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Please Mr. Postman

Although the Chinese curse ‘May you live in interesting times’ turned out to be an urban myth (*), it’s a fitting description of what’s happening now in these corona infested days.

My original 3 week family visit in the Netherlands has been extended to 8 months and the end isn’t in sight yet.

As a result I started looking for a job and found a part-time work at a post distribution center in Hilversum.

At first I applied as a mail delivery guy but due to circumstances ended up inside sorting mail… In hindsight I’m very pleased with that because - although I love cycling - the weather is getting gloomy and miserable, winter is coming soon…

In many ways it felt like an old run down monopoly game, you’re being fast forwarded to the starting place without receiving your 200 bucks… It’s the type of job I would do in the 80’s in between traveling, just to make some money and after a few months hit the road again!

Standing in front of a work station with all the ‘pigeonholes’

Even so I have had a long love-hate relationship with the mail, in the old pre-email days letters were the only means of written communication and I enjoyed receiving well written letters from friends. Unfortunately at times things got lost en route… Later while traveling for months I got familiar with’ poste restante’, using a local post office for a limited amount of time as address, the only way of keeping up to date with the home front.

This is how the red plastic crates are moved around

However chances that mail ‘disappeared’ were even higher…, but when mail got through it was something special, almost like a present, hard to believe in these days of instant digital communication!

Ordering the envelopes according to the last part of the code

There have been many changes over the years, whereas mail used to consist mainly of letters, post cards, magazines, advertising and packages, but nowadays the first 2 have all but disappeared…

Anyway, I have been working now for almost 2 months here and in a way it’s intriguing. More than a few of my friends were very surprised, they assumed (like I did previously) that the sorting process was fully automatic.

Flimsy advertising rubbish...

Instead due to various factors this is not the case at all despite the use of codes.

Packaging varies from stiff cardboard to flimsy paper handouts, sometimes wrapped in all kinds of plastic, sorting thin advertising crap can be especially vexing!

No scanner can handle crumbled addresses / codes on soft plastic wrapping

Codes are printed directly on paper or plastic coverings, but also sometimes on white stickers to make them stand out more.

The code underneath is printed on the sticker, but the one above ended up just above it...

Despite this being standardized those codes end up everywhere, instead of underneath the addresses or on those white stickers, they can be on top, bottom, left, right, upside down, etc. Occasionally the same code gets printed a few times on top of each other which reduces the readability to almost zero…

Same mail but the code ended up at different places

No robot scanner can handle this mess, so for now it remains a human ‘hands on’ job.

Never knew about that magazine before!

It’s quite surprising to see there are so many different magazines around, more than a few you’ll probably never encounter at a bookshop. All kinds of niche subjects are covered, from sheep to people who paint with their mouth….

Catalogues vary from a few crummy pages to glossy telephone book thick monstrosities which can cause instant hernia just by looking at them…

Magazines have arrived!

My job consists roughly of 4 different kind of sorting:

a. cutting open stacks of magazines/advertising and distributing these in red plastic crates

b. moving those crates with more mail to the correct working stations

c. standing at a work station and transferring mail from the crates to the correct ‘pigeonhole’

d. sitting at a a work station, taking out the mail from each pigeonhole, sorting them according to number, wrap the end result with a rubber band and drop them in a crate

Sorting mail part 4

When it comes to sustainability it’s a bit sad, most of those printed materials are already available digitally, but I guess a lot of people - including me ;-) - still like the touch of paper.

As for advertising, more than a few publications mention on their covers that there’s much more available on their sites…

In the near future I expect that this whole magazine/advertising process is completely digitized, but before that happens I will be hopefully long back in Thailand!


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