Postcrossing Blog

News, updates, and all kinds of goodies and stories from the postal world!

Posts tagged "spotlight"

Masha (aka MMokeeva) is a Russian postcrosser living near Moscow, passionate about books and literature. She stumbled on Postcrossing a few years ago, and has been hooked since then, even opening her own postcard shop, starting a podcast about postcards, and this year Masha even launched a book about Postcrossing, titled “Postcrossing — Book of Secret Knowledge”! It’s a beautiful book, featuring stories about the website, interviews with postcrossers and lots of other postcard-related knowledge and interesting facts. We’re happy to invite Masha to the blog today, to tell us all about how postcards took over her life. 😊

Picture of Masha's book about Postcrossing, surrounded by candles, postcards and other stationery!
Where did your interest in postcards come from? Have you always been a person who liked mail?

“Once I got lost in Moscow. There was a heavy snowstorm. I went to the gift shop to ask where I should go. I was wearing a large bearskin coat that I had inherited from my ancestors. It made me a little clumsy, and I knocked down the postcard rack. The postcards lay like a carpet in front of me, bright and beautiful, with the image of the proud Red Square. And I fell in love with them!”

I would like to have such a fascinating story of happy meeting with postcards, but in fact my story is quite ordinary :) When I was a child, I wrote paper letters to other children. It never even occurred to me to send them postcards, because no one was doing it around me!.. When I got older, I used to buy postcards as fine pictures to put them on the table or use as a bookmark. I started sending postcards just when I found Postcrossing!

How did you come across Postcrossing? What got you hooked?

One day I was looking for a postcard for a gift to my granny and I saw the strange word “Postcrossing” on the website of that online postcard shop. The next day I ran to the post office with my first five cards! I just fell in love with every moment: when you pull out an address, read the profile, view the received and sent postcards… it was like rediscovering the world and the people around.

You even created your own shop selling stationery! How did Amelie Cards get started and how is it going?

I did start it about 5 months after I began to send postcards though Postcrossing. 😊 I was so impressed by this huge postcard world… and I was unemployed. I decided to try to open an online postcard store and printed postcards that I couldn’t find in Russia: with Russian writers, reprints of ads from the Russian Empire, funny “Keep Calm”. Then I started paying more attention to themes what other people need, and so the range expanded! Currently, the most popular sections are the “My Russia” series with atmospheric pictures by independent Russian photographers, illustrations by Russian contemporary artists and quotes from books and movies.

Where did the idea for a book about Postcrossing come from? What prompted you to write it?
Masha lies facing up with the book covering her face

When I became interested in postcards, I was curious: what stories hides behind them? Who creates postcards and why? How do postcards reflect our life? What research and collections exist? What is the situation with postcards in other countries? I couldn’t read about it in Russian anywhere, just some scraps of information. My first attempt to answer some questions was my podcast Открытки Амели in 2017. After 11 episodes, I realized that people are interested in learning more about postcards, but it would be more convenient for them to read about it rather than listen to it. So I wrote a plan for the book and started working on it in my spare time. I was writing a book that I wanted to read myself.


Could you give postcrossers an overview of the book? How would you describe this book to someone who hasn’t heard about it before?

This may sound strange, but this book is for people who want to know the postcard as a person: from all sides. Its character, talents and story of the life. It’s also the book about people who love mail. There are seven chapters: about Postcrossing Project, the text on a postcard, postage stamps, postcards, postal connection, postcrossers and postcard shops. There are also life hacks, dictionary of postcrosser words, and 100 ideas for a postcard message.

I have already received more than a hundred warm reviews that make me very happy. People write that they learned a lot of new things from the book, and that they had registered on postcrossing.com or came back to the Big Game after a long break after reading it!

What was your writing process with this book, and what parts are you especially proud of?
Masha holds the Postcrossing book she wrote in her hands

There was a lot of very diverse work! It was like making stained glass window from different fragments. And it was important to fit these fragments together and make up a beautiful and logical narrative. Besides, I wanted to make this book fun and easy to read. To achieve this ease, I had to rewrite the text several times. This was a very valuable experience for me as for a young writer.

