Only recently I realized that my joy in mailing things is probably at a level that it would be appropriate to call it a “hobby”.
Some years ago, I started on a personal project to try to send at least one postcard to a friend every week. My motivation was simply that I have been lucky to cross paths with many people that I find interesting and am glad to have had the pleasure of spending time with. Yet my life has been relatively mobile in the past few years, and just as I have gotten to meet lots of people, I have also parted ways with them. Wonders of modern technology can lessen physical boundaries, but my ability to talk with people is easily saturated; it’s not reasonable to keep in touch with everyone. Handwritten postcards are my compromise of “quality over quantity” for maintaining some interaction with friends far away.
This habit served to further my fandom of mail systems. For the amount of times that the post office has mangled, misplaced, or taken forever with a package – there are so many other bills, advertisements, and all of those things that you don’t want but show up anyway, along with the things that you do want to get that arrive safely without any fuss. Each time I mail a postcard, I am amazed. I can pay someone a trivial amount of money to physically move an object from where I drop it off to be delivered to an address elsewhere, taking it on a journey that I can’t take myself due to money or time or simply being lazy. It’s pretty magical, and I’ve found it sort of addictive at times.
Little did I realize that I was coming to a country that truly utilizes its post office by living in Taiwan. And I’ll say this directly: I have a crush on the Taiwanese post office. The Taiwanese post office is a multi-functional organization, it is a reliable brand, and also a force to be reckoned with. Okay, maybe I am getting a little hyperbolic in my excitement, but the bottom line is that I rank the Chunghwa Post (中華郵政) as one of the most important institutions of daily life in Taiwan.
According to their website, the first incarnation of a Taiwanese postal service was back in 1888 – but big changes occurred when the Japanese took control in 1895. During the Japanese period, the post office expanded to include services that are usually associated with banks, such as saving money and handling pensions, but apparently they also even sold insurance policies. The logic behind this, as explained by my dad, is that as the government expanded its reaches to distant corners of the island, there would always be need for a post office. Thus it made sense to use the post office as an all-in-one provider of government services.
I think the Taiwanese post office has cut back on some of the variety of services that it offers nowadays, but it’s still extremely important for both providing banking services as well as handling mail. I highly doubt that any fewer than 99% of Taiwanese citizens have postal accounts. Instructions for receiving my payment in Taiwan usually include something like “after getting your residency card, open a post office account so we can transfer money to you” – there is no mention that you might go to a bank when you could go to the post office (well there are plenty of banks, too, but everyone just starts with an account at the post office first).
Most post offices have a section devoted solely to banking services, which may be entirely separate from the area to deal with postal services. Part of the inspiration for this entry was when I recently walked into a post office, looked around, and realized that not a single counter would have helped me mail the box that I wanted to send or let me buy stamps. I was not alarmed or confused. I walked back out and looked around for the mail section of the post office – which turned out to be around the corner of the building only accessible by a different door altogether. And that’s just how the Taiwanese post office works sometimes.
As I mentioned before, Chungwha Post is also a comfortably ubiquitous brand. The colors of red, green and white are easily recognizable, and consistent country-wide. And while I can’t say that Taiwanese post office workers are necessarily friendlier than US post office workers, the variety of services that they provide, the cheaper rates to send mail, and of course their adorable friendly graphics make me feel like they care about me more. I’m infatuated, and I’ll be sad to leave this aspect of Taiwan behind.