A friend and I were talking about how much we spent just for the Christmas cards and the postal charges. She finally had to make some smart move by sending one card for everybody in the office back in Holland, because there are too many people on her list, and that means she could have easily spent fortune. Another friend from Indonesia sent numbers of cards in one package to his dad who will have to send them to designated addresses, and even that, due to the weight of the document he already spent a lot.
I have sent Christmas cards to my friends back in Indonesia. I know it will take at least 2 weeks, sometimes longer, or just like last year, one didn’t arrive at all, for the cards to arrive so I have sent them early this month. But then something struck me when I was queuing at the post office.
I never get any cards from my friends in Indonesia. Not Christmas, not birthday, not Ied. The only person who sent me postcard was my grandmother – she received a postcard from me and immediately sent one back – and my parents, of couse, who make sure my birthday card arrive on time so they send it with DHL. The rest always say that I always go back to Indonesia anyway, so they’d wait me until I get there and they could give me the cards, or the presents. Never mind if it’s months late. I do get cards from friends who live elsewhere, but none from Indonesia.
Back in high school, I spent weeks of trying to find the perfect Ied and Christmas cards (Gunung Agung and Gramedia were the best choice back then, before Sogo and its Hallmark counters appeared) for everybody, to write the inspirational messages inside the cards, and to send them on time. Ied was easier because my parents send thousands of cards and I just needed to put my pile of cards on theirs and they would have someone to do it. But for other occasions I had to go to the post office myself. I still remember the particular post office I regularly visited back in Indonesia, the high ceiling that caused every words echoed back to our ears, the smell of cheap glue they put on big tables because the stamps aren’t sticky, the dirty tables and jars of glue I dared not to touch because it looked like pot of viruses but I had to since I always forgot to bring my U-hu, the sad looking officers who were neither rude or friendly, just bored, and the huge bill that forced me to dig deeper for the next month.
It was fun. Especially when I received the cards back from those friends. I collected them all and put them somewhere safe.
Then the era of mobile phone comes and I see it before my very eyes the culture is shifted. Everyone in Indonesia suddenly stops sending cards to each other. SMS and MMS are much cheaper, faster, and easier. We don’t need to spend time to find the cards and could go to spa instead. We don’t need to tip our office boy Rp 5,000 after sending him to the post office because we are too posh to do it ourselves. We don’t need to queue at the smelly dingy post office and we could sit down at the nice restaurant for our precious lunch break. And we don’t need to spend Rp 3,000 for postal charge to a friend who lives around the corner. SMS and MMS only cost less than Rp 5,000 and despite there is no guarantee our friend will receive the text, thanks to the brilliant service of our mobile providers, they are faster than the post.
It is in our blood. We always want something easy. If we can pay more to get our driving license, why bother stopping the corruption process and paying the normal price but having to take the test? If we can always get something to eat outside or by our maid whose monthly salary equals to one pair of shoes, why bother learning to cook? If we can live in the hotel during Ramadhan whilst our maid is in kampung (village), why bother risking our smooth hands to cleaning the house? If we can sit down in our living room, sending SMS and MMS, with the words copied from the text we receive before, and pretend we care, why bother jumping out of the air conditioned car to join the queue in the post office?
But when I went to Australia I quickly adopted the the ‘Western’ culture back of sending cards, and the habit doesn’t stop when I was back in Jakarta. I must admit I did the SMS and MMS for Christmas and Ied for friends but birthday is always a special ocassion and I try to make sure I send the cards to those who celebrate their special days. And after moving to UK, I still think that it is important to show that I care even though I am 12 thousand kilometer away from them, so I keep sending postcards and birthday cards and gifts.
I forget that we are generation of SMS and MMS. Unless we are the important enough in the company – with the obligation to send cards to colleagues, partners, and clients (I have seen my dad spending the whole Sunday just to sign Ied and Christmas cards, he has a list of cards he received the year before and makes sure he sends the cards back, and another list of people he has to send cards to), SMS and MMS are considered ‘enough’. We will receive the actual cards if we are important enough to our clients or vendors. My drawer in the office was usually full of Ied and Christmas cards from my suppliers and contractors. But not from my friends and peers. Just SMS and MMS.
But isn’t it sad, having spent money and time to ensure our bosses, partners and clients to receive the cards, but forget that those will be around as long as we are the boss of the company, as long as we matter to them? If we change jobs, if we move, if we die, we will be off their list quicker than yesterday’s newspaper. Friends, on the other hand, whom we treat by SMS and MMS, will be there for us, whether we are still having the shiny thick name cards or not.
Last year and this year I made sure my close friends to receive their birthday cards and gifts from UK. I don’t see the reason why I have to wait until I am back in Indonesia if their big day is now (can we have the same reason, like holding Christmas card until March when we are back in our home country and give them to our friends in person. Three months late is nothing, right?).
This month, which isn’t particularly sunny, with rains and cold wind, I have to push myself to queue at the post office for at least 45 minutes before getting served (yeah, no office boy, no driver, no courier). But I think it is worthy. Because my friends are important to me. Because they matter.
And, as usual, I am holding my breath if I would get SMS, email, and e-cards in return.