A Little Story Time…The Universe Kicked Me Hard

Last week I was complacent. I like my brief expat life here in Chiang Mai. It’s been comfortable, a good social life with the other expats, and it’s been easy more than anything else.

I know where I’m going to sleep every night. I know enough Thai that the my vegetarian foodie worries in new countries subsided, and I have a flat-mate, a friend here who has my back.

Well, the Universe gave me a slap-in-the-face lesson on complacency last week. Let’s set the scene here and be a fly-on-the-wall; I’d like to play back a moment last week that snapped my lackadaisical attitude back into focus.

Chiang Mai Gate Market (South Gate) seen from behind

Setting the scene: the Chiang Mai Gate Market (South Gate) as seen from behind




Large fluorescent lights illuminate the white tiled floor outside the Tesco Supermarket as SHANNON and JODI approach. They walk up the steps laughing and gently step around the rounded old woman selling puffed rice from oversized burlap sacks. They step up to one of the three brightly painted ATMs lining the supermarket’s outside walls.

Nearby, Thai and foreigners shoppers CHATTER and walk by as Shannon and Jodi dig through their purses.

But veggie lady’s pad see ew was so tasty tonight; what are
we going to do once we’re back in the US?

Jodi shrugs, still digging through her purse. Shannon pulls out her small red wallet and steps up to the ATM. Shannon finds her debit card, inserts it, and nonchalantly covers the keypad with her wallet as she punches in her PIN and follows the on-screen instructions.

Seriously, though, a life without daily rice?

I miss it so much every time I go home; my mom even thinks
I’m weird when I eat rice everyday for breakfast!

Not gonna, lie, I like Western breakfasts, but half
the world eats rice for breakfast…what’s so strange about that?

Jodi looks up, her brows are furrowed and the entire contents of her purse are grasped in her hands and wedged under her arms.

I don’t know where my ATM card is.

What do mean it’s—

It should be here, in my wallet. That’s the only place I keep
it! If it’s not here, I just, I really don’t know where it would be…

Shannon pauses to look at the empty wallet Jodi is holding up for her inspection. Shannon turns back to the ATM and jabs at the touch-screen several times, body still turned toward Jodi.


When was the last time you used it?


I have no idea. Before Songkran?


The ATM as money spits out of the machine and an insistent BEEPING noise is heard. Shannon’s hand pulls out the bills.


Jodi is shoving items back into her purse.

Maybe you put it in a different spot?

Shannon fans out the money, quickly counting the Thai baht as she turns her back to the ATM, fully facing toward Jodi.

You know, so it wouldn’t get wet during the water fights?

Jodi shoulders her purse and shrugs.

I mean, that would make sense…we didn’t take more than the
bare essentials outside the house, right?

Shannon inserts the crisp and colorful Thai baht into her wallet, the CLICK is audible as she fastens the wallet’s clasp and drops it back into her purse. She siddles up next to Jodi, and gives Jodi’s arm a little pat before they walk side-by-side toward the TESCO entrance.


CLOSE ON the machine BEEPS incessantly, flashes some lights, and then spits out Shannon’s ATM card.


The machine is flashing lights and BEEPING as the glass Tesco doors automatically slide open; a burst of air conditioning blasts Shannon and Jodi, fanning out their hair, as they enter the Tesco chatting to each other about groceries.




And this my friends, is what had Jodi and me sitting at our dinning room table incredulously staring at our empty wallets two hours later.

At the precise moment Jodi discovered her lost card (which was eaten by an ATM two weeks ago under much the same circumstances) I was in the process of losing my card.

Before we discovered my card had just been eaten by the bank machine we weren’t too concerned – I had borrowed money last month (when I did the EXACT same thing at an ATM down on the Thai islands) and we knew it wouldn’t take long for her card to get here.

Then we discovered my card was missing too. And that let off little creeping flames of anxiety into my system. Here we were wrapping up our time in Chiang Mai, just six days left, and we’re out of money. Like, seriously, out of money.