I’m especially proud of the most original parts: where I talk about Postcrossing’s place in the world of ideas (from the ancient Greeks’ letters to the 21st century with its technologies and popularity of danish Hygge); the first mail artist Alexander Asarkan in the Soviet Union for whom creating postcards was a way to make conceptual art in totalitarian state; who and how creates postage stamps in Russia (there’s a very interesting interview with the leading artist of the publishing house Marka, where he tells all the details of creating a postage stamp, who works on them, what their values are and what they think about stamps of other countries); the interviews with unforgettable postcrossers; and my favorite part is about how postcards were published and sold before, how the circumstances and place of postcard in people’s lives changed and how we came to what we have now.

I wrote the book in chapters, in order. When I finished one, I gave it to the artist Maria Vasilyeva and she drew the next part of the comics about the adventures of postcrosser Asya. I’m proud of this cartoon too!

Thank you so much Masha, for taking the time to answer our questions about your book! For anyone interested, “Postcrossing — Book of Secret Knowledge” (in Russian-language only) can be purchased on Masha’s store amelie-cards.ru and soon on Wildberries as well.

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In October last year, Ethan (aka Ebot) took part in a Postcrossing meeting in his hometown of Tampa, Florida, his first time attending one. The postcrossers there were charmed by this young postcrossers’s curiosity about the world, geography and stamps, and his enthusiasm for postcards! They suggested we interviewed him on the blog, so here he is, to tell us all about his favorite postcard, and the green initiative that he started together with his brother some years ago!

How did you come across Postcrossing? What got you hooked?

I came across Postcrossing as I was searching for pen pals a few years ago. After I looked into it a bit, I was instantly hooked because the thought of sending and receiving postcards from all over the world blew my mind!

Do you have any other interesting hobbies?

My favorite hobby is playing drums. I’ve been doing it for about 6 years and recently got my own electric drum set which I practice on almost every day!

Ethan's drumset
Ebot’s new drumset
Show us your mailbox, your mailman/mailwoman, your post office or the place where you post or keep your postcards!

I store most of the postcards I’ve received in special cardboard boxes I created myself out of shipping boxes.

Ethan's postcard storage box, made of a repurposed USPS box
Repurposed USPS box
Show and tell us about your favorite received postcard to date, and what makes it special.

My favorite postcard I’ve received during my time on Postcrossing is a card from a postal museum in Hungary. The front of the card is amazing with all the vintage postal contraptions and there is a spectacular moon landing themed stamp on the back!

Hungarian postcard, featuring postal objects
Hungarian postal-themed postcard
Hungarian lunar landing stamp
Moon landing stamp
Have you been surprised by any place that you have received a postcard from or sent a postcard to?

I was surprised to get an amazing card from Kazakhstan after 63 days!

Multi-view postcard from Kazakhstan, featuring monuments
Postcard KZ-46593, from Kazakhstan
Have you met any other members in real life?

Yes! I’ve been able to go to two Postcrossing meetup events in my area. One was in October 2019, and the other in January 2020. Both of the events were very fun and I even designed a meetup card for one of them!

Is there anything that you are passionate about?

My brother and I started our environmental organization called “Green Gasparilla”, about 5 years ago. The Gasparilla Parade occurs every January in Tampa. It is a mock pirate evasion where one main pirate ship and a few thousand other boats pass through the channel throwing cheap plastic strands of beads over the water to people on shore. As you can imagine, not everyone has perfect aim and over 50% of the beads land in the water and sink to the bottom. The goal of our organization is to combat this very harmful pollution, by stopping it and holding diver cleanups.

In the past few years, we have held 3 diver cleanup events with over 30 divers each time. Also, within the past year we have been able to work with the mayor of Tampa to create a campaign called “Bead Free Bay” to educate citizens of Tampa on the proper way to safely celebrate the parade without throwing beads over the water. We even created a PSA video that was posted all over the city’s social media.

Our work is definitely not done, but we have made lots of progress. I hope that this inspires people to speak up and do something if our ecosystem is being exploited in their community.

