22 June 2015

Losing my shit...

Within a five-day period, I lost my cell phone and the keys to my cruiser. A few weeks prior, I lost my money clip—and the ~400,000 Việt Nam Dong (VND) that was clipped in it. A few days later, I lost the keys to the DR-Z.

One of the four was returned, and two were lost to me forever. The good news is that I it cost me a bit of lost face and about US$2 in VND to replace my cruiser keys. Chances are pretty good that the person who picked up my money clip needed its contents more that I.

Are you wondering what happened to the fourth lost item? Read on...

Money clip. One minute I had it, the next I didn't. Unfortunately, I have no idea which two minutes those were.

Most days I keep pretty good track of my phone. Except when I don't.

I use Google Translate a LOT to communicate and was doing so as My (pronounced "Me") and I took a taxi into town. As I paid the driver, I put my phone down instead of in my pocket. I got out of the cab and, before I got 10 feet, I realized it was missing. I immediately triple-checked all my pockets. Coming up empty, I rushed back to the street and, not seeing it on the ground, started chasing the taxi. As I was running away, My called the taxi company to tell them that I'd left my phone in the taxi and ask that the driver return with it. Since we didn't have the vehicle number (prominently displayed on the back of the front seat head restraints and on the outside in at least three places), it was going to take a while.

The short version of what happened next is:

  • I begged a number of people, only one of whom spoke any English, to allow me to use their phone to access the Internet so that I could activate the lost phone feature of "Find My iPhone".
  • My phoned the taxi company at least three times asking when the taxi driver would return to us.
  • She also called my phone a couple times hoping someone would answer. She didn't know I had the ringer off...
  • I talked my way into letting a hotel allow me to use its computer to access "Find My iPhone", but couldn't get the browser to work.
  • The taxi driver returned and swore he hadn't seen my phone. My became convinced, as did I, that the driver was lying.
  • She searched the cab, even the trunk. Twice.
  • I offered him cash to return it to me.
  • He protested that he didn't have it.
  • Repeat
  • We got the driver to take us to Villa Pink House, a nearby hotel where I have stayed numerous times and where the excellent staff knows me by sight
    • I used their computer to attempt to access "Find My iPhone".
    • The Internet connection was so S-L-O-W that I got very frustrated.
    • I have an iPad and backup iPhone at the house and I KNOW I can access "Find My iPhone" on them. Let's go there!
    • While I was inside trying to access the Internet, My sat in the taxi to ensure he didn't boogey.
  • The same taxi took us home and I was FINALLY able to activate "Lost Phone" mode (photo is one recreated today)
In "Lost Phone" mode I was able to have it play a sound even though the ringer was turned off and display message on the screen that said, in Vietnamese, "Please return this phone to me and I will give you a reward." It also had My's phone number. We heard nothing as I watched my phone travel further and further from me.
90 minutes and 3 blocks from loss
20 minutes later and rapidly moving away
Two hours missing and still moving
Four hours missing and stationary
Five hours gone and stopped for the night
At this point, it's long-past dark and the phone is 100+ km away, so there's no finding it tonight. I briefly contemplated remotely erasing it, but knew that whoever had it wouldn't be able to unlock it in 10 tries. It's programmed (through "Find My iPhone") to self-erase after the 10th failed attempt and still be unusable without my iTunes password, which is 14 characters that will need hacking to break. Instead, I updated the message to the tiếng Việt version of "I know you are in Thị Trấn. Please bring the phone back to me in Đà Lạt and I will give you a reward. If I have to come find you, there will be no reward." (Hint, hint)

As the phone is moving farther and farther away, we are with the taxi driver.

My is convinced he gave the phone to a friend and I'm starting to agree... not just because he looks shifty. She insists that we throw him under the bus (my term, not hers) and she demands that he take us to see his supervisor. At this point he's pretty nervous, so now I'm convinced he's guilty—though I'm torn because it's my fault for leaving my phone in the cab. As I write this, I'm thinking that he was afraid of the big and pissed-off foreigner.

