Your Friendly Neigh­bor­hood Post Of­fice

The Case of the Miss­ing Moon­cake

That's China - - Contents - Text by / David P. Pur­nell

邮局和月饼

Post Of­fices have changed so much in China. Well-lit, friendly coun­ters await cus­tomers to­day, of­fer­ing a va­ri­ety of ways to send things off. The strangest and most un­pleas­ant time in a Post Of­fice that I re­call took place in a small P.O. just off cam­pus of the school where I taught in Bei­jing in the 1980’s. A heavy, blan­ket-like cur­tain con­fronted cus­tomers af­ter open­ing the door to en­ter. Push­ing through the slit of­ten brought you nose-to-nose with an ex­it­ing pa­tron, aghast to be so close-up with a for­eigner...

Post Of­fices have changed so much in China. Well-lit, friendly coun­ters await cus­tomers to­day, of­fer­ing a va­ri­ety of ways to send things off. For­eign­ers do still have to bring their pass­ports, even to send a lit­tle pack­age from Wen­zhou to Hangzhou, but that’s a small in­con­ve­nience com­pared to not so long ago. To­day, col­or­ful posters de­scribe spe­cial trips for pa­trons who use the Post Of­fice bank­ing ser­vices and sign up for the group Wechat, and prizes are awarded for peo­ple who take part in lot­tery-style con­tests they run. The hardest time I’ve had lately was due to over ex­u­ber­ant se­nior cit­i­zens, bowed by time but still feisty, gath­ered there to col­lect their awards and hell-bent to be first in line. In times gone by, it was an el­bow con­test just get­ting from the sta­tion where one would get pack­ages in­spected and stamped and over to the glue pot, tak­ing turns to strug­gle with the nasty ad­he­sive, wait­ing your turn to wield one of the well-used pad­dles, fever­ishly cov­er­ing the edges of brown pa­per suf­fi­ciently to seal the pre­cious load for its jour­ney. To­day – no mess, not even lick­ing is re­quired.

The strangest and most un­pleas­ant time in a Post Of­fice that I re­call took place in a small P.O. just off cam­pus of the school where I taught in Bei­jing in the 1980’s. A heavy, blan­ket-like cur­tain con­fronted cus­tomers af­ter open­ing the door to en­ter. Push­ing through the slit of­ten brought

nd you nose-to-nose with an ex­it­ing pa­tron, aghast to be so close-up with a for­eigner. A blue line of smoke sat a lit­tle over the heads of peo­ple there, a mix­ture of tobacco (so om­nipresent then) and semi-com­busted wood or coal from the pot-belly stove in one cor­ner. The noise was re­li­ably ter­ri­ble. I had gone there with a friend from my de­part­ment, a kind and self­ef­fac­ing col­league who had not yet stud­ied abroad, passed over sev­eral times, I learned, in fa­vor of more self-pro­mot­ing com­rades. My busi­ness was sim­ple and con­ducted quickly, but my friend was en­quir­ing af­ter a pack­age from his mother con­tain­ing home-made moon-cakes for the Mi­dau­tumn Fes­ti­val, which had al­ready passed. In his re­tir­ing man­ner, he told me as we turned to leave that he had checked sev­eral times but al­ways got the same, curt re­sponse (so com­mon in those cus­tomer un­friendly days) of “Mei you!” This sim­ply meant “Don’t have” or “Ain’t none”, but the tone with which this brief re­sponse could be de­liv­ered had the po­ten­tial to in­flict real pain and of­ten, it seemed, was done with rel­ish. For some rea­son, I de­cided that I would use my hor­ri­ble for­eign coun­te­nance and de­meanor to see if I couldn’t get just a lit­tle more at­ten­tion for my friend. I for­get ex­actly what I said, but it was suf­fi­cient to create a lit­tle flurry and some­one ac­tu­ally went back into the store room to check…and check well. A few min­utes later, they re­turned car­ry­ing a rather bedrag­gled lit­tle box. My friend’s eyes lit up, but then changed abruptly when he took the pack­age in his hands and, turn­ing it around, dis­cov­ered holes in the back that he im­me­di­ately rec­og­nized as the hall­marks of vis­it­ing ro­dents. And they charged him for stor­age, say­ing that he should have picked it up much ear­lier.

New Year spe­cial postal ser­vice at a de­part­ment store in Bei­jing

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