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Earlier this year, we started noticing a lot of tweets about articles featuring Postcrossing, published in newspapers like The Saturday Star in South Africa, or The Citizen in Tanzania… but also in a lot of other publications, from Ethiopia to Bangladesh. Our curiosity was piqued! Turns out, this was the work of Rainer (aka rainerebert), who was doing his best to spread the word about Postcrossing in these “rare countries” by taking the time to interview local postcrossers in each country, and then writing articles with their experiences for all these newspapers. We were in awe of his efforts and enthusiasm (which earned him the Ambassador badge) and decided to interview him for the blog. 😊

How did you come across Postcrossing? What got you hooked?
Posting a postcard at the Southmore Post Office, Houston, Texas, USA

I have been fascinated by the mail for as long as I can think. All you need is a stamp and your letter or postcard will be carried to (almost) any corner of the world. If you think about the logistics of it, the coordination and agreements between countries and private companies, the technology, and the vast network of planes, helicopters, trains, trucks, cars, boats, ferries, bicycles, and feet required to make the system work, it is simply amazing. I remember, as a child, whenever I went on a trip somewhere with my parents, I sent postcards back home. I wrote to my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, friends, my teachers, and the old lady who ran the little grocery store in my grandparents’ village. I imagined how finding the postcards in their mailboxes would put smiles on their faces. My postcards often arrived back home long after I did, but that did not matter. What I wanted is for the people back home to have a physical token that proves I was thinking about them while I was away.

This fascination for the mail persists to this day, and I got hooked immediately when I came across Postcrossing in 2015. How I came across Postcrossing, I do not remember, but I probably googled something related to the mail.

Do you have any other interesting hobbies?

I am curious about the world, and I love to travel! To date, I have had the privilege to visit about fifty countries. A distant dream is to have visited all of them someday. If I can make it at least halfway to achieving that dream, I think I will be satisfied.

My greatest adventure so far was a three-month motorcycle ride with friends in 2011, from my hometown of Adelmannsfelden in Southwest Germany to Cape Town in South Africa. We covered a total of approximately 13,000 km (or 8077 miles), crossing twelve countries: Germany, Austria, Italy, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa. We made many friends along the way, and we found that Africa is home to some of the world’s warmest and most welcoming people. I have written about the motorcycle trip here, and here, hoping to inspire others to go and make friends in Africa as well.

Rainer in the Sahara Desert in Sudan in 2011
Rainer in the Sahara Desert in Sudan in 2011

There is much to learn and experience on all continents, but I am particularly fond of Africa and I think more people from other parts of the world should travel there. Too often, people think of Africa as if it was a single country, rife with disease, poverty, hopelessness, and corruption. This tiring image is at best misleading, and has little to do with reality! In fact, Africa is all but monolithic, and arguably the most diverse continent of all. Africa is full of hope, joy, and energy, and incredibly rich in history, culture, language, food, wildlife, and natural beauty.

I have been trying to capture some of the beauty of Africa, and the other places I have been to, with my camera, and photography has become another hobby of mine. You can see some of my photos on my website.

Show us your mailbox, your mailman/mailwoman, your post office or the place where you post or keep your postcards!

Besides Germany, where I was born and raised, there are three more places that I consider home: Texas, where I live and went to graduate school, Bangladesh, where I have family and friends and try to go once or twice every year, and Tanzania, where I taught philosophy at the University of Dar es Salaam from 2017 to 2019. I have sent postcards from all of these places.

University Hill Post Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
University Hill Post Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
My PO box at the University Hill Post Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
My PO box at the University Hill Post Office, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

In Tanzania, my post office is the University Hill Post Office in Dar es Salaam, where I still have a PO box. I went there so often that the two nice ladies working there, Leah and Winnie, treat me like family. The same is true for Romana, who works at the Jigatola Post Office in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s bustling capital. I will print copies of this interview and mail them to Leah, Winnie, and Romana! I hope they will be inspired to help promote Postcrossing in their communities, and maybe even join Postcrossing themselves.

Jigatola Post Office, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Jigatola Post Office, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Whenever I go to Bangladesh or Tanzania, I try to send as many postcards as I can, as both countries are sadly still underrepresented on Postcrossing. In Texas, the post office closest to where I live is the Southmore Post Office, where I usually go with my bicycle to send greetings from Houston to wherever the Postcrossing website tells me to send them!

My bicycle in front of the Southmore Post Office, Houston, Texas, USA
My bicycle in front of the Southmore Post Office, Houston, Texas, USA
Show and tell us about your favorite received postcard to date, and what makes it special.