Most crime in VN is that of opportunity. As I've written before, the mindset seems to be one of, "if I want what you have and you do not protect it, it's okay for me to take it." In the weeks after this incident, I learned that it's actually in the VN legal code that when you lend something to someone, it becomes theirs. Here, possession is 100% of the law!

It's after 8 p.m. when the supervisor arrives to take our story. He speaks pretty good English and seems to agree that the driver may be involved. He tells the driver to take us to the police to make a report and, since this is VN, we go to two police stations. The officer at the first one tells us that there is no one working this late (he apparently doesn't count) and that we should go to another police station across town. At that one, lights are on inside, but no one answers the door... even after I pound on it... so we head back to my house. I think the police officer at the first station sent us to the second one knowing they were closed and correctly figuring we wouldn't come back to him. So far, the only good news is that the supervisor told us not to pay for any of the fares that day/evening.

About an hour after we got back to the house, My received a phone call asking when and where we wanted to meet in the morning so the caller could return my phone. He also asked for the reward I offered—and that it should be 1,000,000 VND (~US$50). She arranged the meeting.

The next morning we arrived at the appointed meeting place and rode right past the guy. I was expecting an "Ali Baba", the VN term for street thugs. In my mind, he'd give me my phone and, after I made sure it was working, I'd get to tell him that his only reward would be that I was not calling the police. When we figured out who we were meeting, all previous thoughts went out the window. If the guy with my phone was Ali Baba, he was the best actor I've ever seen, including Nicholas Cage (that's a joke, son*).

He looked older than dirt, weighed about 80 lbs, and rode an old, beat-up bicycle carrying two huge baskets filled with avocados that his crudely hand-written signs offered for less than the normal street price. He told My that he was riding down the street and saw the phone in the gutter, so he picked it up.

As they talked, I checked the phone out and it was just as I had last seen it.


My and I agreed that this guy was probably telling the truth, though I was still wondering. Since it's better to err to the good, I handed him 1,000,000 VND and thanked him. His eyes were brimming with tears as he thanked me, and my next thought was that this may have been one of a very few times he'd ever seen 1 million dong all at once.

What are the odds that I'd get my phone back, intact, less than 18 hours after losing it, and that I saved over US$300 after paying 1 million? Pretty damn slim, I'd say! Writing this weeks later, I'm still amazed!

We left the avocado vendor who returned my phone to me and went immediately went to the taxi company office to tell them that the phone had been returned. We also said that, as far as we were concerned, the issue was resolved. The driver was not on duty, so we asked them to call him and tell him the good news.

My thought to do this about 2 seconds before I did, though we strongly agreed this was a necessary step we had to take. I still look for green taxi number 060 so that I can thank him personally for his trouble that night.

Many years ago I learned that when you punish someone, there comes a time when you must also stop the punishment. For example: you may forget that you yelled at someone, but chances are pretty good that he/she still remembers and that flashbacks or memories are still sometimes activated.

Think about the most recent time someone “went off” on you… I’ll bet you remember it better than they do and that you still, no matter how long ago it was, relive it sometimes. That feels pretty shitty, doesn’t it? It’d probably stop if he/she made a special point of saying, “I’m sorry. I could have handled that better”, wouldn’t it?

Now think about the last time you went off on someone… could you have handled it better? Probably. So let that person know it’s over for you. That simple statement will, in most cases, end it for them, too.

Even though you may not have intended it and are probably unaware it is happening, all but sociopaths dwell on past negatives paid upon them. It is, therefore, our duty as humans to stop the punishment. The only way I know how to stop it is to seek that person out and let them know all is okay—when it is.

Go ahead, I’ll wait…
If you have an iPhone or an iPad, and have yet to do so, activate the "Find My iPhone" feature. Go to the App Store and search for "Find My iPhone" (even on the iPad it's called Find My iPhone), then install it on your device.

If you have an Android phone, Google offers Android Device Manager. To find it, I DuckDuckGo'd "find my Android phone". DuckDuckGo is a search engine that, unlike Google, does NOT track your searches and is the ONLY search engine I use. 

There is also a Find My Phone feature for Windows phones; click here for more information. In all cases, the device must be set up with the app/feature BEFORE you lose it. Please do it NOW! 

