In the Vietnamese post offices I used to send parcels home, they make you fill in four separate customs forms. They cut out a made-to-measure box from a sheet of cardboard. They then cover the whole thing in so much packing tape that you have to warn the intended recipient to arm themselves with a hacksaw.
It’s a bit different in the Cambodian post office. On my third attempt, I find that the building is open, but nobody is home. I look around a bit and find a guy dozing in a back room. He is very willing to help, but as things progress I am increasingly doubtful as to whether he actually works for the post office.
First of all, he can’t find the postmark stamp for my postcards. Once they’re dealt with, I try to buy an envelope from him for my parcel. He can’t find any, but gives me a bit of an old cardboard box that they were keeping elastic bands in.
He then gets me to write the address on a bit of paper, that he sticks onto the box with wood glue. It starts peeling off almost immediately.
Then he moves onto the franking machine: he has to go and find the cable to plug it in, then he eventually produces a postage label. He tries to stick this on the box with wood glue as well, until I point out that you peel off the back of the sticker.
Mr Beet reminds me that I’ve had to fill in a customs form everywhere else. I ask the man, and he finds me a form, which is also wood glued on to the box.
As my package disappears behind the counter, and the man cheerfully waves us off, Mr Beet and I exchange a look of mutual scepticism about its ever arriving at its destination.
And what was I posting? Why, lavish presents for everyone I know of course. But don’t blame me if they don’t arrive.