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  • Writer's pictureJay Prosser

A treasure chest of loving strangers

For as long as I can remember, the camphorwood chest has been the family archive. Its contents are scattered across individuals, history, and geography. Unpacking the chest allows me to reanimate the lives of these loving strangers.

My parents’ letters, from their whirlwind courtship in Singapore -- cross-cultural lovers, at the tail end of the British Empire in the Far East. My father’s rain-stained diary, from the Malayan Emergency: one of the last of the Asian colonial wars. My mother’s fashion shoots -- the ‘face of Lancôme, Singapore’; an icon for this cosmopolitan island. Childhood jewellery, imprinted with her escape on the last boat from the Fall of Singapore, and her life as refugee in India. Conversion papers to Judaism, telling of love overcoming prejudice. A quilt made by my Chinese grandmother, with a thread that can be followed to her origins as an abandoned baby in China. The multilingual songs of my grandfather, a spice-trading Baghdadi Jew from Bombay. And finally a family tree of Iraqi Jews, going back to the eighteenth century . . .

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