Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Post Office

The post office has been and continues to be one of the most stressful places for me in China. It is a place where you want to get communication exactly right, but a place where there is a high probability for misunderstanding to happen.

Yesterday I ventured to the post office right outside our school with a whole stack of envelopes. The first decision after entering the door was which counter to go to. The post office was recently remodeled, with locations of various services being shifted. The remodel also added signs translated into
English, but unfortunately this English does not clearly communicate to me the services provided at each desk. Being an impatient American, I went to the desk with no line and carefully said in Chinese, "I'm sending all of these to America. I want stamps." The lady at this desk shook her head and pointed to the right. She obviously gathered that my Chinese skills were not great enough to give me a verbal response.

I backed away from that desk to look at the desks to the right. There was one counter with about 8 people around it and another further down with two people in front of it. Once again, I went to the less busy counter and repeated my request. Again, this lady shook her head no. I decided to try a different
statement, do you have stamps? To which she responded, no. I pointed at the other desk with many people and asked, does she have stamps? Head shake no with an added glare.

Now I stood there lost and confused. I am in the post office right? I looked around trying to see if there was anywhere else in the room that could possibly have stamps. After standing for a few moments analyzing the situation, I decided to try to get the help of the two students standing nearby. I asked in Chinese if they spoke English (most college students do, but non-English majors are often hesitant to use it with a foreigner). They responded yes and I asked them where I could get stamps. "They don't have any stamps here." In my mi
nd I thought, "it's a post office for pete's sake!", but instead of that exclamation I asked when they would have stamps. "Sometime next year." "You mean sometime in January?" "Yes." Unsatisfied with this option, I asked if the post office downtown had any stamps. "Yes, there is a post office with stamps but it's very far away." I next tried to ask if the post office near the traffic circle downtown had stamps, but once again got "it's very far away." I moved onto a new tactic. Most places in town are a 5 kuai taxi ride away; if the taxi is more than 5 kuai than the place is far away.
"Can I take a taxi?"

"Oh yes!"
"How much would it cost?"
"5 kuai."
Bingo, now we're in business I thought. I asked what I should tell the taxi driver. At this
point, the students must have thought I was quite the confused and lost foreigner with little ability of coping in society. They asked for a piece of paper--"We'll just write it down." I handed them a paper, they scribbled a note, I said thanks and headed out for a taxi.

Finding a taxi, I handed him the paper. Who knows what it said, probably something like "please help this poor confused foreigner get to the post office". The taxi driver started laughing and talking to the other drivers standing around about the foreigner who can't speak Chinese so gave him a note. With a hurt pride I exclaimed in Chinese, "I can speak a little Chinese! I just didn't know the name of the place so I had a student write it!" The driver exclaimed "she can speak!" and we headed off. Sure enough, he took me to the main post office that is just a
five minute drive from our school. Nursing my injured pride, I mumbled under my breath, "I could have told him how to get here, I thought it was a far away post office!" Thankfully, this post office was fully operational and I successfully completed what I had set out to do. Trying to accomplish things quickly becomes difficult when you're working with the communication level of a pre-schooler (at best). We had a very nice Christmas. It was a busy day of cooking and celebrating, but a lot of fun as well. My favorite present was an OSU platter from Sonny. He actually found it in China! I finished up classes yesterday morning and finally got a good night of sleep last night. I have 52 more essays to grade before I turn to being a full time student. Christmas festivities will continue tonight with performances and tomorrow night with the department party. It's still looking a lot like Christmas...we've had frosts and small snows that have turned the landscape into a winter wonderland.


Eric & Heather said...

Ha! You did pretty well! I'd probably get lost and starve to death. :)

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