Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mind Twice Blown

“… So, with these packages I’m expecting and no one in the mailroom over the summer, I was wondering if I could use your address…”

“You should use Penny’s address. It is more well known…”

“Why do you and Penny have different addresses?” And there is the question that resulted in my mind being blown for the second time in one afternoon.

Let’s back up. Sam and his family invited me along for an afternoon out. We ate, we frolicked, Penny finagled a girls’ night out at the movies for this Saturday. There’s a date I’m really looking forward to! The mind blowing tidbits came toward the end of our fun day out.

I’ve never given any thought to postal service in China. America’s being so ubiquitous, seeing China Post vans everywhere and post office branches on practically every street corner but not really ever having a need for postal services… well…

Don’t mind me: I’m still dumbfounded.

Postal Service in America is the only public service guaranteed by the Constitution. Six days a week in any weather condition and by any means necessary the USPS delivery folks are getting the mail out. In remote areas the mail goes through via canoe, on donkey back, by plane… whatever it takes. In county areas outlying metropoli, rural carriers deliver, often using their personal vehicle. They are compensated so many cents per mile in addition to their delivery wages. In towns and cities, mail carriers run regular routes. These routes are routinely reviewed and revised to incorporate changes.

In the northernmost regions, mail carriers on walking routes make their way through waist-or chest deep snow during winter. They are entitled to special gear. In the southernmost regions, say the Everglades or the Louisiana bayous, delivery is done by airboat and canoe, respectively. There, the carriers most often wear shorts and short sleeved shirts, and there is a panama-styled mesh hat to protect their head. In any circumstance save the relief delivery folk on rural routes, postal carriers wear a uniform.     

Our fine U.S. Postal Service folks deliver to every address every day except Sunday, and that is only if there is not express mail to be delivered. They, and counter clerks are only the visible part of postal doings. Few mention the people who work at processing plants, sorting the mail; the maintenance techs who work on the mail sorting machines; the truck drivers and pilots hauling the mail from city to city, the crews that maintain those trucks… Indeed: the USPS is a far reaching, all encompassing organization.

I should know. I am proud to once have been a member of this family. I am still in touch with many of my postal relatives. I miss them.

Thus it should come as no surprise to you that, when considering Postal operations in China I would simply impose what I know of America’s postal system onto the Chinese organization.

I should have known better.  

Since living here I’ve wondered about my address. Upon initial arrival Sam instructed me to use our department’s address. I reasoned it was because I lived in the girls’ dorm and should not expect mail delivery to my door. When I moved into the apartment I occupy now I expected my address to reflect my private domicile. Again Sam informed me the department’s address should serve as my personal address.

Does the school really need that much control over me that my mail must go through the school’s mailroom and to the Language Department before landing in my hands? And, why are there not individual mailboxes in the main stairwell of my building?

Come to think of it, of all other apartment buildings I’ve visited, very few had individual mailboxes. That fact registered, dimly I admit, but given my (only recently cured) breathing struggles I was more concerned with being able to climb a flight of stairs than how people receive mail.

The few times I did have mail dealings, a courier called me with instructions on where and when to meet him/her. I never thought that strange because in those instances, I was paying for plane tickets or receiving something ordered online. In retrospect, I did find it odd that I had to give my phone number every time I mailed/expected something. The pieces just never fell together. I never saw the whole picture.

Till Sam blew my mind in his always informative but slightly mournful, hesitant way.

Yes, there is a postal entity in China. Yes, it does process and deliver mail. Just not to your home. In fact, the delivery person is more likely to call you, suggesting an appointment to collect your mail. Only if you are a regular mail recipient will a carrier be well versed enough of your location to deliver directly to your home. That’s a long shot. The better bet to receiving mail is either inform your local post office you are expecting something and then go there to retrieve it – whether they call you or you go there every so often is open to conjecture. The best bet to mail reception is to be affiliated with a major organization, such as our school or Penny’s hospital, use their address and pick your mail up from there.

The next logical question: with the Chinese passion for online shopping (see From the Internet entry, posted May of this year), how do all these eager shoppers receive their goods? Same way I received the few things I received: by carrier, who, after a phone call will wait till you arrive to pick up your stuff. Or, as was most recently the case for me, the mail is turned over to a local business – a shop or a restaurant. I was instructed via text message to pick up my package there between the hours of… You do have to show ID to get your stuff. You cannot simply walk up, inspect the laid out packages and declare one or several to be yours.

Is this more efficient than the American system, or just so crazy it actually makes sense? I’ve been pondering that since parting ways with Sam and Penny last night. Certainly there is a cost benefit. This method of delivery surely costs less than the ‘every house, every day – whether there is something for you or not’ approach. Not that I am in any way faulting either system. I’m just trying to get my head around what I just learned.

Remember I said this was the second mind blowing tidbit of the day? Here is the first:

Hellen, the unpleasant one, is pregnant.

Virtually since I’ve been here students have been confiding in me that this teacher spends more than half of her allotted class time bemoaning the fact that she focused on her career and was now, at nearly age 40, alone. To listen to the kids tell it, she would routinely admonish both boys and girls to be less driven, less professional, less focused on material success for fear that they would end up like her: old, unmarried, alone with no progeny.

Maybe I’m gossiping when I pass on what other teachers in our department think of her. She is not well thought of. Some, like Sam and I feel sorry for her. Did her unpleasantness drive her celibacy or did her lack of relationships drive her unpleasantness? A combination of both, maybe? Maybe she had the best intentions and made the best of what she had. Not fair and REALLY not charitable to speculate.   

But speculate we must, because the whole department, office workers included, does not feel kindly about her. Sam was informed of this monumental news by a department secretary, who answered his question about her whereabouts: “Ms. Shao is at home, in bed. She is pregnant.”

She might have been relaying that Ms. Shao was suffering from a mild cold or a seasonal allergy, so casual was her tone.                         

Bear in mind that illegitimate children are heavily stigmatized in this culture. The secretary is to be commended for not taking malicious pleasure in rendering Ms. Shao an object of scorn, but her dislike and disregard is plainly evident in the disclosure.

And why was Sam looking for her, anyway? He, as much as the other teachers, disdains her. Ms. Shao is our English Majors Teacher section leader. It is she who assigns classroom rotations and makes out teaching assignments. And now, our paragon of virtue and leadership is… stigmatized.

Sam only told me of this after whiling the afternoon away. We met at noon for lunch. All day Penny and I tried to converse (language barrier issues keep us from engaging to any depth). Erica and I played, Sam and I discoursed. He waited till past 5PM to disclose perhaps the greatest gossip our school has heard. I nearly choked on my tea but recovered in time to nearly choke him.

A great friend is one who, even after years of sharing, still has the power to amaze. Sam must be a great friend of mine to blow my mind not once, but twice in one hour.

No wonder I write about him so much!    

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