After four easy days couchsurfing in KL, I abruptly wore out my welcome with an awkwardly denied sexual advance from my host. As it was, I was beyond relieved to find myself en route to my next destination. Though the bus to catch the ferry to Tioman was sold out, I settled to head a few hours south to Melaka for a day or two before I made my way east for my first dip in the South China Sea. My once tanned skin had paled in the maudlin Wellington May and begged for the ocean, and for the sun. Clouds had continued to hover above my cheerful head from New Zealand to Kuala Lumpur and I was happy to be battered and abused by the equatorial star when I arrived in Melaka. After a brief connection with a Dutch couple at Melaka Sentral, I found myself on Jalan Melaka Raya, a quaint commercial road on the outskirts of the small city center. I parted ways with the friendly Dutchies as they found a hostel a bit above my price range and wandered into Shirah’s Guest House, just around the corner. The façade of the building was as promising as any on this unknown road: a skinny cement staircase tempting passersby with nothing but a gate and a pile of shoes.

Little did I know...

I made my way up the sweltering promise in search of a bed for the night. As with the last failed attempt at a room, when I arrived, the place was silent and still as the heat. I peeked my head cautiously around the corner as if I had broken in and uttered a tentative ‘hello?’ After a minute or two, a deep sienna-skinned man with a proper pot of a belly made a half-naked appearance. Clad only in a white towel around his waist, he proceeded to check me in as we both pretended he was fully clothed. As he showed me to the modest single room, I liberated my shoulders from the weight of my pack, and rubbed hot hands into the reddened imprints the straps had left. The overly eager owner, Esam, struggled to explain to me in gestured fragments of phrases the conditions of the room and hostel, and I obligingly nodded in feigned understanding. All I knew is that the room was fifteen ringgit, and I saw an ashtray and two beers on the table in the kitchen-slash-hallway-slash-toilet-slash-reception desk. In a small Muslim town, a cheap room where I could drink and smoke was more than I could ask for.

Fifteen ringgit and a fan

For eight sweaty hours from the apex of midday sun into the still heavy cloak of nightfall, I wandered the streets of an unfamiliar city in that favorite way of mine, with wide wonder for eyes and rhythmic curiosity for feet. Constantly smiling and letting the energy of the city sink into my skin with the sun, I quickly realized there wasn’t much to see in the tourist-infested historical center of Malaysia. Two days of history, museums, and aimless wandering would be more than enough, and with that decision I picked up a few overpriced beers and made my way back to the hostel. Despite the crumbling façade and untrustworthy lock on my even less trustworthy door, the rooftop deck of the narrow cement sliver of a building was a welcome retreat. I took my three beers up the shaky spiral of twisted metal that passed for stairs and sat down to write a letter. One of my favorite pastimes as a solo traveler, I revel in clipping and taping the small scraps from my journey into cards, notes, and envelopes. As I sat surround by chopped up maps and torn bus tickets, the owner came up to the deck accompanied by a younger Malaysian guy. Despite my desire to continue, I put away my little craft project and engaged the two locals in a difficult and broken conversation. Through the limitations of our languages we discussed the city and our respective cultures over beers, saved from the night’s heat by the soft, sporadic breeze.

