Help! I dropped my key! (Problem Solving in a Foreign Language)

The wedding reception was starting in 20 minutes.

I looked over the balcony at my wife in utter disbelief. In my attempt to ninja-star-throw our hotel’s access card to my wife, who had just returned from shopping, and was standing 3 floors below, I had forgotten to take into account the wind. The moment it left my hand I knew I was in trouble.

The golden key card – our only card – had swiftly shot onto the balcony below us. My wife looked around on the ground, thinking it had landed somewhere close.

“It’s on the balcony.” I told her.

“Ok. Toss it down.”

“No, it’s on the balcony below me.”

Five seconds later and it dawned on her what happened. Bless her heart, but she laughed. You know who also laughed, the Thai security guard standing 20 steps away, watching the confusing debacle unfold. Bless his heart too.

It wasn’t even our apartment.

We were in Thailand for a friend’s wedding and had booked a place on AirBnB. The apartment belonged to a very kind Thai woman with whom we had rented it out for a few days. Unfortunately, the only access key to get in and out of the building was resting calmly on the second floor balcony below.

The wedding reception was starting in 15 minutes.

We attempted to explain the situation to our security guard but he didn’t speak English. This had been the case for our entire trip.

Hardly anyone we met out in public – baristas, taxi drivers, servers – spoke English. We weren’t at all bitter about it. This was Thailand, not the US, and in Thailand they spoke Thai. Still, when you lose the way into your apartment building, speaking the language of those who could help you… helps.IMG_5989

Cue Google Translate.


At least, the security guard understood the problem. But he still couldn’t help us.

5 minutes until the wedding reception.


“Ladder?” I said, as I climbed imaginary rungs. He smiled and said “Ok”, but something told me we were not getting a ladder in the next 5 minutes, however pleasant this man was. We decided the wedding more important and let the card lie.

Later that night, we somehow got into the building, resolved to find a way to the key tomorrow. Flash to the next morning, our checkout day.

The apartment owner had given us instructions to deposit the card in her mailbox when we left for the airport. If only we had the card.

About 10 minutes before leaving for the airport I said, “That’s it!”

I went down to the ground level, and signaled to the security guard (who remarkably, was the same one as the day before).


He smiled.

“You lift?” I asked, as I joined my hands together down at my knees, and raised them upwards in a sign of his role in this rescue mission.


He stood directly below the balcony and interlinked his hands. Grabbing his shoulder and part of his face, I lifted myself towards the balcony.

Turns out, we didn’t need a ladder to solve this minor/major problem. All we needed was two guys, and a few hand signals. Teamwork, it seems, is trans-lingual.