Someone stole my damn shoes.
On an around the world trip, there's a pretty short list of must-haves. A passport would likely be at the top of the list. Access to some money would be right up there as well. As it turns out, shoes are pretty freakin important too.
In Malaysia (and the majority of Southeast Asia), it's customary to take your shoes off before entering homes. This apparently includes cheap hostels as well. I was a little wary at first, but at the end of the week, I was pretty comfortable kicking them off before heading inside. The shoe rack (which I couldn't use) was inside the gate, and right near the window of the hostel. For five straight days I found them sitting right there on the patio with everyone else's.
On my last day in Malaysia, I got up at 6:00 am to pack up and catch a flight to Cambodia. I trudged downstairs, checked out, hauled my luggage to the picnic table outside and turned to grab my shoes...
At first you're just like "ah, they're here somewhere, maybe just behind... nope. Nope. Nope." And then you remember - oh yeah, mine are twice as big as everyone else's - they aren't going to be behind anything. They're gone. Needless to say, not a pleasant surprise when getting up at 6:00 in the morning and heading to the airport.
The little dude on staff helped me look - he checked around, looking in all the nooks and crannies - even in a little cupboard where some other shoes are stored inside. He obviously hadn't taken a look at my feet. That cupboard could probably fit inside my right shoe. It was painful to listen to him ask me to check back up in my room, and watch him check the rack outside for the eighth time. He was nice enough though.
Still, my shoes are gone. This sucks. Someone must have really wanted them - which lead me to a batch of questions - all centered around one thought: "What the hell is anyone going to do with my shoes?
First of all, they are Columbia hiking shoes. Not exactly overly useful in Kuala Lumpur's jungle of concrete and asphalt.
Second, the tread was almost completely gone. I bought them before the trip - and had used them only once, on a hiking trip in Arizona. However, as my primary footwear on this trip, I've managed to wear the grip completely down - to the point where if it rains, and I was walking on concrete or smooth stone, it was like ice skating.
Third, and most importantly: THEY ARE SIZE 16! What the hell is anyone in Malaysia going to do with size 16 shoes? I walked around Kuala Lumpur for four days, and didn't see anyone even close to my height. Not that being tall is a sure-fire indicator of big feet, but it sure as hell doesn't hurt. Apparently someone wanted a souvenir from the freak-show staying at the hostel.
Fortunately, the situation wasn't as catastrophic as it could have been. I have a pair of Columbia Sandals I wear when the occasion presents itself. Fortunately they're not the wussy thong-type sandals, but the around-the-ankle deals you can wear in the water, on the street, etc. They'll get me by until I get another pair of shoes.
However, getting a new pair isn't as easy as you might think. I can't just go into a store and buy a new pair. If a store in Asia carries over a 12, it's a minor miracle. 16's just make people laugh. And, there aren't a lot of Big and Tall shops in SE Asia.
As luck would have it, I semi-planned for an occasion such as this. I bought a second pair of shoes and left them in Missouri with my folks. I formulated a plan while in the air, and as soon as I landed in Siem Reap, I fired an email to them, relaying the story, and provided some mailing details. The one spot I knew I'd be in for sure was Delhi, India, as I am hooking up with a tour group for a 15 day roam of India. So, if all goes well, and Indian customs doesn't intervene, a new pair of shoes is on its way to a hotel in Delhi for me to pick up.
So, chalk up a couple more lessons to my worldly education. Custom or not, take your shoes with you. Especially if you only have one freakin pair.
If you're ever in Kuala Lumpur, and see a couple of shoe-shaped flower planters, let me know.