On Life on a Tropical Island After Losing Your ATM Card

Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao, Thailand

So… it kind of sucks. Not that the water isn’t as clear and the sun isn’t as brilliant and the sexy sunbathers aren’t as bountiful, but not having money while financially stranded in the middle of the Pacific is a bit of a pain.

Let me restate that: not having money is fucking miserable. 

Now, I know this is my fault, so I have no one to blame but myself for my own current hell. But considering I have lost all of three things in my entire life, this trip is really messing with my ability to keep shit in my property. It’s like I’m selecting the smallest things that are the most important, and then immediately abandoning them, only to mourn their loss ’til kingdom come. Let’s look at the list:

Da Lat, Vietnam - Crazy House

Da Lat, Vietnam – Crazy House

  1. Hair claw – At first, this might not appear an important addition. But when you have hair like mine in climate like this, you quickly understand the versatility and beauty of a hair claw. I left it on the floor of the massage parlor in Vang Vieng where Jens and I had one of the weirder massages of this trip – my masseuse kept poking my nose and cheeks and quietly complimenting me, while Jens’ kept coquettishly whispering to mine and giggling. We must have had the last massages of the night, so when I returned in the morning to find it, I was surprised to see that it had vanished so quickly. “Oh well, it’s replaceable,” I shrugged, only to become much less cavalier about it as it turned out that no, it is not so easy to replace after all. And my hair goes wild!
  2. Bra – Again, this would appear such a minor thing to have lost. Most people have drawers and boxes and rooms overflowing with bras, and perhaps if I were home, I wouldn’t care this much. But not only was that my favorite bra (really, such a nice one), it was one of only two that I’m traveling with that weren’t designed for activewear. As anyone knows, you pretty much can’t wear activewear and attempt fashionability, so I’ve taken to eschewing bras altogether (aside from my swimsuit) until I return to Bangkok and can potentially find another that might find its way into my heart (or at least protect it reasonably well). At a time when support is pretty critical, it’s tough losing a close bra.
  3. My ATM card – In a country – and on a budget – that doesn’t take well to credit cards, having lost my ATM card is a huge pain in the ass. I’m legitimately puzzled as to what happened – along with around 2,000 baht, it must have escaped one night when I pulled other bills out. I’m kicking myself every minute, but have limited options – my visa is set to expire on the 25th, meaning I don’t have much time to sit in one place and wait for my replacement card to come in. I had to have a postal address, meaning I had to make a booking for where I’d be in five to seven business days. But considering where I’ll be is on a tropical island with 40,000 (maybe closer to 10,000, considering it’s low season) other Full Mooners, I figured the possibility of seeing my replacement card in Thailand was pretty slim.
    I survived a few days by borrowing from friends and racking up tabs with my regular haunts – my resort (laundry – 92 baht) and my favorite cafe, Blue Wind (meals – 455 baht). Out of desperation the other day, I ended up giving my license to the latter in order to secure some food and drink after hours of panicking that I would legitimately starve. After I finally got my highly-anticipated pad thai, I literally had to fight a crow off as it stole a portion of my food.

Yes, I will forever remember this as the day I fought  a bird for food I bought on credit.

But luckily, my friendly Norwegians returned, prompting tears of joy as I was rescued from my financially stranded disaster.

Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand

I have no idea of what it feels like to be starving and destitute, so I won’t pretend that this is in any way a corollary. But that experience brought me a lot closer to being able to empathize with people whose lives are strangled by money. I’d say this was a critical learning experience, to not only feel the panic and loss that accompanies a lack of money in this capitalist world, but also to bask in the kindness and generosity of strangers, and to learn the importance of always having a back-up plan. I still don’t have a debit card right now, but I have a lot more security thanks to a wonderful stranger who didn’t even question helping me.

It’s a weird way to learn a lesson, but there’s sometimes no substitute for the real thing. That’s how this trip has been, for a great part – understanding things before even understanding that understanding is occurring. It has infused meaning in my every day life, reminds me to only rely on myself but be open to asking for help when pride becomes stifling, to enjoy my own company and to be less expectant of others, to smell the flowers and memorize the wind on my skin and the sounds of the ocean. It reminds me that everything is possible, but sacrifice is necessary; that stories can be uncovered, but that meaning can’t – you determine the significance with your own experience. It reminds me that change is necessary and part of life, and that the chapters of our lives can be read like an intricate tapestry, blending so many colors and textures and images to create moments of light and dark only to transform into something completely new in the next band. So while everything seems to be so chaotic and confusing and bleak right now, I just have to believe that all of this nuance is teaching me a lesson that I haven’t yet understood that I understood, and when my tapestry is complete, it’ll be replete with all the dynamism that I hope my life will represent.

I learned some new things this week – about empathy, about forgiveness, about kindness, about letting go. But the most important thing I realized is that every day can be like I’m on a vacation, as long as every day is full of meaning and every interaction is kind and positive and every struggle is seen as an opportunity to adapt and challenge oneself to continue being one’s best. Money is pretty important – that’s a sad reality – but as long as I try to connect with people and figure out ways to respond to unstable circumstances, I’ll find a way to get by. And it’s only fair to return that generosity, friendliness, and trust to the world. So: consider this my pledge to becoming my best self, all the time.

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

By the way, thank you so much.