Nigeria Dreaming: My Night in a Shipping Container
By Dave Fox
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
It was the first birthday I’d be celebrating in Singapore, and my wife had already gone to work when I awoke. She had left a note: “Pack what you’ll need for the weekend. Meet me at the airport at 4. Don’t forget your passport.”
So that afternoon, I found Kattina at the Tiger Airlines ticket counter. “We’re going to Kuala Lumpur for the weekend,” she said. “I found us a guesthouse online. It looks cute. I got us a courtyard room.”
A couple of hours later, we were in Malaysia’s capital, entering the lobby of the 41 Berangan Guesthouse. It seemed like our kind of place.
“Snug, Safe, and Quirky,” cried a stack of brochures on the desk. “Spanking clean and fresh, 41 Berangan cheerily sits round the corner from all trappings of Kuala Lumpur’s must-do’s…. Snuggly comfy beds let you dream – berangan – away!”
Quirky! Snuggly! At 130 ringgit a night (US $41), I was sold.
“Please pay now,” the receptionist said.
I am an experienced world traveler, a professional tour guide, a guy who has been ripped off in enough exotic places to know better than to blindly hand over my credit card before seeing a room. But you know how it is on your birthday, when you’re all giddy about your new presents and you aren’t thinking clearly. We handed over our credit card and were led to our “courtyard room.”
If you ever want to design a Malaysian-style courtyard, here is how you do it, 41-Berangan-style: Find a concrete building. Place a shipping container at a right angle to that building. Then place another shipping container at a right angle to the first shipping container. Add a small table and a couple of potted palms, and voila! Instant courtyard!
I don’t know about you, but when I think of sleeping in shipping containers, I think of human trafficking or dead refugees. The padlock on the outside of door did not look inviting. But I had slept in weird places before. Two nights in a shipping container would be… “quirky!”
It was a standard-sized shipping container with a bed, a small desk, and a retro-fitted wall that separated a bathroom from the sleeping area. If you left the container door open, you had a view of the courtyard, not to mention that safe, secure feeling one gets, knowing one will not be padlocked in from the outside and shipped to Nigeria. Even when we closed the door – for privacy, and because we thought a one-way ticket to Nigeria might be interesting – we still had a little window that gazed out at a concrete wall six inches away. Things were starting to seem pretty good.
There was even carpeting! Now, snooty cultural perfectionists might say, “Yeah, right. You can’t carpet a shipping container. It ruins the authenticity.” But these owners had thought of everything. To make things rustic, they installed carpeting whose faded appearance and musty aroma created the environment of a shipping container that at one point had been dumped in the ocean.
“Do you really want to stay here?” Kattina asked. And the fact of the matter was, no. I did not. This shipping container was pretty exciting, but I wanted to splurge, pay the extra 10 ringgit (US $3.16) and upgrade to a “superior” room. What luxuries might await us there? A Jacuzzi? A chained-up child from rural Bangladesh? The possibilities were endless. So we went back to the reception and asked if we could see a superior room.
“Sorry,” the receptionist said. “We are fully booked. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Do you still want to stay here?” Kattina asked. We had a quick discussion. We had already paid. It was too late in the evening for them to sell the room to someone else. They probably wouldn’t give us a refund. Besides, friends were waiting to meet us for dinner. And while I really wanted to see if we might find a place down the road where we could sleep in a cardboard box, or a retro-fitted fridge, we just didn’t have time to look.
“We’re adventurous people,” I said. “We can handle this for one night. Besides, look at the pretty picture on the wall of the man backpacking! Look at the thought bubble! He is feeling love, and he is dreaming of flowers, and of being followed by birds the size of bicycles! Maybe if we stay here overnight, the mushroom spores growing in the air conditioner will help us have those same dreams!”
We didn’t spend much more time in our shipping container that evening. We went out to celebrate my birthday, and to consume enough alcohol that we would be able to sleep later. We were unsuccessful in the latter of the two endeavors. I laid awake most of the night, buzzing with anticipation of the crane that would come and lift us berangan! – away!
In the morning, we asked to be moved to superior-class accommodations. For those three extra dollars, we got a less exciting room in the main building. It had a television, and a DVD player, and a stack of pirated DVDs, which were nice and all, but the room did not have the mold-scented air-freshener that came with our shipping container, nor did it give us that special feeling of rugged adventure we seek in foreign lands.
So if you happen to be visiting Kuala Lumpur, and you stay at the 41 Berangan, be sure to request a courtyard room. And if you should have better luck than Kattina and I did, please send us a postcard from Nigeria.