Slow Crate to China

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By Slow Crate to China--the Great Crate Adventure

The LONG Tale about Shipping our Things to China

©Michael Krigline (Shanghai, September 2000)

(Note: This account of our "US to China Shipping Experience" was eight pages long, typed! )

            Our adventure in sending personal items to China has been so entertaining and frustrating that I felt I should record the highlights for posterity. Let this be a warning to those who think, as we did, that shipping books and other items overseas would be a better idea than paying overweight baggage charges, mailing the items, or simply deciding to do without almost all of your things.

            It all started when I decided that my professional library of TEFL books would be an invaluable help to my work in China. As it stands, that may still be true (since there are very few TEFL books available here), but my decision to crate the books as opposed to mailing them may always be seen as a miscalculation. In addition to TEFL books, the crate contained Christian books and resources, Chinese language-learning resources, children’s educational and entertainment-oriented videos and materials, Andrew’s favorite toys, our dishes and clothes, my guitar, our favorite decorations and personal items, and various toiletries -- most of which are unavailable here.

            When we inquired about shipping things to China, we only found one reasonably priced company in Columbia (Craters and Freighters: C&F) who would be willing to make us a crate. Furthermore, a different company (International Supply Services: ISS) would pick the crate up from the former and deliver it to us in Shanghai. There was also a big hassle over meeting Chinese regulations related to wood infestation, but the builders promised us that it was properly certified. As I write, we know of no trouble in that regard on the Chinese end.

            I should have taken all of that as a premonition of what was to come, but we didn’t heed the warning signs. Actually, most of the warning signs didn’t manifest themselves until it was too late.

            Craters and Freighters is an interesting company. The crate was supposed to arrive at our Columbia home the morning of Wednesday, June 8, giving us two days to pack it before we had to vacate our house on the eleventh. They delivered it late that day -- after making it the wrong size! We had been in communication for half a year about the box, and they knew I wanted something “palate-sized” with five-foot walls -- 40x48x60 inches to be exact. This was the size suggested by ISS because it would fit easily into a shipping container. Needless to say, we were shocked to see a crate measuring 53” x 53” x 67” in our driveway! They explained that they were late because they are short-handed, and the size change was due to an assumption that 40x48x60 would be the internal dimensions instead of external measurements. They also said that since I said I wanted a “palate-sized crate” they figured I meant 48x48 (x60) instead of 40x48. Never mind that I had always said (and written) exactly what I meant, and had even had them repeat it.

            Several of the people who helped us in the packing process agreed that it was poorly constructed and was an odd size, but there was nothing we could do about that after the fact.

            The new size meant we could ship more things (a blessing), but it also dramatically increased the dimensions/volume and weight. This, of course, dramatically increased the price. The new volume had pushed it over the 1000 lbs. mark, which warranted a shift into the next price range.

            In the end, it cost $1205 to ship it plus $215 to build it. It weighed just over 1000 lbs, had a volume of 3.14 cubic meters and the following dimensions: 53” x 53” x 67” (internal: 48” x 48” x 60”). Our estimated value of all items in crate:    $6,616 US (which is probably too conservative).

            With the help of wonderful friends, we worked to fill it up and finished 30 minutes before the C&F workman came to seal it on Friday afternoon (June 10). Unfortunately, someone had removed all the screws and power tools from his truck (they had agreed to bring everything needed to close the crate), so he had to use bungee cords to hold the door on.  To make matters worse, it took the worker, myself, and two friends an hour to get the crate up onto the truck! Mind you, we are talking about a wooden box that weighs just over 1000 lbs.! But, to be fair, C&F had always treated me kindly on the phone and in person, and the workman who took the crate off the truck called to say it arrived at the warehouse intact.

            On Monday (June 13), ISS arrived to get the box, which was to ostensibly travel to Charleston by truck and then head to Shanghai. (We left the same day for Georgia and Tennessee on the way to Ohio and Hong Kong.) In truth, we now know it went to Norfolk (where ISS is), then changed ships in Los Angeles, then changed ships again in Hong Kong.

