This usually doesn’t happen to me — but one night I got too stressed before a flight, tried to do everything quicker than my brain could handle and lost my keys. The venue was closing, and my flight was leaving. We looked for a while, shrugged and left my bike in the parking.

Five days later we came back, paid the parking attendant VND50,000 (US$2.25) to release my bike and wheeled it to a closeby street seller. We got a tra da (iced tea) and waited for the locksmith to come. We waited and waited. And eventually he came, balancing a burnished green metal key cutting device on his backseat.

Over 20 minutes he tested the lock, dipping the unformed replacement key in and out, testing for friction. Each time he would take an enormous nail file to the key, lightly shaving metal from the sections that had caught on the cylinder. It was a soothing experience, to watch this man ply his craft, reassuring us that our situation was one he had dealt with before.

When he was done, he offered to make a spare key for VND20,000 (US$0.90). We said sure, and he hand-cut a duplicate key over the next 10 minutes. After that we gave him a total of VND210,000 (US$9.50) and took my beloved 1967 Honda Super Sport 50 to the gas station. I don’t want to get all middle-class-Westerner-in-a-comparitively-poorer-place on you, but that’s cheap!

The value I got out of this experience wasn’t in comparing the money I saved over a Western locksmith and overnight parking fee, but rather the knowledge that something that could have been a catastrophe elsewhere was just a novel experience here.

Western countries are relatively safer and more predictable. I’ve rarely gotten a flat tire in my car — but the few times I have it’s derailed my night. Here, things happen, but people are used to solving them in the flow of everyday life. And it’s made me feel like I’m less on the precipice of disaster with every lost key.

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