The first time I … stayed in a mixed dormitory overseas

In 2011, I was in Hollywood to interview the cast and crew of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I had decided to extend my trip for sightseeing purposes, and after spending a few days at the swanky Montage hotel in Beverly Hills (paid for by the event organiser for the duration of the assignment), I decided to slum it at a backpackers’ hostel for the rest of my stay.

Okay, fine – I didn’t have enough money to stay at a proper hotel back then.

The Banana Bungalow hostel located along the famous Hollywood Boulevard was right within my budget. I had decided to skimp even further by choosing to stay in the mixed dormitory instead of in a single room, or the female-only room. It was my first time sleeping in a mixed dorm but it was the cheaper option and hey, what could possibly go wrong? I just had to share a room with men I have never met in my life, no big deal.

The room had two bunk beds and two guys were already in it when I entered. They were getting ready to go out and had their belongings strewn everywhere, including on the top bunk that was assigned to me.

“Sorry, I will clean this up,” said one of the guys in a very thick Russian accent. Or perhaps it was Polish … or maybe even German. You know what? Never mind, let’s just say that the guy had an accent.

The good news was that I didn’t get any creepy vibes from them, and a quick glance at their belongings (that was all over their bed) didn’t show any rope or knife or bottle marked with a skull.

They left without saying goodbye and I only saw my roomies again later that night when I was already in bed. I learned two things that night: One, they were not interested in making conversation with me and two, they loved to sleep in their undies.

The hostel was empty throughout the day and there was a flurry of activities at night when most of the guests returned from late-night partying. As I am a heavy sleeper, conversations and whispers don’t bother me. However, one night, I found myself waking up to a very distinctive sound. At first, I couldn’t tell what it was but after a while I realised that it was the sound of a squeaking bed frame.

The noise was not from my room, but eventually, I figured that the walls were so thin that I could actually hear my next door neighbours uhm … getting to know each other intimately.

The rest of my stay there was uneventful, until the night of the free-and-easy BBQ session. The Banana Bungalow had organised the event for its guests. We just needed to pay US$1 (RM4.20 today) to join, enjoy barbecued ribs and mingle with other Banana Bungalow occupants. What I didn’t know was that the event was also open to outsiders!

As I was trying to eat my ribs, I was cornered by a random guy who proceeded to boast about how he lived off food stamps and how he had found a loophole in the system which allowed him to dine on lobsters at least once a week.

“I am also a painter. Do you want to check my paintings? Let me take you home, I want to paint you …” he pestered me the whole night. Okay, first of all, this ain’t no scene from Titanic and I wasn’t going to let anyone paint or draw me like one of his French girls.

Secondly, I have watched enough Law & Order: SVU episodes to know how the potentially dangerous scenario would play out.

I declined and managed to escape to my room, where I found one Henrik Carleson unpacking his bags, ready to get some sleep before continuing with the American leg of his whirlwind trip from Sweden. It was his first night at the hostel – and my last – but whatever hours I had left before I flew home, I spent it going on train rides and exploring Hollywood with Henrik.

My first time at a mixed dorm had its ups and downs, and I also had to deal with some Dodgy McDodgerson characters, but if it wasn’t for my sense of adventure – okay fine, lack of money – that sent me there, I would not have met the funny and eccentric Henrik whom I have been friends with for nearly a decade. “Hi Georgie!” (inside joke).