Wednesday, December 22

The Riddle of International Postage

Sorry I haven't updated in so long. To my dismay, I haven't actually done a lot of letter- or postcard-writing in the past two months! Postage is kind of expensive in Indonesia though postcards are cheap. Unfortunately, it seems like one company has a stranglehold on postcards throughout the Indonesian islands so they aren't very interesting--ubiquitously, they are the "image on white background" style, like a negative motivational poster, with the caption beneath. Also, they never seem to really reflect the street-level life of Bali or elsewhere, focusing instead on terraced farming lands or ancient temples. It's up to blogging to show my friends what life's really like here.

Also: I cannot figure out the Indonesian postal system. Seriously, what the hell? I went to a post office proper in Denpasar and got stamps for some postcards. Without question or options, I paid Rp. 25,000 (US$2.78) for postcard postage going to the US.

When I bought stamps on Gili Trawangan, a small island off of Lombok, the convenience store tacked an extra Rp. 1,000 per stamp, but they also insisted I needed less postage. When I had questions that bumped against our language barrier, they referred me to a bookstore that also dealt with all postal issues. They had a sign posted that explained the rates: Rp. 25,000 gets it there in two weeks, but Rp. 7,500 (US$0.83) takes a month at least to travel. Even with the convenience store's "convenience" fee, it's still less than half the previous rate.

And then I sent a bunch out from the Sukarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta, Java. The convenience store from which I bought the stamps again insisted I needed even less postage--Rp. 5,000--but also tacked on a 100% fee for each stamp! So what is the legal rate? I have no idea, but if you're in Indonesia, I strongly urge you to deal with a proper post office rather than any other service.

On the other hand, now I'm in Bangkok, Thailand. I wrote up a bunch of old postcards from Bali and Gili Trawangan and went out to a local mall, where there was a Mail Boxes Etc. office. Size doesn't seem to matter with postcard postage like it does in the States. There was only a moment of confusion when a clerk was inexperienced with sending mail out to the US, so she deferred to another employee, but otherwise it was simplicity itself: I walked up, handed them my missives, they calculated the postage and I paid it, around US$5 for four postcards and one letter going out to the US and other countries. Awesome.

I never actually used this Bangkok mailbox, I'm just including it because I take pictures of mailboxes in other countries. I thought it interesting that the front of it differentiates between "Bangkok" and "Other Places." Tells you something about the mindset of a city, like how California and New York like to dismiss everything between them as "flyover states."