What happens in Singapore stays in Singapore. Until now.
Only a handful know about this story because:
a.) It’s so unbelievably stupid.
b.) It’s unbelievably embarrassing.
c.) It should not be attempted by anyone else.
I present the “Travel Disaster Of The Century!”:
The week before school started last June 2013, Bea and I decided to have a “Mom & Bea Adventure!” in Singapore. I love traveling with Bea. She packs her own travel bag and brings it around on her own, reads the map. We’re like a well-oiled mom and daughter machine. She brought along a backpack for water, iPad, face towel, extra shirt, etc. I brought my trusty old Y-3 messenger bag that I use often for travel because it’s huge and has lots of pockets. That bag was around 8 years old and has been repaired professionally and by my own hands so many times. The lining was torn at the seams but I kept using it.
Our last day was a trip to Jurong Bird Park. Before leaving the hotel, I had problems with my bag’s zipper. “It’s okay, I’ll just make sure it’s in front of me. We’re heading home anyway” I said. So off to Jurong Bird Park we went! I had my travel bag in front and backpack with both our clothes on my back. Mom and Bea having an adventure with our backpacks like Dora and Boots! We loved the fluffy and colorful birds but of course we had to buy water as we walked around and that’s when the trouble started.
The strap of my bag snapped and broke. It had no zipper and no strap. So I had to lug it around with both arms. David HASSLEhoff.
I didn’t want to be a drag and kill Bea’s mood (she was starting to worry about our things and my backpack was starting to feel like it had rocks in it) so I said, “We’re going to ION Orchard after this to go to Sephora. I’ll just get a bag at H&M to replace it and I want you to try Popeye’s! It has chicken like Jollibee!”
So off to ION Orchard we went with our backpacks on our backs. I had on shin-length oxblood patent leather Doc Marten’s, jeans, and MAC Russian Red lipstick.
Sephora… Check! Buy a bag at H&M… Check! Popeye’s for a snack, rest a bit and change bags…
So we ate chicken and said hi to some Filipinos who seem to like it there. I moved all the things from my Y-3 bag into the H&M bag, double checked, folded the Y-3 bag and placed it inside the H&M plastic bag and searched for a trash bin.
“Are you throwing that out?” I asked the Chinese bus boy with the full trash bin who seemed to know a little English. “Ah, yes!” he said. So I placed the H&M plastic bag on top of the garbage bag. He tied it up and carted it off.
We quickly left since the H&M and Popeye’s pit stop was not in the schedule and asked this nice Filipina at the concierge where the taxi stand was. Off to the airport we went!
Halfway through the ride, I decided to prepare our tickets and travel documents to save time. The next words I uttered were, “OH MY GOD!” It was so loud that the cabbie asked what happened. “Uncle, we need to go back to ION Orchard!” was all I could say and I just calmly told Bea “Baby, I forgot something at the mall and we really have to get it.”
All this while I sent a message to my Mark saying “Babe, I left our passports in the bag I threw away. Don’t worry. I’ll try to get it back. I’ll just update you if we can make it to our flight.” I don’t think that reassured him.
My head was whirring. I knew time was of the essence since I knew the garbage bag was off to God knows where.
The taxi driver brought us back to ION Orchard. I dragged Bea to the Concierge and spoke to the Filipina girl “Hi, we left our passports at Popeye’s and I really need to get it. Can I leave my daughter and luggage with you?”
“OUR PASSPORTS?!” Bea said.
“I need you to listen to me carefully. I’ll leave you here with the woman, she’s Filipino and I’ll just quickly run and get our passport from Popeye’s okay? I will leave the Samsung tablet with you and you can text and call me anytime. Trust mommy,” I answered in the calmest mommy voice I could muster.
“Okay, Mom.” was all my poor daughter could say. Her anxiety-driven head must have been stressing.
I ran fast, 3 stories below, past shops and corners, and got to Popeye’s. I went to the same Chinese busboy and asked him where the garbage bag was and he just stared at me. He didn’t understand what I said and I had to revert to sign language. He called his manager who spoke English and they talked to discuss the situation. “Aahh… it’s with the uncle. Old man uncle who gets the garbage,” the manager said.
“Where is he? Can you call him? Where do they bring all the garbage?” I asked.
“We don’t really know but uncle comes by several times a day. Maybe you can wait for him,” she said.
“I CAN’T WAIT! I HAVE A FLIGHT TO CATCH AND A DAUGHTER ALL ALONE AT THE CONCIERGE WITH A STRANGER!” I screamed in my head. “Okay. I’ll try to wait,” I said.
3, 4, 5 minutes passed… I call Bea and to check on her while praying for a miracle. Then I see an old man walking. He could have been a mall customer but I just felt he was the “old man uncle who picks up the garbage.” I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. I pull the Chinese boy from the counter and asked “Is that uncle?”
