What a wonderful world..

March 04, 2012  •  2 Comments

I’m writing this as I sit on the concourse balcony under the arched roof of Bangkok’s Hualamphong station. I’m sipping a cold beer whilst watching the world go by. A play on my Blackberry soon established the fact that there’s free wifi here, so it seemed like a good time for a blog entry.

The ease by which we can communicate now is what started me thinking. When I started travelling in this part of the world all you had was expensive phone calls home from landlines, or ‘poste restante’ maildrops.  I can just hear those who aren’t old fart travellers saying “ what the hell is poste restante”? Well, In the bad old days every main post office (and quite a few small ones in popular travelling locations) had a box, room or counter that dealt with letters addressed to individuals c/o their post office. The problem was that many of them would only keep them for a limited time before the letter was - in the words of the old Elvis song – ‘returned to sender’. In this era of instant communication it’s difficult to explain just what it was like to pitch up at a post office after weeks or months without contact with home and finding several letters with your name on them – and thick ones were especially prized as you knew someone had made the effort or had something to say. Now, I admit that I’m just as bad – but letter writing is a lost art. I can’t think of the last time that I wrote one. I don’t even send postcards anymore since my mum died.

But I digress. So, depending how long you were travelling for you’d tell people to write to you c/o the GPO in (say) Kathmandu between certain dates – and hoped the letter would be there when you turned up. It was all a bit hit and miss. You couldn’t have a decent conversation by letter when half the conversation went missing – as it often did. Of course, you could always ring home, but depending on where you were that was far more expensive and often just as unreliable (and, if you were in India – incredibly bureaucratic, but nothing changes there – even in the internet age).

I do remember making an eye-wateringly expensive radio telephone call back to the UK from a Thai Island on my mum’s birthday one time. Of course nowadays (if she was still there to pick up the phone) I’d use ‘Skype’ – for free.

What an incredible change in such a short time.

Now, thanks to the internet, Not only can I keep in touch with friends and family at will - I’m able to run my photographic business from anywhere in the world. All I need is an internet connection – just like this one.

Another transformation is internet banking. Back in the mid 80s I had to get some money sent out to me in India. Talk about a rigmarole. Telegraphic transfers, wads of paperwork – you name it. Now? I manage all my finances over the internet and beer voucher machines – sorry, ATMs are almost everywhere.  

In a normal day I might upload pictures only an hour old, email copies to a magazine, get a purchase order emailed to me, email an invoice back and then both receive and spend the money electronically. It doesn’t matter that the client is based in the UK and I’m sitting in a station in Bangkok, or a backstreet cafe in Bali, or Laos, or...

What a wonderful world!


Comments

Paul Bigland Photography
Leo, I must admit that I'd love to have the time to do that now. I used to love writing with fountain pens and I always used a broad italic nib just to make it more fun - with lots of flourishes. I enjoyed developing the style almost as much as the content. The first time I wrote letters home from a trip to India one of my brothers commented - 'Hell, he's only been there a couple of weeks and he's writing in Sanskrit already!'
Leo Starrenburg(non-registered)
I remember using one of the first cellular phones; Dutch licence and 250 km into Germany I could connect to a local repeater but was denied use of it :-( Out came the wire antenna, shortwave transceiver and hand-key, made contact with a radio-amateur near Rotterdam and he was so good to relay the message !

As for letters: I still write them, old-fashioned style with a fountain pen, it adds a certain 'something' that even emails lack.

cheers, Leo.
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