13 October 2006

Fun with the Postal Service

Mailing a package was a rather hilarious adventure, in an exasperating sort of way. The Post and Telecommunications Office is the very image of messed up bureaucracy, bored and uninterested civil servants, and the chaos of the Chinese system of never waiting in line.

So a short tale.

I take the goods in, and have to go to the box desk. There I unload the goods onto the counter so box guy can pick the right size box. He looks thoughtfully for a while, and finally picks a folded box, opens it, and uses his industrial strength stapler to staple the bottom shut. He then hands it over. Now I stuff the box, after which he takes it back, staples the top, and asks for money.

Once done with the box desk, it is off to the form desk. The girl there speaks clear English. She asks if I have the proper form, and I say no. I ask where I can get one, and she (holding one in her hand) says I can get it from her. After about two minutes pause, while other people jostle around, I ask if I can have it. She asks for money, and gives me the form that was in her hand the whole time she sat there looking at me.

Ok, so off to fill out the form. I return it to form lady, who says I need to write the address on the box as well. Back to write the address, then bring the addressed box and the form back to her. She looks at it, and asks if I have had the box wrapped in plastic ribbon. She is looking at the box. It has not been so wrapped. So I say "no" and she points me to a large metal cabinet on wheels, inside which is the machinery to wrap my box with plastic ribbon.

Over I go, and wait for the couple in front of me to try to figure out the machine, which has no instructions; not even in Chinese. They finally try to get box man over, but he is so bored he doesn't really notice or care that he is being talked to. Finally a different box man comes over, looks at the machine, and cuts a piece of ribbon that someone earlier had apparently let the machine wrap around itself.

So back in business. Or so I thought. By the third ribbon, the couple in front of me has gotten the machine stuck. The lady picks up a piece of broken razor blade from the floor and cuts the plastic ribbon. Then she finds she cut it in the wrong place. So there is another wait for box man to come over and fix it. The next ribbon breaks, and finally they get the last one on, and step away. All this time people had been crowding around with their own boxes; lines have no meaning. I leap in, slap my box on the table, lift the plastic ribbon, loop it around, feed it back into the machine, move my fingers quickly before they become permanently attached to the box, and... not much. The ribbon ran out.

So while I am sign-language-ing to box man that there is no more ribbon, three other people battle over the machine to find it doesn't work. Now steps in the Russians. There are these two Russian girls who apparently think they are Paris and Nicole or something (they had been causing quite a stir at the form desk as well when I was trying to get my form). They now place one of several large boxes they are packing onto the machine. And of course nothing happens. Finally, box guy slowly starts to move things around behind his table, looking for a new spool of plastic ribbon. Slowly, like he alone defies all concepts of time, he fixes the machine, but only after temporarily pausing to get the Russian box off the machine; it seems it didn't have an address on it.

A small box gets thrown on the machine, but after that I manage to get mine wrapped. All this time, form lady has been watching, laughing silently. So I return to form lady with the form and the addressed and plastic ribbon wrapped box, and she notes that it took a long time. Hmmm. Really?

So next is weighing and finally paying, and I ask if I can also mail some postcards, but (I should have guessed), she sends me to another window...

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