Selma and I were so happy to have left Singapore that Kuala Lumpur – a rather unremarkable city but most accounts – was a relaxing safe haven to us that we treasured. There’s nothing all that special about Malaysia’s capital, but we had a fantastic hostel, which can really make or break a place. Known as a party hostel, Reggae Mansion was actually pretty nice (although it’s not uncommon to hear the music pumping from the rooftop bar until 2-3am, but that’s when earplugs come in handy). The beds were HUGE capsules with a privacy curtain and the 24-person dorm we were in was kept extra cold. It was also impeccably clean and in a good location very near a train stop and Chinatown.
On our way to the hostel from the airport we met another traveler whose 13-month journey was just about to come to an end. Our conversation on the train stated the way most do among fellow backpackers with these five standard questions:
- Where are you from?
- How long are you traveling in (insert current country)?
- How long are you traveling in total?
- Where have you been?
- Where are you going next?
Eventually you swap travel stories, give and ask for recommendations, even start making plans for that evening or, if you’re going along the same route, the next few days. It’s not uncommon for all of this to take place before even asking each other your names. I’ve shared cabs, drinks, even rooms with people whose name I couldn’t even begin to guess. This could not be more different than the two standard questions always asked upfront in America:
- What’s your name?
- What do you do?
There’s an enormous emphasis placed on your work in America, which makes sense because it’s what Americans spend the majority of their time on. Everything is relative. I probably wouldn’t start a conversation with someone in America with “where are you planning to travel next?” anymore than I would ask a backpacker about their 401K plan (I probably wouldn’t ask anyone in the US about that either, but I couldn’t think of anything business-y while riding on a bumpy bus). But, while I am interested in what others do, it seems like it can be a bit of a buzzkill. My Aussie friend Jess and I discussed this while traveling in Morocco and she said, “Instead of asking people what they do for a living, I’m going to start asking them, ‘so what interests you?’” I thought that was brilliant. But I digress.
We eventually found out that our new friend’s name was Lawrence and, sine he hadn’t booked a hostel yet, he followed us to Reggae Mansion and the three of us spent the next few days bumming around KL. When it was all said and done, Selma and I were there for nearly a week while we waited on our Vietnamese visa approval letters to come through. We thoroughly enjoyed our time resting up, but were so anxious for Vietnam, which everyone spoke so highly of. On to the next one!