22 July 2010


Meanwhile . . . in the Third Real World

Last month, I won a really great giveaway that, unfortunately for both the blogger who sponsored it and myself, just "wasn't meant to be." About a week after she mailed off the parcel, she got a call from her post office, asking her to pick it up again because it had been damaged and they didn't want to ship it abroad in that condition.

She was very apologetic when she told me of the news and of her decision not to risk sending the package again. Instead, she offered me an Amazon gift cheque worth the same amount of money as the prize pack (books and swag). And because I know that the sender is often more frustrated and disappointed than the receiver, when these things don't push through, I thanked her for letting me win anything in the first place and I accepted the second offer.

I have not linked to the blogger here or even mentioned her name because she might feel a little bad again if the whole story got back to her--which I want to avoid as much as possible. She was very kind and nothing that happened was her fault . . . and really, nobody is entitled to a giveaway, anyway, even if he wins it. But I am about to reveal something awfully Third Worldish about the place where I live, and I want to spare her a rueful, "Oh, if I had only known!"

Maybe I'm just biased (Bwahahahahahahaha!), but it's the Philippine Post Office I blame the most for the country's Third World status. Seriously. It's bad enough that one has to pick up one's packages at a city's central post office rather than get them delivered to one's door (and that's assuming the package makes it that far at all!); but then the evil customs people open it up, dig through the contents, and tax the receiver for accepting what might very well be a gift. (For more details, you can read my indignant article Pro-Smuggling: Because I Have a Brain, written in such a convincing Libertarian style that it got me offers from sympathetic political webzines.)

So if I were to order a book from Amazon, I would pay not just the US dollar value of the book and the delivery charge, but also the customs "tax." And that "tax" is computed from the declared value of the item and the cost of delivery, the foreign total converted into our local currency--which means that I'd essentially be paying for the book twice!!! (Oh, have I mentioned there is an additional fee for getting taxed? The Philippine government really knows how to add insult to injury.)

Why they do this, I don't know. But as long as they keep doing it, we're stuck in the Third World.

Anyway, that is the reason I use the private sector for important mail.

It's also the reason I ask people who mail stuff to me to declare the lowest possible value on the label (if they must declare anything at all) and for the love of God to remove all price tags before sending it.

And thirdly, it's the reason I will not be ordering anything for myself from Amazon. It just wouldn't be practical, especially now that I'm kind of broke, remember? =P

But this is not the story of how life handed me a lemon, but the story of how I turned some lemons into lemonade. You might recall that about a month and a half ago I openly wished that I could do more giveaways . . . Well, with these Amazon credits to my name, now I can!

SoI shall announce the rules of my second contest/giveaway soon, and I hope that all of you who have kinder hopes where Amazon is concerned will join! If I can't buy nice stuff for myself and my immediate loved ones, then the next best thing to do is to buy stuff for my readers. =)

PS--I gave the PayPal button some more thought and decided against it because: a) this blog is really just a hobby (although I do appreciate everyone's thinking I bring value to their lives!); and b) I'd probably take all your donations and funnel them back into the blog, anyway, to fund giveaways and graphics and other fun things--which has nothing to do with my main reason for putting up the button, does it? =P


Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

What a shame about the post office and customs people! That would be so aggravating! Is all that avoided if someone sends you a package with Fedx or similar?

I use amazon but mainly for shoes not books-- isn't that silly.

Jillian said...

We send little things to my family there too especially during the holidays, but I never knew it was like that back home. I asked my dad about this and he suggested you could always try Balikbayan shipments or Western Union. He says it's cheaper and more reliable. I'm not entirely sure though. And either way, you'll still be paying a lot since it is international.

Michael said...

Hey, much of the world is like that. The West is really spoiled on this point. Yet even in America a good chunk of folks use private shipping carriers for having their first class mail delivered (which is illegal).

Want an adventure try sending something to Russia. Oy vey! So yes better to use a private carrier (and even then, at least in Eastern Europe, better make sure they have their own facilities in the country or otherwise use a private internal carrier).

And for goodness sake never declare actual value if you are using the country's postal system. You might as well be giving it away to someone you don't know.

I have sent several items to the Philippines via the postal service that never made it. Won't do that again. :-)

By the way E, nothing wrong with making money on your hobby. Often that is the most satisfying (and quality work) since it is something you would do anyway even without pay.

Hear hear to making your blog even more fun and exciting. =P

Not that I am suggesting anything. =) Just saying...

Mark in Spokane said...

Well, I don't think the Philippines is alone in having a terrible postal service. Unfortunately, it's the norm in much of the developing world. Like much about the Philippines, a little reform would go a long way towards helping to move the country towards greater development and economic growth.

Perhaps Noynoy can get on the reform bandwagon now that he's defeated Bong-Bong for the presidency!

Sullivan McPig said...

Egh... I will complain a little less from now on when my magazines are a bit late in arriving from the UK.

