不解之谜:香港航空信误投百慕大 / Hong Kong Airmail: "Missent to Bermuda"

不解之谜:香港航空信误投百慕大

几个月前我就写过,我们总是高估到底有多少美国同胞知道香港的确切方位。

在某种程度上,这是香港这类弹丸之地的死穴。如果说人个子矮,婉转的说法是“高度不够”,如果形容地方小,常会说“空间不足”。

澳大利亚人口仅相当于香港的三倍出头,但它幅员辽阔,大家都知道它的位置,起码能排除一些不靠谱的选项(比如不会在非洲;而且人们还会联想起袋鼠、考拉、鳄鱼邓迪)。加拿大也是如此(在最北边;有北极熊和冰球),还有印度(靠南;有眼镜蛇和客户呼叫中心),诸如此类。

地方小也有小的好处,毕竟树大招风,出头的椽子先烂。但作为一个城市、国家或者特别行政区来说,让尽可能多的人知道你在哪儿或者不在哪儿终归是个现实而且必要的目标。

在教化美国人方面(我敢说同样包括其他很多西方人),香港还应该再下一番功夫。当然,美国的学校也该适当提高世界地理的教学水平。

最近发生在我身上的一件小事证明“香港在哪儿”确实是道谜题。几周前我在香港的家里收到一张非常有趣的生日卡。贺卡是我姐姐Mary Beth从芝加哥附近的家中用航空信寄出的,信的邮资充足,地址填写清楚完整,最后还注明是递往“中国香港特别行政区”。尽管她特意提前几周就寄出了贺卡,但我还是在一个月后才收到她的来信。

真正让我大跌眼镜的是信封收件人的地址旁盖了个红戳(而非手写!),赫然注明“百慕大邮局:误投,请试它局”。

Hong Kong Airmail: “Missent to Bermuda”

As I wrote a few months ago, we routinely overestimate the number of my fellow Americans who have any idea where Hong Kong is.

To some extent, this is a challenge endemic to tiny places like Hong Kong. Among people, a euphemism for short ones is “vertically challenged”. Among places, it would follow to call tiny ones “spatially challenged.”

Australia is a huge place with only slightly more than 3 times the population of Hong Kong, but everyone has a pretty good idea where it is, or at least generally where it’s not (e.g. not located in Africa; think: kangaroos, koalas and Crocodile Dundee). Same thing for Canada (way up north; polar bears; ice hockey), India (way down south; cobras; call centers), and so on.

There is virtue in being small. Short trees are less likely to attract lightning strikes or lose branches in high winds. But as a city, country, or special administration region, it is a valid and desirable goal that as many people as possible have some notion of where you are, and where you are not.

Hong Kong still has a ways to go in educating my fellow Americans, and I daresay many other westerners, about its location. And of course America’s schools need to do a better job of teaching world geography.

The latest “Where is Hong Kong?” example which came to my attention was just a week or so ago when a very entertaining birthday card arrived in the mail at my home in Hong Kong. My sister Mary Beth had air-mailed it from her home near Chicago, with correct airmail postage and a clearly legible and complete mailing address, ending in “Hong Kong S.A.R., China”. Even though she mailed it several weeks in advance of my birthday, it took about one month to reach me.

What really struck home was the message stamped in red ink (stamped rather than hand-written) on the envelope, next to my mailing address, which said: “MISSENT TO BERMUDA.”

 

什么?!难道是邮政系统有人费心向我解释生日卡延误的原因吗?美国邮政总局(The U.S. Postal Service)芝加哥分局一定是把香港错当成了百慕大,把我的贺卡投向了东边的大西洋,而不是往西投向太平洋。

好吧,都怪这些大洋长得太像了!到处都是水,还有几个小岛,比如香港,比如百慕大。

我要感谢误投解释中体现的问责精神和全面知情权,但让我惊讶的是那个“百慕大邮局:误投,请试它局”的提示居然不是邮递员手写的,而是用类似办公文档常用的“紧急”、“保密”之类的签章加盖上去的。

这让人怎么想?按我理解,这说明误投至百慕大的情况必然经常发生,以至于必须刻个图章来处理。这有点儿让人意外,也许此类问题在百慕大邮局太突出了,他们早就用缩写“MTB——误投百慕大”来代称了。

可以想见,也许全百慕大邮局有一帮人专门只做一件事,就是处理误投,或许还为此单独成立了一个部门,叫做百慕大误投转投局。

我反思“为什么是百慕大”?而不是新加坡、台湾,或者其他任何与香港无论是在地理位置、地名拼写还是其他方面有相似之处的地方。

我的邮寄地址和百慕大没有任何哪怕是含糊的关联,比方说我并不是住在香港的百慕大短裤街。

那百慕大和香港到底有什么相似之处,能让它们被混为一谈呢?我百思不得其解。

也许两地同为小岛,金融业发达,税率低,货币与美元挂钩,历史上受英国文化影响,都有几处沙滩美景,本地哺乳动物种类不多(百慕大只有蝙蝠,香港的物种稍微多一点)——也不过如此吧。百慕大只有区区64,000人,和午餐时间挤在某些香港餐厅里吃点心的人数有一拼。

