Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Say You Say We Buy E-Bay

Toshkent Phoenix, 2009

My wife received a package in the mail the other day. It was some hand-made fabric she’d purchased from a designer on E-Bay. It was rolled up in butcher paper wrapping, looking for all the world like a slightly oversized braunschweiger.

It came by regular mail. Okay. From Toshkent. Huh? From Uzbekistan. Wait a minute! Where?

I had to run to the atlas—okay, I clicked over to Google Maps—to make sure I even know where Uzbekistan is.

In case you didn’t know, Toshkent (aka Tashkent) is a city of some three million people. It’s the capital city of Uzbekistan, one of the -stans, as in Afghanistan, a place that prior to 2001 was so remote and unknown that media referred to the concept of stories about places so inconsequential to us that we didn’t care what happened there as Afghanistanism. Anyway, if you want to know more about Toshkent, you can look it up on your own.

What really impressed me about this was that 1) my wife was trading on E-Bay with someone in a rather unknown region of Central Asia where they may still wear wooden shoes and ride on yaks, for all we know, 2) that the package was sent from Toshkent to Virginia Beach in about two weeks using regular mail, and 3) that the cost of shipping was just a few dollars.

How’s that for modern times? (And why does it cost me $36 to send an overnight letter to Chicago via FedEx?)

It used to be exotic to make long distance calls, or private calls at all, what with all the other people on your party line. Then it was just exotic to call Europe. Now we do it on cell phones and Skype like those faraway people are right next door. It connects us nicely. But it also, to my way of thinking, makes different cultures a little less foreign. It saddens me that so many regional cultures in America have been smoothed out by television. I hate to think I’ll be talking to someone in, say, Sweden some day and they’ll casually toss out an “It’s all good,” or “Tru dat.”

Marco Polo spent years going back between the Mediterranean and Asia. It could take months to cross the Atlantic in sailing ships. Transatlantic telegraph cables weren’t laid until the mid-1800s. And now we can send regular braunschweiger–sized mail from Uzbekistan to Virginia Beach in short order for little money. Talk about a human-scaled global economy!

I guess I shouldn’t act so surprised. Last summer I needed a plastic cap for one of my cameras. Nikon doesn’t sell them any more. I found one on E-Bay and bought it for less than five dollars, including shipping. Not until it arrived did I realize it had come directly from China, not some warehouse in New Jersey. Bought and delivered from the far side of the world for less than five dollars.

If you’re under the age of thirty, you’re probably thinking, “Poor guy doesn’t know he paid too much for that cap.” But if you’re any bit older, I’ll be you’ll agree that it’s pretty darned impressive that we can move and shake and trade wherever we want so easily.

Tru dat.

1 comment:

  1. Hahaaa! Sooo tru dat.

    It's amazing, isn't it!? I love, too, that I can buy used books or even new books for way less than I can through a store. I got a book still in its plastic wrapping that had $50 on the inside flap, and I got it for $.99, and shipping was less than $3. You gotta' love it. If that's the fabric, it's gorgeous! What will she use it for?