Something I did as a kid was participate in pen pal programs. I’ve always loved getting mail and writing letters to someone far away was fun, especially when we decorated them with stickers or included postcards, photos, stories, and other mementos. Two pen pals in particular have stayed in my mind over the years: the first is Carly, a lovely writer and animal lover from eastern Canada who I now keep in touch with via Twitter. I still have all her letters and we killed many a tree sending each other copies of stories we were writing that would surely be incredibly embarrassing if anyone were to read them today.
The other pen pal was Ikue, a girl who lived in the Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku in Japan. I was in my pre-teen and early teen years when Ikue and I started writing to one another. She wrote the most incredible letters on very fancy, delicate paper, and adorned them with anime- and manga-style drawings (in ink! with no mistakes!). She taught me simple Japanese words and sent me an entire children’s magazine (which probably helped influence my later interest in anime) as well as numerous postcards of her country’s beautiful landscapes and many other adorable things. Sadly, when the Kobe earthquake happened in 1995 I never heard from her again, though I wrote to her several times for a couple of years afterward. Almost 6500 people were killed in that earthquake (roughly 1800 from outside the Kobe area) and I have always wondered if she was one of them or if her home was just destroyed to the point that her family moved with no forwarding address. Maybe it was just a coincidence. None of my letters were ever returned so I really have no idea what happened. It will probably be one of those life mysteries.
Over the years, letter writing seemed to become passé, probably because life gets busier as people grow older, but also we had the advent of supposedly marvelous new technologies…like email. I used to love email. It made communicating with pen pals so much easier! Typing is faster than writing and you could hear back from your pen pal in a matter of days rather than weeks. Another friend and pen pal, Alexis, and I burned up many many bytes writing epic novel-length emails to one another (mostly about Sailor Moon!). Email became an evil thing later on as I got more and more swamped thanks to work (and my life seemed to have more and more not-nice things happening in it), so looking at my inbox was just something I didn’t enjoy doing anymore (and I felt I had nothing good to say). I still owe Alexis a response to an email he sent in…2015… I know, I can blog hundreds of words but fail in replying to one email? I suck and I’m terrible and I swear I’ll write soon! My friend Amber is living in Japan right now and I’m terrible about writing her emails too…
Most of the time these days my mailbox—the real one attached to my home address, not the virtual ones on my computer—is empty. All but a few of my bills are delivered electronically and I’m on Canada Post’s “no junk mail” list. Unless I know I’ve ordered something, I generally only check the mail once every couple of weeks. (I’d go longer between checks except I missed a jury duty summons once, which was both scary because the paperwork says THOU SHALT NOT IGNORE THY SUMMONS LEST YE WISH TO SUFFER DOOM all over it, but also disappointing because it would have been a worthwhile life experience to have had—but as it turned out, I was also in Iceland on the scheduled duty dates so it wouldn’t have worked out anyway.) I’ve often lamented that empty mailbox, and how terrible I am at getting back to people via email, and how nice it is to get real mail. Amber sometimes sends me postcards, or little packages with fantastic Japanese candies in them, and that always makes my day. I started to think to myself, I should really do things like that too: get back to simpler things. Maybe not letter writing, as I really do have too much on my plate as it is, but postcards? Postcards should be easy.
Coincidentally, or maybe by fate, Stargrace recently mentioned Postcrossing in her Twitter feed. I forget exactly what she posted, but whatever it was got me curious enough to ask and look into it further. What’s Postcrossing? From their site:
It’s a project that allows you to send postcards and receive postcards back from random people around the world. That’s real postcards, not electronic!
This is a pretty cool idea! Not exactly the same as having dedicated pen pals (although I understand that some people end up becoming pen pals this way) but still means there’s something to look forward to in the mail, and it provides opportunities to learn about other places in the world that one might never actually get to visit, from the people who actually live there. Postcrossing is also set up to force people to be proactive: you don’t get to receive postcards until you send some, and to keep getting them you have to keep sending.
The project has a tiered system in place that gradually allows newbies like me to increase the number of cards that can be travelling simultaneously. Five is the initial limit and until they are received at their destinations I have to wait before I can send more. My stats won’t update to say how many have actually been sent by me until each card reaches its destination and is registered on the site by the recipient. My allowed limit for how many cards can be travelling simultaneously likewise won’t grow until the initial ones are registered at the destination too, so there’s a bit of patience involved. But as my limit grows, there is nothing requiring me to max out on that limit all the time. Postage, even on postcards (as I have discovered) is not cheap ($2.50 CAD to send a 4×6 postcard outside North America) so I will probably limit myself to sending four or five postcards a month, depending on how quickly my slots free up. As the picture above shows, my first five are travelling to Malaysia, Russia, USA, Germany, and Finland. Malaysia and Russia will probably take the longest to arrive: three or four weeks to go at least!
My hope is that doing this will help me stay motivated to send my friends real mail too. :) When I took my first batch of cards to the post office I also had a separate collection that I bundled together to send to Amber (better late than never?). So far, so good!
There’s another aspect to this as well…
The Postcrossing FAQ has an entry in it to help guide people on where they can buy postcards. After all, if you’re not usually a tourist in your own area you might not really know where to find postcards in the first place. Or maybe you know where to get them but you’re not fond of the selection. Or…you’re an amateur photographer with gigabytes of photos just sitting around on your computer… Postcrossing has a deal with MOO for printing custom postcards and the price is decent, particularly in that they allow each pack to contain 25 unique images at no extra cost!
I really enjoy taking photos but I’ve never done anything with them other than make Photostreams. Wouldn’t it be nifty to send them around the world as postcards? I thought so! They’re unique, they showcase the world through my eyes, and no one will be able to get them anywhere else—only from me! I’ve ordered my first batch which should arrive later this month. (This has also started me wondering what else I might be able to do with my shots. Something to think about!)
My public Postcrossing profile is linked in the header and footer. I’m looking forward to seeing it become populated with stats, as well as seeing what postcards I will eventually receive (and from where)!