两地不同的“小”细节就是之间相差13,963公里(8,677英里)的距离。

分析过程中我还一度考虑过百慕大三角区神秘的磁场现象,那儿周边的海域常有舰船和飞机神秘失踪。可如果真是这样的话,我最后根本不可能收到邮件,况且我的信也没有被水打湿的痕迹。

美国邮政总局在《财富》世界500强(FORTUNE Global 500)中排名第109位【排在中国建设银行(China Construction Bank)之后】,2010年的营业收入为670亿美元,目前他们正在进行大刀阔斧的重组。由于越来越多的个人和机构改用网络通讯,邮政总局的收入逐年锐减。虽然他们已经进行了大幅裁员,但更深入的调整势在必行。太痛苦了!

伴随重组和大规模减员,服务质量出现滑坡也不足为奇,这一点我能理解。但是,我还想问,为什么是百慕大?难道只是巧合而已吗?

问题是必须提醒香港不要自以为是,以为全天下人都知道它在哪儿。只有亲自到香港走一遭,大部分外国人才知道香港的方位,真正认识香港更是后话。

为了配合百慕大的工作,也许我们应该也准备一枚印章,刻上“香港邮局:误投,请试它局”。

What?! Yes, someone, somewhere in the post office chain took the thoughtful step of conveying to me the reason why my birthday card was so late. The U.S. Postal Service in Chicago must have mistaken Bermuda for Hong Kong, and sent my card east, across the Atlantic Ocean instead of west, across the Pacific one.

Oh well, all these damn oceans look so much alike! Water, water, water; and then a few islands, like Hong Kong, and Bermuda.

While grateful for the spirit of accountability and full disclosure which prompted this explanation of postal misadventure, I was especially struck by the remarkable fact that “MISSENT TO BERMUDA” was not handwritten by some post office clerk but a pre-made stamp, of the sort which offices use to append routinely used messages like “URGENT”, “CONFIDENTIAL” and so on, to documents.

What does that suggest to you? To me, it says that this situation of “MISSENT TO BERMUDA” must happen frequently. So much so that a stamp was manufactured to deal with it. This is a bit of a shocker. Perhaps the problem is so advanced that in the Bermuda post office they have an abbreviated way of referring to these items as “MTBs.”

For all we know it might be a whole wing of the Bermuda post office, devoted solely to MTBs, and possibly justifying a separate department: Bureau of MTB Re-direction.

I reflected on the question of “Why Bermuda?” rather than Singapore, Taiwan or some other location with some semblance of similarity to Hong Kong either in geography, spelling or some such thing.

Nothing in my postal address has anything vaguely similar to Bermuda in it. I don’t live on Bermuda Shorts Avenue in Hong Kong, for example.

What else is there in common between Bermuda and Hong Kong, I pondered, which might have promoted the mix-up?

Similarities include: both small island states, with thriving financial sectors, low tax regimes, currencies pegged to the US dollar, history of British influence, a few decent beaches, not many species of local mammals (Bermuda has only bats; Hong Kong is more gifted) — that’s about it. Bermuda’s population is only 64,000 people, which is roughly the same size as the lunchtime crowd in some Hong Kong dimsum restaurants.

Then there’s the minor detail of the 13,963 kilometers (8,677 miles) which separate the two places.

My analytical efforts even wandered briefly into thinking about whether there might be a bizarre magnetic phenomenon related to the fabled Bermuda Triangle, which covers a large area of sea adjacent to Bermuda and has allegedly claimed scores of ships and aircraft in mysterious circumstances. But if that were the case, I would not have received my birthday card at all. My card wasn’t even a bit soggy.

The U.S. Postal Service, which ranks 109th on this year’s FORTUNE Global 500 list (just behind China Construction Bank), with 2010 revenues of US$67 billion, is in the midst of a wrenching, challenging reorganization. They face continuing year-on-year sharp declines in revenues because people and organizations are increasingly communicating online, and they don’t send many first class mail items nowadays. USPS has experienced huge staff cuts and is facing the possibility of deeper ones to come. Painful stuff.

So, it comes as no surprise that with reorganization and massive staff cuts, service often slips. I get that. But still, why Bermuda? Perhaps just a coincidence.

The point remains that Hong Kong would be well-advised to avoid complacency in assuming that most people overseas know where it is, at least until they get here, let alone understand what it’s all about.

Maybe we should match Bermuda’s effort and prepare a stamp which says “MISSENT TO HONG KONG.”


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