Same same. But different

25 Apr

Hostels have a distinct scent to them. It is a smell of sweat and excitement and rotting food and old noodles and sleep and musty fanned air. It doesn’t matter where in the world I have been, all hostels smell the same. There is an atmosphere of tired enthusiasm. And despite the uniqueness of the people sharing bunk beds and travel tips and instant coffee, they are all the same. The grey haired woman reading Danielle Steel in the corner and the Australian surfer wearing a singlet throwing back a beer or two or 12. Everyone is gathered at the same place because of their willingness to take a chance on something different. Even if its just a quick holiday from work, everyone made the decision to book a flight to some obscure country hoping for something.

I think that is what the common denominator is, hope. Might be tired hope, old hope, new hope, spitefulhope, innocent hope or just plain ol’ hope . The curious collection of strange souls from around the world, have some sort of hope in the life that keeps them going and trying and exploring and challenging and living.

The eccentricity doesn’t stop with the backpackers, owners of hostels and traveler lodges and guest houses can often out-weird even the weirdest backpacker. Charlotte and I recently stayed at a guest house in the Cameron Highlands. We were initially staying at a hotel next door to the guest house, run by a friendly Indian couple, but then we were ambushed by a tiny Bangladeshi man called Yasim.

Our second day in the town of Tanah Rata we were sitting by the road in the grass having some lunch when a man clipping the bushes nearby approached us and asked if we were Irish, then Dutch, then English, Scottish, Norwegian, Welsh, Canadian, Australian until finally he guessed Californian. We said sure, we hailed from the great nation of California. (Later he asked if Obama is also president of California as well as America.)

After realizing that we were Californians, Yasim invited us to the nursery where he worked for some afternoon tea. And by invited I mean he told us to follow him and we did, while having a whispered discussion plotting an escape in the case that this 90 lb. man tried to attack.

We spent the afternoon with him, drinking tea, listening to stories about his past and answering questions he had about the mafia in California. He told us he hates that mafia and he physically shivered when he began talking about the programs he has watched on the discovery channel about this so-called Californian mafia.

Yasim gave us some recommendations for hikes in the area and told us we were welcome to stay at his guesthouse for free in exchange for some help. There it is, we thought, the scam. He sucked us in, got us where he wanted us and bam! But no, he just wanted help setting up his Trip Advisor and Facebook accounts for his guesthouse. So we agreed, though still slightly wary.

That night we went to his guesthouse and made dinner with Yasim. He taught us how to make a vegetarian curry dish. As I stood on his balcony at his make-shift kitchen I wondered how in the world I had gotten myself here. Who is this guy and why am I here.

That even as Yasim chatted about the failure of George Bush and success of his guesthouse and how I actually look Swedish as most Californian girls have brown hair, not blonde, I thought about the smallness of the world (as well as the absurdity of the situation). Hostel guests and owners and Bangladeshi refugees and Welsh machinists and Australian cafe owners and Irish bartenders and American backpackers and just about everyone is pretty much the same.  Living and hoping.

Doesn’t seem like it should take so much to realize something so simple.

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One Response to “Same same. But different”

  1. Mary Jane April 26, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    you stayed at his guesthouse? Hopefully you slept with one eye open. mom

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