Tinker Tailor Cobbler Spy

I spy a cobbler. Exactly what I needed, and a word I think a good number of people haven’t heard spoken aloud in their lifetime.

It’s a bit of a throwaway society in America. It breaks, you junk it. No one’s about to mend a sock when you can buy a cheap pair of new ones, and anyway, how does one mend a sock? I’ve never been a big fan of just tossing things and for years I ended up a pack rat with odds and ends, spare parts, and toasters and blenders turned to paperweights in the back of the cupboard. I think the whole “waste not, want not” attitude is a hand-me-down from grandparents who grew up in the Great Depression and passed it on to my parents when they were just starting out and struggling to make ends meet.

So it pleases me like crazy to be able to salvage things on the road. People have skills.

A Thai Mr. Fix-it. We asked him what he can fix. TVs, DVDs, pretty much anything! he said.

Good luck finding someone who can repair plaster properly – the world is all sheetrock to them now. Mend a shirt? Fix your broken toaster for less than the cost of a new one? Not likely. But there are people who can still do these things, and often I find them right out on the street.

Last week I blew out a shoe, right in the middle of Tokyo during a business trip. Felt the breeze coming in but still OK. The shoes cost me over $100. Do I just chuck ‘em? I survived another day and took them back to Bangkok. Right there on the street was a cobbler sitting under an umbrella on the walk. He looked over the hole. 20 baht. (66 cents) Heck, yeah. Make it so!

He produced a pair of slippers and I sat on a plastic stool while he went to work. He looked at the other shoe and that too had a seam that had blown its stitches. Minutes later I gave him 40 baht – not even a buck fifty – and walked off with a solid pair of wingtips. There’s at least another year in them and honestly, if the sole wears out, this guy could replace that just as well.

I had a favorite shirt. This is more of a guy thing, I’m sure. It was a grubby, loose, collared shirt with a breast pocket, perfect for me for hiking (and that pocket is great for a lens cap when I’m shooting photos). So the collar was torn and threadbare beyond redemption. Or so I thought. My mother-in-law noted my attachment and took it off to the local tailor here in Bangkok. It came back miraculously perfect. Huh? The tailor completely unstitched the collar, sewed a piece of neutral fabric to re-establish the torn area, and sewed it back onto the shirt with the unworn side facing out. Voila! New favorite shirt!

This is the inside of the collar. The outside is unfaded and unworn – unlike the original threadbare side! And by the way, this was a name brand shirt gifted to me brand new – it lasted not even a year before I had to mend it.

A while back I met up with Rob of Stop Having a Boring Life in my favorite city, Istanbul, and we wandered the backstreets just off the beaten path from the tourist center of old city on the European side. We passed a building that looked like it had barely survived an earthquake, tilted and bowed, crumbling and dusty, the front door wide open. Inside an old man worked at a sewing machine. Rob paused. “I have a pocket that needs to be sewn. Think he’d fix it? Ah, but I have nothing else to wear.” I suggested he just turn it inside out and sidle up next to the sewing machine.

We greeted the man, showed him the pocket, and with no hesitation he took us inside and ran the pocket right through while Rob sort of half sat on the sewing table. Took him two seconds, and he refused to take so much as a coin. Another awesome Turkish moment. Love that place. Now if I could darn one of these darn socks…

(More Turkish articles on the Home Site)

Side note: Part of my financial plan to be able to travel as much as I do involves cutting out unnecessary spending. See my related post Funding Your Travel: One man’s treasure is another man’s junk.