Enbrethiliel said...


@ Lesa: They won't open anything that is sent by private courier, especially those like FedEx which act as the sender's customs agent. But those are expensive and I wouldn't ask someone sending me something to use that option, if she was kind enough to give me a gift in the first place.

@ Jillian: My relatives in the States use Balikbayan to send stuff over once or twice a year, too. But for my smaller packages, there are other creative options--none of which really appeal to me at the moment. (In my draft of this post, I had my conversation with a friend about her method of having her Internet purchases shipped to her brother in Japan and then waiting patiently for him to visit the Philippines again.)

Your relatives might be lucky and have laid-back post office employees. Whether or not your package gets opened depends on the person processing it. Just your luck if you get a real rule follower. =(

@ Michael: Someone else once sent me a card that never made it, which was ridiculous. What about it made them think there was money in it?!?! The sender is still convinced that the card got lost because I didn't give him my zip code. Perhaps, but people have successfully sent me stuff without the zip code before and when a certain Catholic author sent me some of his books (Ahem!) I was in experimental mode and gave him the wrong zip code, just to see what would happen. And I got them, anyway! LOL!

(In case he is reading this . . . Sir, zip codes don't matter in the Philippines unless one is using a private courier. I wouldn't have accepted your offer if I was just going to sabotage it in the mail. I've given other people at least five different zip codes over the years or just told them not to bother, and that lost card is the only anomaly. Thank you again for the books, sir.)

@ Mark: LOL! Bong-Bong wasn't running this time, but believe it or not, if he ever did, I might put aside all my principles and vote for the man!

And the post office is probably the last thing on Noy-Noy's mind right now, but I'll wait and see what happens. =)

@ Sully: A little perspective goes a long way, aye? ;-)

In the Philippines, magazines have resorted to alternative packaging because so many customers were complaining that their packages had been opened in the mail and the magazines delivered to them slightly damaged. The postal workers seem to think that someone is hiding money or cheques within the magazines! Sigh! So now the magazines are never in paper or clear plastic bags any longer, but in paper covers that are stapled on the way the actual cover is; so anyone delivering them can check whether or not there is money inside without actually opening the magazine!

Okay, enough ranting! Let me get rid of that spam, think of my next contest/giveaway, and be easy for now. =)

Bibliophile said...

I have this problem too, and I live in a first world country. It's a 24,5% value added tax plus a 10% import tax, calculated from the combined value of the book and the cost of sending it. When ordering several items from Amazon it's still cheaper than buying locally because of the fixed shipment rate, but for one or two items it's just not worth it.

Enbrethiliel said...


Oh, my, Bibliophile! That value added tax is awfully high! =(

Dauvit Balfour said...

Wait... did you say you have to pay a fee for them taxing you? That's just... ugh.

Y'know, I originally found Your Other 'Blog through that pro smuggling piece that got posted on Lewrockwell. At first I was disappointed to find a Catholic blog (something I wasn't really into, I mean the reading, not the Catholicity) instead of a libertarian blog (which I had hoped would give me another outlet for resenting government vicariously by reading how bad it is... or something...). I'm glad I stuck around, though. Through The Old 'Blog and on into this one :).

Salome Ellen said...

Well, maybe second-an-a-half world. We have friends in Brazil, and anything sent there by mail had better be worthless to anybody but the recipient, or there are good odds they'll never see it at any price. Even stuff in luggage flying in has been known to disappear.

Enbrethiliel said...


@ Dauvit: No, that's unjust. ;-)

Thanks for sticking around. By the way, you're voting in my latest smackdown, right???

@ Ellen: Yes, the luggage situation sounds familiar, too.

I once read a story about a clever gift giver who found a way around that. Whenever he sent his relatives shoes, he always split up the pairs, sending all the rights together and all the lefts a week or two later. LOL!!!

That's much harder to do with books, of course.

Bing said...

Hi. Sorry this is off-topic. Just saw your blog while googling for a tutor for Hekasi. May I know your email address/contact details please coz I'd like to inquire? Thanks.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sure! =) My e-mail address is:

altaemoeniaRomae [at] gmail [dot] com

Suburbanbanshee said...

Sigh. I don't have any super sad stories, but I do know that there's a lot of discrimination in this stuff. Package delivery from overseas that goes through DHL or whatever is pretty painless, on the customs side. I've gotten lots of stuff here in the US from the UK and Ireland, without any customs frou-frou. (Probably part of the base price.)

OTOH, when I got my lovely Astropia DVD from Iceland, not only did the airmail from Iceland cost the earth (because it's the only way to get certain stuff, at least since DHL et al gave up on Iceland's economy). I found out you have to either be home when the mailman comes, to sign the customs papers and pay the extra, or you have to go to the post office where the package is. (Which wasn't the central post office in my town, but it wasn't super-convenient to get there during the workday, either.) I ended up having to take off a half-day to get my package, and it cost me a lot more than the DVD price. So I can relate.

