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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.

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.