            From the beginning we were told to expect the crate to take about one or one and a half months to reach Shanghai. I can only guess that ISS honestly didn’t know it would change ships in both LA and HK. That would have put it in SH in the middle or end of July, so we waited until then to begin inquiring about it’s location. As the beginning of August passed we had still heard nothing. By now our suitcase supply of vitamins was gone and precious commodities like unscented anti-perspirant and hair spray were being rationed. I had also been teaching for a month without the aid of my own resources -- which was rather a handicap!

            Then we got good news. The crate would arrive August 10, so we only had another week to wait. On around August 12 they called to say it was here and we needed to go to Yan An Road to start the claiming process. It so happened that an old Chinese friend from Beijing was in town for a few days, so he went with me to the shipping office. Once we got there, we inquired about fees. It was only going to cost 100 or 200 yuan ($12-25), which sounded reasonable (since we had paid over $1200 already!). As they were preparing various papers my friend noticed that the invoice my Dad had faxed me and the information on the company’s sheets didn’t match. We brought this to their attention and they eventually came back saying, “Sorry, we have made a mistake and this isn’t yours.” Allison (our contact at the Chinese company -- Air Sea Transport or AST hereafter) apologized profusely and said she would find out where our crate was and personally see to it that it would be delivered to our apartment.

            We didn’t hear anything for several days, so I had Yew Wah’s Chinese Administrative Assistant (Martin) call. They didn’t know anything at first, but later came up with an estimate of August 27 for the crate’s arrival.

            August 27 came and went, but not without me calling (or having a Chinese associate call) several times. Mom and Dad called on August 23 to say that ISS said the box had arrived in SH, but this was still news to the folks here. On the 24th, they told us there was no record of “a ship by that name” having come to SH, and speculated that it had changed ships in Hong Kong. They were right, but we wouldn’t know this until the end of the month. On 8/27 Mom and Dad called back saying they were sure it was here—but this was still news to the local company. I wrote home on the 28th saying there was still no word.

            Finally, on the 30th we heard that it had arrived. The next day is where the following report begins. Bear in mind that this was originally a letter to my parents, written before we knew the end of the story.

            August 31. I spent the morning at work (preparing for the new term to start next Monday) and trying to get money from our bank account (I was out of cash, and there has been no indication of how much I’ll have to pay to get the crate home). At 12:37 I arrived by taxi ($2.06US) at AST (Allison’s office) to “get the paperwork done,” but Allison was not there today. Her colleague pulled me up on a computer, and came back to say I owed them 622RMB ($75). (When thinking about Chinese money, it is better NOT to convert it to US dollars, but to remember that a Chinese daily wage is about 45RMB. This makes sums like 622RMB seem pretty high.) I protested, saying that Allison told me it would only be 100-200. He called her (she was at a training meeting), and she told him to tell me that she had told Lisa what to tell me about how to get our stuff. Lisa had a look on her face that indicated this was news to her. I asked to speak to Allison about the fee, and she said the 100RMB fee was for the crate she had said was mine but wasn’t. This is a different crate. But she would eliminate their profit and let me have the paper I needed for only 522RMB ($63.27). I told this to the man (Mr Chen), and he confirmed it with Allison, and then proceeded to tinker with the computer to adjust my bill. No short time later he was ready to take my money, and we proceeded to the cashier. In exchange for my 522RMB, I was given a piece of paper which (I am told) says it is an exchange certificate. They seemed happy to have taken care of me and bid me farewell. I asked where to go next. They (and by now this is a joint effort of two or three staff people) went to ask Lisa, who said I should go to the Customs office. “Where is it?” I asked, as I pulled out a map (maps generally throw people off, as I don’t think most people here know how to use one). After some discussion, they pointed to a road along the river and said it was “somewhere down here.” Not satisfied, I asked for an address so I could give it to a taxi driver. Lisa said I should take the #42 bus (apparently to it’s terminus). I asked if I could get on the #42 nearby. No (of course not), I would need to take another bus in the wrong direction, and then transfer to the #42. I said I’d rather take a taxi, so please give me an address. Another man was brought into the discussion and they went back to the map. He pointed to where he felt the customs office was (no where near the first guess), and someone eventually wrote something in Chinese which was supposed to be directions to the customs office.

