I may have been a straight A student, but I can’t hold onto a purse or passport to save my life. “Easily distracted”, I say. No matter, it seems that either through my good karma, a guardian angel, or the kindness of strangers, I have sailed through one potential catastrophe after another while traveling abroad. Here are just a few examples:
- I left my passport and/or purse twice in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The first mistake, I realized after returning from lunch with my Cambodian co-workers to my training site. I raced back to the restaurant and there it was, held in safe-keeping by the owner. The second was at a little arty souvenir shop near a Wat and park where monkeys cavort, waiting for dried lotus flower seeds from the visitors. About 100 feet from the shop, I heard someone calling and turned around to see the clerk running toward me with my passport.
- In Bangkok with my work partner, a psychiatrist who speaks pretty good Thai, we took a cab to a lesser known district restaurant on a Saturday night. It was delicious food and the owner was very chatty. My turn to pay. I took my wallet out of my bag and gave him a credit card. We said our good byes and jumped in a cab to return to the hotel. As we stopped by the hotel desk to get our keys, the clerk was on the phone. He said, “Are you Carol White?” I was startled and said “Yes.” It was the restaurant owner. He had found my wallet. It had no phone number, business card or other contact information for me. He rummaged around and found a card from the hotel. He called the hotel, just as we were entering. We took a cab back to the restaurant and I gratefully retrieved my wallet from the owner.
- On another trip my husband and I were headed into Bangkok from the airport at about midnight, the usual arrival time for flights from the US via Tokyo. The traffic was bumper to bumper, as usual, and our cab driver was playing some awful Western music CD loudly and did not speak much English. My husband was getting more and more antsy, eager to find the hotel sign and exit the taxi. Suddenly we spotted it, ahead a block or more. “Let’s get out”, he shouted. We hurriedly pulled our suitcases and backpacks from the car, paid the driver and started walking down the block toward the hotel. About a block down I realized I had left my wallet and passport in the back seat. Disheartened, but determined to try something, I started walking back, eyeing taxi after taxi that all looked the same as they were crawling through the traffic. To my surprise, one of the taxi drivers had his arm out the window. In his hand was my wallet and passport.
- My final ditz move in Southeast Asia was this. After finishing our work in Phnom Penh, my traveling companion My Lo and I planned to take the night train out of Bangkok to the Laotian border, where we would bus over the border to Vientiane, and take a jet to Luang Prabang in the north. My companion was a young former refugee from a Hmong camp in Thailand, a holdover from the “Secret War” (aka the war in Vietnam). She had never been to Laos and was really looking forward to meeting other Hmong people in Luang Prabang.
Earlier that day I went alone to eat a late lunch at the excellent food court on the top floor of a big shopping center near our hotel and to do some follow up work on my laptop. I suddenly noticed it was about four o’clock. Time to hurry back to the hotel to meet up with my companion for a final cheap manicure across the street and then roll our bags down to the taxi stand for a short trip to the train station. As I sat with my fingers splayed out waiting for the nail polish to dry I noticed that my laptop was not next to me. Panic! I soon realized that I had left it on the chair next to me in the food court where I was sitting. By then it was 5:30 pm. The night train left at 7. I jumped up, after assuring the worried manicurist that she had done nothing wrong, and raced across the street to the hotel concierge and told him what had happened. He called the number for the food court. It rang and rang and no one answered. He apologized and said the food court had probably closed for the day. I asked him if he would please just call one more time. He did, reluctantly, and after chatting in Thai to someone at the other end of the line he looked at me incredulously and said that they had my laptop in their office. Someone had noticed it and turned it in. I ran back to the mani-pedi place and told my companion the deal. Time was running short before the train would leave. We snatched our bags and scurried down the block to the shopping center. My companion sat on some steps off the sidewalk anxiously guarding all the bags and checking her watch while I ran up the stairs to the office. Down I came in 10 minutes with the computer and we hurried over to the nearby taxi stand. We reached the train station with 15 minutes to spare. On the train we sat down at our little table beneath the berths, caught our breath, and ordered two beers. The matron said to us, “why don’t you order three beers” and winked at us. We did.