Penang Island, Malaysia - The same dream came again. In it, I’m in this awe-inspiring place, a big city with different faces. But, this time, it really wasn’t just a dream because I actually woke up in that city. Kuala Lumpur was mine for the taking and I knew I wasn't searching for those faces here. I was searching for me.
Penang Island, Malaysia – The same dream came again. In it, I’m in this awe-inspiring place, a big city with different faces. But, this time, it really wasn’t just a dream because I actually woke up in that city. Kuala Lumpur was mine for the taking and I knew I wasn’t searching for those faces here. I was searching for me.
My first day started with the breakfast that comes included with the dormitory bed I rented. It was nothing fancy, but I loved it! French toast, butter and a cup of water never tasted so good. Not that I am a breakfast person, in fact while I was growing up my Mama always struggled to get me eat something before I went to school. Even when I was living away from her, she always reminded me of the importance of breakfast. I thought of my Mom and my love for her this first morning in Kuala Lumpur, having breakfast on my own for the first time in my new city. My first breakfast gave me the strength that I needed as a solo traveler. I was ready to say YES to everything new!
Next, I headed out to explore the big city, taking some maps on my way out of the hostel. Surprisingly, my first destination was just across the road: the splendid Central Market or as I like to call it, the blue building (simply because it’s just a blue building). The market opened in 1888. The present building was constructed in 1928. It used to be the city’s main “wet market,” but now it’s one of the main attractions for tourists craving Malaysian souvenirs, handicrafts, kebaya (the traditional blouse), batik and jewelry. It even has a contemporary local arts gallery full of the product of talented painters. Stalls, large and small, inside and out, sell all sorts of interesting things from different ethnicities. What seemed a very quick four hours later I realized that I should focus on eating lunch. If I waited until I got enough of all the fabulous stuff I would starve to death.
I found my way to the central food court inside the market and “oh boy!” The mixture of the various ethnic foods smelled heavenly. It was a hard choice but it had to be made. I went for a spicy Thai dish that was so wonderful I can still savor its unique taste in my mouth right now. After lunch, I was on to my next adventure.
Central market is situated at the border of China Town. So, I decided to combine the first part of my day with a visit to China Town. But on my walk, it started pouring! It was my first taste of tropical, rainy weather and in my excitement of looking at and eating new things, I hadn’t seen it coming. But something new occurred to me. For the first time I wasn’t afraid of walking in the rain shower. Instead, I loved everything about it! It was surprisingly warm. As I walked confidently in it, I concluded two things; first, I was soaking wet and had to return to the hostel and second, things aren’t always as we first perceive them. Just because we grow up with certain beliefs and opinions, doesn’t mean that there isn’t another side to them. Phaedrus was right when he said “things are not always as they seem.” Different from what I had ever thought before, I realized that rain doesn’t necessarily have to be cold.
I rushed in to my room, or should I say our room? It seemed like I might have some company. I figured my new roommate must be a girl with all the makeup products and clothes scattered on her bed. I didn’t know how to feel about a stranger in my room, should I be nervous? Should I just ignore her? First impressions had always tended to give away the wrong idea about me, especially with girls. But then again that’s the thing about first impressions they are often entirely wrong. I decided to just relax and stop worrying about meeting her and just get my towel and toiletries and head to the shower. The shower was located in the “shared bathrooms,” which were common bathrooms used by all of the hostel’s guests, male and female alike. This was just another new experience for me in this new land.
On the way, I bumped into a girl in the narrow corridor. She was tall and slim, wrapped up in a beach towel, looking like a model with her golden swept back wet hair, walking proudly with perfect long legs. We exchanged a brief smile and each continued on in our different directions. In the hot shower, I appreciated how much a hot shower could be bliss when on the road. Some hostels apparently don’t even have showers, hot or otherwise, so I was lucky.
On my way back to the room, I felt awkwardly because I had on nothing but a towel wrapped around me to cover my chest down to my knees. I was terrified by the thought of someone bumping into me looking the way I did. I was holding my shower kit up to my chest and at the same time making sure the towel was held tight while running in small steps. To my great surprise I found the perfectly shaped model-like girl on the bottom bunk bed across from mine. I tried to act normally.
“Hi,” I said as I entered.“Hey,” she smiled back at me.And that was all we said for what seemed to be an eternity of awkward silence, while each one of us busied ourselves with changing, applying moisturizers and engaging in after shower routines. I couldn’t help but notice her trying to dry out her hair with a wet towel so I reached into my suitcase and took out my tiny, foldable hairdryer and handed it to her. She seemed hesitant at first but I encouraged her with a smile.
Simply loaning a hairdryer led to nonstop girl chitchat, from how much she loved my pink makeup purse and how it helps me organize my handbag to her struggle with her backpack and how hard it is for her to find her things unless she unpacks everything. I found out later that her name is Sara and she is from Sweden. I also realized the rumors are true. Swedish girls are not just pretty, they’re gorgeous!
She was the first person of real inspiration I met in my new country, an experienced backpacker. She told me she had worked on a farm in Australia for one year and went to New Zealand for another six months and then onto Bali. Malaysia was her last stop before catching a flight to Thailand the next day. I was fascinated by her journey, but knew we had little time left to get to know each other. One of the drawbacks of traveling is that you meet great people, but when they leave, you are left with a snowball of sadness. The time together with new friends is a blast. The goodbye moments are put in my diary. But, maybe it is the moments of the blast that should really be remembered.
Sara was all I wanted to be and more, so I listened carefully to her advice. She gave me tips on how much to spend per day and where to eat and what to wear. She even helped me socialize with other fellow backpackers down in the hostel lobby. That’s where everybody meets and chats about everything and nothing at all, but it is priceless human interaction, nonetheless. Before Sara, I had been too afraid to sit in there but now that I’ve got a taste of it, it will be my new favorite spot.
My hostel, the Matahari is very small with very small rooms. A dormitory of six beds makes intimate conversations not only possible but indispensable. And conversing intimately was one of the things Sara and I did that night. She told me so much about her journey as well as her personal troubles. I could tell that her backpack wasn’t the only heavy thing she was carrying. By listening to her, I hope I helped her carry some of her “other” heavy baggage. That night I also learned that Sara just like any other lost soul with some scars on her but she was ready to leave her marks on the world, and especially on me.
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