            It was now after 1:30 (an hour after arriving at AST to get this paper). I went out and found a taxi and he took me about two blocks from the address (I didn’t know this at the time) and said I should be able to find it “that way.” (This ride cost 14RMB/$1.70.) I walked “that way” a ways and showed the paper to a shop owner; she pointed in the same direction so I felt pretty good. I repeated this until I got to a parking attendant in front of the Customs office (which I didn’t know was the Customs office yet). He looked at the paper and sent me around the building. I climbed up to the entrance, entered and asked the information lady and she sent me downstairs. There was no public entrance in the basement, but I chanced to enter an unmarked door. I was encouraged to find a man inside who looked like he might be wearing a Customs uniform, so I showed him the paper. He sent me back upstairs to room 1004. The men in 1004 wondered why he had sent me to them; in fact they wondered why Allison’s company had sent me to this address, so they called her office. The line was busy. They tried a number which Lisa had given me, and talked with the people there for a while. One of the men then escorted me back down the stairs, past the man who had sent me upstairs, to a public area (which, oddly enough, was right behind the parking attendant who had originally sent me around the building). I thanked him for his kindness, and now stood before a Customs officer. I told her I had a crate, and the shipping company had sent me here. She asked if I’d filled out the form. I said I didn’t know about a form, and asked where I could get one. She pointed to another lady, who was not in a Customs uniform, at the next desk. (As this lady will become important later, I’ll introduce her as Lei-Lei Ye, of the Shanghai Foreign Service Co., LTD. - Non-commercial Goods Service Centre, hereafter called FSC.) The form was in quadruplicate, and Lei-Lei pointed me to a basket of partially used carbon paper sheets to aid me in filling it out. She also asked to see our packing list. She then asked who was going to help me clear the goods through Customs. I said I thought this was Customs. No, this is just a Customs office; after this I would need to clear the items through a different office. I said I was just going to take care of it myself. She laughed. “But you don’t speak much Chinese and there are many things you must do. And then how will you get the crate to your home?” [Allison’s company – which I would rather not deal with again if at all possible – said they could get the box to my house for around 200RMB ($24.25), but I figured the warehouse would also have a way to move it, and a friend also said he could locate a truck. Bottom line: I was taking this one step at a time and those steps were still in the future.) I admitted that I wasn’t sure. She said her company (remember she was not a Customs official) would help me clear Customs and deliver the crate to my house for about 1000RMB ($121.21). I tried to find out what I would get for that 1000 – did it include everything? No, it didn’t include any taxes I’d have to pay (she said I’d have to pay tax on the furniture); and it wouldn’t include the warehouse storage fee. I said I just got notice yesterday that it was here, so there shouldn’t be any storage fee. She laughed again, and said that other fees would also be involved. So, I said I’d think about it. She asked, “Isn’t someone from your office going to help you with this?” “Maybe,” I said. “I’ll just get this form taken care of now and then I’d handle the next step.” “You can’t fill this out yourself; you must have it sealed (chopped) by your organization. Then you can come back.” I tried not to show my disappointment as I headed for the street.

