Kuala Lumpur is big and crowded. From the bus stop to my hostel I take a taxi, which I share with a New Zealander and two Britons who rode in on the same bus. That's one of the things I've learned by now. It's likely that tourists stay in the same places. It always pays to ask and most of the time the other person is grateful that you dare. What scared the hell out of me two years ago, is the most natural thing in the world today.
It happens more and more often that I go on short journeys incognito. Meaning, I rarely talk about my trip. I'm much more interested in what other people's impressions are than in spreading my own. Telling them about my plan is not a conversation starter anymore, it's the opening to a two-hour conversation because hope has been replaced with certainty and drive with exhaustion. The answers aren't simple, they are varied, balanced, steeped in experience and reality.
My experience, however, has been the same for months. It bores me as it has become a litany of complaints. What overwhelms the others, affects me only peripherally. Kuala Lumpur is one among many. I don't have the stamina for Couchsurfing, don't meet locals and decide against the promised sights. It's the right decision for me, but as a consequence, I don't experience Kuala Lumpur. I prefer to retire to my windowless dorm and read a German book found in the lobby. To my surprise, it's even reasonably well written and amusing. With this book my hunger for stories reawakens.
At the beginning of my journey, I planned to read at least one book by a local author in each country. Of course, I gave that up pretty quickly. But, whenever I do manage it – like in India and Nepal – I get valuable new insights into the country I'm visiting. I still wish that one day I'll achieve this goal. Reading isn't always feasible for me. I tend to devour everything that's not hiding in the bushes by three. I read until my eyes are tired and my head takes refuge in silence or television.
When backpacking, books seem exaggerated. That is if you don't think ahead and bring a Kindle. In the beginning, I was sentimental. I liked the idea of carrying a book in my pocket (I still do). But if you carry your house on your back, a book quickly turns into two. It's challenging for me to leave behind a text that stays in my mind for a long time after. It doesn't happen often. Between the books that bore me (which I would like myself to be into, but aren't) and those that fascinate me, there is a steady stream of books coming and going. Right now, there are three books in my backpack instead of one. The first, I've been carrying around with me since the beginning of my journey. I cannot bring myself to finish reading that formative feminist text from the eighties. I'm still on page 90. The second book, from India, fascinates me so much that I want to give it to all my friends. Throwing it away is unthinkable. The third book, that's what I'm reading at present, is a 1500-page novel. A small collection that makes life difficult for my back.
To my surprise, immersing myself in a German world is just what the doctor ordered. Before I travelled, I looked for the world and adventure in the pages of a book. Now, I long to recognise a world I know. As that is precisely what I get in my current read, I leave Kuala Lumpur strengthened. I stumble towards the airport and on my onward journey.
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