“Yes, uncle!” he said. I ran towards the man and explained. I repeated my story to the man who knew less English than the busboy.
So I challenged my sign language skills. Garbage – documents – where put garbage?
He looked hesitant and signaled back : Me-no look garbage. *swimming motion and shaking his head*
Me *I point to myself* look in garbage… and his eyes light up and he points to a door marked “Authorized Personnel Only.” I ran while dragging him with me and we went 3 floors down a flight of stairs and into the basement.
The basement was more like a docking area. It was where deliveries were done for the stores and restaurants. It also had rows of garbage compactors. Huge garbage compactors where you just throw in the bags 10 feet up the air and they land inside waiting to be compacted and ready for garbage truck pick-up. Uncle brought me in front of this kind of compactor:
“Inside,” he said. Well, more like me flailing my arms asking if it were inside and him saying yes. So I went to the Indian operator and told him what happened. He looked at me crazy and said no. I said “YES! I can’t leave with my daughter if I don’t get it!” and proceeded to just unplug the compactor (big-ass plug) looked at him and said “For safety,” then climbed up the slippery, slimy, garbage-ridden compactor in my jeans, red lipstick, shin-length red patent Doc Marten’s and thanked years of National climbing competitions for training me for this day. He had no choice but to watch or I think he was in shock.
I plopped into a sea of garbage bags and garbage. Hundreds of them.
It smelled like hell. Seriously. I didn’t know where to start so I started from the very back end left then dug into every single garbage bag. In my head, I knew I was looking for a Popeye’s garbage bag then it would be a fastfood bag with red-orange paper containers and plastic cups and chicken remnants. I tore open part of the bag, peered in or pulled out the contents, checked and moved on to the next bag on the right. Food remnants, kitchen garbage, bathroom filth with toilet paper, innards, paper, and every single disgusting thing you can think of. I wasn’t thinking at that point. I was just zeroing in and doing what I needed to do until I reached the last row of bags. By this time, I wanted to give up and just cry. Nobody offered help, they just watched from outside and kept shaking their heads as if I were crazy (which was actually true at that point).
By then there was already a crowd of maintenance people watching and I was already crafting plan B, which was to go find a hotel and contact the embassy the next day. I was already there so I kept on. Half of the last row of bags was already eaten up by the compactor and lodged on its teeth. I moved to the left side and started there and moved to the right. As I opened each bag and saw nothing but filth, my heart sank. Then I tore into the last bag on the right but it was already lodged tight into the compactor but I just had to try because there were red orange containers in it!
I tore and pulled and tugged and threw out chicken remnants and half chewed food and rice and finally a cream colored H&M plastic bag emerged! But I couldn’t pull it out because it was already half compacted and there’s no way to reverse the compactor. So, I just opened it and saw my old, trusty Y-3 bag and kept tugging and opened the pockets trying to feel for our passports. Then, I decided to check the torn seam and yes, they were there. The passports went through the torn seam (no wonder I didn’t see them) from the pocket and I easily pulled them out and raised them up. “I found them!” and this time I screamed aloud. It felt like winning the Olympics, I tell you!
Up the slimy, stinky, slippery compactor I went and jumped on the pavement of the basement in the middle of a crowd of maintenance people. I was covered with garbage. There was disgusting, dirty rice all over my shoes, my jeans were all covered with garbage slime, there was lettuce all over my hair. And everyone clapped! What. The. Heck. I’m glad I seemed entertaining.
“Uncle, I found them!” I told “old-man-uncle-who-picks-up-the-garbage” with a big smile on my face. He just looked at me crazy. “I have to go to my daughter!” I said. I got $100 from my pocket and gave it to him, said thank you for the help and ran. I paused for a moment because I wanted to take a picture for Instagram but changed my mind because my hands were covered with the puke of hell. Though in hindsight, I wish I had.
I went up the stairs, passed by a toilet, and quickly washed my arms. The stink was bad and I really wanted to throw up but I had to rush. I ran back to the concierge and just in time because Bea had this “I’m about to cry look” on her face.
“Hey, babe! I found them. I told you, I’ll get them,” I said calmly. I wanted to hug her to feel better and cry after the ordeal but I was filthy.
“You were gone for 45 minutes, Mom. You scared me!” she said and gave me a smile. Wow… 45 minutes. It felt like hours.
We rode another cab for the airport and I told her everything that happened. We laughed about it and she said “Mom, you’re crazy but this has been the best adventure ever!”
Moral of the story:
- Do not use broken bags when traveling.
- Do not leave your children with strangers.
- Do not climb inside a garbage compactor but if you do, unplug them.
- Do not bully people especially if you’re not in your own country,
- If you lose your passport, call the Philippine Embassy.
I had to share to everyone and when I have grandkids, I’ll just print this out because this is one long epic story about grandma’s travel disaster of the century.