Spotted this mailbox propped on a pair of chairs on the sidewalk nearby the studio while out for lunch last month. A passing cop noted my interest in photographing it, and since the police station was nearby I figured he might know it’s story – namely, why it’s out on the street, how and why it ended up making a claim on this particular piece of space, and whether it’s up for grabs.

The policeman didn’t know off-hand, but was glad to help me duck into the open driveways and doorways on the block and ask around, and promptly set off with an enthusiastic stride before I could decline his offer. After a few minutes of puzzled looks from local residents, we encountered an older gentleman who took umbrage at the notion that I would even think that the mailboxes were no longer in use. The solicitous policeman, evidently reading the situation far more adeptly than myself, kindly smiled and, suddenly recalling that he did, in fact, have somewhere else to be, backed out of the alley, extricating himself from the situation as the old man’s diatribe gained volume and speed.

As the older gentleman slowly rose from his seat in the driveway of the apartment complex that was being renovated (and presumably where the mailboxes used to live) and began hobbling out on to the sidewalk to sit in the empty chair next to the mailbox (perhaps to ensure that I wasn’t about to take it for myself anyways), he began speaking in increasingly passionate tones about how China’s postal system worked (and failed to work), as well as his thoughts on how best to address its main challenges. It gradually became clear that my dream of having a mailbox-based storage and filing system for my apartment will have to remain on hold.

For more China mail-musings, see my 2013 entry (Demolition & Dead Letters) about the rapid pace of urban change in China and how the systems and processes of how people receive physical mail are forced to evolve as new buildings are being built even faster than old ones are being destroyed.

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