A dear friend once told me that her motto in life was to stay uncomfortable. She urged me to break out of the “bubble” I lived in to truly learn what life was about.
Over the years, I’ve had to concede with her. Comfort is great when used as a benchmark, but it’s a lousy teacher. As much as I dislike change and being uncomfortable, I hate the ennui that comes with routine more.
My loathing of boredom is why I accepted the challenge of documenting a stay in the worst hotel in the country.
After spending an afternoon trawling the annals of TripAdvisor for the most abysmal room for rent, I eventually find what nobody looks for and book a night in complaint paradise.
This was Singapore. How bad could it be?
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.
First of all, with the door closed the place smells like ass. You know that musty smell in the back of an old closet? Combine that with the pungent stench of ammonia and the sour scent of a wet towel. Then multiply the sum by a thousand.
And another thousand after that.
Somewhere, a certain führer would’ve been proud.
Collapsing into bed at the thought of having to spend the next 24 hours in this hellhole, I stare dejectedly at the ceiling and to my horror, discover that I’m not quite as alone as I assumed.
In each corner of my humble abode are dozens of dead flies trapped in huge cobwebs. 15 minutes later, every surface of my body in contact with the mattress starts to itch, confirming that it’s not just my spirit being eaten alive.
But I am a survivor. I am going to stay and learn something about myself.
Most importantly I am a millennial.
Whipping out my trusty iPhone, I turn to Instagram, Facebook and YouTube for distractions from my suffering and surprise surprise, it works. The incomprehensible shouting from adjacent rooms becomes a quiet murmur and even the incessant itching is kept at bay.
The whole afternoon and evening is spent being held captive by my charging cable. Because my room cell slum is windowless and I’m largely oblivious to the outside world save for the occasional trip to the washroom (the one down the hall), the next thing I know, it’s close to midnight.
I put the phone away and amazingly, somewhere in the semi-darkness, sleep claims yet another victim.
In fact, it’s so bad that I spring up and just stand in the middle of the room, thinking of my options. On one hand, quitting seemed like a cheap way to go. On the other, what more could be gained from trying to last till morning?
Eventually, the thought of mites cavorting at the base of my hair follicles and burrowing into my skin becomes too much. Flinging my room key at the reception, I leave.
I then proceeded to take the longest, most thorough shower of my life. Somewhere around my fifth hair wash, I realise that me leaving was less a sign of my weakness than it was a testament to my neighbours’ strength.
Whenever I made the trip to the communal bathroom, I’d always keep an eye out for the hostel’s other clientele just to see who else was crazy enough to rent a bed there. Instead of bumping into frazzled European backpackers, what I often saw were Thai and Burmese nationals sharing a joke I couldn’t understand while cigarettes dangled between their fingers.
What I had so casually called a slum was, in essence, still a roof over my head and a place to crash for the night. It was all they ever needed.
Accommodations as nasty as these exist because there is still a demand for them. For some people, a cheap bed in a run-down hostel is all they can afford. Naturally, this makes their experience of Singapore vastly different from the average tourist who gets to enjoy rooftop pools and room service.
Still, we don’t always wonder where the man in the street calls home. For many of us who travel, even the shittiest place we stay in is actually still decent.
Having only spent one night in this hostel, choosing to stay uncomfortable taught me a lesson in perspective. I didn’t even need to leave the country to get it—just my comfort zone.
As the first rays of light dilute the inky blackness of the night sky, I finally crawl into my own bed exhausted, but with a much greater appreciation for all the creature comforts I so often took for granted.
One thing will never change though: no matter how desperate I am, you’ll never catch me peeing in a shower.