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From China with love: New event promotes sending letters back home

By Jemimah Steinfeld (Global Times)

09:24, October 15, 2012

People enjoy tea and writing at a previous Letter Lounge event in the UK. (Photo from Courtesy of Letter Lounge)

Once upon a time the art of writing a letter was prized, the act of receiving one anticipated and relished. Then came the Internet and the word mailbox was quickly replaced by inbox. Now all we expect to come through the door is a bill or junk.

But some people want to turn the clock back. Laura Hine, a current resident of Beijing, is one of them. The Brit has been living here for a year and is co-organizing a new event called Letter Lounge, which will kick off this Saturday and hopes to become a regular fixture in the city's events calendar.

For all those who are staying in Beijing, Letter Lounge could be a great excuse to connect with loved ones living elsewhere in a more meaningful way than simply blasting off an e-mail.

Letter Lounge will take place at Penghao Theater in Dongcheng district and follows a simple formula. The organizers provide paper, pens and stamps and you bring your address book and your best Beijing anecdotes. They even post your letters for you, sending the first one for free.

"I thought that with so many people traveling to Beijing for work and being so far away from their homes, it would be a great idea to hold Letter Lounge here, so people could find the time to get in touch. Letters are more personal than an e-mail and you can fit much more in than a phone call," said Hine enthusiastically, who used to help out at Letter Lounge events back in the UK.

For Charlotte Spires, another organizer, partaking in the event is a golden opportunity for her to become better at sending letters.

"I have a whole box down by my desk filled with cards, notes, scraps of paper, letters and photos to send to my friends back home and not one of them have I posted," said Spires. "I think a lot of us are like that. We don't take that step of posting it because we're too busy, we're out of the habit of posting things, it's scary in China etc," she added.

Can events like Letter Lounge then overcome these hurdles and prize busy Beijingers away from their computer-oriented lives?

Spires hopes so, though she thinks it will attract a specific type of person, a mixture of those who understand "why receiving letters is fun, and how sending them is in turn a fun gesture," and some parents who will use it as a good way to bond with their children.

Metro Beijing decided to investigate further. While one person was firmly on the side of Team Internet, most rallied behind the handwriting revolution. Wendi Peng, an American-born Chinese who intends to stay in Beijing for at least another year, would definitely take the time to go to Letter Lounge. "It sounds really interesting. I like the idea that snail mail is not dead," said the 26-year-old when asked about it.

Polly Ashmore, 23, a student in Wudaokou, was also a fan of the concept, though was not entirely sure she would go. "I think it's a lovely thing to encourage, but personally I prefer to write them alone. It's hard to concentrate with people around."

And in the process of research, a number of people who already regularly write letters were discovered. Falah Basir, 22, for example, posted a birthday card to Vienna last week. "The Chinese postal service is actually surprisingly good. Six yuan ($0.95) for sending a letter from Beijing, which arrived in Vienna in ten days - not a bad deal at all," said the British girl.

While Basir might skip Letter Lounge because she already writes, she did express remorse over the lack of letters that land on her doorstep. "I never receive any mail unless it's ASOS [online clothing store], which is kind of disappointing because I know it's coming. If I ever do get fun mail I love it so much, which is probably why I send people stuff," she explained.

Maybe events like Letter Lounge could change all that.

Letter Lounge, 10 am - 2 pm Saturday October 20, Penghao Theater, 35 Dongmianhua Hutong (off Nanluoguxiang)

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