One of the great joys of travel for a lass like myself is shopping, especially for exotic curios for my house and for presents for friends and family. In particular I love my textiles, and will travel quite a way to visit weaving villages or places where cottage industry occurs.
But buying things means either travelling with it, or sending it home. Lugging around any extra weight is anathema to me, so it was off to the local PO to run the gauntlet of bureacracy. And in some countries this meant visiting various counters to get boxes, forms, stamps and of course the pay clerk! Guess it keeps people in jobs!
I've learnt alot about the postal services in the various countries I've visited, about how to get the best value for money, and which services not to trust. I didn't try out Indonesian or Cambodian services on the recommendations of others that they were unreliable, but my purchases sent from Thailand, Vietnam, China and Laos have all arrived home safe and sound.
I only used post offices in large cities, where an English speaking employee would be found to help me. The staff were always extremely friendly and helpful, and nothing was too difficult. I just had to hope that my purchases would arrive home.
Packages from Bangkok (I used a suburban PO) arrived very quickly, with one surface/air package only taking 10 days, quite a feat when it's rare I get that service from east coast Australia to my house in regional Western Australia. The two packages from Vietnam, both sent surface mail, had arrived within a month, though I learnt the hard way that I would have saved alot of money by sending just one package instead of two. My China package also took a month, but having met a China expat enroute in Laos who had less than complimentary things to say about the service, I had been a little apprehensive whether it would arrive at all.
When I got home in February, all my packages were waiting for me, excluding the one I'd sent from Bangkok only a week previously (which arrived 3 days later) and one package from Laos. It had only been a month, and since it was surface mail and I'd been told it would take 2-3 months, I wasn't so concerned. But as March became April and April progressed, I began to get a little worried. Not that there was anything I could do...
In Laos I had bought some silk weaving as well as some hand batiked traditional Hmong cloth which I had been really thrilled to find in a market in Sam Neua. I had also found some kids' Hmong skirts - the modern synthetic ones - that will make perfect presents for my three nieces. I remember as a little girl wishing I had a skirt that really swished, well these ones certainly do. And lastly I'd bought something special for a friend due her first baby in May.
Today the box arrived, well it may have arrived earlier in the week for all I know, as the delivery man left it on the front seat of my unlocked car rather than next to the front door (he's a dear the local delivery guy!) and I haven't used the car all week. What a sigh of relief and great joy to unpack another little box of treasures. And just in time for Odette's birthday too!
Australian Customs opened two of my boxes, but didn't confiscate anything as I'm a savvy enough traveller to know what not to send and what has to accompany me through the red zone at the airport so I can talk my way through. I'm not that impressed by the thoroughness of the quarantine inspectors on my arrivals into Australia, though apparently the TV program suggests otherwise. Anything iffy I carry through myself, and usually it's fine, whereas if I send it I'm scared they'll just confiscate it without recourse.
So now it's off to the Australian post office to send off the skirts to my nieces. Interestingly the mail is much quicker west to east than the reverse! And then maybe Matty will put up piccies of the girls swishing in their Hmong skirts on his blog!