April 28, 2008

How To Fall Down and Get Back Up Again

How To Fall Down and Get Back Up Again

This is a lesson on how to look absolutely ridiculous in front of a crowd of strangers, and how to recover as gracefully as possible.

Well, let’s clarify that a bit: the first part is easy, since I am constantly making stupid mistakes all over the world and trying to minimize the embarrassment. I have no shortage of experience in the dumb-things-I’ve-done-in-random-countries department.

The second part of the lesson is more important: how to recover from your own Most Embarrassing Moment. Anyone can do stupid things, as I tell myself pretty much every time I travel and get lost somewhere. It’s the brave ones who are able to recover.

I decided to tell this story because I was talking to a friend the other day who recently had her own Most Embarrassing Moment. I told her this story, and she smiled a little. You know who you are.

So, enough procrastinating. Here you have it – how to look like a complete idiot in a foreign setting.

The setting for my Most Embarrassing Moment was Singapore.

I arrived in the city state of Singapore from Bangkok after visiting Burma (Myanmar) for several days. The trip to Burma was good—I’ll write about it at some point later.

It terms of price, Singapore is a mid-ranged city; it’s not super-expensive like Tokyo, but it’s not as cheap as Hong Kong either. I had booked a room at the local YMCA, which in Singapore is more like a hotel than a hostel. It was a nice room with my own shower, internet access, and free breakfast in the mornings. I spent the days wandering the city like I always do, and just as in Hong Kong, a lot of the wandering in Singapore takes place in malls and connected shopping centers.

One of these shopping centers was on Orchard Road, right outside the YMCA. I ended up there in the afternoon after taking the metro to various places around the city. I don’t always eat lunch when I’m traveling, but I almost never miss my afternoon coffee break.

There are a lot of Starbucks in Singapore—this guy can tell you exactly how many and where they are. They’re just like “home” in most places, but also serve local items. Thus I ended up at the Orchard Road Starbucks, where I looked forward to taking my coffee back over to the YMCA for an hour of reading.

I went inside, thankful for the a/c since Singapore is usually very hot. I ordered a café au lait, which for some reason is called something different in each country in the world (what’s with that, Starbucks?), and picked it up from the counter.

starbucks door

Then, a funny thing happened to me on the way out of the building. A glass door came out of the middle of nowhere and walked right into me.

Some of the many observers who witnessed this attack might say that I walked into the glass, but I’ll always know better. It was a fully-transparent glass door, and I swear it just appeared there all of a sudden. One moment I’m walking out of the Starbucks into the warm sunny day, and in the next moment, I’m staring at a coffee-covered glass door that came out of the sky to block my exit. My head hurt, and I dropped my bag.

At first I was in shock. What had just happened?

Then I looked down and saw my coffee on the floor, and looked up to see a glass door that wasn’t there before. I also saw a door handle, which apparently I was supposed to pull to open instead of attempting to magically walk through. Who knew?

I swear if there was someone there with a video camera that day, this incident would be all over YouTube. Thankfully, it was just me and a bunch of surprised Singaporeans. I could hear all kinds of people talking about me as I backed away from the wall of glass that had just come out of nowhere to block my exit.

“Did that guy just walk into the door?” someone said. “Oh my God,” said someone else.

Yes, it was that bad. When people could tell I was okay, they started to laugh. I looked up at them and tried to smile as I was cleaning my coffee off the floor and the brand-new glass door. As quick as I could, and as gracefully as I could—which wasn’t saying much by then—I got out of the building and walked away.

I went back across the street to the YMCA, where I drank the remaining half of my coffee that survived the accident. This café au lait is very well mixed now, I thought.

Later that night, I went back outside, and looked at my nemesis across the street. The evil glass door. Okay, I thought. It’s over now. What can I possibly learn from this?

The 5-Step Recovery Process

It goes like this. First, admit you have a problem… no, not that list.

Okay, try this one:

1. Put yourself together as quickly as possible. I had a few napkins in my hand, so I used one to wipe up some of the coffee and milk that was all over the door and the floor.

