IN A quiet corner of Jalan Petaling, just a stone’s throw from Kuala Lumpur’s busy Chinatown, lies an unassuming stationery shop that sells old Chinese New Year greeting cards.
Not surprising, as the shop has been around for five decades.
The owner of Kiat Leong Stationery and Trading, a sweet little lady by the name of See Tho Lay Yoong, keeps a stack of old Chinese New Year greeting cards in a special box which she only brings out for those who ask for it.
The box is filled with old greeting cards going as far back as 50 years.
The cards are still in good condition, although some have a worn-out look to them. See Tho, of course, prefers to call it a vintage look.
What’s interesting about the cards is that the collection shows the stark contrast between the greeting cards of today compared to the ones from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Most cards still carry the ubiquitous Chinese character fu or fook, which means prosperity and good luck, as well as the usual illustrations of bamboo, chrysanthemum and cherry blossom.
“We used to supply in bulk to the embassies back in the old days,” See Tho said, explaining that most of her customers were regulars who came looking for these vintage cards.
But, she added, the numbers had been dwindling since the turn of the millennium.
“Greeting card sales have been going down for the past 10 years, but we have a reputation here in Petaling Street, so we still get a lot of customers who prefer the traditional way of sending greeting cards,” the 66-year-old said.
“We also have the collectors who come in asking for the vintage cards that you can find in that box over there,” she added, gesturing towards a dusty box in the corner.
See Tho is not the only who has seen a drop in business.
Similar retailers in other parts of the city have also experienced business tumbling between 40% and 60% in the past decade.
“The way people communicate today has changed so much with emails, text messages and other messaging apps, but sending physical cards is still quite popular here,” said LH Creative Concept Sdn Bhd owner Lee Yoon Kin.
The 42-year-old, who operates a shop in Pudu, said that card sending today is more prevalent among the older generation compared to the younger generation who preferred the simpler and faster way of using e-cards.
“Designs have changed too throughout the years – from simple cards with pictures of animals, flowers and bamboo to more elaborate 3D cards and musical greeting cards,” said Tan Chik Poh of Haritaip Sdn Bhd.
“I get a lot of customers, especially from traditional companies who still prefer to send greeting cards to their clients. They prefer to order in bulk,” Tan said.
Tan explained that his customers would choose the cards they like from a catalogue and he will stamp their company’s info on the cards.
“For this year, while we do have a lot of the monkey designs, people still prefer to pick a more general design, so they can recycle it next year, if they have extra cards,” he said.
For 75-year-old Chan Ah Moi, receiving greeting cards during Chinese New Year is one of the best things about the festival.
“I can still remember, when I was a young girl, I’d keep all the cards I got in a biscuit box. And, each year, I would string it up on my wall,” she said.
Chan said these days she no longer received cards as many of her friends had passed on.
“I don’t own a smartphone, so I don’t receive the electronic cards. But I don’t care for that anyway,” added Chan.
Student Carmen Lim, however, prefers the convenience of e-cards compared to traditional cards.
“I would prefer electronic postcards compared to greeting cards, it is cheaper and takes less time.
“I don’t need to walk down to the bookstore just to get one,” said the 20-year-old.
Another 20-year-old student, who wished to be known as Liao, said the custom of sending greeting cards was slowly dying and people should not be proud of this as the next generation would not realise how meaningful and thoughtful it was to send someone a greeting card or how glad the receiver would be.
“Sending cards enhances the personal relationship between two people,” he said.
“People now communicate through their gadgets most of the time and how many of them actually save the e-cards in their gallery, and look at them once in a while?” he asked.
“But traditional cards are different. We can keep them and re-read the messages when we want to. No need to have a backup folder too,” Liau said.
“Electronic cards may be popular now, but conventional greeting cards can be kept for a lifetime; and we can still look at it as if it was received just yesterday,” he added.