It’s a long climb from central Thong Pha Phum, Thailand, to the hill-top temple towering high above town. First you cross a rickety rope bridge, then you pass through a monastery, and finally there are these steps…countless steps…straight up for close to forever. The journey is worth it though: a glass-encased seated Buddha, a small golden stupa, and a 360-degree view for miles and miles.
That my girlfriend and I completed this trek at all during our December vacation was sheer serendipity. Travelers to Thailand don’t often end up in Thong Pha Phum, a one-street town in the northwest corner of the country (3 hours north of Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai). Why would they? The city boasts no big attractions, no ruins, no museums, no beaches. What it offers, however, is something far more rare: pure Thai living, unsullied by the ubiquitous tourist industry octopus. Thong Pha Phum has a street market, a police station, a number of shoe shops (more on this later), no signs or menus in English, and that fantastic temple, high on a hill.
So up we climbed on a warm, sultry Thai afternoon. At the top of the stairs, we stopped to catch our breaths and to take in the scenery, making sure to remove our shoes, as per usual, when treading softly around a Buddhist temple. The views were simply splendid: green rolling hills as far as the eye could see, seemingly all the way to nearby Myanmar. Our only company at the temple was a French tour group that briefly snapped some quick photos and departed quickly, and a small local boy asking for a few-baht donation to a crocodile god statue. Lingering there for almost an hour, enjoying the peace and quiet, we decided at last to begin our voyage back to town. And that’s when realized: my girlfriend’s shoes were missing! Was the thief the local boy? The French family? Or someone else? We never did find out. Irregardless, we had a long walk before us, and my girlfriend was barefoot! Talk about footloose!
Without much choice in the matter, she completed the trek back to town sans footwear, with nary a complaint. (That’s my girl!). Only afterwards did she admit that she really liked those shoes and was having some trouble letting go of the anger and the frustration. At the same time, she accepted that perhaps the culprit needed those shoes more than she did. Nevertheless, we spent the rest of our time in Thong Pha Phum scouring the many USED shoe stores in town, hoping to discover some size 42 Asics running shoes from Santa Rosa, California.
How do you deal with theft, with unexpected loss? Do you hold onto it (losing sight of the present moment), or can you quickly let go, make peace with it and move on? We humans are all connected. Our own loss is someone else’s gain — often someone else much needier than ourselves. Think about it the next time a stapler goes missing at work, or a ream of paper. Or even your shoes.