            Another hour had transpired by now (it was 2:26 according to my taxi receipt). I headed for my downtown office, which wasn’t too far away (only 10 RMB/$1.21, the minimum for a taxi). I got a hot dog for lunch (not too bad, but 12RMB – rather pricey considering what 12 RMB can buy around here), and proceeded upstairs. The boss and Chinese Administrative Assistant (Martin) were both in, so I started with Martin. What I thought would be a simple procedure obviously didn’t look so simple to him, especially when I asked if someone might be available to help me with Customs (as suggested by Ms Lei-Lei). Martin didn’t know what to say, so I decided to talk to Jeff (my American boss). He said it needed to be an official stamp, and Yew Wah doesn’t have one. I would need to see “Frank” at the Yew Chung office (next door to our apartment, which is about 25RMB or 20 minutes away from work by taxi – or an hour by bus). I inquired if this meant today or tomorrow, and the answer was a definite tomorrow, as Frank was probably going to be gone by the time I could get there (by now it was approaching 3 pm). As for the help with Customs, he asked if I’d be willing to pay a former teaching assistant 100RMB to help translate and go with me all day (Yew Wah pays them 80RMB per day, which is actually a good wage – double what might be considered average and perhaps triple what might be called minimum wage). I said that would be fine. Martin tried a few numbers, but no one was available or interested. At this point I decided to call a friend (SP), who said he would do whatever it takes, including getting me a truck. (What’s more, SP drives his own car, and has always proven to be very resourceful!) We would meet at 10 AM. By now Martin said he had to return to Gubei (where Frank’s office is) and after collecting some materials I needed to study before Monday’s classes we headed out.

            I don’t have a taxi receipt (YW paid), but I figure it was past 3:45 when I got to the Gubei Kindergarten campus (SIS). Needless to say, Frank was already gone. I sat in a front office and filled out the Customs form, and then the receptionist (I think she is the only person on that campus I have met) said she would ask Frank (I’ve never heard anyone call him anything else!) to Chop them in the morning. Since I had arranged for SP to pick me up at 10 AM she said she would try to get them done by then.

            Next I walked over to the other Gubei campus to take care of a few work-related needs (equally fruitlessly, but I’ll spare you the details). I had also parked my bike there this morning, which I collected and returned home. I arrived at 5:50, and our dinner guests were already here (Leo L and family – old friends, and Leo will work closely with me at SIS Gubei). Leo’s wife is Chinese, and asked for the day’s tale. She wanted to see the paper I got for my 522RMB, thinking it strange that I should have to pay so much. She said this paper indicates that I should CALL the place where the crate is, and THEN go to collect it (WITH a truck) at the time THEY specify, and THEN see Customs on the way out of their warehouse. (I can read none of this, since my reading ability is about zero.) She agreed to call them for me in the morning, so that is where we must end the story for now.

            The adventure continues tomorrow – I hope.

            [PS: I’ll only add that this is coming at a rather inopportune time, since I am very busy with work. I will have to work all weekend to get ready for Monday and Tuesday’s duties. Meanwhile, last week my schedule was entirely flexible, and for most of the summer I have not been overly busy (as I had a rather light teaching load). But I shouldn’t complain. The paperwork from Yew Wah had advised against shipping things to China – mind you, we didn’t see that paperwork until we had already contracted with C&F and ISS about the crate. We knew there were risks involved and decided that we wanted more than we could carry anyway. (And when I think of the hassles we had and narrow stairs we had to climb in HK with all the luggage we DID carry, I am still glad we didn’t drag along twice as many bags.) However, I don’t think I’ll try this again!]

            Sept 1. At 8:45 AM, Leo’s wife called to report on what she had learned from the company listed on the “exchange certificate.” She said that they are the people who have our crate, but they have to wait on a Customs preauthorization before they can release it to clear Customs. This, ostensibly, is what I could get at the Customs office I visited yesterday. She said the man asked her several questions which she didn’t have the information to answer (crate size, etc.), and she suggested I have someone else call from SIS once I got the required Chops from Frank.