As we exhausted the last of our beer, Esam’s friend Zam got a call from their mutual boss. He insisted they bring me and a few Italian girls from their sister hostel out to his nightclub, just around the corner. Excited for a taste of local flavor, I nodded my head affirmatively and Esam and I made our way to the bar while Zam went to pick up and escort the Italian ladies. The immediate gesture to take my arm in his seemed a friendly one, but I remained unconvinced of the nature of such actions for the remainder of the night. Traveling alone as a woman has a definitive uncertainty that never truly leaves, there is a drop of doubt ever in your gut that can course itself through you, wringing every muscle to tension quicker than a glance. A level of skepticism of any man, most notably foreign ones, that offers to do anything for you is necessary. And while most of the time, these friendly strangers are harmless, uncomfortable advances are not something with which I am unfamiliar. As it was, we walked arm in arm for two short blocks to the local club, Ginza. As we entered, the pulse of the music vibrated my limbs and I smiled as I noticed the colored lights reflecting off of Esam’s bald, sweaty head. I followed him to some couches and a table on the edge of the dance floor and the overly excited man ordered us a bucket of beers. Already a bit uncomfortable and wondering when Zam and the Italian girls were to arrived, I listened to the live local music and watched the girls dancing what appeared to be a standard Malaysian dance, in sync with one other and the powerful voice of the singer. Esam explained to me that first the girls would dance alone, and then it would time for the couples to dance. Ever fascinated by cultural differences, I watched the pattern in which the girls moved their hips and feet and let the simple movement sink into my memory. When it came time for the boys to join the girls, I humored Esam and took his hand to the dance floor. Little did I know that the male/female section more closely resembled the slow hands-on-shoulders back and forth swaying that is most widely performed in America by nervous, pre-pubescent sixth graders. As we moved slowly with the sentimental music, the unwashed stench of Esam suffocated my senses, and as he pulled me closer to him I maintained pressure to keep him at a distance. Once he rested his wet, glistening head on my shoulder, the uncomfortable dance lost its novelty and I broke free from his awkward hold to find the relative comfort of the couch. I was unaware at this time just how much I would pay for the seemingly innocent encounter. As the cold beers sweated their way to warm, I continued to look around anxiously for the rest of our party. It was now past one in the morning and with one beer for each of us left in the bucket, I was ready to go home, ever more skeptical of the intentions of a pushy and unappealing man. Tipping the last sip of beer into my mouth I told Esam I was ready to go back, forced to insist against his tiring protests.

I awoke the next morning to knocking on my door so incessant I thought there was a crew of people hanging pictures in the hallway. It was not yet ten and Esam was already calling to me, “Liti, liti…monin, liti.” After ignoring him for over an hour I was finally annoyed to the point of getting out of bed and answering. “Yeah, hi, good morning, what do you want, Esam?” I asked with irritation punctuating each word. Without an answer, Esam offered to make me some tea and I accepted, with sleep still crusted in my groggy eyes. The imposition of a man brought the delicious tea into my room and sat himself uninvited on my floor while I slowly let the hot beverage wake my body. As he started to ramble somewhat incoherently about how much he liked me, and attempted to begin kissing my shoulder, I realized the shit I had gotten myself into. I asked him to leave as I needed to shower and head out for the day, and just moments after he left, knocked on the door and professed his love for me, “Liti, I love you, I love you, liti!” Disregarding his awkward confessions, I left the hostel with the speed and discretion of an escaped convict. Planning on catching the night bus from Melaka to Mersing I stepped out into the day to explore Chinatown, a smaller, more authentic version than I had found back in KL. By the end of my wandering I went to purchase my bus ticket. The last night bus was sold out. Go figure. The next available bus was at eight the following morning. Too exhausted to pack and move all of my gear to change rooms for just ten hours, I headed back to the hostel with the plan to lock myself in my cell of a room and write until I fell asleep.

As I sat with my laptop on the bed and my door as locked as it got, I wrote until my eyelids dropped their now weighty curtains. And just moments later I heard my phone chime loudly with a text message. Excited, as I rarely receive messages from back home, I got up and dug my phone out of my bag. Shock and disgust dripped with the sweat down my face, pulling my mouth to frown. It was Esam. After giving him my number so he could book my bus ticket (which he failed to do), I could only have expected him to use it to perv on me as well. “Liti, we kan injuy, im nao sexcewaal desayr?” Taking a moment to decipher the struggling English, I choked a bit as the thought of his proposition lodged itself in my throat, and did my best to swallow. Another moment later, and there was a knock on my door. Knowing exactly who it was, as we were the only two people in the guest house that night, I ignored the shadowy figure casting itself through the slats. When he refused to give up, I gave in to the incessant knocking once more and asked him what he wanted in a frustrated grunt. “Please, liti, come to door.” Opening the door enough for him to see my face I sternly informed him that I was going to bed, it was late, and I had to catch an early bus in the morning. Apparently this made absolutely no difference to him as he proceeded to offer me a foot massage and ask if I got his text and if I understood what his “sexcewaal desayr” was. My tone turned to stone and as my rejection stabbed through the air in harsh staccato, he finally nodded his head in understanding and I closed the door in his still sweaty, and now repulsive, face.

