(This episode seemed to be a manifestation of an earlier unlearned lesson.)
Left my hotel without eating breakfast or lunch, somehow thinking that I would eat near Bangkok’s Grand Palace. Along the way, I was thinking about a point that probably Yaniv contributed to last week’s meditation discussion wherein Gurunath is quoted as saying that when good things happen, its a fruit ripening, and when bad things happen, its a opportunity to let go and grow; therefore its all good.
I thought about a recent string of good things happening: randomly getting to see Smita in Delhi, randomly seeing Jen in Bangkok, randomly meeting her friends the next day at the skytrain station. And then I thought about potential “bad” things… things that would give me an opportunity to let go. Thinking back on this journey so far, I thought about how much I’ve relied on money. Yet internally, I don’t feel like I have much attachment to money so was slightly disappointed in myself for some of the experiences on the trip, the above included. I decided that losing my wallet would be one such opportunity to let go of the attachment to money. Still I shrugged off that thought, reasoning that the only way I would lose my wallet was if I was pickpocketed, and that was nearly impossible since I myself had trouble getting my wallet out of my own front pocket. Not that I wear tight jeans, its just so incredibly hot and humid here, making everything so sticky.
Anyways, off to the Grand Palace. Nothing seems so spectacular on a famished stomach. The Royal Residence had no place to buy water, so dehydration was a factor as well. To my chagrin, all the restaurants near the Palace were street vendors selling miscellaneous skewered vermin of the sea. So I lumbered along in a daze like a zombie, probably with glazed eyes through the whole afternoon. Lethargy would be an understatement.
Caught a riverboat back to Saipan Taksin to ride the skytrain to a place I’ve been wanting to try out near Chit Lom. Bought my ticket at Saipan and managed to fall asleep for about 5 minutes on the train ride to Chit Lom. As I leave the station, suddenly I realize that my wallet has been lifted off of me.
First thought: disbelief.
Second thought: wow. congratulations theif. truly impressive given that I had difficulty removing my wallet myself.
Third thought: report it to the train officials.
These guys have difficultly with English, and end up taking down most of the wrong information such that it nearly impossible for them to contact me if it turns up.
Fourth thought: U.S. Embassy. Luckily its fairly close by– 20 minute by foot. Along the way, I think of how energized I’ve become despite (no food and little liquid) losing my wallet and having a misson that is greater than site-seeing. Somehow, I’m slightly thankful. I also reflect on how I seem to be handling this really well.
Turns out the U.S. Embassy is no help. They don’t even let me inside. I talk to some bureaucrat on a telephone passed through one of those dipped bank windows with bulletproof glass on top. He tells me that the embassy has a host of services, none of which are useful to me right now. I basically just need someone to convert a cashier’s check to Thai baht, but everything is closed on a Sunday night. I’ve got a total of 9 baht in my pocket, not even enough for a motorcycle taxi. Embassy dude tells me to report it to the police, and go to the Conrad hotel to exchange currency. Could he have been less useful? Yes, so I thank him and move on. He tells me to call him if I have any problems with the folks at the Conrad, as if he’s going to use his diplomatic influence or something. Hello, I’ve got no money to call you with, but whatever.
Thai police turn out the be rather useless. The guy “taking my report” was playing soccer on his laptop while interacting with me. Took down lots of useless information on paper, then finally paused his game, entered it into the computer and printed a page out. Page goes over to some other guy who is the “keeper of the daily reports” and all he does is commit the printed page back to paper by writing it out again in his report book, while watching the Thai equivalent of candid camera. One hour after entering the police station, all I had was a piece of paper with my report written in Thai. Still, I wasn’t upset… but I wasn’t amused either.
At the Conrad, they won’t take my travelers check because i don’t have a room there. I tell them to call my friend at the U.S. Embassy, but after they see that the number he gave me is a cell number, they want to charge me 25 baht per minute to use the phone. I tell them my wallet has been stolen, and I can only pay that after they’ve processed my TC. No dice. They ask if I have any U.S. dollar bills. I remind them that my wallet has been stolen. As they are begin to feel a bit guilty about how their stupid policy and small circular minds have kept me in a rather screwed state, I walk out.
A corner shop turns out to be friendly enough to let me use his phone to call the U.S. Embassy. I tell my helpful buddy that Conrad is useless, and that I still need to get some money, yet seem out of options.
“I still think you can find something.”
Yeah right, at 9pm on a Sunday night. I knew he was useless after my talk with him at the embassy, but I wanted him recognize and acknowledge that I was up shit creek. And I admit, I wanted him to feel bad for doing nothing to help. So in my cheeriest voice, I say,
“Thanks! I’ll keep fishing.” And then abruptly I hang up.
The shop guy tells me I should try some night market nearby. Along the way, I think of how screwed I would be if someone stole my passport or my plane ticket. I mentally prepare to get mugged. And then I mentally prepare to die. If tonight is my last night, then dammit I’ll go out in a good way. I cheer myself up and laugh a little at how the universe seems to have responded very quickly to my thought about not getting pickpocketed and losing attachment to money.
I manage to find the market after about an hour’s walk. They have a bank that reluctantly cashes my traveller’s check. More baht than I can use before my Hong Kong flight. Unfortunately, the market doesn’t seem to have much vegetarian fare, and I’m starving after my day-long fast. I buy some juice at one restaurant, then manage to get another restaurant to make vegetarian pad thai (which I thought should have been much easier than it was). Forty-five minutes later my food comes, but I don’t have a fork. I decide not to ask for one. Five minutes later, someone brings me one. Exhausted, I dig in but its not satisfy. I pay, and walk to about 2 km to the nearest skytrain station to come back to the hotel. Along the way, I purchase a 300 baht international calling card so that I can inform my banks to cancel my credit cards, atm cards, etc. End up on hold long enough to exhaust most of my credit without quite finishing my task. Bank of America is still fumbling around as my time runs out. I suppose credit card or ATM fraud would part me with more of my money. More importantly, I had planned thousands of dollars of purchases while in Hong Kong. Don’t have enough traveller’s check for that kind of heavy consumerism. No ATM card or credit card means buying power is limited. Don’t even have enough in traveller’s checks to buy the laptop I want, or buy my ticket back to the U.S., much less back to India.
Yes, I’m screwed. But I’m remarkably composed. Have I learned my lesson? I don’t know… I don’t think the test is over.
Maybe the U.S. Embassy in Hong Kong will do something for me when they realize that I’m stranded there.
There may be some hope here in Bangkok as well. When I got to Thailand, Roopal asked me to look up a friend of hers at the U.S. State Department. Guess I have more than one reason to call him now. I’m guessing that he’s a former lawyer, and now a high-powered something-else. Also, there is a Bank of America in Bangkok and I have my checkbook on me. Maybe I can get them to give me traveller’s checks in exchange for a personal check.
Either way, fear not my beloved peeps. If I pass this test, you will see me alive another day. If I fail this test, I know I’ll have to be back, in this life or the next, to learn my lesson. And I’ll see you then.
Universe: Bring It On.
(migrated from my original Livejournal post)