            I arrived at SIS at 9:00. Frank was not in, and I told the receptionist (May) that I didn’t want to bother him by phone before 9:30, so I sat to wait. At 9:30 she called his cell number - he was not going to be in today, but he kindly offered to allow his assistant to Chop my documents. This assistant complied with my requests, including Chopping various additional documents which Melissa suggested I have Chopped. I then asked if someone could help me make a phone call or two, and he said May could do it. I proceeded to explain the situation to May, showing her a photo of the crate and all the papers and addresses gathered yesterday. She found that I did need to return to the so-called Customs office today, but that I had better have a Chinese person with me because there will be many things to do and they will certainly overcharge a foreigner, but a Chinese person can barter with them to get a better price. I called SP but he said something had come up and he wouldn’t be free for at least an hour or two.

            According to May, once Customs grants a provisional release, then we can go to the place where the crate is. She was unsure about when the truck would be needed and didn’t seem to know how to inquire about a pallet jack, so we left those things undecided. She seemed to think that overall, we should expect to pay 3000 RMB or more before all the fees would be satisfied. By now it was 10:45, and I decided to walk home and wait there for SP to be free.

            Half-way home I changed my mind and returned to SIS. I called Elsie (another Chinese Yew Wah Admin Asst.) and asked her if she would call Lei-Lei and try to find out what I would get for the 1000 RMB she had mentioned yesterday, and see if she would give us a lower price. Lei-Lei wasn’t in, and wouldn’t be in until 1:30, but it took Elsie until 11:30 to get this information. I asked her to call back and see if someone else could help us. She also volunteered to call SIS (upstairs) to find out who normally takes care of these things for incoming SIS teachers (remember that I really work for the sister organization, Yew Wah, and Yew Wah has never dealt with this before). A little later Elsie called me back to say that SIS does not deal with this either (it is up to individual teachers if they decide to ship things). Meanwhile, back at the Foreign Service Corporation, a man said that based on the size and volume/weight he had been told, the price of their services would be 1300RMB, not 1000. This still didn’t include a significant number of other fees. Elsie further offered to call someone who supposedly works with importing things to get an opinion and maybe some help. She called back to say he couldn’t help. So, I called SP again, and he said he was now free. We arranged to meet at the Custom’s office/Foreign Service Corporation - he would drive himself and I’d take a taxi.

            With the help of an office worker, I hailed a cab, but he couldn’t figure out where I wanted to go (even with the Chinese help), so we hailed another. The trip lasted from 12:21 to 12:35, and cost 23RMB ($2.75). I walked to the door, only to find a sign which said they were closed for lunch from 11:30 to 1:30! (You would have thought someone would have told this interesting fact to May or Elsie, but never mind.) SP wasn’t there yet, so after walking around the building to check other entrances I sat in front of the Customs door, much to the amusement of some of the Chinese on a bus parked nearby. The parking lot attendant came over and tried to use sign language to tell me the office was closed for lunch. (One small note here: I realize that most foreigners here don’t speak Chinese at all, and so this “sign language thing” is an understandable reaction. But these people don’t even catch on when I ask them in Mandarin to explain. This drives me crazy! Some may not be able to speak Mandarin, but most just can’t seem to grasp the concept of a foreigner being able to understand. For this particular gentleman, it took several attempts on my part to convince him to finally use Mandarin to try to communicate.) I told him I didn’t mind waiting, and once he realized I could speak Mandarin he actually became very polite. After sitting there for a while, I decided that SP may have gone to the wrong door (see yesterday’s adventure), so I went back around the building. Inside, I called him from a pay phone and he said he was on the way. I decided to wait for him at the main entrance – at least it was air conditioned in there, even if the construction across the street made it almost impossible to hear yourself think! As I waited, I kept opening the door for everyone going in or out. After four or five minutes of this, a uniformed man (building security) who had been watching me came over and told me (smiling) that I needn’t open the door for people. I think he was embarrassed to have a foreigner who was acting like a doorman. I told him that in America opening the door for others was polite, so I didn’t mind. (Actually, it was kind of fun to see the expressions as people entered, and this helped to lighten my mood!) When this culture starts to drive you crazy, I’ve found the best thing to do is find a way to serve someone! Anyway, we talked for a minute, and I said I was waiting for Customs to open and a friend to show up. I asked if he would direct my friend around to the other door if he showed up, and then I could wait at the Customs door. He was glad to help, so I was off to my post at the other doorstep. By now, two or three Chinese had gathered, apparently equally surprised to find the door closed (this is rather rare these days, though it was almost universal in the old days).

