Zipping Around Chiang Mai: a tourist in need

It all started at a wat in Chiang Mai when I tried to zip my pants’ extensions on.  The zipper wouldn’t budge and was bent at the most curious angle.  Odd, since I hadn’t used them in a month.

In the last week, I had lost a pair of shorts in the laundry, ripped the crotch in my too fragile elephant pants and noticed my skort had split at the seam.  I was pants poor.  In a few days I would be volunteering at an elephant sanctuary for a week and needed them badly.  Thinking the zipper would bend back easily I tried to wriggle a pen in there followed by a small coin.  The pants just laughed at me.

Two days later I was standing at the vast Warorat Market looking for Coffee’s brother and his trinket shop.

I met Coffee the previous evening outside of dueling tailor shops.  I was full of anxiety with tears about to spillover.  One shop had said they could replace the zipper, but the store was deserted when I showed up that morning.  The other vowed to repair them, but when I eagerly returned to pick up the pants they hadn’t replaced the zipper because they didn’t specifically ask me if that was ok.  I guess ‘fix the pants’ somehow got lost in translation.  Tomorrow was Sunday, which meant that none of the women who did the sewing for either shop would be working.  I was, as my Pop-Pop would say, ‘Up S**t’s creek without a paddle’.  Or zipper, rather.

Coffee had been watching me go back and forth between shops.  He intervened to explain where in town there may be a tailor open the next day, but it was hard to grasp from his gestures.  Suddenly he was on the phone and after finishing the call and tells me to go to his brother’s shop tomorrow.  His brother would take me to a lady he knew that fixes things.  Which is why I was at the sprawling market on a Sunday morning with half of Chiang Mai.

After sorted directions from several shopkeepers and getting lost in a maze of stores, I finally found his brother.

He locked up his shop to walk me to his tailor.  Quickly examining the pants, she shook her head no.  But then she gestured up and to the right with a vague wave of her hand. Upstairs and down a cluttered narrow hallway I found a dainty older Thai woman behind a sewing machine.  I greeted her with a smile and held out the pants, hopeful.  She tried the same methods as I to bend the zipper, chuckled, then made me follow her to another group of women.  They gestured and chatted in Thai for several minutes.  Then one spoke and said to buy a new zipper and they could fix them.

Armed with a bag with the name of a fabric store on it I set off.

Lost again, another woman drew a map which led me there.  I walked inside and explained my predicament once more.  Right then and there the owner pops off the piece of the zipper that was bent.  Someone appears with a replacement.  It glides on.  It took them two minutes and the pants were magically fixed!  I was gleeful.

Returning to the other group of women I thanked them.  Next time I’m in town I plan to visit Coffee’s shop.  Chiang Mai rules.  All the wrongs finally lead me to a series of people who were willing to go the extra mile to help out a stranger.  And her broken pants.


A short story about the kindness of strangers when presented with a problem in a foreign land.

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