Stories of Kindness from Around the World

A Lost Wallet Returned, Across 3 Continents

--by twocents, posted Jul 29, 2010

It was May in Bangkok, and even though I had arrived from India after 6 months of volunteer work, the heat and humidity was exhausting.  After a long day of temple visiting, I fell asleep on the sky train for about 5 minutes, only to wake up seconds before the door was about to slam shut at my stop.  As I rush out onto the platform, I realize that my wallet is gone!

First thought: I'd been pickpocketed while I slept on the train.

Second thought: Bravo to the pickpocket!

My wallet had been in my front pocket and I was sitting down with my backpack on my lap.  Given the heat and stickiness, even I had trouble getting my wallet out of my pocket, but the alleged thief managed to do so despite the awkwardness and obstacles, without waking me up.  She certainly deserved something for that, and I had no ill will despite losing about $150 across 3 currencies.

Still, I had a problem: no cash or cards in a foreign country with three more days to be there.  I only had $500 in traveller's checks, but it was Saturday night and banks were closed.  Beneath the surface facts, I feel like I was being given a test, and I was determined to pass it and learn what life was trying to teach me.

After long and disappointing encounters with the Thai police and the US Embassy, both of whom were perhaps as minimally helpful as lawfully permitted, I managed to locate a bank open at this hour and encashed $200 to Thai baht.  One of my purchases was $40 in phone cards to make calls to notify banks and figure out how to access more money.  Over the next 3 days, I burned through those phone cards, somehow with almost zero progress made.

I had a pre-booked flight into Hong Kong on Tuesday afternoon, and I arrived into Hong Kong with my problem still lingering large.  I had $300 in traveller's checks, didn't know a soul in the city, and had no ticket either back to the US or India.  Within the first few hours of landing into HK that evening, I had burned through over half my money.  The return train fare out of the airport cost around $60, and my hotel was about $100 / night.  Though it may have been possible to find a cheaper hotel, I reasoned that it did not make sense to waste time and money in an unfamiliar city in such a vulnerable state and risk a bigger problem.  I decided to keep that hotel room as a temporary base from which to renew efforts at getting money and finding a cheaper hotel.  After checking in, I bought a calling card and did a walking exploration of the surrounding area.  Luckily, I discovered that there was a Hong Kong branch of my American bank just down the street from my hotel.  Fantastic!

After spending the night again trying to call banks without much success, I walked to down the street to the local branch of my American bank and explained my story.  The woman was taken aback by how calm I was despite my fairly dire situation, and kindly let me use the bank's phone for an international call to my US bank.

Four hours later, I still didn't have much progress to show, and somehow still kept hitting walls.  The woman told me that there is a Chinese saying that says something to the effect of, if you can't solve a problem, taking walk will help.  At the time, it felt like her polite way of telling me to take a hike.  Still, it was amazing to me that she was so kind as to let me dial internationally for 4 hours!

Truth be told, I was exhausted too.  I walked down the street and called my sister from a payphone using the calling card.  Just as I explained the situation and passed on the relevant information along with the hotel's lobby number, my minutes ran out.  At that point, I just surrendered to whatever was happening-- because it really seemed like I had no other choice.

I checked out of my hotel, and sat down on the hotel's couch in the lobby waiting for a call-- but ready to accept that none may arrive.  Ready to accept whatever life was going to serve up.  I think I might have been praying too, but more for the strength to bear my fate and to avoid asking 'why me?' instead or some sort of divine intervention.  And to be honest, I think I had a lump in my throat and was on the verge of tears.

Minutes later, the desk clerk called me over.  It was my sister.  The insoluble problem that had been draining my energy and money for 5 days seemed to melt at her touch.  A few minutes later, a woman from the credit card company called to verify that all had been taken care of, and that money was being sent to me. As unexpected as it was, I didn't feel elation.  It wasn't a huge triumph, it was just the avoidance of a disastrous pitfall.  Worse yet, I was still struggling to understand the lesson of it all and what I was meant to learn from this experience.  Luckily the story doesn't end there!

Three months later in San Francisco, one of the founders of the very same non-profit I was working with in India (before losing my wallet in Bangkok) was in town for a visit.  Friends and supporters gathered to meet him, and just as we sat down for a few minutes of silence and prayer, I get a phone call from my aunt.  I quickly turn off my phone, and then call back a little later at a more appropriate time.

Turns out that she had just gotten a letter from the US embassy in Sydney Australia saying that they had my wallet!  More incredibly, all my money across 3 currencies was still inside, and they wanted my permission to use $5 from my funds to send my wallet back to me!!

And that's when I got the lesson I was meant to get.  The kindness we put into the world always boomerangs back to us.  We don't know the length of its arc, but not even a separation of 3 continents and 4 countries can stop the workings of this natural law.  It's only the clouding from our own negativity that keeps us from witnessing this daily miracle happening all around us, everyday.  And while the arc of kindness' return may be long and impossible to calculate with our logical minds (how did my wallet get from Thailand to Australia? Did it even get stolen in the first place?  How could so many people be so pure as to not take a single $?). The beauty of life is that we have the opportunity to throw a boomerang kindness at every second of everyday.  May we all have the courage to give the world our very best!

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Readers Comments

Victor wrote: Your airtcle was excellent and erudite.
gipsysoul wrote: I love that what happened during these three months remains a mystery. It lets us free to imagine all kinds of possible scenarios about what happened, and what kinds of angels might have helped along the way! It makes me want to gather a circle of friends for a story-telling night, and invite each person to come up with their own story of how this wallet traveled from your pocket in india all the way to the us embassy in australia. It would make for some wonderfully entertaining and heart-warming stories :)
jsmc10 wrote: Wow, an amazing story, i thank the people that never touched your money and commend you for staying strong
masi wrote: Gooood
Vsteen wrote: Almost the exact same scenario has has just happened to me here in bangkok. I have lost my wallet and mobile phone. You never realize that your while life is in your wallet, and once lost, the nightmare begins. I have another day here and am praying that an honest person will return my wallet.
Zevelina wrote: How could so many people be so pure as to not take a single $? ) . The beauty of life is that we have the opportunity to throw a boomerang kindness at every second of everyday. May we all have the courage to give the world our very best! = amazing! Perfect ending*
Benter wrote: Remain a kindhearted person and the good lord shall shower his blessings upon you
Nancy wrote: As i read your story, it brought me back to my childhood. We were on a camping trip - i don't even remember where - and my father found a wallet with a fair amount of money in it. He turned it in immediately. Quite awhile later (turned out it was at least a year), a letter came in the mail from germany. It was a thank you from the owner of the wallet. He had been vacationing when he lost it and due to his travels, it took a year to catch up with him. In this letter, the owner of the wallet told my dad that they were having a "thank you" party in his honor. I will never forget my parents surprise when they got this letter. I knew at the time, it was a good deed, but didn't fully understand the extent of it. Several years later, i found a wallet with $10 in it. I turned it into the store clerk. My parents got a phone call from the school principal commending me for my honesty. This is proof to me that kids really do see what their parents do. As i read your story, i realized just how effective these acts of kindness are. I'm glad that your story had a happy ending.
paul wrote: Wow! It's really a great thing to happen.

God bless you.

I like the saying " boomerang "
sabrina wrote: You have been brave during the entire ordeal. Wow, and seems like its god's way of letting us all know that the world is not so bad :). Thx for sharing this amazing experience of yours. It gives hope.

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