If at first you don’t succeed …

OK, the background. You already know we’re based in Hong Kong, with “real” China about an hour by train north of us. Shenzhen (twice as many people as HK) looms right there. A bit further, by another train, you find Zhangmutou, a pleasant but otherwise unremarkable town. We go to both places fairly often, mostly food-related, but that’s a different story.

Unless you are at a tourist point in China, like the Great Wall near Beijing or Shanghai’s Bund, postcards can be hard to find. Post offices can be the best bet, if they have a philatelic section attached. We suspect that Chinese persons, like the rest of the world, are falling out of the habit of sending cards to friends. They have smartphones, of course. So we thought, let’s try adding to our inventory of mailed cards by mailing some to ourselves. What could be easier? Hah.

We had two cards with us in Shenzhen, and went to the P.O. window intending to buy stamps and mail them there and then. Using all our language skills, we asked “How much to mail?” Faster than a speeding bullet, the postal clerk grabbed those cards and ran them through a postage meter. (The answer, by the way, RMB3.50 per card). In that same flash, he handed the cards back and wanted his RMB7. All well and good, but we wanted to buy stamps. He thought we were then going to put those cards in a nearby box. Why bother doing that? We now had the “stamped” cards, and if we had mailed them — sorry, China, but you know this is true — there was only a slim chance they were ever going to reach us. Those two cards now rest in our inventory, waiting for you.

And Zhangmutou? Knowing it might be even trickier there, we went to a branch P.O. and clutched those cards as tightly as passports, asking only how much the stamps would cost. We got the answer, but then the clerk said “but I don’t have stamps in that amount.” Our mild reply: “so what stamps DO you have?” Cutting this short, she only had RMB1.20. Do the math. We bought three for each card and pasted them on.

If the postal service can be challenging in Shenzhen, it can be even more so in smaller towns, so back we went to the counter and asked her: “Here are the cards. Would you consider just postmarking the stamps and handing the cards back to us?” thereby saving staff the trouble of deciding what to do with them. The immediate and definitive answer: “NO!!!!!!”

We’ve been around long enough to know when “NO” actually means no. We also know when acting skills can be useful, particularly when a queue is forming behind the stubborn foreigner. She took back the cards, arrayed them neatly on the counter in front of her, and attacked them with that postmark chop. Now, they too are in the inventory, and the next time we go back to Zhangmutou we might bring her a little gift for her kindness. She will certainly remember us.

Next time!