How to Fall in Love in Seven Days (Kuala Lumpur, Pt. 3)
I knew I'd have a good time in KL. I knew I'd eat amazing foods and see breathtaking sights. I knew I'd meet a bunch of different people, learn about a new culture, and come home a little wiser for it. What I didn't know, and never could have expected, was that I would fall. Hard.
KL was my first foray into Southeast Asia, and to be honest, I thought it would be little more than a convenient gateway, a place that I'd enjoy that would leave me eager to explore the next place. A place that would, in the end, remain with me primarily as a check mark on my bucket list. Instead, I've found myself completely smitten, not just looking back fondly on my experience, but wondering when it is that I'll next get to return.
Really, this is rather inconvenient. How am I supposed to be a wanderlust-stricken, jet-setting millennial, a citizen of the world, flitting from place to place, collecting stamps on my passport like it's my job, when all I can think about is coming back to this one place that I've already been to. Even Korea, motherland of my favorite foods, wasn't able to evoke such a response from me, and, ask anyone, I'm the epitome of "the way to my heart is through my stomach."
Since returning from my brief trip, I've spent a good amount of time wondering how it all happened, and I've come to the conclusion that there are several specific conditions that need to be met in order to fall so hard so quickly that I accidentally fulfilled during my week. So if you want to learn how to find your heart inextricably tied to a place (or maybe if you want to know what to avoid doing so that it doesn't happen), read on.
On Wednesday, I decided I liked the look of the town.
It sounds shallow, but let's be real here. Without that initial spark that makes you look twice, swipe right, there'd be no real desire to even want to go deeper. And maybe you can't judge a book by its cover, but you have to admit that a good cover makes you a lot more likely to pick up the book and read it in the first place.
As with people, everyone has a different type. What might be attractive to one person may not be to another, even regarding the same place. To some, the thing that might catch their attention about KL could be its iconic skyline or rich history. But, while those things certainly are impressive, what first drew me in was, as I mentioned in Part 1, the bizarre sense of familiarity that the city presented me. This place that was on the surface so different from what I was accustomed to wasn't as different as I originally thought, and that made me want to learn more.
Have No Expectations
On Thursday, I wandered without aim.
It's hard to be let down when you have no idea what to expect in the first place. Additionally, every positive thing that happens ends up being a pleasant surprise. For example, I arrived with basically no plans having done almost zero prior research, and I had a blast! With nothing in my way, I was able to take suggestions and do things that I wouldn't have necessarily thought of on my own, which I feel really allowed me to enjoy myself to the fullest extent. While you don't have to go to quite the extreme I did, don't let your research and plans rule your trip either
A prime example of letting expectations get the best of you is the infamously well-documented "Paris Syndrome." Apparently, every year there is a significant number of (Japanese, in particular) tourists to Paris who have such a romantic image of the city that when they arrive and are faced with the reality of it, are unable to cope with the disparity, leading, in some cases, to hospitalization. It's a real thing, I swear. (For further details: 1, 2, 3, 4)
So to avoid premature heartbreak, don't get your hopes up too high.
Just Say Yes
On Friday, I found myself out until the wee hours of the morning.
Although I'm used to going out in Hawaii and Japan, it was something I hadn't anticipated doing in KL. In fact, while packing and preparing, I actively told myself that I probably wasn't going to be going out, so don't worry about packing for that. But because of a ~fortuitous encounter~ (see Pt. 2), I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite DJ duos for free, and no way was I going to pass that up.
Saying yes to every invitation found me not just at the tourist sites, but experiencing the city through a more local lens as well. So instead of getting the two-dimensional, cookie-cutter, standard tourist perspective of the city, I was able to really immerse myself and get to know the place in a way that I felt was more authentic.
Of course, don't say yes to anything you're really uncomfortable with. But I think it's definitely worth it to throw a little bit of caution to the wind and let the allure of an unforgettable time take control every once in a while. You are on vacation, after all.
On Saturday, I spent a large chunk of the day in bed.
