My backpack is huge and purple and has seen 4 continents. Made for hiking and camping, it’s also perfectly suited for travel. It fits within millimeters of what’s allowed as a carry-on, and the straps fit me so well, it takes several hours of wearing it before I feel burdened.
Before doing much travel, at all, ever, I decided to move to Malaysia. There, I soon realized that I needed a good backpack if I wanted to cheaply take advantage of the amazing weekend trips available to me.
A friend of mine took me into one of the 50+ malls that dot the Kuala Lumpur city-scape with towers, domes, and squares; some extending several stories underground, reaching below the street, and continuing above ground as another tower.
Malaysia takes its malls seriously.
Most of these malls are crawling with tourists, but the one to which my friend escorted me was not. The ceiling loomed less than a foot over my head, and the floors, so uneven that plywood planks with carpet over them bridged the gaps, continually tripped me. Aisles and aisles of labyrinthine, signless shops overwhelmed me as I struggled to keep up with my guide through narrow walkways teeming with local bargain shoppers.
Serenely oblivious to the fact that anything might be out of the ordinary, my friend casually turned left into a shop lined floor-to-ceiling with burned DVD’s and continued through an invisible doorway in the back. In there, we found a giant walk-in closet full of backpacks.
The tiny old woman working there dropped her magazine on the floor, quickly sized me up with her eyes, and starting putting backpacks on my back, shaking her head, and then throwing those backpacks into a quickly growing pile on the floor at my feet. She sprinted around the closet-shop, like Mr. Ollivander searching for the perfect wand for Harry Potter, until suddenly she stopped. She squinted at the bewildered look on my face, then got to work strapping me in, only to take the bag off, adjust the straps, and starting the buckling process over.
Suddenly, Lady Ollivander walked away. Attempting to swivel around and follow her with my eyes, I found my face buried between backpacks. Righting my gaze forward, I found myself sprawled on the ground when Old Lady O. grabbed the backpack from behind and yanked it downward with cartoonish force.
My friend and and Lady O. had a good laugh at my bewildered face, then I got back up. She yanked on it a few more times, then stripped it off my back and clunked it down in my hands. A calculator appeared out of nowhere and she typed 250 on it before showing it to me.
She rubbed her fingers together, the international sign for “Pay me, stupid.”
250 Ringgit, or roughly (at the time) $83 American later, and I walked out with my backpack.
For 5 years that backpack rode on my back through countless adventures. It’s weight became the physical representation of the frustration I felt when my bus to the ferry to Langkawi was eleven hours late.
It’s straps became a comforting embrace as I attempted to sleep against many an airport wall; it’s deep central pocket home to many items little Boy Scouts couldn’t carry on long hikes; it’s hidden compartments, known only by me, the safeguard of my passport and money when pickpockets carried off my broken FitBit that I had stuffed in my jeans.
My international travels are currently on hiatus as I relearn how to be an American. Unfortunately, my constant companion doesn’t fit in the single bedroom I currently share, so, sadly, it’s stuffed in a suitcase in the garage, full of other things I might need someday. It feels wrong; my backpack is a she, not an it. She needs sunlight and adventure.
Or is that me?
International living, though adventurous, is really difficult and frustrating. But just look at what Malaysia has to offer.
I miss it. And my backpack.
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