Have you ever had real moments of clarity? Everything is going wrong; the toast is burnt, your pantyhose have a run in them and you’re already late. Then you hear a certain song or someone sends you a text saying “I love you” and suddenly the problems become mini road bumps in an otherwise fantastic day.
I will often find myself in these situations while traveling. The waiter was rude, I was overcharged or the hostel looks nothing like the resort-esque picture online. I have to step back and remember the beauty of the journey I’m on and the city I’m so fortunate to discover.
In May, some friends and I decided to go to China. After the nightmare of applying and paying for a visa, I was somewhat dismayed. Doing an embarrassingly small amount of research on what to do and realizing it too late only added to our frustration.
On our last day in Shanghai we wanted to visit a water village on the outskirts of the city. It was one of the few things we found online, though we didn’t know much about it or how to get there. After an unsuccessful trip to the bus station and what seemed an entire day wasted, my friend and I decided we would try to go to a water village that was much closer. It was smaller and more touristy, yes, but what other option did we have?
We headed for Qi Bao and after a little more confusion we found our way inside. We strolled through the crowded streets, took pictures of the canals and browsed through a few shops. We finally came upon a small cafe with a cute pink mail box and decided to stop for a coffee.
We saw several postcards but didn’t think much of it, so I picked up a few to send to friends from home and ordered a drink. When I sat down at a small booth, a young woman studying next to me took the time to introduce herself and we chatted for a while. She told us that the cafe was somewhat famous for its postcards. You choose a postcard and write it to your future self, then it will be sent to you whenever you like, whether it’s in one year or up to ten.
What an ordinary yet incredible concept. We didn’t hesitate to buy two more postcards to send to our future selves; I will receive mine in two years, my friend in one. It was therapeutic to write down what I was thinking, how I was feeling, and how fortunate I was to be in Shanghai at that time, despite the frustrations, as miniscule as they were.
From that moment on our trip changed. We were more optimistic and had a renewed spring in our step. It was just what we needed to remind us that although we may not always know what we’re doing in a new and foreign place, we’re lucky to be there with strangers who will become good friends and good friends who will become like family.
If you’re ever in Shanghai and would like to check out this unique cafe yourself, take the subway to Qi Bao on the light blue line #9. It’s a small village once you go inside but save yourself some time and ask for help if you can’t find the entrance. Walk around the alleys and you’ll find the cafe, named Postcard Coffee, with the cute pink mailbox outside. It’s easy to overlook since it’s small, but a treasure worth searching for. Treat yourself by taking time out from the chaos and clearing your mind on a 4×6 piece of paper.