A lot of times when you're traveling, it feels like you need to be doing something all the time to avoid wasting whatever time you have in a place. But that can add unnecessary stress to your experience and leave you fatigued and less able to enjoy yourself. Coming to the realization that a day or even just a couple hours of rest won't hurt will leave you with a much more pleasant memory once it's all over. And I promise, there's no way to feel closer to a place than being lazy for a while and pretending (even for just a moment) like it's your home.
On Sunday, I left the city.
Time to back up and take a little bit of a breather. It's been four days now, and your emotions are running wild. You've found yourself asking questions like, "Is this really happening?" "How did I even get to this point?" and maybe even, "Is this something that could possibly be sustainable?" You're falling hard and fast, so before you do anything rash like extending your trip or buying a condo, let's hit pause and step out of the frame for a moment. It's easy to get caught up in something when you only know what it's like to be in the midst of it. So give yourself permission to take a day trip, go on a hike, remove yourself from the bustle and allow for some introspection.
My step back found me not even very far out of the city - first Batu Caves and later Genting Highlands only about an hour by car away - and I can't actually say things were much different. There were still people (read: tourists) galore and an absurd amount of retail stores. But there's something about just being aware of physical separation that can put you in a completely different mindset and make it easier to think more objectively.
On Monday, I got caught in some monumental traffic.
Traveling can be exciting and glamorous and fun, and it's often easy to forget that nothing is as perfect as it seems on the brochures. Hawaii is paradise, but the impossibly high cost of living that comes along with that designation means that it's got the worst homeless problem in the the US. Japan is crazy orderly, but look close enough and you'll see that that level of societal cohesion comes at a high psychological cost to many of its residents.
While I wasn't in KL nearly long enough to claim to be able to analyze its social ails, I do think that I talked to enough people to understand that there are several things that its residents are less than pleased with (infrastructure and corruption being two of the most common complaints). But no place is perfect, and it's up to you to weigh the pros and cons and decide what is or isn't a deal-breaker. Part of falling in love is taking off the rose-tinted glasses, learning about the not-so-pretty, and accepting it as part of the package
Sometimes these things will present themselves to you, but you should also take it upon yourself to ask the people who live there what they think. Even if you plan on never coming back, it's irresponsible to allow yourself to maintain a willfully ignorant, fetishized view, especially when you've had the opportunity to educate yourself first hand.
On Tuesday, I tied up loose ends and said goodbye.
I'd done a lot over the course of the week, but there were still a couple things I hadn't gotten around to yet, so I made it a point to go do them, even though it meant darting around to different parts of the city. I visited museums, walked the Lake Gardens, did some last minute shopping, and went off in search of flavors I knew would be impossible to find in Japan.
By this point, I was pretty aware that this little tryst I had stumbled into had snowballed into something I hadn't anticipated, and so the whole day was rather bittersweet. On one hand, I wanted to enjoy it, but on the other, it was impossible to shake the nagging thoughts of my impending return to reality. But like all of the previous steps, I think letting go is a necessary part of falling in love.
Even if it's just a temporary situation, as the adage goes, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone." And honestly, just knowing that you're about to lose something makes it that much more special. I suppose you could argue that having a defined cut-off point was really what made this such a passionate affair in the first place, the knowledge of a concrete ending making every sight, smell, flavor more intense. But I'd like to believe otherwise. It's been over two weeks (i.e. forever in Jackie Land) since I've left, and I don't think anything's changed. In fact, every time I get a flight notification in my inbox (thanks, email bots), I briefly consider opening it up and checking prices.
Looking back, I definitely brought this upon myself. But to me, it feels like it was almost inevitable. There's no other way that I could even imagine myself taking a trip like this but in this exact manner. Which means that maybe that's just my fate. Maybe I'm doomed to a life of continuously falling in love with and leaving a bit of myself behind in each place I visit. But, you know what, I think I'm okay with that. I had the best possible experience that I could have, and I want to be able to say that about every single place I go to.
So next time, I think I'll do things the same way and hopefully find myself once again, falling in love in seven days.