“It’s the most, wonderful time, of the year…”
Andy Williams sang sweet lies to me as my visibly bored students crafted Dear Santa letters. It was rounding 10 pm on Christmas Eve.
At 10:05, I wished my students and co-workers happy holidays and jumped in a cab to finish packing for my trip to Malaysia the next day.
The next morning, I checked in and bought myself a green juice while I waited to board my flight to Bali, with a two day stopover in Kuala Lumpur. I gazed over at the only other white girl around. She was sipping on the same juice. A kindred spirit, I thought, and smiled to myself.
But then a group of people showed up. I was the only idiot who had decided to choose to travel alone on Christmas Day. Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock” blared through my headphones. I had been playing it often, and it was sorta starting to feel like my theme song – which, by the way, speaks volumes about how shitty I felt about life at the point, if you’ve ever heard the lyrics.
Fortunately, it gets worse. I say fortunately because I couldn’t appreciate the value of my friends and family back home without having a shitty experience without them.
I arrived in Kuala Lumpur later that afternoon. I’d now eaten up about half of Christmas Day on a plane in a sleeping pill-induced coma.
I finagled my way through Sentral Station, where I hopped on the Komuter train. I felt as proud as I did the first time I rode the metro by myself as a kid. I’m really a grown woman now, I thought – and in a worldly way, just like I wanted to be. I felt proud.
But my momentary bliss was not to last.
At 7 pm, I stepped off the train, greeted by a torrential downpour at the dark as fvck Putra train station. My parents wouldn’t approve.
I stepped off the platform and tried to figure out the directions to my rental. As it turned out, I would have to walk down a dark alley, jaywalk across a busy street, and walk down a steep hill with a heavy suitcase. I miraculously surmounted all these obstacles and arrived at the Regalia unscathed.
Once I entered my room, a weight was lifted. There was a big, comfy bed, huge living space and it was quiet. More importantly, I felt safe.
I plopped down on my bed and thought about how I should spend my last hours of Christmas 2015. I ultimately decided to head to the famed Jalan Alor Food Street to have my very own exotic Christmas dinner.
A few minutes later, I bounded downstairs to jump into my Uber ride. One hour and only 5 canadian dollars later, I hopped onto the corner of the hawkers row. I bid adieu to my Uber driver, and started making my way through the tangly crowd.
Excited at the prospect of eating a ton of food as a solo, independent female traveller, I wandered down the street in search of food and a SIM card to promptly tweet, Instagram and Facebook my photos of said food.
Starving, I decide to put off my SIM card purchase in favour of eating first. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, I was finally served at a local joint where the waitstaff looked angry as fvck and plopped my food in front of me with nary a smile. I ate my mediocre, greasy food quietly, observing my surroundings. I was surrounded by families, couples and friends.
I shovelled forkfuls of noodles into my mouth. My attempts to drown my loneliness with fresh Malaysian coconut were fruitless. I missed my family. I felt miserable.
I promptly got up to search for a SIM card vendor, and stopped at the first kiosk I found. A smiley vendor ogled me unabashedly.
“Very beautiful,” he said. His co-worker snickered behind him.
“This one, please,” I asked, non-plussed by their behaviour.
“Where you from?” he asked.
“Canada,” I said.
“Ahh, very nice. You come here alone? Where is your husband?”
“Yes, I’m alone,” I replied.
*Travel tip: I have since learned that sometimes, lying about having a boyfriend is a SMART and safer idea – especially when you travel.
“I had a girl from Australia. She was here for a few days. We had A LOT of fun together, haha! Life is short, you have to have fun.”
I smiled complacently.
I entertained a few more annoying comments and paid him for the card, minus my 10% discount for being pretty.
I wasn’t too far down the road when I realized that the man had sold me a card with limited data. I circled back around to complain, but saw that he was occupied with a new customer. He shot me a surprised and way too happy smile, and I immediately remembered his story about hooking up with a tourist. Not wanting him to get the wrong idea, I decided to drop the whole thing and buy a new card elsewhere.
I spotted a woman selling the same SIM cards right up the road.
Before I could say anything, a younger man popped up beside her.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “I bought this SIM card from a guy down the road, but it doesn’t seem to be working.”
He examined my phone, and quickly realized what the problem was.
“You have limited data – only browser, no social media. 5$ more.”
Perfect. I handed him my phone, forked over the cash and with a few clicks of a button, I was in full data mode.
Seconds later, I received a phone call. I answered, forgetting that this was my new Malaysian cell number and thus, no one had my number.
At least, no one should have had my number.
“Hello, Stephanie,” said an unfamiliar voice on the other end. “Is your phone okay?”
“Who is this?” I asked, confused.
“It’s me, from the shop. You come back to my shop. Is your phone ok?”
It was the original vendor. I concluded that he must have taken down my number – without my permission – when he sold me my card.
“Yes,” I replied, obviously annoyed. “I’m fine. It’s all good now.”
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m gone, thank you again.”
“I finish midnight, I meet you?”
This was getting beyond uncomfortable.
“I’m leaving now. Thank you again.”
“I come find you?” he asked.
I hung up.
My quiet, solitary trip down hawkers row had now officially become marred with fear.
I walked way down the road, and tried to sit out of view in fear of being spotted by the psycho at the kiosk. I avoided eye contact with everyone I met and resolved to busy myself with my phone – only to receive a text from my unwelcome suitor.
Moments later, I received another text message. From another number.
I realized that the only other person who could have seen my number was the second vendor. Well, shit. Guess this wasn’t a one-off deal. I couldn’t buy a fucking SIM card from someone who wouldn’t stalk me afterward.
I wondered if my family missed me as much as I missed them. But wait – didn’t I want this? I put myself into this situation. I left my family and friends and here I was, “living the dream”.
I hurriedly ate the last of my fried rice, collected my things and requested an Uber driver to take me back to my rental.
I walked down to a more accessible corner, ignoring catcalls from men that walked by. As much as I hated men in that moment, I might have hated being born a woman slightly more.
I memorized my Uber driver’s license plate and the make of his car so I wouldn’t get into any of the other cars with men offering me lifts as they drove by. It was exhausting, and though I should have been desensitized after decades of sexual harassment – it was frightening.
My driver showed up 15 painful minutes later.
I hopped in, and was dropped off safely at my residence. On the way to my room, I met a guy my age who convinced me to share some dessert with him to cap off Christmas Day. Defeated, I gave in.
It was the worst Christmas I had ever had, and no amount of chocolate cake and flattery could fill the void only my family and friends could fill. Worse was the realization that it was a void I had created myself.
But God willing, Christmas shall come again. And if it does, I’ll trade my vagabond heels for ruby slippers – or a flight to Montreal – because I’ve realized what Dorothy seemed to know all along: there’s no place like home.
Thank you for reading. Share your thoughts below <3