I’m sitting in my capsule, about to chow down on some edamame and gyoza when my upper capsule mate hops down from her second tier and squats in front of my bunk. “Could I ask you some questions?” she says, looking nervous.
She goes on to tell me that this is her first time away from home, and that she made a call to her mother today – it was insinuated that this was a call of the crying variety. Takes one to know one – I’ve made those calls myself. “You’re obviously an experienced traveler so I … uh….” There’s no spoken question at the end of her sentence, but it’s in her tone.
I invite her to come sit in my capsule on my bed. I ask her pointedly, “You’re struggling with loneliness?”
I let her talk while I quietly nod and eat my edamame. Since this is her first time away from home, she didn’t know it would feel so far away. That she’s here doing some work for school, as an art student. Visiting museums is part of something she has to do here and that, having obligations, makes her feel disconnected from the rest of the travelers. Most other travelers seem to have beer and party on their minds.
I pause between bites and tell her that I work online everyday, as a priority, and that I can relate to having responsibilities on the road. She seems to feel much better after that, and her speech slows. Relaxing, she continues to talk. I listen. She turned down a return ticket offer, but seems to want confirmation that it was the right decision. I tell her that she’ll be glad she stayed – recalling my own experience almost throwing in the towel in Vietnam after the near-kidnapping.
As she talks, I hear a lot of the same struggles I underwent when I first started traveling. How friends seem to continue their lives so easily, our absence not even causing them to miss a beat. How family continues to stay busy, unable to drop everything to talk to us when we’re lonely. How the time difference makes us send messages like “hey….are you up?” desperately hoping to see “….” indicating a response is coming.
I feel pressure to say the right thing, to inspire and guide, yet not intimidate or push. “I have this one friend who posts pouty faces on Snapchat all the time, I’m sure you have a friend like that.” I told her I’m too old to understand how Snapchat works, despite trying. She tells me that she saw that face again in her feed today and how it just didn’t …….. *shrugs*.
“Does it seem small to you now?” I ask.
“YEAH! Exactly! Why is she even doing that? What’s the point?” I smile. The personal growth has begun. She’s like a flower bud and I’m like a flower mid-bloom.
I let her talk some more as I finish my gyoza. I’m feeling so old now. She’s young and still struggling with what people think of her and how to act, just now defining herself as an adult. I didn’t tell her how little that’s going to matter in 10 years.
I share with her my own struggles of spending days at a time in the hostel watching cartoons instead of going out and seeing landmarks. Of skipping things that were originally on my list because I just wasn’t feeling it. This seems to brighten her mood considerably. We bonded over feeling guilty that we weren’t out there ‘living it up’ every second, and then both agreed that this is our trip and we can do whatever we want.
We talk for over an hour. While it was her who came to me for guidance and consolation, I found myself getting just as much out of the conversation as I hope I was giving. Validation of my own feelings that I’ve struggled with over the course of the trip. Affirmation that other people miss their pets as much I do, missing physical contact and sharing love in that way. That missing simple things like American Netflix and spliffs isn’t a bad thing.
I tell her that I ate McDonalds last night and that it was one of the best meals I’ve had in weeks. She laughs at my story of messaging my brother that I was eating “as slow as possible to enjoy every bite it’s so good”.
Our other roommates return, and we wrap up the conversation. She seems much brighter now, and tells me she is going to get a McChicken from the McDonalds around the corner. She gives me a big hug and leaves my capsule.
I tell her she can knock on my curtain anytime – happy to help.