Your Friendly Neighborhood Post Office
The Case of the Missing Mooncake
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