The first country I had ever gone to on my own, visiting no one and knew not a soul, was Malaysia. I've been there a few times now but I will never forget the first time I stepped foot there. It was only for 24 hours but those 24 hours changed my perspective and outlook on people and life forever.
They say that you grow the most when you're out of your comfort zone. I have to say that I completely, utterly agree with this statement. Going overseas completely alone, not knowing how to speak the language and not knowing one single person in the whole country was definitely out of my comfort zone. I was 22 at the time and I must admit, I will never forget this trip. There were two people in particular that I had met in Kuala Lumpur, both who have left me with some valuable lessons.
THE TAXI DRIVER
It was 2011, here I was just landed in Malaysia. I had no idea where I was going and was searching frantically to exit the airport. Where were all the signs in English? I just wanted a taxi and I found myself lost in the Kuala Lumpur Airport. After what felt like hours, I finally found the taxi rank and hopped into a cab.
"Where are you going?" The taxi driver asked. I buckled my seat belt as I replied, "I don't know, where would you recommend?" There was silence. Then he laughed, "You don't know where you are going? Who comes into another country and doesn't know where they are going?" I was a little nervous when I responded. "Well, I was in Thailand for the last month and didn't realise I could only be in the country for 30 days, so I left and am heading back there in 24 hours so I can stay another 30 days!" The look on the taxi driver's face was priceless. Looking back, I can totally understand why he was so bewildered.
As he drove, I started flipping through a tour book. One of the "must sees" was China Town. "How about you take me to China Town and I can stay there?" Almost instantly, he shook his head. "No, no, no, you not stay in China Town... very dangerous place, especially if you're alone."
To be honest, at this moment, I realised just what I had done and a wave of panic rushed over me. Only I would jump on a plane and have no clue where I was going. Seriously, who does that? Now that this taxi driver knows I'm alone and have no idea where I'm going, anything could happen. I gulped. "Maz, chill out, he is so friendly and his eyes are genuine, nothing but good vibes," a voice inside my head whispered.
The taxi driver must've felt my anxiousness so he started chatting to me. He told me of all the cultural differences and how to show courtesy to the elders. He taught me how to say hello and thank you, then we exchanged stories. I started to relax. The ride was really enjoyable and I learnt a lot in the half hour trip. He then offered to drive me into the city and stop at different hotels, while he waited outside until I found a place I liked. He didn't charge me any extra than what we originally discussed. "Let me know what time you need to leave for the airport and I will come pick you up." He smiled and waved as he drove off.
THE STRANGER ON THE STREET
"Hello!" I turned around to see who was calling out to me, he was a tall, dark man that looked to be in his early to mid 30s. I was in the mall exploring Kuala Lumpur and was not expecting to be running into anyone. I walked faster. He followed and kept calling out to me. My heart started to beat a little faster as I quickened my stride. He still followed while calling out to me.
Suddenly a voice in my head whispered, "Maz, no one knows where you are and if something happens to you, how would they know what happened?" I cringed at the thought. What had I got myself into? Another voice popped into my head, "Maz, you don't know anyone in this country and you could do with some company, go on and make a new friend!".A strange feeling of calmness rushed over me. I stopped and turned around to the stranger.
We ended up walking through the streets while he showed me the sights. We went to a bar for a drink and he told me that he had been living there for the last 2 years studying. He told me stories of when he first arrived in Malaysia and the culture shock he experienced. He taught me of the cultural differences and their way of living. We had a great time and I learnt more about Malaysia chatting to him than I would have from walking alone.
We left the bar and started wandering some more. He took me to wherever I wanted to see and he was such a gentlemen I felt quite at ease. A lot different to how I felt when he was calling after me in the mall. We then went and had some food, shared some laughs and he walked me home.
WHAT I LEARNT
Before this experience, I had always been weary of others. I found it hard to trust someone and it took me a while to open up. I worried about people's intentions before I even got to know them and was always quick to assume the worst before giving anyone a chance.
When I was ready to leave for the airport, the taxi driver was running late and I started to worry that he wasn't going to turn up. "Maz, you should've just booked a cab instead of depending on a stranger." As I said this to myself a cab pulled up in front of me. "Maz?" He called out. It wasn't the same taxi driver, how did he know my name?
"Maz, I have to take you to airport. My friend very worried about you making your flight." He said with a look of concern. "Where is he?" I asked. I was a little nervous that another cab driver had come for me instead. "He was in a car accident, he is in hospital now but he called me because he was worried about you missing your flight. He promised you he would get you to the airport. Jump in, we are running late!"
I was in shock. "Oh my, is he okay?" A complete stranger, was worried about me. This stranger was in a hospital bed after a car accident and all he could think about was keeping his promise of getting this random 22 year old girl to the airport? I was speechless.
The guy I had met the night before had walked me home, on the walk home I started running scenarios in my head. Should I pretend I am staying somewhere else so he doesn't know where I really am staying? Is he going to try and hit on me or even force himself on me? I was preparing for the worst. Instead, he walked me to the door of the hotel, asked for my Facebook so we could stay in touch and he shook my hand and thanked me for the evening.
Here I was thinking up of all the worse scenarios in my head, letting fear rule my mind, when I didn't need to be anxious, nervous or even pondering on such negative thoughts. It was definitely an eye opener. I learnt that our intuition knows best and if we listen to our guts, it is usually spot on. I learnt that when you open up to others you open up to opportunity and the universe.
We shouldn't assume the worse in people especially before giving them a chance. Our intuition knows best and we can feel if someone is bad news or has bad motives. If I hadn't trusted anyone or allowed myself to open up, that trip would've turned out pretty boring. We shouldn't be so quick to judge. It's all about perspective. Is the glass half full or empty?
Since then, I have taken this newfound attitude with me wherever I go and I tell you what, I have never made so many friends and connections with so many different walks of life. I've had a ball getting to know so many people from different backgrounds and some of which are now amazing lifelong friends who I love very dearly. The 24 hours I spent in Malaysia may have been short but it definitely was sweet. So sweet that it changed me forever.