Friday, June 29, 2012

Postage and package included… sometimes.

Today a delivery receipt arrived on my desk at work that said a package had arrived for me at the local post office. I was absolutely ecstatic. The reason for my elation was not because my parcel of clothes which I had ordered from an online t-shirt had finally arrived (thanks for the new threads, Threadless). I was relieved because of the fact that the package had actually arrived. One of the main gripes expats who live here have is the inconsistent and incoherent postal system in Vietnam. Let me explain.

For a foreigner, the Vietnamese postal system is as strange and unfathomable as rocket science would be to a sixth grader, or the rules of cricket to a Vietnamese farmer (the term Kafkaesque springs to mind, with the impending sense of doom replaced by a sense of inevitable extortion). For all we know, there may be a hive full of little post elves somewhere behind closed doors in the Saigon Central Post Office. I imagine they sit on piles of unopened packages, wearing little Bưu đin uniforms, doing little jigs while licking stamps, making paper envelope airplanes, sorting the post, and deciding not when they want to deliver the letters and parcels, but if they should deliver it!  

See that little elf on that box? I rest my case.
(photo from
Too many times I’ve heard stories of people’s parcels mysteriously disappearing into the “postalsphere” (I’m sure those elves had something to do with it). Go onto one of the online expat forums like Phu My Hung Neighbours, and on any given day you’ll find complaints and concerns about letters, gifts and parcels not arriving. In my experience there are basically four scenarios when awaiting post in Vietnam. 

Scenario 1: Your post never arrives. This is a very possible reality so don’t be surprised when this happens. Like a lost love, don’t dwell on it. Forget about it and move on – life’s too short to worry about that Kit-Kat or Crunchie chocolate bar that went missing in the mail. 

Scenario 2: Your post arrives…sometime in the following year. This often happens. I think the people at the post office just keep your post, hoping that you will eventually give up on it or forget about it (or maybe it’s those mischievous elves again?). This is especially annoying if you’re expecting a package containing food or goods which expire. I once had my parents send me a package from South Africa containing all my favourite specialities – chocolates, boerewors and droewors, spices and condiments (Mr Balls Chutney and Ina Paarman’s Spices), and a bottle of good South African wine (Springfield Estate Wholeberry). It arrived months and months later (even though they had sent it express mail) and everything had expired and become inedible – even the dried meat. The only thing which was still good to consume was the wine, which had actually got better with time! 

Scenario 3: Your post arrives, but it’s been tampered with. This is the most likely option. Two years ago I sent myself a package from Australia containing clothes, English teaching materials and books and some other personal items. Eight months later, the package arrived, squashed, ripped open, then taped closed and torn open again, obviously having undergone a thorough inspection by the authorities. Everything was there…except for a few English teaching books. I was upset for a while, but at least I knew that there were some post office workers (or maybe a couple of post elves?) who are now speaking English fluently thanks to my “gift”.

Scenario 4. You post arrives, but it costs an arm and a leg to collect it. I once received a receipt from the post office to collect a package which cost me eight times more to pick up then the contents was worth! One thing I’ve learned is if you want to make sure that the post office doesn’t overcharge you, make sure the price of the goods is clearly displayed on the package. Also, don’t send anything dodgy (like English books) or god-forbid some exciting and foreign like a vuvuzela. A colleague at work just had to pay the equivalent of $600 for a care package sent from Korea as it had to undergo a “culture check” (I think that means the elves had a look to see if there was anything interesting they could eat or sell). 

Scenario 5. Your post arrives on time, in one piece, and unaltered. Don’t worry about scenario, as it is never likely to happen. 

"Not delivering your shit, since 1978"

These seem to be the general experiences most expats I’ve spoken to here have regarding the postal service. Many foreigners these days just ask their friends, family or others visiting from overseas to bring something with them on the airplane to avoid the hassle and heartache of dealing with the postal service. Of course, I understand that you can’t  expect things to be the same as it is back home – but sometimes you just have to complain to get it off your chest. And after all, what else can you do? Write a letter of complaint addressed to the post office, hoping they will receive it?  Yeah, right...

Originally written for Doanh Nhân Sài Gòn


Victoria said...

Great blog on vietnam

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joe said...

Hey Henno,

My name is Joe Pinzone and I'm casting an international travel show about expats moving abroad. We'd love to film in Vietnam and wanted to know if you could help us find expats who have moved there within the last 15 months or have been there for 3-4 years, but recently moved into a new home. The show documents their move to a new country and will place the country in fabulous light. The contributors on the show would also receive monetary compensation if they are filmed. If you'd like more information, please give me a call at 212-231-7716 or skype me at joefromnyc. You can also email me at Looking forward to hearing from you.

Joe Pinzone
Casting Producer
P: 212-231-7716
Skype: Joefromnyc