Wednesday, October 17, 2012

China Post

This week I made my way over to the nearest post office (which happens to be in the tallest building in China) so I could mail off 38 handwritten postcards and two packages for a cousin and a friend's wife. Seems easy enough, right? Maybe I'm doing it wrong.

I was the only customer and sat down at the counter, packages in front of me. I hadn't yet sealed them, which is a good thing. The postal worker told me she had to inspect everything, pulling everything out of the carefully packed, tight-fitting padded envelopes. I'd wrapped everything just so in packing paper and sealed it with cellophane tape, which she tore right through like a toddler on Christmas morning.

Everything in each package was carefully examined and she asked me about every single item. I know there are many, many things you are not allowed to mail out of China. You can rest easy tonight knowing this lady did an extremely thorough job making sure I wasn't trying to sneak anything out. I tried to at least fold the paper back around one of the package's contents so nothing would get smashed in transit, but it looked frightful. As if perhaps wrapped by a toddler trying to cover up the fact they already tore open their Christmas gifts before everyone got up.

I'd not yet addressed the packages, not knowing if I needed to use a special form or not. She gave me a permanent marker and I got to it. She typed up some forms which I had to fill out in triplicate (six forms total) plus two customs declarations. In between forms, I kept putting my hand to my forehead, resting it on my cheek, and rubbing my right eyebrow. I finally finished and she gave me the grand total for the stamps and packages. I reached into my bag for my wallet and noticed my hands were covered in splotches of black ink. The permanent marker I'd been using had sprung a leak. How had I missed this while it was happening? Chalk it up to being somewhat nervous over the thorough inspection. I had nothing close to contraband, but she made me feel like just mailing something was an offense.

I paid and left the post office, walking the few blocks home. I rubbed absentmindedly at the ink on my hands and decided to stop in at a tiny local grocery on the way. I passed many people as I went, workers from a construction project on lunch breaks, the line of scrap recyclers smoking and sitting near their scales, a tour group following a man with a flag on a stick. They all openly stared at me, which is not completely unusual. Our part of Shanghai has less non-Asian expats than others so we do tend to stick out a bit more. As usual, I actively ignored the staring.

I got to the local market and caught sight of my reflection in the glass. I stopped short, shocked to see thick black streaks all over my face. My right eyebrow was especially horrific, it looked like a child had finger painted it on while the left one was totally untouched. I wanted to shrivel into the sidewalk and disappear.

I skipped the market, hurried home and scrubbed my face like with a ferocity it had never before experienced. I used two types of facial cleansers and a facial scrub and got most of it off. My eyebrow was the most stubborn part. They are practically transparent, no pigment at all. That black ink wanted to hang on. I briefly considered just coloring in the other eyebrow to give a more balanced look, but thankfully I've not yet completely lost my mind. I finally got 95% of it out by rubbing in an oil based lotion and then carefully using dish soap to clean it off. Hooray for household cleaning products!

After I was all scrubbed and pink and shiny, I thought of the postal worker and how she spoke very good English but didn't bother to tell me about the Ode to Dalmatians artwork on my face. She was either too polite to say something, or simply too excited to have some entertainment breaking up the long dull day it must be for a postal worker. Yeah, let's go with the second one because I'm happy to entertain.

Later I went down to walk the dog and saw our China Post mailman and his mode of transport, and I felt a little bad I didn't have a way to entertain him as well. He looked like he needed it. Sorry Mr. Mailman, my right eyebrow was taking the afternoon off from providing comic relief to the masses. But check back soon, I'm certain I'll have all new ways to make a fool of myself before you know it!


  1. I can only imagine the looks I'd get in Seoul if I walked around with black marker all over my face - I get enough 'Ooooh, look, a foreigner' stares enough already - even though we live in the 'foreigner area.' On the other hand, I'm 100% sure that the post office lady in Korea would not only have told me that I had marker on my face a the first sight of a smudge but also provided the dish soap to remove it with, and probably volunteered to remove it for me herself. I must say, I know so many expats here who have lived in Shanghai and Beijing that I do forget that China is really very politically different from South Korea. Your little escapade at the post office was a good reminder. Really interesting post - sorry I enjoyed it at your expense! ; )

  2. I would have loved to see your face!

  3. No picture? Too bad it didn't happen two weeks from now on could have just passed it off as your "costume".


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