The sliding glass door opened as I put my palm against the sensor. Out from the coffee shop, I walked toward the ATM on the pier. I insert my credit card into the machine. Per usual, the machine says “please wait”. But little did I know that thirty seconds would turn into five minutes; five minutes into 15 minutes, and fifteen minutes into one hell of a morning.
We start thinking what to do. Dev calls the number written on the ATM machine with his international phone. They hook us up to customer service. They tell us to call back using a Thai number. So we head back inside the coffee shop. The staff seemed to have forgotten we just ate there. They put on their customer service voices and start trying to sell us muffins and cookies. “No, no no”, we explain. “We need to use someone’s cell phone…” “CELL PHONE”, i say louder trying to be helpful.
It took some time for them to understand us. “We need to use a Thai phone.”, we explain one last time. “my card got stuck in the ATM machine”. This time they understood. A young guy by the name of Sam steps forward and volunteers his phone to us. One hour later of waiting on hold, I finally get to speak to the customer service representative. “it’ll take until Wednesday afternoon to extract your card Mr Messenger. Please meet us at 2 PM then”, the female voice instructed me. “Great”, i say without enthusiasm. “see you then”, and i hang up.
I wasn’t mad per se, just a wee-bit superstitious of what strange incidents may happen next, and wee-bit concerned as to whether or not I would survive this trip in Thailand after all. We decide to take a stroll around the mall. As Dev and I walk in no particular direction, we look at each other and start laughing uncontrollably– the luck I’ve had seemed almost hysterical to us in that moment. You simply couldn’t help but laugh considering it all.
Laughter is like the best medicine. The momentary relief it brought was akin to discovering you’ve just been Punked. In my imagination, Ashton Kutcher would turn the corner and give me a hug. He’d say, “Dude we got you so good! Look here, we got your credit card, passport, phone, and camera all right here!” ” Dude, you gotta be kidding me!”, i’d say in total disbelief. Ashton Kutcher then delivers the trademark line: “Dude, you just got punked!”,
Of course that didn’t happen.
Even so, I realized despite it all, I had Dev. He was no Ashton Kutcher, but he made me feel like no matter what happened to me — as long as we stuck together– I would be alright.
Moments later, we happened to cross an art gallery.
Inside, there were maybe 25 full-sized photographs on the wall, each telling their own bizarre story — some of which I could understand, while others spoke to me like a burning bush in the desert. That is to say at some I would simply think “I don’t get it”, and move on; while at others– random ideas, thoughts and memories would spring to life from seemingly nowhere.
I think that’s the beauty of abstract art: it’s unpredictable nature to connect dots.
By the time we came to this piece, titled “Babel”, Dev noted that that building in the background is the tallest in the world. “The Burj Khalifa is 828 meters high. It’s in Dubai. I know cause I used to live there”, he informed me. I asked him if he knew the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. To my surprise, he didn’t know. I gave him this explanation:
The story of the tower of Babel is about man’s hubristic defiance against God. The tyrant Nimrod ordered the construction of a tower, one so great and powerful it be able to reach the heavens. Apparently, as the tower was built, man became overconfident in his abilities –so God then confused the languages and spread the people across earth.
With this insight, the painting we both stared at became more and more relevant to our lives. I started to think about my own struggles with learning Japanese –how frustrating it can be to try and fail to learn a language after years of practice. I wondered what the angel in the photograph represented. “That angel must be a polyglot?”, i thought. And then I entertained if the story of Babel could actually be true.
At that moment, Dev then asked me a question out of the blue: “are you religious?” A simple question with no simple answer. “not really”, i said off the cuff, “but i have my faith”, an answer i customarily give. “Are you religious?”, i asked back. “No, but i grew up in an extremely religious household. I don’t believe it anymore, though”.
“i see”, i replied not knowing what else to say of the matter.
Silence filled the art-gallery, and the moment passed.
We decided to head back to the hostel.
At the hostel, good news came about. I gave my bag one more examination, checking all tiny side-pockets and secret layers to which i discovered a most pleasant surprise: My passport.
I ran back downstairs trying to conceal the smirk on my face. Mickey must have seen my expresion from a mile away. He asked, “whaaat happened?” with a suspicious tone. “I found my passport”, i said with a big grin on my face.
To my surprise, no one was upset with me for causing everyone such cause for concern– and for nothing. They were simply relieved, and I was too. The dynamic of the room changed. Even the clerk at the front desk knew of my troubles and expressed his relief to me.
“Good man”, he said “that’s good.”
“That’s it! let’s go celebrate over dinner”, i said most cheerfully.
We ate like kings that night, the four of us. Later we got thai massages, which was most relaxing. And finally we headed out for the clubs deep in the jungles of Bangkok. What happened there, is a story for another time.