At 1:45 PM on a sweltering Tuesday, I am in the heart of Bencoolen, staring up a dim and dusty stairwell that leads to my nondescript hostel on the second floor. (My editor deemed any hotel room “too luxurious”.)
Commending myself for packing light, I make the steep climb up the stairs only to be greeted by a middle-aged woman who grumpily chin-juts in the direction of the reception a few feet away, while eyeing me from head to toe.
Not wanting to make an immediate enemy out of dragon-lady, I obey her unspoken order and flash my best smile at the old man behind the desk. Thankfully, he’s a tad friendlier.
We settle the necessary paperwork in broken mandarin before he hands me my room key and a welcome package consisting of one toilet roll, two microscopic bars of soap, two garish towels, and one paper-thin “bedsheet”.
Hands full from the hostel’s gifts, I follow the warden down corridors haphazardly decorated with old mattresses, cardboard boxes, and a hodgepodge of old furniture until we emerge from the fire hazards and arrive at room cell 217.
A grand tour of my new home takes all of three seconds. Bed. Shower. Table.
Well, at least the reviews on TripAdvisor were accurate.
At this point, the warden decides that his job is done and turns to leave. Snapping out of my shock, I ask him where the lavatory is. He points to the shower area in the corner and grunts, “This one can bathe, can urine. But if stomach pain, got shared toilet down the hall.”
So he’s telling me that it’s fine to pee in the shower even if I didn’t actually bathe? You’re joking, mate. The shower-cum-urinal is in-suite not en-suite and the bed is literally. Right. There.
Before I get the chance to point out that I’m not a bloody animal, he’s gone.
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