Falling in Love With Strangers

Two weeks have gone by since I checked into the Bhumi Hostel in Yogyakarta. It’s been two weeks of meeting new people, having dinners with them, sharing our lives, and then as quickly as they had come, saying goodbye. Sometimes you don’t even get to say goodbye. They leave the next morning without you knowing and then poof, gone.

It makes me sadder than it should.

Falling in love with strangers is difficult because you know they’re not going to remain in your life. And it’s exactly that, by the way – falling in love. It reminds me of a quote from the Journals of Sylvia Plath:

I love people I don’t know. I smiled at a woman coming back over the fen path, and she said, with ironic understanding, “Wonderful weather.” I loved her.

At the hostel, it’s that warm feeling of meeting someone new and wishing you could know more about them – not just where they come from, what they like and dislike, but who they were at every stage of their lives. What were their most ecstatic achievements; what were their most gruelling pains? It’s the sadness of realising there was so much potential for connection, if only you guys had more time.

Of course it doesn’t happen with everyone. Some people’s “energy” or “aura” is so incompatible with mine that I find myself hiding in bed with the curtains tightly closed. But some people are special.

There was the English guy who’s writing a novel and planned to ride a motorbike from one end of Java to the other. I liked his aura. He was kind and positive and inclusive. I didn’t get to say goodbye. There was Malvin, the guy in his last year of college, who liked to backpack despite his mother’s protests. He didn’t judge me for brining my parents to the hostel. Nice guy; didn’t get to say goodbye.

Then there was Manon, a Dutch girl on exchange in Bali who decided to travel alone after she couldn’t find any friends to go with her. She was a fellow introvert; I often found her watching movies in bed. Before she left, I told her goodbye and nice to meet you. After that, two other Dutch girls, their first time backpacking. We shared dinner two nights in a row. Sam, the taller one, wasn’t pretty or smart, but she had one of those angelic demeanours that’s worth a gold mine.

And finally, two Singaporean girls who I hardly spoke to. But one day, one of them saw me reading Susan Cain’s “Quiet” and said it was an excellent book. A few days later, she gave me “The Power of Personality” and told me to keep it. Just a little act of thoughtful kindness that made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

You wonder where they’ll go to next. Probably Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal – just like everyone else on the Southeast Asia circuit. You wonder when they’ll return home and if they’ll like it; whether they’ll settle and find jobs or lust after their younger days of travelling. You can’t help wishing them the best of happinesses.

Goodbye, stranger. It was nice to meet you.


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