I don’t think you’ll find many non-cycling blog articles from me, but I just have to get this one out, since it seems like I’m the only person who knows what it is. Prove me wrong.
When I was travelling through Asia in 90s there were few ways to keep in touch with friends and family back home. You had the questionably-named STD booths that were ubiquitous all over Asia at that time, and were little shops that had one or more phones (sometimes in a booth, sometimes not) that you could use to call overseas on. Your calls were on a timer, so it was a little stressful for the traveller on a budget, i.e. every traveller.
I only used these things once a month, maybe, and only to call my dear old mom back in Canada. Our main means of communication was The Letter. You might remember this ancient method that involved you ‘writing’ on ‘paper’. Think hard, it’ll come.
Well, there was a lot of that for me because I like to jot my thoughts down on ‘paper’, real or digital as the case may be. But, you are surely asking yourself, how did your loved ones get letters to you when you were always on the move? That’s where Poste Restante (or General Delivery) came to the rescue.
Poste Restante is a beautifully simple service (usually free) that any General Post Office (GPO) offers. All your dear old mom needs to do is address her letter like the one below and she can usually be assured that it will get to you. Actually, you can just write ‘Poste Restante GPO’ and it’ll arrive.
Once the letter gets to the GPO, they put it in alphabetical order (careful here, they could be using your first or last name), either in a space reserved for post office workers, or, like in the case of Kathmandu above, pidgeon holes that anyone could rifle through.
The system worked amazingly well and, since I was always writing someone, I sometimes had 10 or more letters waiting for me at the GPO of a big city. There may still be some there for all I know, because when I was travelling I had only a vague idea of where I was going (not much has changed). I would tell my mom in September that I thought I’d be in Delhi ‘in November’, for example, and hope that I was.
I visited the GPO of every large city I went through, which were often grand and beautiful buildings, like the one in Saigon above. It was like Christmas morning every month or two for me to go to these places and see what showed up with my name on it. I’m not going to say it was better back in the day, but there’s not that much romance in receiving instantaneous emoticons from anywhere in the world nowadays. Stuff is always a little more appreciated when you have to work for it.
I’d really be interested to know if anybody out there has heard of or used the Poste Restante. The only people I’ve ever met who knows what I’m talking about are travellers from the pre-digital age.