            At 1:15 the doors opened, but SP wasn’t there yet so I continued to wait outside. He showed up a few minutes later, and once I explained the situation we went in. He went up to the uniformed Customs officer (where the Customs lady had been yesterday). This man refused to look up at us, but SP was persistent in politely asking for his attention and he finally grunted that we needed to talk to the people at the Foreign Service Corporation (at the next desk). There was Lei-Lei and an associate. For about a half an hour, SP talked with them in Shanghai dialect, occasionally stopping to ask me a question or translate something. The gist of it was that I should pay 1300 RMB, plus the other fees, and they would clear my goods through Customs and deliver them to our apartment complex. According to SP, they were rude to him, and insisted that he convince me to use their service. If he tried to help me with the arrangements himself, they guaranteed that we would have a lot of difficulties and would not save more than 200 or 300 RMB. Every once in a while, the Customs officer looked over at us with a knowing smirk on his face. In the end I capitulated, and even produced the authorization form she had given me yesterday, duly Chopped by Yew Wah. At this, Lei-Lei’s demeanor changed 180 degrees. SP even commented on the remarkable change later. She became very polite, and said the thing would be delivered on Tuesday, adding that they would bring them up the stairs to our apartment for the same cost. I asked how much I owed them. “Nothing now,” was the reply, “you can pay when things are delivered, because we don’t know how much the taxes and other fees will be until then. Altogether it should be around 2000 or 3000 RMB.” I said that I could not be there Tuesday (I have to work), and my wife doesn’t speak Chinese. At this, SP said he would come over to translate for Vivian and help show the workers where to put things. Lei-Lei took his number (and my other numbers – they already had photocopies of every document I could come up with), and we left. It was now 2:00 PM.

            This is where the story stands. One can only speculate on what will happen Tuesday (or more likely Wednesday, since things are rarely done on time here). SP says this is an obvious example of a company created to make life easier for a State Agency. Customs officials have decided that they do not want to deal with the public, and especially foreigners, so they created an organization which acts as the go-between and basically give us no choice but to work with them and pay whatever they ask.

            I’ll write more as the story develops, or hopefully concludes, next week.

            An interesting side note: SP and I went across the street to eat lunch after this was settled. It was an interesting lunch. He told me that a friend in Guangzhou (Canton) had just killed himself a few days ago. They had been classmates in college, and thus the man would have only been around 25 years old. SP said the man was gay, and last week he had finally told his parents. They basically disowned him, and said he shouldn’t come back to see them. SP continued to tell me that many college students and “most” faculty members are now gay, even though the government does not condone this behavior. Many people in the army are also gay, according to SP. He asked if the US government condones it, and I had to admit that they both condone it and promote homosexuality as a valid alternative lifestyle, especially promoting it in the public school system – though in the US army it was officially still not condoned. My Chinese isn’t good enough to point out that the Bible and history indicate that a tolerance of homosexuality is a primary indicator of the impending collapse of a civilization, but I imagine that the topic will come back up in the future.

            After we left, we visited a large bookstore where I purchased a second copy of the Flying House VCDs (in Chinese). Andrew had found this remarkable series a few days ago. These are Christian programs produced by the Christian Broadcasting Network in the US, where children go back in time to participate in stories from the Bible. I bought the second set of 12 VCDs (24 episodes?) so that we can loan them out a few at a time to Andrew’s friends. We also knew that when you find something like this, you had better buy it NOW – such treasures rarely stay on the shelves and if you wait the best finds are rarely still there when you go back to get them. [As of 2009 – nine years later – I've never seen them in China again.]

