It took me 30 years to find childhood memories in a foreign land.
During U.S. 7th Fleet’s port visit to Singapore last week, my chain-of-command gave me the opportunity to visit my extended family in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It’s been years since I’ve seen them.
I came to America from Malaysia at the age of 14 with only two surviving baby photos of myself. Before the move, the entirety of my family’s memories were packaged in brown shipping boxes and stored temporarily at my grandfather’s house in preparation to being shipped to the U.S. However, a huge flood at my grandfather’s house and a leak in one of the rooms ruined some of the boxes that included our family photos.
I had thought those memories were gone forever — after all, this was an age before digital photography and social media. The irony is that while in today’s world it can be difficult to lose a photo, in the age of film it was far too easy.
On March 17, the night before I left to fly back to my ship in Singapore, my cousin, Tulsi Das, spent his birthday looking for old boxes that my Aunt Viji had salvaged. After hours of searching, my aunt came out with a box filled with family photos she had kept at her home for safe-keeping — the existence of such a box was completely unknown to me.
The box’s musty smell complemented the vintage family photos inside — all and all a great smell given the nostalgic surprise. Photos of our first vacation to Pulau Langkawi beach with my parents, and a Malaysian Sultan visiting our humble home during the holidays, reminded me of a distant life. I also found an almost ruined black and white of my 20-something father with well-manicured 70s style sideburns and my mom, who still looks as beautiful today in her Indian sari as she did in her yesteryears.
As one of many Mass Communication Specialists in the U.S. Navy, we take countless photographs every day, particularly with the goal of capturing important historical moments, especially when visiting foreign ports in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Many in my career field often wonder if all those photos we take will have value to future generations. What I do know, is that the photos taken all those years ago of my family will always have special value for me. I’m deeply thankful that they survived the years and now have a place in my album.
Looking at these photos makes me appreciate my life and my family even more. Sometimes memories get lost over time with the hustle and bustle of today’s life, but photographs help remind me of the life that I used to live and the life that I have led so far.
With that in mind, I realize America is truly a land of opportunities, which makes it a great country. I am so proud to be an American, and I am honored to be the first in my family to be in the United States Navy and to be part of U.S. 7th Fleet, on this patrol to help provide peace and stability in the part of the world where I grew up.
Yes, I was happy to discover my childhood photos, but I am even more grateful to be part of a Navy family who allowed me to not only reconnect with my blood relatives, but to also rediscover priceless memories that I thought were gone forever.