When I was working in a rural area of Yunnan Province, China, I inadvertently tested the system when I couldn’t quite remember the house number or street of the person I was sending a postcard to in the UK. After writing their name on the address side of the card, I wrote a description of the house, directions from a notable landmark in the village, the name of the village followed by the county and country.
I was seriously wondering whether the postcard would actually make it at all to UK when I posted the card in a very tiny post office in the remote Chinese village. How many people would handle that postcard en route to its destination I pondered? There was the man behind the counter, then the person taking it to the larger office in a town a few hours driver away. Then it had to find its way to an airport…. And hopefully it would get on the right plane. Once in UK, it would once again have to be sorted to find its way to the right county and then the correct village.
On my return, I discovered the post card had indeed found its way to my friend, and the diligent postman had actually knocked on the door to check the name of the person in the house before handing over the postcard!
Now that was personal service. In this digital age where everything is instantaneous and we need instant gratification people seem to have forgotten to know what it’s like to wait. In my days of travelling, I wrote a weekly letter home to tell my mother I was safe and what I’d been up to. Sometimes my mother received a weekly letter but more likely, especially when I was travelling in a less developed country, she didn’t hear from me for three or four weeks. Then of course, she’d receive several letters on the same day a few weeks later.
As a backpacker to collect my post overseas, it meant queuing up at the Post Restante part of the post office in the hope that now you were out of sight, your friends hadn’t put you ‘out of mind’ and your friends had not only bothered to write a letter, but they had gone to the post office to post it as well.
Call me old fashioned, but there is something special about receiving a hand written letter or postcard from a friend or colleague. While I was away, I sent some postcards back to nieces and nephews who apparently were very excited to be handed a postcard when they collected the post. It saddens me that the art of letter/postcard writing is dying out for an instant text message, or worse still, for the rather impersonal cc’d email to all. Whatever happened to the personal touch?
But there is one major advantage of hand written letters over email, as highlighted by my postcard from China – if you’re not sure of an address, or if you happen to misspell a name, generally the posted letter will find its recipient. Plus if there’s a power cut, you can still access the contents.