in 1994, I had loved Miss Thailand and thought Thais were beautiful. 😉
 

And that is how I got into penpalling, and how I got friends from Thailand, Malaysia, Brazil, the Netherlands, Belgium, Northern Ireland, and some other countries. Some of them I only got to exchange a few letters with through a course of a few years. Some of them I became extremely close, as we wrote each other through high school, university, post-graduation, and all through my so many changes in addresses. Some of them I managed to correspond with through e-mails when communicating through post became too tedious or we got too busy. The few that I had cherished I am still in contact with. They are all on my Facebook.

And so it happened that one of them went to the Philippines in 2013, and came to visit me in El Nido. She and a friend arrived in El Nido the week that Yolanda hit. I put them in a small lodging house as close to me as I could get, in Corong-Corong Beach, because I was still living there.

This photo was taken the day after Yolanda passed by. You can tell by the photo that it was not a sunny day. A typhoon has just passed, and we were barely spared. Coron was a direct hit but the typhoon missed us by some kilometers. There was minimal damage in some business establishments in the town center and some damaged boats, but otherwise, we were all okay in our part of El Nido town.

They left shortly after this photo was taken. They left some post cards with me to send via post back to Thailand. I said I did not know how long it would take the post cards to travel from El Nido and I could not assure them that they will arrive at all. We promised each other we would still keep in touch.

I, to be honest, have no mailing address. All the addresses that I have are all under somebody else’s name in some resort or lodging house in Palawan, but I wrote down addresses where letters could possibly reach me.

My friend sent me this photo shortly after she returned in Thailand. She said my handwriting has not changed all these years!

This was the very first letter I sent her, in 1996.

And it’s okay, I can post these addresses online. I don’t live there anymore. 😛

 

After 17 long years, we finally saw each other! After an entire box of exchanged letters, post cards, trinkets, and whatever we could fit into an envelope and sent over without being taxed, we finally met.

And hopefully, my other friends in Malaysia, Brazil, Netherlands, Belgium are next. 😉

I still have my stamp collection, neatly stashed away in albums and boxes in my parents’ home. They are waiting for another little girl to inherit them and hopefully, they will be expanded and cherished, as I did.

P.S.
If you are interested in Philippine stamps, do drop by the Outventure shop, we sell book/ipadmini/organizer pouches with stamps on the cover. Like this:

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