Twenty-three years old, artists just out of college, writing a travel blog… even though it’s not our style, we had to try out a hostel during one of our visa runs to Singapore. Only for one night, just to say we’ve had the experience, and only because we thought it would make a good blog post. We had high expectations for a wild night of drinks and games, meeting people from all sorts of places with plenty of interesting stories. Anticipating very few hours of sleep, we booked the co-ed room with four sets of bunkbeds for the cheapest rate. With only the bare essentials in our backpacks, we were on our way.
On arrival we were greeted by a less than friendly woman who took our payment, went over the long list of do’s and don’ts, handed us sheets and escorted us to the third floor dorm. We made our beds and laid out our folded clothes territorially. It was late in the day and Jeremiah and I were starving, so we grabbed dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant down the street. On the way back we spoke anxiously about the night ahead of us.
Walking into the common area we realized that we had been naive in our assumptions. The room was full of people, slightly more men than women, yet it was completely silent, like walking into the school library on exam week. There were people on their phones and laptops in the comfortable lounge area, and others with their headphones in using the computers along the far wall. Jeremiah and I made our way to the lounge area where we sat across from a guy passed out the couch. Behind us, in the dining area, someone sat slurping instant noodles. Someone else was moving about the small kitchen, microwaving leftovers. After a few minutes the quiet started becoming uncomfortable. Jeremiah and I were even unsure about talking to each other, opting to whisper so as not to disturb anyone. The loudest things, in my memory, were the notices posted all over the doors, walls, and refrigerator; handwritten capital letters in thick black marker, demanding adherence to hostel protocol.
Jeremiah and I hung out in the common area for over an hour, until the air conditioning turned on in the dorm upstairs. All the while we waited for someone to initiate any sort of social interaction. How disconcerting, to see young adventurers isolating themselves from the world around them, preferring instead to escape into their own private world of technology. It’s nothing new; we’ve become accustomed to the sight of people tuned into their phones, even in social settings. But the hostel is a very unique social setting. Where else can young people from all over the world congregate, with the opportunity to share a meal, a bedroom, and a bathroom with other travelers? Instead, every individual sat silently secluded in their own little space, and the fact that we were strangers, became even more strange.