This morning I took a deep breath as I left my apartment (due in part to the insane pollution we’ve had in Nanjing the last few days, which Global Times reported was the equivalent of smoking 15 packs of cigarettes), and prepared myself for a trip to one of the worst places in China- the post office. Now bear in mind that I myself am the grandson of a post master general, and I worked for a few years in a shipping company so I generally respect the institution. I’m also well versed in shipping regulations and proper packing. But China Post is an unforgiving place, and so it was with great trepidation that I set out on my task this morning.
During my 5 years in China, I’ve moved 4 times, and each time I’ve nearly ended up in a fist fight with a postal worker. This is usually because of regulations that don’t seem to exist anywhere on paper, and change dramatically between postal workers. For instance, a friend was once told that CD’s could not be mailed because they were “cultural artifacts.” Another time I was told that my toaster oven could not be shipped during the summer because it would be damaged by the heat. Once my wife was told that she couldn’t mail tea to the States, while the man next to her sent off a bag of dried worms without a problem. In all of these cases the headache was solved with a second trip to the Post Office and talking with a different employee.
But those are just the arbitrary whims of individuals, the actual regulations are no less painful. For instance, every box is to be inspected by a postal worker before it can be shipped. At this point my wife and I simply brace ourselves for the fact that a good chunk of the things in the boxes will not actually be successfully sent for reasons we will never understand. Not only does the person rifle carelessly through your stuff, but they undo all of your careful packing.
To me it was a small comfort to learn that my co-workers shared my dislike of China Post, as one joked yesterday, “I have to go to the post office today, so I made sure to take my blood pressure medication this morning.”
Today though, my wife and I must have won some kind of karmic lottery. The woman who was assigned for sealing our packages asked, “Is there any food in here?” I said, “No,” and she taped all four of them right up. We were so excited that we practically skipped with the 45 pound packages to the next counter. The woman there glared at the packing slips for a few seconds, carefully weighing our fate, and decided that our packages could indeed be shipped.
It’s amazing that after being worn down by China Post for 5 years, that sending four boxes in just over an hour, without having to wait in a single line, is considered a major success. Even my Chinese co-workers agreed that this was a feat worth celebrating. With that my wife went to the Bank of China to press her luck.
I once left a small bottle of perfume with a friend in Beijing and asked her to mail it as a gift to a friend who lives in Xining. Apparently this proved impossible as China Post deemed the scent a fire hazard. If this was true, why would airlines sell perfume as part of their onboard duty free service? I asked my friend, but she totally accepted China Post’s ruling. If only she had tried another employee!
I have had nearly all the events described above happen to me as well (tea, CDs, lost goods, etc.). The last several times, however, I’ve been assisted by a most amiable and helpful gentleman who has greatly eased the stress of the whole transaction. It is truly astonishing (and depressing) how varied one’s experience may be in that institution, based merely on whomever you may happen to be dealing with at the time of your visit.
That is so funny– once again, this is a post that could’ve been written by myself and my husband. It’s so true that who you get can make a works if difference. I used ti get so upset at one employee in our Hunan village post office in particular that my husband started to have me wait outside on the steps of post office, so as to avoid exacerbating the situation with my obvious anger/exasperation.
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Ahhh, the things we have to put up with living here in China as westerners. It really teaches us a lot about tolerance, patience and just how for more progressed EU and USA is than China. Every time I go outside, I take a dose of humility and understanding so that I don’t lose myself/temper in the cultural habits here.
Apparantly you can’t send laptop chargers via air mail because they might blow up. True story.
Yeesh…I am not looking forward to all of that. My partner, Mariah, and I will be heading to Jingmen, Hubei in the fall. While we are super psyched about finally living in China, I will probably have to do the same with her waiting outside the post office for every visit. Tom, if you care to meet up, duder, let me know!
Hmmm, so things haven’t really improved in the last 15 years or so… It really used to be a nightmare. The first time I went, no one told me the various “rules”, written or unwritten, so it was a bit of a challenge getting in and out in one piece and without any hassle. After that, some of my Chinese friends volunteered to handle the post office visits for me. Suffice to say I felt rather fortunate. 🙂
Just decided that I was close enough to Haikou on this year’s massive bike trip that I could ship my tent, sleeping bag, dirty laundry and whatnot. Previous visits to the post office to get rid of my winter clothing were relatively straightforward. This time they got annoyed that my rained on dirty laundry smelled up the post office (after they pulled it out of the panniers) and nearly rejected everything because my copy of Red Star Over China had a picture of Map on the cover.
Q: “How do you say ‘customer service’ in Chinese?”
A: “Meiyou banfa”