No safety stash of cash was going to cover the remaining expenses and since we we’re leaving we were flummoxed. Where should we send the card? How are we going to solve this?

Why the hell did we both lose our cards at the exact same time?

What is the lesson here?

We batted questions and speculations at each other across the table. And as it sunk in, we concluded the Universe was handing us a lesson on complacency.

I’m a solo traveler by nature, as is Jodi. We’ve both traveled for years now with mostly just our own wherewithal to keep everything together.

Then we moved to Chiang Mai, got comfortable, had another person nearby to trust, and, well, we got complacent.

A Team Chiang Mai gang gathering!

We stopped paying attention.

I consider getting an ATM card eaten by the machine a pretty rookie mistake – something I was very cautious about when traveling alone because I knew I’d be in dire straits without a friend to lean on…I am so conscious and careful when I’m traveling solo that I never lost my card on my RTW trip.

And yet with six years of solo travel between us, both of us did lost our cards this month (and I did it twice!).

This experience humbled me; I came to Chiang Mai so that I could be relaxed and at ease. But at the same time, I’m not in my home country, I am at the mercy of a flimsy square of plastic and there’s an extent to which I need to remember it’s always wise to be aware.

Complacency and awareness are not mutually exclusive, but for me, they have been over the past few months. This week I head to Jordan as a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board and they have so kindly agreed to accept the FedEx package with my debit card.

As I leave Thailand and head out on this next leg of travel I can’t help but believe the Universe was telling me to pay more attention. And though I wish I didn’t need the reminder lesson, I’d rather it come in this form rather than some of the more challenging issues that can crop up on the road!

What’s your take-away…any other lesson we should be learning from this glitch?!

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17 Responses to A Little Story Time…The Universe Kicked Me Hard

  1. Scott May 10, 2011 at 4:45 am #

    I have done this like 5 times at home here in St. Louis, so I am a little afraid of what will happen abroad. Glad it didn’t seem to be a total disaster for you though! Hopefully, reading this post will help me to be vigilant at the ATM!

  2. Anthony May 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    I have lost a card also to a ATM but out of pure stupidity. Back in Australia you get your card back before receiving you money and it securely put away. It was my first trip to Thailand and I went to an ATM and you first received your money then your receipt and then your card. I was in a rush to get to bus and I forgot to wait for my card to come out and didn’t realise until hours later I had left it in the ATM. Luckily I cancelled everything and no money was withdrawn. My bank later informed me that there were 5 attempts at large withdrawals around the Southern Thailand area. I was so lucky and I learnt a valuable lesson.

  3. Anthony May 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    I have lost a card also to a ATM but out of pure stupidity. Back in Australia you get your card back before receiving you money and it securely put away. It was my first trip to Thailand and I went to an ATM and you first received your money then your receipt and then your card. I was in a rush to get to bus and I forgot to wait for my card to come out and didn’t realise until hours later I had left it in the ATM. Luckily I cancelled everything and no money was withdrawn. My bank later informed me that there were 5 attempts at large withdrawals around the Southern Thailand area. I was so lucky and I learnt a valuable lesson.

  4. Gray May 7, 2011 at 3:02 am #

    Wow, that’s a great lesson, all right. I am paranoid about ATMs here at home eating my ATM card; when I travel, the paranoia magnifies a thousandfold. Sorry to hear this happened to you guys, but you certainly got a terrific piece of writing out of it. I love that you wrote it like a screenplay. :-)

  5. gypsynester May 6, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    I’m not sure that you should take much of the blame, complacent or not, how could you keep the machine from eating your card? Akshaye has a good point though, if you can find a machine that doesn’t take your card inside of itself.
    Love your site.

  6. Joshua Johnson May 6, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    I love the style in which this was written..bravo!

