Until recently, I’d had nothing to do with the Myanmar GPO, and had had no desire to do so. While others had enjoyed the old-school thrill of post and packages, I had neither sent nor received any paper communications, preferring instead to rely on web-based technology to get my messages across.
However, a kind ex-colleague endeavored to reunite me with my Leavers Book – signed by my old work family back home on my leaving, and hurriedly left behind as I jetted off to the first of my adventures in Peru. I had provided an approximation of my address (I’m still not entirely sure I know what it is!) and she’d advised me about Marmite as prevention for mosquito bites. (You eat it not wear it, for those of you who just thought about that!)
That was in September, and I feared that that was the last I’d hear of it.
In early December I received an A4 page of paper, covered in Burmese, from one of our receptionists. I recognized it as a missive from the Post Office having seen the other expats waving similar slips around on previous occasions. My initial reaction was fear. Had my mother acted on the polite email I had sent her providing contact details to send me yet another Cats Protection League calendar? I desperately hoped not. I hoped it was my Leavers Book, as promised, but two months down the line I’d all but given up hope of ever seeing that again. Still, the next morning I set off Downtown with my slip expecting to encounter Myanmar officialdom at its best.
I was to be disappointed. Having arrived extra early at the sorting office I was first in the queue and dealt with extremely quickly. Apart from the oddity of having to watch my parcel being opened for me, to reveal, not only my Leavers Book but also a jar of Marmite from my St Paul’s friend, everything went like clockwork. Amidst the emotional response I had to the lovely messages I had received in my book I had to hand over a small sum for the ‘handling’ of the package and that was it. Done.
I proceeded to go next door to the official Post Office and bought a stamp for a Christmas card for my Mum. Also easy. A man at a window labeled STAMPS dealt with my request. He also informed me that I couldn’t send an envelope addressed in festive pink pen, and made me re-write it in blue biro!
After that, I thought my dealings with the Myanmar GPO were over. That was until my very best friend managed to leave items of clothing behind at my flat during her Christmas visit.
Having packaged up said items, alongside a little extra I thought she might like, I headed back Downtown one afternoon after work having recently learnt that you can’t post packages on a Saturday in Myanmar!
When I arrived I walked in and kept my distance from the counters labeled International where crowds seemed to have formed, with the intention of watching the process before engaging with the chaos. In two beats, a friendly lady had grasped my hand and led me to the front of the queue, chattering rapidly in Burmese to the woman behind the counter, having seen me hesitate with the package in my hand. To her credit, I think the counter lady told the other woman to make me wait my turn as she was already serving another customer, but as is customary in Myanmar this was all done with smiles and laughter while I stepped back to queue in true British fashion, with my cheeks slightly pink from embarrassment.
Soon enough it was my turn and the counter lady called me over. She wanted to know what was in my carefully cello taped package, and I told her, but that wasn’t enough. I had to show her. I protested, but she handed me a new box to put the items in and presented me with a slip of paper to fill in (with carbon copies attached). Of course, I couldn’t open the package without ripping it so I had to use the box and then rewrite the address on the slip. The contents were then inspected (sorry mate!) and passed along a line of women, all of whom had a quick look through the box before the contents were logged in another book, also stuffed with carbon paper between its pages, then the box itself was briefly marked in red crayon. I tried to watch the progress of my box, worried that items could fall from its unsealed bottom. However, a greater concern became the problem that it was placed next to an identical box, also unsealed and unlabeled, waiting for attention. I watched with increasing agitation as both boxes went to the men employed to seal the packages. Expertly they bound the boxes so that nothing could escape and placed them, side by side again, ready for the next step.
By this time, I had been called over to pay, my slip having been processed by the man in charge of accounts, who took $18 for the package. In true Myanmar fashion, they have a set-pricing table according to weight so anything up to one kilogram is all charged the same rate. They grinned at the expression on my face and jovially commented ‘expensive?’ as I grimaced and nodded my agreement. They then tried to charge me for the box and packaging. At this point, I laughed in their faces and pointed out that I hadn’t required that service as my parcel had been ready to go when I arrived and that they had forced me to use the box. Of course, I did this in a light and friendly manner but my meaning was clear and they didn’t push the point. I suspect they had made more than enough profit from my initial payment to cover the packaging on this occasion.
Finally, I was given a receipt with a number on it so I can track my package. Initially, it was a ‘computer number’ until I asked which website I could use, then it became a phone number I could call, in spite of the fact that it has letters in its combination. I insisted that I check the box, now fully sealed and correctly addressed as well, and the receipt, and they seemed to match up. At this point, I simply had to let go and decide to put my trust in the simple fact that regardless of the labour intensive and invasive methods used in this country, things like this simply manage to work out. Don’t ask me how. I have no idea.
So now I wait in hope. I hope the right package with the right contents reaches the right person in the right place, in one piece, in a reasonable length of time. Here’s to hoping!