It’s amazing how two people can live the exact same experience, yet have completely different interpretations of the events. Often dubbed the Rashomon Effect, this phenomenon has been the subject of countless books and movies, most notably Rashomon itself, and is familiar to us all. I have personally witnessed a few examples during my life, but none as dramatic, hilarious, sad and somewhat frightening, as the story (no, make that stories) I was told on my first day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
I arrived at a cheap hostel in KL’s chinatown early in the morning after an overnight train ride in a completely upright seat, under bright lights, surrounded by noisy families, with a guy next to me who spent the whole journey loudly hacking up various shades of green and yellow. I wanted nothing more than a bed to pass out on, but none would be available until the afternoon. I passed my time talking to the only other person in the dorm room: a Japanese guy I’ll call Hideki.
Hideki had arrived in Kuala Lumpur two months earlier, planning to spend a few days in the city before traveling around Southeast Asia for a few weeks. Instead, he met a girl; let’s call her Anna. Anna had come to the city from the Philippines in search of work. It was her first time overseas and, as is so often the case, she was quickly cheated out of most of her money. That’s when the two met.
He was kind to her, helped her out in her time of need and taught her to be a bit more streetwise. They spent a lot of time together exploring the city and soon fell in love. Hideki decided to scrap his plans for Southeast Asia and remain in Kuala Lumpur with Anna instead. When he reached the end of his allotted vacation days at his job as a fugu chef, he simply quit. Fugu is the toxic blow fish and chefs go through something like ten years of specialized training before they are allowed to handle this fish.
“A job is a small price to pay for true love.” Hideki informed me and, sure enough, they were boarding an overnight train to Thailand that evening, where they would be getting married. While his family couldn’t be there, it sounded like they were supportive of his decision and very happy for him. Hideki and Anna were planning to meet at the train station, but she had forgotten her suitcase in the dorm, so he had to lug it to the station along with his own. I wished him well and figured that was the last I would be seeing of him.
A short while after Hideki’s departure, a girl I figured had to be Anna headed into the girl’s dorm. I wasn’t sure it was her, but any doubts were erased a few second later when she burst out of the room yelling that her suitcase was missing. I explained that her boyfriend had taken it to the station for her, but before I could even finish the sentence, she screamed that he wasn’t her boyfriend and stormed off. When she returned a while later with her suitcase, I got her side of the story.
Anna had come to Kuala Lumpur around two months ago to find work. She met a guy her first week who ended up cheating her out of most of her money. That’s when she met Hideki in the hostel. He was nice to her and they spent all day together exploring the city. The next day, she wanted to go shopping and he tagged along. She would have rather gone on her own, since he was a bit annoying and difficult to talk to given his horrible English, but he was a nice enough guy, so she agreed to let him join her.
He tagged along everywhere she went over the next few days, despite her hints—subtle at first, a bit more direct after that—that she was getting tired of his constant presence. When she finally got more forceful in telling him to give her some space, he finally let her go somewhere without joining her……and followed ten meters behind instead.
This basically went on for almost two months, at which point she bought a train ticket to Thailand to renew her Malaysian visa. Hideki insisted he go along to protect her, but she refused. He bought a ticket on the same train, but in a different car. She began looking into different trains, trying to find out if she could exchange her ticket. He got wind of this and went to the train station hours before their train was scheduled to leave, taking her suitcase, which contained her passport, with him.
As Anna was telling her story, the hostel staff kept interrupting with comments about ‘crazy Hideki’. Apparently, they were fully aware of the whole saga and had even tried to talk some sense into him on several occasions. I remember sensing a strange vibe from them, like they were angry with me for some reason. Now I understood why: they had seen me talking to Hideki and wishing him well as he left with Anna’s suitcase and obviously though I was encouraging him.
While Anna and I were talking, Hideki was actually in another room with other members of the hostel staff. They were apparently chewing him out and even threatening to call the police. When they returned to our dorm, he kept insisting they should make that call, if that’s what his ‘girlfriend’ wanted—he would do anything to make her happy after all (apart from leaving her alone, apparently).
In the end, the police were not called and the three of us were left alone in the dorm room. I actually tried to help the young couple work out their differences, since I could help with the language problem, but for a long time, the conversation amounted to little more than him repeating how much he loved her and her repeating how much she hated him.
After a while, he did seem to accept that the marriage thing wasn’t going to happen quite the way he had imagined, but he did want to stick around until she found a job and he could be sure she would be alright. She had a job interview a month later, so he was clearly planning on stalking her a while longer. She even had a ticket to Indonesia already purchased for her next visa run. He had a seat on the same flight.
After a bit more talking, he agreed to leave her alone if she wanted. He would go to Thailand with her—or follow her, depending on your perspective—and hope to make some good memories together upon arriving (whatever that means). If it became clear she wasn’t interested in a relationship with him (I have NO idea what it might take to make this clear to him), he would not return to Kuala Lumpur and would head to Laos instead, where he would find an isolated little town and take a week to cry over his lost love. Those were pretty much his exact words. She soon left for the station and he followed twenty minutes later.
I talked to the hostel staff some more after they were gone and it was clear they had drawn the same conclusions I had: while Hideki was undoubtedly a nut job, this situation was not entirely his fault. Anna was never really forceful enough in telling him to leave her alone and seemed to even like the attention a little bit—she just didn’t want quite that degree of attention. For his part, Hideki clearly felt he was protecting a girl who needed protecting. She simply didn’t know she needed it. He also obviously felt they were destined for each other. She didn’t know that either.
When he stole her suitcase and left for the station, I don’t think he thought for a second he was doing something wrong. I imagine he was picturing some scene from a cheesy Japanese romantic drama where Anna is crying at the station and he shows up heroically with her suitcase, saving the day; then they ride off into the sunset together, toward their new life in Thailand. We’ve all seen movies like that and they’re all horrible. Clearly Hideki lives in a fantasy world, but in this case, reality would actually make for a much more entertaining movie.
I actually really wish someone would make a movie out of their little love story—I would love to know how this whole thing ended. It took place over three years ago, so I imagine by now Anna is married and living with her family in a house in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. Hideki is living behind a pair of binoculars in the bushes across the street making sure she’s alright and patiently waiting for her divorce.