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Saturday, Aug. 25, 2007

JAPAN LITE

A sprint to keep up with the slow life


The people who work in our post office are, to use the politically correct term, "a little slow." Long before I moved to this island, the government had a plan that worked. They sent those workers who were "a little slow," to work on a small island where hardly anyone one lived and where they could do the least harm. You know, slow life, slow post office.

And the people who were "a little slow" were happy. All they had to deal with were little old ladies who moved slowly, needed stamps affixed for them, or needed to withdraw their pensions from their postal savings account.

Then I moved in. Now, they needed people who could answer questions such as "Do you think this package will make it to Iraq within a week?" Or "What's the cheapest rate to Guadalajara?"

Unfortunately, the post office sits 100 meters from the port, so logically, people like myself tend to hit the post office on their way out, upon leaving the island. This time when I walk into the post office, I think I'll have enough time to make the ferry because I am just sending an envelope to Holland.

But as I approach the post office, I sense trouble. An old lady's vegetable cart is parked outside empty, her hoe resting next to it. I walk inside and the postal workers are crowded around the lady's box of potatoes, weighing them to send them to the mainland.

I am watching the wall clock, which is very large for the benefit of the old folks living here. So large I can see the big black hand moving closer and closer to the ferry departure time. No problem, I still have 10 minutes to make the ferry.

Our postmaster is a very nervous man. He emits a nervous laugh. All the postal workers have adopted his nervousness. Sometimes I wonder if everyone is so nervous because one of those old ladies is holding them up at hoe-point and telling them to act as if nothing is happening.

In Japan, you'd never send a used envelope to someone you respected. No, they deserve a wrinkle-free, virgin piece of tree. So when I recycle mailing envelopes, I always get strange looks from the postal workers. Conscious of the offense that can be caused by sending soiled, previously used envelopes, I try to engage in cute recycling. After all, if you're going to put something through a second life, you should make it even better the second time around.

So I make black cow spots out of the previous addresses on the envelope — a bit of a bovine touch. I call it Moo mail. Yet every time my envelopes moo into the post office, the postal workers look at the spots on the envelope as if the envelope might have some disease.

"I'd like to send this to Holland," I say. The postmaster sneers at the envelope as if I might possibly be posting the entire cow.

"No worries," I say, aware that bull-fighting in post offices is illegal in Japan, even in self-defense. "Just a mooing envelope."

The guy does not crack a smile, but instead starts sweating. He hates me, he really hates me, because I always do strange things that throw him off. This is a holdup, of a different sort. I look at the wall clock. I can still make the ferry — if I sprint.

Then, I ask for the stamps. Commemorative stamps. He hems and haws and finally says, "We've only got these," and he laughs because he is absolutely sure a gaijin would not want these stamps.

"Great," I say looking at the clock. I can still make the ferry, if I sprint and wave my hands to get the driver's attention to wait for me.

"Now, where shall we put these stamps," he says?

"How about here," I suggest, pointing to the upper right-hand corner of the envelope. How's that for thinking inside the box?

"Do you think they will fit?" he asks, as if the stamps are going to expand to double in size as soon as they hit the envelope.

"Sure," I say and take over the task myself.

The next thing I know, I am sprinting and waving my hands at the ferry driver. I leap onto the ferry just as it is pulling away from the dock.

That's our post office — a little slow.



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