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Opinion

Solid handshake globetrots the world

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November 11, 2011

I opened my mailbox to find, on top of the stack, a woman with golden skin, scarcely covered by a multi-colored blanket; dark brunette hair cascaded down her shoulders, white cowboy boots, and a sombrero atop her head. The lady on this postcard was personally advertising a Mexican restaurant chain in Holland. It was sent to me by a woman I had never met before, nor have I been to Holland. In an articulate script, my expert opinion is that the ink is from a G-2 Pilot pen recommended that I visit this restaurant and take a vacation to the Maluku Islands of Indonesia if I am ever in the neighborhood. Even though I haven’t been to Holland, my words scrawled a story on a picture of a Victorian woman in golden and cream colored clothing writing at a desk with a quill. My words are now in Holland. This postcard was sent to another strange woman that I am not acquainted with.

These unfamiliar persons and I are connected to a postcard network called postcrossing. A friend of mine from Kodiak Island in Alaska suggested this website and I leapt to it like a kid to an ice cream truck. Since the summer of 2010, I have been sending corny handmade, and antique postcards to well-wishers, admirers, and family friends across the U.S. In the past few months my postcards have traveled over 55,000 miles across the world into 10 different countries.

The first postcard I received was an “old” copy of a painting of a cross-eyed Japanese monk with arched eyebrows and a well-rounded frown. With his hands drawn out, he looked ready to wrestle, if not wrestle then at least turn you into pudding with his goofy stare. Most of the postcards are a “how do you do” and “my name is” with a “well, here’s my card, enjoy,” which is really only what one can accomplish with a postcard. On one occasion, when I was hiking a long-distance trail I sent my dad a postcard that simply read, “Alexander Supertramp,” an ode to Christopher McCandless from Into the Wild. An influential friend of mine once said that one of my greatest strengths was postcards.

All of the responses I have received have been in English. A man from Germany named Stefan, age 42, a curious person to say the least, decorated his postcard with stickers, drawings of clouds, and claimed that he lives alone with his cat “Lucy.” Make of that what you will. I also learned that most European snail-mailers write their “1s” like “7s.” Another man from Belarus wished to tell me all about the folk tales and legends of his land. This card went beyond the traditional pleasantries, while most of them feel like nothing more than a firm handshake.

When I started this postcrossing project I endeavored to send and receive a postcard from every country, which is graspable. On the website it shows all the countries that are represented by willing individuals, even Antarctica has sent some. Most countries have participants except for parts in the heart of Africa and some independent island countries in the Pacific Rim. To my dismay, I realized that no one from Pitcairn’s Island was on the list, rightly so, because there are only 60 residents. Pitcairn’s Island was claimed by the mutineers of the Bounty led by Fletcher Christian that left their British Captain William Bligh and his loyal sailors of the crown adrift in a row boat. William Bligh safely guided the loyalists back home, eventually, while Christian began building up their new home with their wives they borrowed from Tahiti.

I sent an email to the government of this small nation requesting a reciprocal exchange of postcards. There has been to this date, no response. All’s well, because postcards keep coming in weekly. Thus far, I have received postcards from Belarus, Japan, Finland, Germany (twice), Holland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. In this way, my handwriting, by extension of my mind, globe trots all over the world for only 98 cents per country.

Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.