Each postcard is as unique and special as the person who wrote it. But if I have to pick one postcard, I will pick the one and only one I got from Hungary, in 2016 (HU-111390).

Postcard from Hungary HU 111390
Postcard from Hungary, HU-111390

It is special to me because my grandmother was born in Baranyajenő in Hungary, and lived there until being expelled by the Hungarian government in June 1946. She then had to start her life all over again in Germany… When I was nine years old, our whole family went to visit my grandmother’s village home in Hungary, and the postcard brought back good memories of that trip.

Have you inspired anyone else to join Postcrossing or start collections of their own?

There are not many Postcrossers in Bangladesh and Tanzania, so whenever I go to these countries I try to convince new people to join, with some success. I especially encourage my students to join, as I think Postcrossing is a wonderful way to learn, about other cultures and places.

Postcards I have sent from Tanzania via Postcrossing
Postcards I have sent from Tanzania via Postcrossing

A few months ago, I spoke to some of the most active Postcrossers in Bangladesh and Tanzania, and also in Ethiopia, Ghana, and South Africa, to find out what keeps people in these countries from joining Postcrossing. One reason that I was given again and again is cost. Postage rates are relatively high, which is very unfortunate, as those living in low-income countries rarely have the opportunity to travel abroad and would benefit the most from exchanging postcards with people in other countries. My conversations with these Postcrossers were published in a number of newspapers in their respective countries, and I hope some readers were inspired by my articles to join.

Is there anything that you are passionate about?
Rainer s PhD graduation at Rice University in Texas in 2016

I am a moral philosopher by profession, and I believe that philosophers should not confine themselves to the ivory tower, but spend at least some of their time actively working to achieve a broader presence of philosophy in public life. Philosophy can make a meaningful contribution to society, not least in that it can help people to think more clearly and critically about important social and policy issues.

I try to do my part and apply philosophy in the columns that I regularly write for newspapers around the globe. I have written on topics such as same-sex marriage, homophobia, transgender rights, veganism and animal rights, everyday racism, anti-refugee sentiment, open borders, religious tolerance, free speech and censorship, capital punishment, children’s rights, illiberal populism, and effective altruism. A common theme of much of my writing is the importance of individual freedom, about which I am particularly passionate.

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Awhile ago, Dutch postcrosser Paulien (aka Paulienvdmeer) received an amazing illustrated postcard from India… and was so impressed that she immediately wrote to let us know about it. Following up on her suggestion, we reached out to Ashwin, the illustrator behind these special postcards, to ask him a few questions!

How did you discover Postcrossing? What made you stay?

It was on a 2015 trip to Ladakh in the Himalayas that I posted my first ever postcard — to my parents back home. By the time I got back home, the postcard had already arrived, and it was fascinating to know that something could travel 2000+ kms and from 11500 feet altitude to sea-level — for as little as 6 rupees (8 cents USD). Ever since I got back, I knew there must be more people in love with postcards and I googled for postcard exchange platforms. Postcrossing happened to be amongst the top results and I was impressed by its member base. I am a huge travel buff and the fact that you get to hear stories from across the world by the way of postcards is the secondary reason why I continue to use the platform. The primary reason, of course, is that I imagine postal services might be discontinued someday (they shouldn’t be) and my postcard collection will be worth millions then! 😄

Ashwin's sketched postcards
What attracts you to urban sketching? How do you choose the buildings/sceneries that you focus on?

My training as an architect-urban designer led me to sketch and doodle a lot of ideas. But it was my Bachelors thesis professor, Ar. Shrikant Sathe, who insisted that I never give up sketching. I simply followed his advice and now I end up sketching even while waiting at airports and train stations! Life in urban environments is very interesting and I usually pick a small frame of a large and chaotic surrounding to sketch it. At the moment, I am focusing on drawings humans better in my sketches!

Ashwin's sketched postcards
Do you have a favourite postcard that you’ve made?

I doodled a map of my city titled 'A-Z Bombay’ for a heritage travel company called Khaki Tours I work with. This map chronicled the 26 must-do experiences in Mumbai alphabetically laid out on a map.

Ashwin's sketched postcards

Since then, I have used the illustration across posters, mugs and postcards. It remains my favourite card till date. But I am always looking to find a new favourite.