2. Laugh at yourself even though it’s not funny at all. It’s really not funny when it happens to you, but if you laugh, other people will feel more free to laugh. And then it’s like they’re laughing with you, although of course they’re not.

3. Never go back to the same Starbucks. OR, you can do it this way:

4. Force yourself to go back to the same place in an effort to break the jinx. Just remember to watch out for the door!

5. Use your embarrassing moment to help someone else, such as I’m doing here. I hope it’s helpful to you on your next visit to a glass-doored coffee shop somewhere in the world.

***

I won’t be so cruel as to ask you to think about your own embarrassing moments. Instead, I’ll ask you to think about your goals for world domination (or whatever they are). Recovering from stupid mistakes is crucial to living a life of adventure, because if you set out to do great things, you’ll probably have a few big falls as well.

I tried to forget about that afternoon on Orchard Road for as long as I could. But when I heard my friend’s embarrassing story the other day, it came right back into my mind.

I expect to be back in Singapore sometime in the summer, and I’ll probably stay in the YMCA again. It does a great free breakfast. But as to whether I’ll visit the Starbucks across the street or not, I’m really not sure.

If you ever go there yourself, watch out for the glass door. And when you fall down somewhere else, brush it off and keep going.

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Comment on this article

13 Responses to “How To Fall Down and Get Back Up Again”

  1. This entry had me laughing out loud at work! Thanks for sharing your story! :)

  2. Okay, I will give you that this was embarrassing, but I would challenge that it does not come close to the time I left the ladies room with the back of my dress firmly tucked into my panty hose and walked out to the crowded restaurant/bar with my butt for all to see.

  3. May 2, 2008

    Tianna

    Hmm… I have a similar story involving a slippery gangway, a coffee geyser and a busload of onlookers…

    Very fun and inspirational to read your writings. Good work — way to make it happen!

  4. June 26, 2008

    Pieter Friedrich

    I’d venture to say that a café au lait is called different things in different countries because it’s actually French for “coffee with milk.” Although, not usually ordering it, I’m not sure what it’s called in other countries, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a local approximation of “coffee with milk.”

  5. Chris:

    Gosh, LOL. That was funny – it brought on a chuckle and a vivid scene as the whole thing unfurled in my mind. Believe me, I’ve had my own embarrassing moments.

    In fact, if you don’t mind, I’ll give you a link to a story I wrote about my encounter with the “James Bond” lady/hooker.

    Not trying to top your “Most Embarrassing Moment” there but it was certainly one of mine and I now tell it to audiences in my speaking engagements. The moral of that story? Be authentic and don’t try to hide what’s obvious (like my disability-deafness).

    Smiling….

  6. That’s not embarrassing–it’s hilarious! I like having a good laugh at others’ misfortunes, but I hate it when it’s my own misfortune. That seems like such a backwards thing, but most of us are like that; and most of us can let it ruin our day (or our plans to take over the universe) quite easily.

    Thanks for sharing a good laugh.

  7. I guess this is just a coincidence, but it made me shook my head. I just came out of the shower, pulling off the surgical tape on my knee, looking at my unwanted new scar and swearing against evil glass, and I sat down on the sofa and read Chris` glass door story (without doing web search about that).

    I don`t want to play “who hates glass doors and windows the most”, because that kind of accident must happen to many people, everywhere, or so I like to think…
    There are people who walk into glass doors, and there are other who dash and jump into a window. Unfortunately, I`m in the second group.

    That happened in Sao Paulo airport, 2 weeks ago.
    Me and my girlfriend had to catch a 2am flight to Dubai. We checked-in early for the flight, at 10pm, to have enough time to have a meal with my girlfriend`s cousin and her husband, who brought us to the airport. But just before that, my girlfriend asked us to go outside to smoke. So we went. Me and the husband were talking about “parkour” (for those who don`t know what parkour is, please search for it in Wikipedia or Google). I love this sport, and have a couple of moves of my own. So I had the brilliant idea of showing one.

