Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Mystery of the UGG Box

Box of goodies
Originally uploaded by kevsunblush
By Kevin

I've been making more frequent visits to the campus mailroom lately because at least one birthday present is supposed to be on the way (birthday was last month, but mail takes awhile to get here).

I haven't quite figured out the mail system in China. Yesterday, I stopped in at the mailroom and the mail lady escorted me behind the counter as usual, pointing to the drawer full of letters with western lettering, as she usually does. These are the letters that she doesn't know what to do with because they contain no Chinese characters. I suppose it's kinda like what someone would do if they got a letter with only Chinese characters on it in the US -- ask for help. Many of them have been here since before we came, I think. So, since we are foreigners, we are encouraged to look through the stack of letters and find anything addressed to us.

As I flipped through the stack, she pulled out the same box she'd shown me last week. Usually we're excited whenever she pulls out a box that she doesn't know what to do with, because almost always it belongs to one of the four Americans on campus. This time it didn't. It was addressed to "UGG Australia Company," but the address was "Weinan Teacher's College." No names, just some unknown Australian company apparently based at the college. The return label was from the UK and it has a Royal Mail postage stamp. The packing card on the back said "galoshes" and a box labeled "promotional item" was checked.

Just what is UGG? I wondered at first, thinking it was an acronym. United Geological Group? Urban Garden Galoshes? They might send someone boots, if only these organizations existed. UK Galoshes for the Games? United Grain Growers? Urban Golf Group? Unique Greek Galoshes? Who knows?

All four of us have examined the curious box at least once over the last month in our mailroom visits. Nobody has had an answer.

My mind searched for an answer and I came up with a possibility: Maybe it was a result of the flurry of materials I sent away for last year when I was requesting free tourist information brochures and magazines that I could put in our teaching library to give students a glimpse of the UK and Australia. Maybe they were packing "London 2012" boots to promote the next Olympic games?

I decided now was the time to get to the bottom of the mystery. Maybe the box contained more information on the inside that could help us figure out who it belonged to if it wasn't us. Likely the box was going to remain in the postal office indefinitely otherwise. So I signed for the box and headed home. The mail lady seemed excited to see the box leave her custody.

I tore the outer wrapper paper and looked into the box. It contained a pair of women's size nine Ugg Boots -- you know those sheepskin moon boots that were all the rage for women a couple of years ago. Maybe they're still popular, I don't know. I should have pieced it together: UGG Australia Company = Ugg Boots.

There was also a packing slip and a letter from a UK resident who was returning the boots to the company, requesting a different size.

"Why would they sent it here?" I asked. "Surely the company isn't based in Weinan."

I figured that maybe a student or teacher had set up an Internet business selling the boots on the side. But it seemed like the person returning the boots should have addressed their shipping label to that student, not to the company. Kinda funny that they would think that an Australian company would ship its orders directly from China. From a college, no less. I continued nosing around, finding the shipping label from when the boots were apparently originally sent from China to the UK. There was a name: Chang Yang.

I stuffed everything back into the box and hurried back to the mailroom, trying to explain to the mail lady that it apparently belonged to someone named Chang Yang, but I didn't know who it was. But my Chinese is poor. Basically I think the main ideas I got across were, "I'm sorry;" "Not mine;" "I don't know who;" and "Chang Yang." She confusedly looked at the mailing slip and put the package back on a stand, seemingly disappointed that the pesky package was back in her care.

Later, meeting with the team, I recounted the story, doubting that it would actually wind up with the person responsible for it or returned to the UK. "Do any of you wear a size nine?" I asked. Kelly nodded.

"Well, if the boots stay there for another month or two, they may be yours."

"I'd feel a little strange wearing them."

We decided that probably somebody here is going to wind up wearing them eventually.

The system is a bit unusual to our "privacy-centered" minds. In America, you can go to prison for opening someone else's mail. I'm sure mail carriers could lose their jobs if they purposely gave a package to someone not knowing if it actually belonged to them. But here. Sometimes our packages wind up with the foreign affairs officials at the school. The last package that came here wound up in the English department office (this awesome package from my former teammates in Tonghua, who sent, among other things, yummy Samosa and Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, blueberry muffin mix and more Mac & Cheese). Occasionally, we just get a shipping slip telling us that we need to pick them up from the China Post office down the street. I get the impression that any package with foreign writing on it just gets tossed around between whoever can speak or read English.

On the plus side, the packages people send us from the other side of the ocean usually do seem to get to us and here they usually don't seem to be opened and inspected by China Post workers before getting to us here -- or at least, if they are, they are inspected more discretely (most packages I got in Tonghua had a fresh batch of China Post tape wrapped around them and occasional items were missing, like beef jerky, which we later discovered was an illegal import). Thankfully I think that there has only been one package that we know did NOT show up for us in the two years we've been here (I've given up hope on a birthday present friends sent more than a year ago), but it's a better ratio of disappearances to deliveries than I experienced in Tonghua. Maybe Chang Yang picked it up, whoever he or she is?

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