Reflecting on my good fortune in the comfortable co-working space of the Holiday Chiang Mai Guest House, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I am normally pretty careful traveling with my stuff, especially my valuables. In nearly three years on the road, I’ve never lost anything important.
But the other night was one to give me pause and reflect on my good fortune even when careless.
I was in my room switching bags to a bigger one before adding some things and heading to the Muay Thai fights at Anusarn Market in Chiang Mai.
My American friend, Kalil, a veteran Muay Thai fighter, was on the card.
I turned the smaller bag on end to empty it on my bed but not everything fell out. My wallet got stuck.
I didn’t notice and just put everything that fell out of the smaller bag, which I assumed was everything I needed, into the bigger bag.
Wrong to assume such things, of course. Better always to be constantly checking whether you have everything, even if it does smack of OCD.
Halfway to the fights, I started looking for my wallet to pay the Grab driver and couldn’t believe it was missing.
Then I was sure it was in my room. The driver took me back to the house, where sure enough, it was there, still stuck in the small bag.
But that little diversion cost me an extra 100 baht on the Grab tab.
It also cost me time, important because I didn’t know exactly when Kalil would be fighting.
The Grab driver didn’t know where the stadium was, either. He more or less dropped me off randomly somewhere in the vicinity.
I asked around among some market vendors and they were largely clueless about the fights.
So I summoned the help of a trusty tuk-tuk driver who started explaining to me where the boxing was. Since I was running late, I just said take me there, and hopped in.
I knew that would cost me: Another 100 baht.
When we stopped, I pulled five 20 baht bills out my wallet. That’s when everything started getting murky.
I paid the driver and thought I put the wallet back in my bag, but all my inner alarms started sounding as soon as I stepped out of the tuk-tuk.
“No, you moron,” they were screaming, “it never went into the bag!!!”
As my ride went tuk-tukking away, I sensed trouble.
I searched my bag -- again, and again -- while maniacally checking my pockets; no wallet.
I went back to where I was dropped off. A young lady who I’d seen handing out brochures didn’t know anything about the wallet. She said I might try the market office and showed me where it was. It was good advice.
I took my sob story to the sympathetic young lady at the market office, who summoned a young man who spoke better English. He took my Thai phone number and said someone would call me if anything turned up.
While they were kind and helpful, I was not hopeful. I walked out into the night feeling naked and vulnerable -- no ID, no cash, no ATM, credit or debit cards.
Worse were thoughts of the headaches coming my way trying to fix all this with the banks, spending lots of time on telephone calls to the U.S., mostly on hold, listening to insanely bad “hold” music.
And with helpless irrationality, swimming circles in a sea of deniability, I still desperately wanted to find a way into the fights.
I found myself out on the road talking to the brochure lady again where the tuk-tuk had dropped me off. I was about to begin the long, depressing slog through the night back to my guesthouse, when there appeared a small commotion nearby.
There of all people was the market office guy, darting and dodging excitedly through the crowd trying to get my attention!
What the … !!!
The tuk-tuk driver was right behind him, grinning widely, running with my wallet in his hand like a trophy !
I was stunned.
He handed me the wallet, wanting me to examine it. Everything -- all the cards, thousands of baht -- were still there!
Instinctively, I hugged the tuk-tuk driver, not even sure if it was proper in Thailand. Better yet, I tipped him: There went another 100 baht.
I thanked everyone around me profusely, rushed off to buy a ticket to the fights and walked in like I’d only had an odd dream.
But what a sobering, real and unforgettable display of the friendly, helpful, honest and caring spirit of Thailand’s people.
Kalil was already in the fourth of five rounds with a tough opponent when I arrived. They were firing missiles at each other from all eight points of Muay Thai contact, trading blows furiously with fists, elbows, knees and feet, giving and getting each other’s best, warriors performing honorably in traditional Muay Thai combat.
But Kalil’s worthy opponent won the fight by a decision on points. Disappointing, of course, but Kalil, undaunted, will climb back into the ring soon again.
And I’ll be back on the road with a spirit refreshed by the pure kindness of others.
Without a doubt, Thailand had won this night.
I'm a retired journalist from Hawaii who tired quickly of retirement and hit the road as a slow solo world traveler in August 2016. I've spent time in 18 countries on four continents and right now I'm enjoying life in Penang, Malaysia.
I've been interviewed about my travels by Nomadic Matt, and Expat Focus, and here's a great story by veteran Borneo newsman and writer James Ritchie, about our meeting in Kuching, titled, A Confluence of Adventure Writers .
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