  7. Thomas May 5, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    I never really understood what makes ATM’s eat your card, but it does go to show how you let your guard down when you can complacent. Better that it happened with you being along with someone else though.

  8. Annie May 4, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    I remember this happened to my friend when she was visiting me in Australia. It really freaked her out. At the time I was (although sympathetic) a little bit indifferent adn maybe insensitive because I, a. still had my cards and b. knew that she had other sources of money (credit cards, etc.).

    You can’t be aware 100% of the time, it’s just not human nature and the fact that you solved your problem on where to send the card shows your problem-solving abilities ;).

  9. Claire May 4, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    hmmm, a rookie mistake? not sure-it could be quite common. it might be china’s ATMs- mine got eaten by a Beijing machine!!!
    i know what you mean about complacency though. i have traveled all over the world and never ever forgot something ultra important-passport, money, trusty items of clothing, you name it i have never lost it or forgotten it (minus the ATM incident, not my fault!). Then, last year, I travel two hours from home, in my own state. On the return trip, I leave ALL of my luggage behind. Every last bit of it. Who does that?!!!!

  10. Akshaye May 4, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Next time try to use machine which allowed “Swipe” not the one which “Swallow”……Lol!

  11. Jodi Ettenberg May 4, 2011 at 5:57 am #

    Ha! I still can’t believe this happened, but it sure makes for a great story!

  12. Erin May 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    Ugh, what a nightmare! It’s definitely a good idea to have back up cards. We are a couple so we have two cards for our debit account, but we also have two for a back up account, plus two credit cards. It may seem overkill but at the moment we are running low as two cards have expired and one was stolen, so we are glad we have the extras. Just in case! Hope you get it sorted OK.

  13. GotPassport Family May 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    Have a safe trip, Shannon. That is such a great picture of the gang. Hope to cross paths again soon. Take care.

  14. TravelnLass May 3, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    OMG! A traveler’s worst nightmare – not one, but BOTH of you sans ATM cards. (though I am wondering… why do you say the ATM “ate” your card – I mean, it eventually may have spit it out, yes? – albeit sadly, after you’d already left? I ask, ‘cuz I live in terror of my card being swallowed by an ATM one day.)

    And yes, I too normally travel solo, but given any semblance of a partner, I tend to drop my guard/usual ever underlying state of alertness. I guess it’s human nature to relax a bit when there’s someone to lean on.

    That said, like Ayngelina, I too now travel w/ TWO different ATM cards, “just in case”. I’ve also heard that some machines won’t give you the choice of withdrawing from checking vs. savings, so I always keep a bundle in both.

    Quite honestly, the whole relying solely on ATM thing is my gravest concern w/ moving to Vietnam. Thus I’m thinking it best to carry a goodly little “emergency” sum in cash (obviously hidden carefully/safely at all times.) Question izzz… how much would be prudent? I’m presently thinking… $500?

    In any case, truly sorry to hear it, but I know you two will work it out and you’ll soon be enjoying many fabulous adventures in Jordan!

  15. Ayngelina May 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    I lost my ATM card in Bangkok. Now I have cards at two different banks just in case.

  16. bluegreen Kirk May 3, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    Wow what are the odd that you both would seem to never have a mishap with your cards and now both of them were eaten by the ATM machine. I really see how sometimes people tend to get complacent and bad things tend to happen. Remembering to be aware like Peter stated is a must no matter what.

  17. Peter Heck May 3, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    Yikes, I think I agree with you in the it is a simple reminder from the Universe just telling you to be aware. It’s hard not to become complacent though when you get settled and comfortable somewhere. Just the other day a friend of mine at an ATM left the ATM when she received her cash and it was on the “Do you wish to do another transaction screen?” (PS I hate this screen) Luckily I noticed and cancelled out of everything for her or who knows.

    I hope it all works out ok and you get a card ASAP. Have a wonderful time in Jordan, I am looking forward to reading about your adventures there.

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