Saturday, February 15, 2014

Packaging of Parts: A Tale of Two Worlds

Hand-sewn Royal Enfield package that arrived from India
By Scott Araujo

I needed a few engine gaskets for my Royal Enfield (RE) motorcycle. It didn't take me long to figure out that for the cost of just one of them from the local dealer I could order an entire engine gasket set, including shipping, from the bike's home country of India. There are several well known vendors of RE parts on eBay.  Mostly they have good reputations for customer service and things tend to arrive in about a week or so. I poked around, found what I needed, and ordered.

Due to the recent winter storm, we hadn't received mail in a few days. When service started again I got a note from the post office that they had tried to deliver a piece of registered mail but couldn't because I was not at home.  It was being held at the local office for pick up.   It was from India so I knew what it was. I popped down to the office early this morning to pick it up before work. I arrived a little before they opened and waited with a few other people in the lobby. Once they did open the doors I was first in line, but I really wasn't prepared for what I was handed.

What you see is what I got. It was a slightly oddly-shaped flat bundle that had been carefully hand stitched in two layers of muslin cloth. The stitches were even and snug around three sides of the package and the addresses were neatly written on one side in black ink. After the initial shock, I was a bit taken aback by just how nice the craftsmanship of the packaging was. It really was beautiful.

I glowingly showed it off to just about everyone at work that morning before I opened it. Once I got past the outer sheath it looked a lot like many packages I've received from small vendors in this country: some bubble wrap, random cardboard, and packing tape wrapped around the gaskets to protect them on their voyage half way around the world. And it did; the gaskets were in perfect condition and were actually better quality than I had expected.

Technology keeps shrinking our world.  I had just typed away on a keyboard in my dining room and a few days later the parts just showed up. But after receiving the package and on further reflection later in the day I was really struck by how different things can be in other parts of the world. 

In the U.S. I can walk into any post office and pick up any of half a dozen different size boxes or envelopes for sending things via Priority Mail. All these containers are free, or basically free since just paying the postage of a few dollars for delivery covers their cost. There are dozens of every size just sitting there waiting for you and I usually grab whatever free local newspaper is available on the street outside to use as packing material. At one time I used to just grab a half dozen boxes and keep them under my desk for when I needed them, a first world convenience to be sure. They also have other boxes, tape, and just about any other packaging supply you could need for sale if you just want to send things by regular mail. A cornucopia of cardboard. 

On the other side of the world things are different. There, materials are scarce and labor is cheap, the opposite of my daily world. While they did not have an appropriately sized box handy, which would have made the packers task easy and quick, they did have someone there whose job it is every day to create custom packaging for every item that goes out the door, with great care and skill from simple materials. 

It made me stop and think. It made me delay opening the package for while just to have it around a little longer. It made me open it slowly and carefully rather than just tearing it apart to get to the contents. I didn't just crush it and chuck it in the recycle bin. I laid it down carefully on my desk. It's still there and probably will be for a while.

I'd love to wrap this piece up with an elegant and poignant philosophical point, but to be honest I can't find the words. So I'll just leave you with the picture and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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