When I first saw a motorbike parked at the entryway of Chongqing University’s campus, piled high with packages and its owner barking into a cellphone, I assumed that he was lost and was seeking directions via phone. After hanging up, though, instead of getting on his bike and taking off, he picked up a package and, looking carefully at it, dialed another number and began having what sounded like a very similar conversation to the one he just had. In the meantime, a middle-aged man had walked up to the motorcyclist and, while still cradling his cellphone between his ear and shoulder and yelling into it, the motorcyclist handed the man a package and a clipboard and gestured for him to sign.
I then realized that this is just how packages are delivered in these parts. Instead of one central package collection point, delivering to Chongqing University requires a mobile one. With a motorcycle, a cellphone, and area knowledge, the postal worker travels to multiple points across the campus and “sets up shop” – calling the phone numbers provided on the packages he has been tasked to deliver and guiding customers over the phone to his present location. The local Chongqing accent with which the driver speaks sounds quite distinct from the Mandarin I am familiar with, giving me pause before encouraging people in the US to send me packages. Seeing this system makes me wonder how a Chinese exchange student would react to the typical American college’s centralized mailbox system.
Zach Hyman is based in Chongqing as a U.S. Fulbright Fellow and is a regular contributor to CoLab Radio. He can be followed at squareinchanthro.com