            Finally, he took me to America’s Eyes to pick up the pair of bi-focals I had ordered as my own 40th birthday present. They were supposed to take less than a week, and it had now been eight days. Alas, they were still not ready. It had been a day of disappointments, and this seems a fitting place to end this essay. (I DID get the bifocals the next night, just before English corner.)

            Sept. 6. Monday and Tuesday came and went. There was still no sign of the crate. I work late on Tuesdays, so when I got home I called SP. He had also heard nothing, but he said he would call them in the morning.

            Wednesday morning was very busy at work. By noon we had heard nothing, so I called SP. He called the FSC (Foreign Service Corporation, or is that Fleece Shanghai’s Citizens?), and then called me back. “They told me that they forgot to take care of your things!” he said, sounding as incredulous as the remark seemed to me. “Forgot?” I replied. “Yes, they forgot” (Dui bu qi. Women wang le). “They said they will call me back after 2 PM." We spoke about this for a moment, and I could tell he felt bad for me and for the way we were being treated.

            After three PM or so he called them back and reported that they would try to come in the morning. Later he called back to say he would come over at 8:30 because they said they would be here around 9. (I will be at work.) The bill, ostensibly, will be 2200 RMB. He will translate for Vivian in directing the workman as they bring up the boxes.

            Perhaps Vivian has the hardest role in this Saga. While I am busy at work, she has been sitting at home waiting for a ring on the phone or doorbell (probably from someone with whom she can't communicate). With each promise comes new hope; with each loud truck noise (and these are MANY!) the heart races as she heads for the window; but with each glace from our fourth story perch and with each sundown there is yet another disappointment. It is enough to drive anyone to the edge of composure.

            I wrote to the Beijing friend who had helped me visit the shipper about a month ago. He thinks the fee is way too high (as does Leo’s Chinese wife, whom I saw this morning), and he suggested I turn this story over to a friend in the media, so she can do a story about how hard it is for a Foreign Expert Guest to get things shipped here from abroad. I may take him up on the offer!

            Maybe the story will conclude tomorrow?

            Sept 7. The big day actually arrived. A van pulled up at 9 AM, loaded with our things. No crate, but a van full of boxes and other bulky items. SP had not arrived yet, so Vivian had to make a few calls to get a translation of what the driver wanted (he wanted money!). SP arrived before she had finished making the calls, and the men started to bring our things up the stairs. (Interestingly, one man brought things up the first two flights of steps, another man brought them the rest of the way, and a third man stood around telling the others what to do.) The total bill (today) came to 2,192 RMB ($266US). In half an hour the van was empty (Michael arrived from work soon after this). As far as we can tell, all of our things are here, and none of the boxes look like they were opened by Customs, including our boxes of video tapes and reading material – and we are glad of this.

            As soon as he got home, Michael typed up our good report to E-mail friends while scarfing down a BiLo Fruit and Grain Cereal Bar (from one of the boxes). Vivian went right to work with the task of sorting things and trying to remember what we considered so important three months ago!

            Thus ends the Great Crate Caper. What actually happened to the wooden box? As the Chinese say: “Heaven knows.” It will probably end up as a bookshelf in someone’s office. (We did ask about this, and the reply was: “What? How were we supposed to get such a big box all the way over here?”) But our things have arrived and we can finally settle in with all the tools and trinkets we need to serve here effectively.

            In a month we will have forgotten all about the trouble incurred of late (that’s why I’ve written it down). New challenges will have transpired to make us perspire. But hopefully we will remember enough to make us think twice before trying to ship a crate overseas. At present I don’t know what it is, but there HAS to be a better way to send things half way around the world!

See photos/account of the next time we shipped things WITHIN China (Shanghai to Xi'an) on our "Life in China" page, and photos of the damage from Xi'an to Kunming here.



© 2001 Michael Krigline. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print or copy this article, or link to it, for personal or classroom use.

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