    Faster than you can spell fast, I jumped over the bench and ran towards that 10-feet circular hole in a wall adjacent to the airport building. 3 seconds after, I was above ground jumping knees joint and head first in the hole.
    My magnificent jump, however, was accompanied by a massive pressure on my face and an amazing crashing sound. I fell on my back, not understanding a thing of what just happened. I looked up, and saw that huge window, smashed but still standing on itself. I immediately stood up, hearing the comments of disbelief of the 15 or so people watching, apologizing for the windows and telling everybody I never saw it. My girlfriend and our friends made me sit down and they checked my head. It was apparently OK, but I had had a really strong shock on my skull. I noticed that my jeans were cut, so I looked inside and saw something white. It was my knee plate. I was cut open to the bone on 5cm.

    Then all the security staff and airline personnel arrived and walked me inside the airport. I started seeing black, and more black, until eventually I couldn`t see any colors at all. Did I just become blind?!? Oh God! Cold sweat, panic, girlfriend crying, tons of people around looking. My eyesight came back a minute later and I was transported on a stretcher to the airport emergency room.

    I was then transferred to the closest hospital by ambulance. The next hours were filled with tests, x-rays, a skull CT-scan, and questions, most of which where like :
    Q.: What happened to you?
    A.: I jumped into a window.
    Q.: Eh, what?
    A.: A god damn window.
    Q.: Why did you jump into a window?!?

    The results of all this :
    -My gf`s cousin and her husband taking back all our suitcases and waiting for us at the hospital until 4am.
    -We missed our flight to Dubai. We had to pay 200$ of penalty because we changed day.
    -Our hotel in Dubai was already paid for, and there was a 24-hour cancellation policy, so we said bye to this money.
    -A huge broken window at Sao Paulo airport.
    -5 stitches on my knee and a wound that swole big time. Doctors told me it`s gonna leave a bad looking scar.
    -I never got so embarrassed of my life, oh my God. I really thought I did the most stupid thing in the history of the whole airport.

    I really hate glass doors and windows. They are evil.

    P.S.: We went back to the airport to fly the next day. The moment we walked past the entrance, 2 staff came to ask us if I was alright. They said that all the airport has been talking all day about that ghost, who tried to run trough a window…

  8. I’ve done that once and it was embarassing and a bit of a surprise. I suspect the real worry is if someone walks into the same glass door twice.

  9. Glass doors and windows are evil. People who install them should make sure they’re frosted or have some sort of design at eye-level to prevent accidents (which are more common than you’d suppose, seeing the number of comments here).

  10. I’ve been to that Starbucks with the stealth door but I had a “sense” it was there before I ran into it.

    Thanks for sharing, very funny.

    Not an embarrassing story but a comment about Singapore. Wow, what a clean city. While I was walking around, I saw some construction going on. Just inside the fence there was a washing station where they washed the truck tires before the trucks pulled back onto the street. They didn’t want any dirt from the site to get onto the roads.

    Amazing.

  11. I’ve done it twice now, once when I was about thirteen, on my very own front door, and at a running pace, cutting open my knee exactly as Luis described above. Not that I realised that yet either, being more worried about what my mum was going to say, who was more worried about the incredible pool of blood that was spreading out around my feet. Talk about misreading facial expressions.
    That time wasn’t really so embarassing, at least not compared to the second time, which was when I was applying for a job, or really had just got a job, and was walking out saying goodbye to the reception staff and heading for the panel of glass beside the door, which of course didn’t yield as a door would, and I had enough momentum to keep going until I’d smashed it.
    Now that was cringeworthy, I still cringe when I think of it, and I’ll bet the new boss was thinking, “O **** what have I done”

  12. The same thing happened to me last January at a dessert place in Singapore!

    I had a greenish bruise on my forehead for a few days as a reminder .. but at the time I think my pride was hurt more.

    Good to know someone else who “survived” this experience.

  13. May 3, 2010

    Angela

    My invisible door is on a convenience store near a freeway on-ramp in a small Texas town near the Louisiana state line. The friend who was with me still busts out laughing whenever it is mentioned. I have learned to just laugh about it, too.