In 2009 I met a man on the street in Kuala Lumpur. We had tea and talked about life. Dan was a nice enough guy at first. He was very inquisitive and asked disarming questions. He would ask about the meaning of your travels and the customs of your country and it would be hard to answer him without feeling a little foolish.
We left the the shop and went onwards to a restaurant. It seemed far away but it offered a nice view of the city. The restaurant was somewhere on the side of a road, elevated, away from the downtown area where we met.
Over our meal the questions continued. I felt strangely embarrassed. I had always felt I was doing something meaningful (even if I wasn’t exactly changing the world by travelling and drinking beer…) but now this strange man had planted a seed of doubt. He began to criticize the people I was staying with. For him, they weren’t authentic Malaysians. For him, their desire to meet me and other travellers and the way we spent our time together was an expression of their desire to be Western.
This just scratches the surface. This conversation went on for hours as his critical eye roamed around everything I represented for him - Canadian, North American, White, traveller, young, foreign. By the end I felt bullied and mentally exhausted. There had been not one moment of banter or light conversation for the last 4 hours.
I wanted to leave and stop being so goddamn serious, but I was also piqued by his lines of questioning. Maybe he was right in some ways.
As we went our separate ways by taxi he made me an offer: come to his house in Port Dickson, a nearby town. There was a muslim holiday approaching at that time and there would be food and a family celebration. He would teach me to cook some traditional dishes and I could stay in his home. After so much mental jousting with this man, the offer could only be soon one way. Here was my chance to leave childish things aside have a ‘real’ experience.
Once I left him behind the doubt he had built in me began to slowly unravel. This guy was kind of a bully and an asshole. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to go to Port Dickson. I started to have an uneasy feeling about the guy. Even so, it was hard to tell if my hesitation was because of a genuine dislike for this man, or if I was retreating from his brutally direct self examination.
For a while, he made me feel like if I didn’t go he would be right. I would just be some foreign idiot, head in the clouds, snapping pictures, drinking beer and wasting my life.
In the end, I did not email him back or go to Port Dickson. He sent me a rambling email along prior lines. It said, more or less, “Too bad, I was right about you all along” and tried to shame me into coming one more time.
My story ends here. I never saw the man again, but I always wondered what would have happened if I had gone. Was he really just an asshole? Or would it have been fun to meet his family and cook with him?
Last week, my brother Woody Brown was in KL as well. He met a man walking in the city. They went for dinner, with a view of the city. He asked probing questions. And he invited him to cook in Port Dickson.
His name was Dan.
Now I know what would have happened if I had gone.
The guy is just an asshole.
Woody, Marina and I at the Buena Birra Social Club :)
Drinking beers with my bro!