Almost everyone who's been through an airport in Việt Nam has seen the displays of large, framed, amazing needlework done by XQ Hand Embroidery. The web site photos do NOT do justice to these exquisite, hand-stitched, and breathtaking pieces of art. 

On 12 June, we attended a special invitation-only French chef-prepared luncheon at XQ's Đà Lạt location. It was a very nice meal and the (free) food was great. The location itself is an amazing place with many different buildings and many different levels, each of which displays a large number of framed needlework. I took a couple photos that do absolutely no justice to the artwork, so please click on the link above to explore their web site. Remember as you peruse the pages and the mediocre photography, that each piece is hand-stitched and has a three-dimensional feel. 

I was VERY tempted to buy one of the large pieces, but held off because of the possible change of venue within the next six months to year. The smaller dimension of the piece is over two meters, so moving it unframed would be relatively difficult; moving it framed across even one ocean and or continent would be ridiculous. I'm still thinking about it, and if I stay in VN, it will be on my wall at some point. 

We walked around a bit more after lunch and then headed for the cruiser and home. As we got outside, I instinctively reached for the keys that I "always" hang from a belt loop. They weren't there. 


I go years without losing anything of value and now, for the second time in 10 days, I'm searching for a "necessary" item.

After about 15 minutes of retracing our steps and those of hundreds of others, we gave up. At the beginning of the search I asked where their "Lost and Found" department was... sorry, I forgot where I was... anything found now has a new owner and is no longer lost. 

I hailed a taxi and headed home, hoping the landlord would be there to use his copy of my key to let me in so I could grab my backup keys. Fortunately he was and I did. 

There is a very small chance that whomever now owns my keys will, one day, be in the same place as the cruiser. Even if he figures out the match and the cruiser gets "lost", he won't be able to hide because of the Bike Trac device installed in a hidden location. There's one on the DR-Z as well. Bike Trac is like Find My iPhone or Lo-Jack and if it's able to "see" a satellite, I can find it. You can also use it to trace your trip and I'll post more about this great technology soon. 

The next day we went to one of the street-side key makers and had a new set of keys made, so all is good. 

A couple days after losing the cruiser keys, I rode a friend of My's to the bus station on my DR-Z. Upon arrival, my keys—necessary to start and, I thought, operate the motorcycle—were not in the ignition. By the time I realized this I'd already hit the kill button turning off the engine.


I apologized to My's friends, got back on the bike and hit the start button (what the hell, gotta try, right?). Fortunately, the ignition was still in the "On" position and it started right up. As I retraced my trip while searching the ground on the other side of the street. Although this is not the safest way to ride a motorcycle, though who's going to notice? It's Việt Nam!

As I rode, I also tried to figure out how the keys could've fallen out—the design of all ignition switches is that the keys get locked in, held into place, so this won't happen. The good news is that I found the keys this time, still lying in the street. They'd been run over at least once by a car; one of two house keys was broken and the key ring was well-distorted.

The other three keys, including that for the motorcycle, were undamaged. With the keys, I was able to get into the house and get my backup keys without bothering the landlord. It was nice to avoid his three or four rapid-fire sentences of which I never understand one word and the accompanying smarmy laughter I get every time he looks at me. I think he's laughing "with me," but it always feels like "at me". 

I again got to go to the sidewalk key maker who gets it right the first time, every time. Even though I retrieved the DR-Z's key, I threw it out and had a new one cut. After playing around with it for a few minutes, I discovered that the key was a bit worn on one side and if it rotated about two degrees, it can fall (or be pulled) out of the ignition without turning the bike off. And that's apparently what happened. 

While I'm thinking about it,  here is a suggested practice: keep all original keys in the safe and use copies for all vehicles and locks. This way, if you wear down the original(s) and eventually make copies from copies, at some point, the key will be so worn down that a usable copy can't be made—at least not without a LOT of headache-inducing trial and error. 

I'll close this tale of loss with a reminder of a pending loss that's going to be a LOT more traumatic: Click here for "The Most Striking Climate Change Sculpture You'll Ever See". 

* Do you remember Foghorn Leghorn?

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