I don't know whether it's only something that happens in Communist countries and ex-British colonies, but dealing with government bureaucracies when overseas can be a total nightmare. As I wander through my handwritten journal from my China trip in 1989 I discover I have written an entire three pages on my experience of sending a book back to Australia from the Beijing International Post Office.
So I thought I might share it with you!
The scenario is: I have a large pictorial book that is fairly heavy and I want to send it home. I go to the counter marked "Printed Matter Parcels" (yes, signs in English, not bad hey?) where I get told to go to customs.
Ignoring this advice I stand in line at a desk selling packaging material. Service is extremely slow and when my turn at last arrives the lady tells me to go to customs. Stupid westerner!
I go to customs, they look at my book, say OK, and I head back to the packaging desk, where everyone just ignores me. I go back to the parcel desk, they also ignore me, so I go back to the packaging desk a third time, and at last someone serves me and wraps my book in some brown paper. I then label my parcel and go back to the parcel desk, where I need to buy stamps. People push aggressively in front of me and by the time it's my turn, the lady has decided she's no longer serving customers so directs me to the line next to her.
Since no-one in China actually stands in lines, they just aggressively push in, I am feeling somewhat pissed off, and by the time I get to the counter of the second "line" I'm not too pleased to be told by the girl that I need to go to customs. But I've been to customs I say. No, I need to go back to customs and get a stamp!
Back to customs, where they put a red stamp on my parcel, then back to the parcel line for what, the fourth or fifth time?
And this time I get my stamps.
I then have to go and glue the stamps onto the package and return back to the parcel desk, so she can reweigh the parcel to ensure I haven't slipped something else in. I get the OK, and the lady at last takes the parcel to be posted.
This whole procedure takes well over an hour!
But the book does arrive home, and I still have it to this day. Photographs of iconic Chinese scenery, some of dubious quality, but beautiful all the same. It reminds me of a China pre commercial boom, before the huge expansion in car ownership or road networks, when bicycles were still Emperors.
And it reminds me of an hour of my life when I had to cope with the frustration of dealing with bureaucracy.
It was worth it!