As soon as the door clicked shut and I pushed in the sorry excuse for a lock, I stripped back down to my underwear and tank top and sprawled out on the tiny single bed. I reveled in the momentary relief from the heat as the fan oscillated its way from my bare, outstretched legs, to the back of my neck. As my breathing began to sink and slow in sleepy rhythms, my ringing phone jostled me to alertness. No one ever called this number. Knowing who it was, but scared to confirm, I picked the phone up off the nightstand. It was him. Something had to be done. No level of stern warning or steady insistence was going to deter this balding perv from my doorstep. I was scared, and nervous, and unsure of how harmless he really was. With each insistent advance that crawled over my limbs like a nightmare I grew more and more cautious. This time, I screamed. “Leave me the fuck alone! I need to get some sleep so stop fucking calling me, or texting me, or knocking on my door, I want absolutely nothing to do with you ever again!” I knew he wouldn’t understand half of the English that spit from my mouth in fiery indignation, but there isn’t a single person on this planet that doesn’t understand a woman screaming her pretty little head off.

Satisfied that the creep would not attempt another proposal, I once again shut my eyes, but found them fluttering nervously open with each and every creak of the aged building. Then in a loud, sudden burst, the TV upstairs came on at full volume. The sound boomed through the window at the top of my towering ceiling, presumably leading to the small lounge on the second floor. It took me only a moment to realize what Esam was watching. “Ohhh, ughhhh, yessss, ughhh, ughhhhhh, ohhhhh….come at the same time baby, come at the same time!” My stomach did a backflip. The dirty old man was watching porn upstairs that shook the walls of my room with each laughable convulsion of the textbook orgasm. Putting in my headphones I tried to drown out the slutty screams ringing through the hostel. After several unsuccessful attempts at willful ignorance, I screamed to the ceiling for him to turn off the fucking porn. After another minute or two the hostel fell into an even more disturbing silence. The comedic and somewhat irritated disgust I originally felt had congealed into a cornering fear. My body sat stiff in the bed as my eyes watched the shadows, barely perceptible in the eerie green light from the window above. Wearing nothing but a thong and a tank top, I felt beyond naked. The curtain on the window looking directly over my bed was hung from the opposite side, and I swore I saw his figure shifting the thin fabric. There was no blanket on the bed to cover me, and I intently stared at the window in exposed, violated fear. Afraid my bare, sleeping ass would be the next porno this forty-something creep would rub one out to, I texted the poet and told him I wish I had listened to his sole piece of advice before I left: to buy a knife. Not that I would ever be able to use one on another human being, but just the thought that I had some way to defend myself was a more than appealing daydream. It was now past midnight. The drop of doubt in my gut had bloomed into limb-stiffening fear. I lay in my bed, texting any and every person I could think to text trying to keep myself awake until I could tell whether or not the awkward sexual predator had gone to bed.

I awoke the next morning thankfully unharmed and ready to get the fuck out of Melaka. As I looked at the phone still clutched by my right hand under my pillow, I jolted up as if on springs. 7:47. My bus from Melaka Sentral was departing in thirteen minutes and apparently dejected from my unapologetic rejection, Esam decided not to honor the wakeup call he had promised the day before. With my bag already packed I threw on the clothes I had thoughtfully laid out the night before. Running down the already unbearably hot streets I searched for a cab. The local bus would take at least twenty minutes and at this point I was willing to pay almost anything to be en route to Mersing. Catching a cab a few minutes from the hostel, I threw my shit in the back and told him we had seven minutes to catch this bus. An experienced local he told me to get my ticket in my hand and be ready, because he was going to chase it down, flag it to stop and I was to get out running and waving my ticket at the driver. Skeptical of the idea, I didn’t have much of a choice, and as the cab caught up to the already moving bus, I jumped out and ran ahead waving my ticket like I had surrendered the war. As I collapsed in exhausted relief onto the cool air conditioned seat at the back of the bus I wondered just exactly where this crazy journey was going to land me next.