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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Strube

retro post to the future

When in need of vision, write a postcard to the future.

From your past.

Yes, that’s right. Everybody’s doing it. You can’t walk more than 30 meters down the canal ridden streets of Old Suzhou without finding this very shop:

What is a retro postcard to the future, you may ask — as did I upon stumbling upon one of these cafes. Inside were dozens of university age students, fanning through black and white 3x5s, holding gel pens, hovering over way too much Hello Kitty brand coffee. As I peered over their shoulders, I saw their fingers madly penning calligraphic words. Although my eyes were unable to discern a word of their artistic scrawl, I felt a twinge at the base of my stomach. This was not mere cafe trendiness. This was serious magic happening. 

And I had no idea how to translate it.

I often feel this way in China. That around me is some sort of hidden fairy dust I just can’t fully inhale. I don’t inhale much here lately, as the acidic levels of exhaust and cigarette smoke have begun a semi-permanent change in my voice caliber, ironing my vocal chords from that of a pitchy Californian into the husk of a sultry lounger singer. From this crackled whisper, I wish I could hushedly tell you that this land is all things red and glory. I wish I could see it more clearly, the way a painter can look at a perpetual gray palatte and see 49 shades as opposed to one. I’m still waiting for my eyes to adjust. I’m still waiting for many things — the taxi drivers to understand me when I pronounce my apartment address, the hot water to fully turn on in said apartment, and for my body to rid itself of the semi-perpetual nausea from too much bok choy. I’m waiting for the sun to conquer the ceaseless winter. And I’m waiting for some great Master to appear, hand me a magical chopstick wand, and make it all make sense.

I had a cheapy massage last week at a local Tu Nai Massage joint. Massage is one of the few businesses here that speak Jen. After all, hands can cross multi-national borders. Intuition is stronger than linguistics. Energy can pulse through fingers of any color and era, where joys and maladies melt into skin on skin pulsation. Laying down on the table, I felt like the masseuse and I connected. Finally, I was touching China and China was touching me. As she found my “shoulder spot,” the right hemisphere of all my aged pain, I groaned.  “Right there, very good,” I said. But as soon as I spoke, our connection changed. Above my head, I heard Mandarin voices scrambling and the scurry of patten leather heels. Within minutes, two other people were in the room. I opened my eyes to see a second spa worker madly typing into her iphone and then blazing the device towards me. From the speakers of the Apple wonderwall, a Jetsons-esque voice spoke to me, “Shoulders need touch more.”  I opened my eyes. The two masseuses stared at me, eyes begging to know if I understood their futuristic technology.

Had my instructions just been funneled through a Google translate app? 

Welcome to the future of communication. Gone are the days where intuition reigns key. You can’t buy stock in mysticism anymore. Now, even a masseuse has a mechanical GPS telling her that, in three vertebrae, turn left, and she will have arrived at her shouldered destination. And here I am, lying naked on a table, trying desperately to find “classic China” when it is progressing faster than the future can be penned.

Hence the reason for Retro Postcards to the Future.

The trend is easy. You go to the cafe. Buy a retro 3×5 postcard. Write a message to your future self and give it the store owner. You pick the day of delivery and pay the postage accordingly.  And then, on your chosen date, your own very words arrive at your doorstep. Nothing flashy. No technology. Good old fashioned ink and poetry on paper.

Now, my broken Mandarin is far from poetry. My fumbled attempted to communicate in verbal form butchers both my language and my pride. But as I watched the local Chinese youth crowd around vintage postcards, sending messages to their own future unknowns, I knew they may be onto something. “Choose now for a happier tomorrow,” one store sign read. Now, I can’t translate the future.  In fact, I couldn’t even fully send the postcard because I did’t know how to write my address in Mandarin. But when the future is changing so rapidly it sends hoards of youth back into paper and stamps, my ears perk up. I’m not the only one getting nostalgic. In fact, going back to the future may be the only way to wrap my tingling shoulders around a retro form of Middle Kingdom.

Now if only I could find the address.

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