Once again I find my field of study creeping into my social situations while travelling….I was killing a 9 hour wait until my night train to Kuala Lumpur from the border city of Johor Bahru, just north of Singapore. I spent a few hours in the mall wandering but was back at the terminal by 7pm when the bus wasn’t until 11:30. I tried to cozy into the flimsy aluminum chairs at the terminal and hope for the best.
As I had moved on from Malaysia to Thailand in my Lonely Planet guide, the man behind me over my shoulder abruptly informing me that I was looking at the wrong country. Attempting not to be put off by his interruption a laughed it off and explained my travel route. As many people do, he told me I was both brave and crazy. I asked him what train he was waiting for, then he explained that he lives in JB and commutes into Singapore daily for work because he earns double the money at his factory job. We continued to chat about family and mostly my plans for Malaysia. He basically convinced me to ditch the Perhentian Islands which I had become dead set on after hearing more travellers rave about them in Singapore…he asked what I liked doing and laughed saying, none of that is what you do on islands, spend your time in Penang and Chiang Mai (My interests were: Eating, Yoga, Hiking…and stuff). Valid.
Anyhow, as about an hour passed we were surrounded by another 3 men (all in their 60’s except my friend who was only 53…which angered him because his friends got the seniors fare and he couldn’t). One fancied the Indian cleaning lady, another had all sorts of great snacks, and the other showing me his dialysis ridden arms. I may also note that they were appalled when I said my grandpa’s arms looked just as bad from treatment in Canada. Anyway, a couple others came and went but that seemed to be the core group. My new friend Kua explained that before him none of them would talk…but they all speak Mandarin, and him, Cantonese…so even though he brought them together they speak in Mandarin and he can’t understand much of it anyway.
I found it interesting that they had made this sort of club at the train station. A group of middle aged men, Kua is married, his wife is in Indonesia, who hang out sometimes all night and shoot the breeze because for whatever reason they would all rather be there together than home apart. It reminded me of the sort of group my grandmother started at her local café, and even what I have been temporarily doing in each of my destinations. I also realized how my attitude towards it has changed as I’ve travelled. For starters I tried to be friends with people I felt already had a group that I wanted to be a part of based on others thinking they were ‘cool’ [high school, I know] and hoping that they would accept me. I’ve grown to a point where I’m genuinely confident enough on my own that I have found myself not only seeking people of quality to surround myself with, but also reaching out to those too shy to reach out on their own. I don’t consciously look to find a group, but when I look back at it the trends sort of surface, and its an interesting shift in mindset I didn’t realize I had had.
On this note I think I realized why I don’t like the typical backpacker day in each city travel style. This is definitely biased from travelling alone, but until I’ve been a part of a group, I don’t feel like I’ve belonged somewhere. And without feeling like I belonged, I either don’t like a place, or don’t feel like I’ve been…maybe because I have had nobody to share it with. For example, I found Kuala Lumpur to be dismal. A terrible city to walk, having my ass grabbed by indian men, dirty, rude, and a total dismissal for modern washrooms even in upscale places….coincidentally I made no friends. I’m not saying I added nobody on facebook…Literally the longest conversation I had was with my foot masseuse. I felt more love for Johor Bahru, the skeezy border town, because for the night, I belonged. His friends and him bought me dinner and buns for the train ride (in theory they could’ve been laced…but they were fine), a few called friends to ask tips for where I was going and what hostels to stay at…and they tried there damndest to teach me phrases of mandarin.
And so, the travels continue…except I’ve changed a bit of my plans…I have 20 days until I need to be in Phnom Penh, but I do not want to feel the way I did about KL again… so 2 things..I will stay longer than a day, and I will put in the extra cash to have at least tolerable levels of hygiene at my hostels/homestays. I am spending 3 days at the Cameron highlands…mostly because LP claims that it isn’t hot and humid…and I’m really tired if perma-hyper-hydrosis. Then off to Penang for about 5 days…for the food…let’s be honest. Also with hopes of being able to go for a couple runs , 3 days of trains and rice post bali and I feel like I’ve lost all the awesomeness I was feeling. Then I will be in Thailand for the Full moon party whether I go or not, I’ll spend 4 days on each the west and east islands, with remaining days in Bangkok before heading over the border.
Also, I’ve become an expert at collecting toilet paper and napkins at all stops…Although spending money on paper to wipe your ass with might be a frivolous expenditure, with all the money floating around asia these days I really thought they would’ve converted. Also, I’ve learned my lesson…always ask to see the room before paying. My room last night had no sheets…holes in the mattress…a sliding door, because there literally wasn’t enough floor space for a hinged one…there was no toilet paper, soap, or even water bucket in the washroom….and the breakfast was ‘luxurious’ because there were two flavours of jam. Thank god I paid 7 bucks for a single room…I might have preferred the dorm for 4 bucks except the part where I could smell the rice cookers on from across the hall… Oasis guest house….don’t do it.