Headphones in and head turned towards the window, I sat on bus rolling through the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. I had already fallen in love with Malaysia on previous visits and felt somewhat at home.
I had rudely chosen the aisle seat, blocking access to the window seat beside me. But the whole bus had been about empty when I got on.
Soon the bus made a stop in bustling area just outside Chinatown. A group of men stepped aboard. The older men chose spots in the front while the young men migrated towards the back, where I was.
One of the young guys was dressed in a long, white traditional Muslim cloak. He eyed the seat next to me, then sat across the aisle. He poked my shoulder.
I almost turned and said, “Sorry, this shoulder is closed.”
But I wasn’t sure he’d get the joke. (Think road construction.) 😉
Instead, I took out an earbud to hear his hello and shake his extended hand. He was a university student from Pakistan and wanted to know where I was from.
We started chatting about Malaysia and travel in general. He seemed genuinely friendly and outgoing. Eagerly, he explained a bit about the beauty and various terrains of his home country.
He had traveled extensively, both in Malaysia and Pakistan. For now, he was living in Kuala Lumpur working in the city’s tourism sector.
“Have you been to the bird sanctuary? Have you seen the textile museum? Gone to the Petronas towers yet?”
He made sure to suggest all the best things to do in the city. I was impressed too, since I had already done the things suggested and thought them the best things in the city as well. This kid knew what he was talking about.
We laughed about our shared, unconscious tendency to memorize transportation systems- all the bus routes and numbers- and maps for each place we travel to. His friends couldn’t understand why nor how he knew all of Kuala Lumpur’s bus routes only five days after his arrival there. We decided this anomalous skill was simply an adaption that grows in any young mind that travels a lot.
Eventually he gave a glance towards the guys who had boarded the bus with him. The two guys right behind me were from Thailand, one guy, one row further behind, was from a country I had never heard of and, in the last row, sat a man from Turkey.
They all spoke English together since none of them understood each other’s native languages.
What a cool mish-mash of friends, I thought. I happily said hi to them all, told the Thai guys that I loved Thailand and greeted the Turkish man with “nasılsın?” (How are you?)
He lit up immediately and threw back a fluent response. I understood his first word- iyi. That means good, but the rest of his Turkish went right over my head. I froze, responding only with a dumb smile. I felt bad for misleading the guy. ‘How are you’ is about the extent of my Turkish vocabulary.
We were all headed to the same stop. They were in search of a good lunch and I was in search of a new computer to replace my recently deceased one.
One of my dislikes about Muslim culture is the tendency to shove, especially while getting on and off buses. Although the bus had become quite full, my new acquaintances made sure to make room for me before them and through the crowd. Like actual gentlemen.
Once off the bus, the Turkish man spoke up to ask whether I had been to Turkey. I said I had.
“What did you think?”
I gave him the short answer: “I loved it!”
“Where did you go?”
I listed the places.
“Oh,” he replied, “All the tourist places.”
The Pakistani asked if I had Facebook. As I wasn’t keen to give it out, he politely moved on by saying, “No problem. It was nice to meet you and hope you have a good time in Kuala Lumpur!” Or something to that effect. We all said goodbye and never saw each other again.
That simple meeting is one of my favorite travel moments.
People > Places