OTOH, like me, you could buy and read Kindle ebooks from Amazon through the free "Kindle on PC" software, though I imagine the tax is still a beast even without the delivery charges and hassles. Or there's the Audible audiobooks, though that's a bigger chunk of change. If you put Kindle or Audible stuff on your wish list and had local people buy that for you, you'd probably be home free.

Baen Books has probably the best selection of ebook formats, and of course they have lots of free ones for your downloading pleasure. Many of the other ebook storefronts are starting to follow Baen's lead, at last.

But you probably know all this.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Oh! That crazy Icelandic production company made a horror flick! The trailer for it is on their front page. Looks like the same docks they used to film part of Astropia, actually. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


@ Banshee: I might actually prefer having the mailman come to my house to shake me down for those "taxes." At least I wouldn't have to tramp to the other end of town.

I haven't quite graduated to e-books yet, but you did mention some things I didn't know, should I ever decide they are a viable option. ;-) And this is going to sound funny coming from me, but staring at the screen for prolonged periods hurts my eyes!

So . . . are you ordering that Horror DVD, too? =P

@ Michael: I'm betting you'll read this because you usually do. (Does that make sense? LOL!)

I forgot to ask the first time: Why is it illegal to send first class mail by private carriers in the US?

Also: I lost the struggle and have put up a PayPal button. Feel free to ignore it all day!

mrsdarwin said...

I don't have any clever comments or advice on the mail situation -- just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this post as a "slice of life" from another country.

Enbrethiliel said...


Is that a gentle hint that I should offer up more slices in the future? =)

Michael said...

I'm betting you'll read this because you usually do. (Does that make sense? LOL!)

I'm subscribed to this thread so I couldn't miss it. =P

I forgot to ask the first time: Why is it illegal to send first class mail by private carriers in the US?

The postal service is one of the few agencies authorized by the US Constitution. The gov't simply won't allow competition. It has been that way since the 18th century. If it did it would be out of business in a heartbeat.

As it is email, faxes, and the surreptitious use of companies like Federal Express for private mail has forced the US Post Office to cut back quite a bit on its expenditures and workforce.

Given a choice, even in America, people would not choose the gov't mail system. Service is terrible for one. For guaranteed mail they had to contract out to Federal Express. I could go on and on.

Here is an old article that handles the subject quite well:


Also: I lost the struggle and have put up a PayPal button. Feel free to ignore it all day!

LOL! Sweet!

Enbrethiliel said...


I just read the article. Oh, that poor teenage boy! =( I hope he wasn't prosecuted or fined.

Michael said...

I just read the article. Oh, that poor teenage boy! =( I hope he wasn't prosecuted or fined.

It would be an interesting follow-up after 20+ years to see what happened to him. My guess is that they frightened him more than anything. It was the Christmas season and I doubt public sentiment would have allowed for a prosecution of a little boy delivering Christmas cards.

Also it was during the 19 century when competition to the gov't mail system was outlawed. I erroneously said the 18th century.

Interesting to note that the price of first class postage compared to 1990 (the date of the article) is .44, an almost 100% increase.

Finally I forgot to mention one tool that has helped undermine the Post Office, especially now that digital hard copies (and signatures) are legal and becoming more ubiquitous - the scanner.

Within minutes I can scan a 50 page document into my email system and have it sitting on the recipient's desk (computer desktop) in a matter of seconds.

This can also be done with books. All it takes is for someone in the Philippines to buy one of those new machines (called book expresso machines) and within minutes any book in print can be made into a high quality paperback right before your very eyes (if you are near the store that has it - otherwise, it can be mailed to you, LOL).

I'm reminded of that every time I see some outrageous price on Amazon for a book that is out of print. Well if its in the public domain I can have it printed myself for just a few dollars.

Enbrethiliel said...


*looks up expresso book machines*

*is completely FLOORED*

So that is how book pirates in India do it! (I think!)

Seriously, it's amazing. I could go crazy with a machine like that. It's probably best that I don't have one! LOL!

PS--There is no excuse for even frightening a young boy who wasn't even doing anything wrong! Yes, I hope that he got away because of his youth and the Christmas season . . . and I hope he grew up to be some sort of Scarlet Pimpernel or something against the US Post Office.

Michael said...

*looks up expresso book machines*

*is completely FLOORED*

Yeah, pretty wild. You must have seen a youtube of this in action.

If I move to the Philippines this may become a side business =P

PS--There is no excuse for even frightening a young boy who wasn't even doing anything wrong!

Well, you know, he was breaking the law. ;-)

Yes, I hope that he got away because of his youth and the Christmas season

Yes, I'm sure he did or Lew would have mentioned it in the article.

. . . and I hope he grew up to be some sort of Scarlet Pimpernel or something against the US Post Office.

Hey maybe I am can finance his efforts with profits from the expresso book machine, LOL!