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The Stuff that Didn't Fit In Anywhere Else
Stuck Between a Rock and a Hurricane
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And Now For Something Completely Different
Myanmar: The Land of the Lost
Heading Off the Beaten Path
Disaster Averted and Paradise Found
Culture shock continued...
From Laos to Bangkok...starting culture shock in 3..2...1...now
A Happy Chinese Moment
Welcome to Laos...where are all the Lao people?
Are We There Yet?; and China redeems itself
Movin' on Out...
Hell is the China Post
Disney China is much easier than Real China
Mainland China, or goodbye English, hello crazy gestures and blank stares
June 26, 2004
Hell is the China Post
In by far our strangest experience so far in China, we decided to try and mail a package back to my sister in Indiana from the China Post in Lijiang. A few small tapestries, a box containing a set of jade chopsticks and a one page letter -- all in all about a half pound worth of stuff. Although we expected it may be expensive...it shouldn't be too difficult, right? Right?
That's what you think. What you don't know is that you've just entered...
The China Post Zone.
We arrived at the small post office carrying our handful of goods. We counted on a challenging time as we didn't expect any of the employees to speak English very well. We were correct on that assumption. However, it was all of the other little, shall we say, quirks, that we didn't count on.
Forgetting a key point to Chinese culture we started by waiting in line to talk to an employee. After being passed by numerous Chinese who blew past us like we were invisible, we pushed our way up to the front of line. Presenting our goods, we indicated that we wanted a box in order to ship the items. The China Post worker, whom I'll call Sally, nodded and went to find us a box. So far, so good.
Sally came back with a small box and proceeded to try and cram our stuff into it. It was quickly obvious to us that it was not going to fit due to the chopsticks. We tried to tell her to try a bigger box, but her thinking was to smash the box flat, place our items inside and tape around the edges -- in essense to make a large, odd cardboard envelope. We said no and convinced her to get a larger box. She relented and brought forth the bigger box. Now our items fit easily but rattled around inside. Sally indicated this would not do. We tried to pantomime the motions for "packing material," but this is not something the Chinese are familiar with and, oddly enough, it wasn't in our Chinese-English phrasebook. We decided to try a different track.
We purchased the large box from Sally and left the China Post. We went around the corner to the other China Post, which in Chinese logic doesn't mail anything, it just sell newspapers. At this pseudo-China Post we purchased the cheapest Chinese newspaper we could find. It was Chinese so I don't know what it said, but I imagine it went something like, "Study Says: Stupid Americans Wait in Line for Service." Armed with our Chinese newspaper, or "packing material," we returned to the former China Post.
Pushing our way forward, we managed to get Sally again. She looked less than excited to see us return. We placed our goods in the big box and indicated crumpling the newspaper and filling the box, thus no rattle. Here is where things get tricky.
First, Sally has absolutely no interest in allowing us to ship a Chinese newspaper to America. They obviously keep nuclear secrets in the paper. Second, Sally notices that one of the things we want to send is a letter. We're informed that we cannot send a letter along with the package because they're two different things with two different prices. Trying to convince Sally that the letter is part of the package turns out to be a futile endeavor.
I say, "Sally, what if we pay more money? Can we send them together then?"
Sally says, "No, because the box is too big." (I hope you're keeping up with all of this.)
Sally then returns to her original stroke of brilliance and pulls out the small box again, places our items in the box and then proceeds to smash it flat and indicates that we should tape the edges shut. By doing this we accomplish two things. First, we don't have all that nasty empty space that cannot be filled. Second, the letter can be sent as well because now we're sending an envelope and not a package because it is flat.
After staring in awe at Sally for a few minutes, intimidated by her genius, we relent. Sally begins to tape our packa...I mean, envelope, shut. After doing that she has us address it and indicates that the return address should be somewhere else in America they can ship it in case they decide my sister's place is not fit. She then hands us a form in French and tells us to fill in the blank place. Staring blankly, Sally motions that we should write the address again. This is also when I begin to catch on that for some reason known only to the gods of the Chinese postal service, all of the workers are speaking French to each other. Sally, Mary, Ethel...the whole damn bunch of them.
Only one thing left to do, apply proper postage to the package. China is a wonderful blend of the ancient and the modern and there is no better example than the China Post. Pulling out a calculator, Sally begins to furiously type in numbers. Finally coming to a result, Sally stares at it and then decides to check her work. Pulling out, I kid you not, an abacus, Sally flicks little beads around with wild abandon. Mary comes over to help. After a few minutes of button pushing and bead clicking, Sally announces it will be 115.2 yuan, about $13.
Sally opens a drawer to reveal hundreds of Chinese stamps and pulls most of them out. With the help of the abacus, she rips apart stamps and hands the package and giant pile of stamps back to us. With skillful licking, Jennifer managed to fit them all on the package and we hand it back. It's off.
On a dare from Jennifer, I ask Sally how long it will take to arrive. Sally thinks, yet luckily does not consult the abacus, and says, "20 days." My guess, seven years, but then again, I'm just a silly American.
Posted by kobb on June 26, 2004 01:07 AM
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