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In many countries around the world, buying picture postcards of sights or other remarkable views works as follows: You find a store that sells picture postcards (souvenir stores, tobacco stores, stationery stores, ...); there you get one or more display stands with plenty of different photos, and you choose whichever picture postcards you want and how many you buy of them.

After travelling to several parts of PR China in the course of several years, I have found this to be quite different there: You can find picture postcard vendors, but they invariably offer pre-combined picture postcard sets. Each set comprises 10-ish picture postcards, each featuring another photo, and vendors are very unwilling to exchange any part of the set (let alone deviate from their default set size).

Freely choosing a small number of picture postcards without assembling a considerable overhead from buying several full sets: Is it possible in China, and if so, how?

As an example of my personal typical picture postcard usage: Assuming 26 different photos are available (let's name them A to Z), I might buy one picture postcard with photo C, one picture postcard with photo N, and three picture postcards with photo P.

  • Interestingly I had never noticed this, in the one instance where I do remember buying postcards they were available as single cards (only?). +1 – mts Aug 14 '16 at 22:40
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    I had the same experience in Myanmar/Burma, where I could only find postcards sold in sets. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Aug 14 '16 at 23:11
  • In Afghanistan you don't even find postcards (easily) and they don't know that postcards can be sent without envelope (same as me a year ago) – phuclv Aug 20 '16 at 9:04
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It's the same deal in Japan, and for the same reason: those postcards aren't intended to be mailed, they're intended to be purchased as a pack and presented as a gift.. This is why they're unwilling to sell you a single cards, it would be like selling a single cup from a teapot set: who's going to want to buy it if there's one missing?

Souvenir shops in very touristy areas understand weird Western ways and will offer single cards. The rest of the time, you're out of luck. I usually just buy the least bad set, the cost is typically pretty low and using half a dozen out of 10 is acceptable in my book.

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    Very interesting - but if they are really intended to be given as a set, why do they all have the typical postcard (address + stamp field on one side, free area for own text on the other) print on the back? – O. R. Mapper Aug 14 '16 at 22:34
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    @O.R.Mapper This is a mystery I've never been able to figure out... – jpatokal Aug 15 '16 at 1:47
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    @jpatokal: Because they could be considered as collectables, and if they are intended to be postcards, who would like to collect postcards, which aren't able to be used as postcards, even if you never intend to use them as those. Thats at least my assumption. – Zaibis Aug 15 '16 at 8:34
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    Do you have a source for this? I'd find it far more likely that they're sold as sets out of convenience for the vendor with only some heavy tourist areas offering individual selection to attract customers because there's enough demand. – Lilienthal Aug 15 '16 at 9:32
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    @Lilienthal Pick up your favorite anthropology book: both Japan and China are gift-giving cultures, and the custom is to bring back souvenirs from your travels, not mail postcards. – jpatokal Aug 15 '16 at 10:28

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