What are members reactions when they receive one of these sketched postcards?

While posting the cards is a reward in itself, it is heartening to know that my recipients love my postcards. I have made friends with so many people from around the globe and many are in touch via Whatsapp/Instagram with regular exchange of postcards. I am happy when my sketches inspire people to visit my country. Perhaps someday my life partner will show up on a postcard too!

Which materials do you use to make these cards?

Sketches are usually done in my sketchbook that I carry with me at all times. They’re then scanned and laid out on my computer before being printed on a thick 300gsm textured paper. I am extremely finicky about the finish and take the delivery of the cards from my printshop myself.

Ashwin's sketched postcards

Thank you so much Ashwin! We love it when people pour their talents into the postcards they send — it’s so inspiring! 😍 If you’ve received a particularly nice handmade postcard lately, let us know in the comments below!

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Sometime ago, Simon (aka SimonBurrow) emailed us a very cool story about receiving snowy postcards in Arizona’s hot desert climate. Reading his profile and blog afterwards, we noticed we had a few things in common including a love for hiking, minimalism and Seth Godin’s philosophy… so it seemed like a good idea to invite him over to the blog, so he could tell about these passions, as well as the story which prompted his initial contact. If you’re curious, read on!

How did you come across Postcrossing? What got you hooked?
SimonBurrow's snowy postcards

I joined just over six years ago. How I first heard about Postcrossing is lost in the mist of time. But I recall that as soon as I heard I joined and spent a lot of time anxiously waiting for my first cards. Now I get a postcard almost every day and each one makes me happy so I extrapolate and am pleased to think that each card I write is making somebody else a little bit happier.

Do you have any other interesting hobbies?

I’m retired and I love to hike. I especially like endurance hiking. I have hiked the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a day and Mt Whitney in California twice. Around home I’m hiking all the trails in a book called “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Phoenix.” Whenever I hear about a petroglyph that i can hike to, I start planning.

Once a week or so I volunteer as a tour guide at the Pueblo Grande Museum near the airport in Phoenix. Early people built a complicated irrigation base society in this area from about 300CE until about 1400CE and then they stopped. There are lots of mysteries that I enjoy talking about.

Show us your mailbox, your mailman/mailwoman, your postoffice or the place where you post or keep your postcards!

I walk to the post office about a half kilometer away to buy stamps but I mail all of my cards in the mail room in my building.

I was a collector of many thing for many years: books, maps, matchbooks, marbles and rocks to name a few. But now my collecting days are over and I’m giving things away. I scan all cards I receive and then give the physical postcards to an elementary school teacher who uses them for sorting exercises.

Show and tell us about your favorite received postcard to date, and what makes it special.
SimonBurrow's Burro postcard

I favorite every bridge postcard and mountain postcard I receive because I asked for them. But I often favorite the quirky ones I receive or that I see on other peoples walls. My current, non-snow favorite card is a Burro from San Miguel de Allende Mexico, since my name is Burrow.

SimonBurrow's snowy postcards

In June last year, I added a special request for snow postcards to my profile. I thought just seeing snow would help me get through this very hot summer (43C or 109F some days). By July, far more than half of the cards I’d received had been snow cards! It is really delightfully cool and cooling.

What is it your favorite part of the Postcrossing process?

I like it all but if I have to choose I’d say writing the cards. Trying to tell a story that relates to the recipient and that comes alive in four lines is a good challenge.

Have you been surprised by any place that you have received a postcard from or sent a postcard to?

I like it when I get cards from places I’ve never heard of, like Åland. I keep hoping to get cards from Cuba or Iran.

Is there anything that you are passionate about?

“If you are not curious, you are not smart.”, wrote Sandra Day O’Connor.

As an immigrant to the USA, I am passionate about making it possible for more people to move around in the world. I wrote a blog, made a documentary film and run a Facebook group about “Rational Immigration.” There is a long way to go on this issue because fear of strangers is built into our DNA. Postcrossing in a small way helps to break down this barrier.

Trip to France

I can’t end without mentioning how much I like to spend time with my wife and two grown daughters. Last year, we had a family trip to Lyon, France to watch the Women’s World Cup Football.

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