April 11-12, 2011
Our next stop was Brussels, where we had two CouchSurfing hosts [A.] and [G.]. They seemed to be the exact opposites of each other, which shows that you can meet any type of person on CouchSurfing — you just have to be ready to expect the unexpected. A, who had positive references and a filled out profile, turned out to be rather cold and sarcastic. When we first met, my friend [V.] and I were still wearing our heavy backpacks, and he quietly led us around Brussels, half-heartedly showing us the famous sights, including Maneken Pis.
“What’s the story behind Manaken Pis?” I asked, hoping to strike up a conversation after almost an hour of silence. We were eating our first Belgian waffles with Nutella and fresh strawberries. He had been standing there, looking as if he had somewhere else to be.
“Good question,” A. replied sarcastically. “I think there was a fire and some boy pissed on it.
“You know,” I said, sensing his irritation immediately. “You really don’t have to show us around if you don’t want to. You’re under no obligation to…”
V. nodded vehemently in agreement — he was already a shy sort of person and being in this awkward situation seemed to make him even quieter than before. A merely shrugged and said that it wasn’t a big deal, even though he clearly made it out to be.
Later, we met the others in our travel group and their CouchSurfing host, G. He was in a folk band, had a beard, and hipster glasses. Even though he was born in France, he hated the French for being “so French” (he had said) and preferred the laid back atmosphere of Belgium. But of course, if he could live anywhere else, it would be Portland, Oregon. Even though I’ve said before that I’m not one for stereotypes, my friend S and I giggled and quietly referenced Portlandia to each other.
A. soon left because he was tired, and G started showing us around. He took us to the alternative theater he volunteers at and told us it was the largest and oldest alternative theater in Europe. At the basement of the alternative theater, there was a cozy looking bar with strange and fascinating art work that adorned the old walls. He then gave us organic beers brewed by local Belgians, which we shared among ourselves, since he preferred wine himself. This was the reason I wanted to CouchSurf. I wanted to see what the locals in each country did on a daily basis, rather than taking in all the main tourist attractions. It felt more real to travel this way, rather than gaining a surface glance of what a country has to offer. It’s true what they say that after a while, all European cities begin to look alike — they all have cobblestones, old buildings, old monarchies, and bloody histories. It’s the people that make traveling worth all of its while.
After G went to work, we made our way to the famous Atomium. Its name gives away what it is — it’s basically a large atomic structure, originally built for the World Expo in the late 50s. The interconnecting tubes lead to the different spheres, where you can view exhibits and also a stunning view of Brussels.
When we were finished with the Atomium, we wandered into a nearby park, where we got much needed rested from the constant traveling over the past few days. V and I also remembered that we were supposed to go back to A’s house for dinner, even though we had a bad feeling about it.
After a couple of hours, we managed to make it to A’s house with the few directions he left us. He seemed even more apathetic (or irritated) that we were around, and it made us wonder why he agreed to even host us at all. He had a group of eight friends, who were all drunkenly slurring French to each other and hardly even acknowledging our presence. V and I sat awkwardly in silence, as we watched them interact. Every few times, A would say something to me in Mandarin-Chinese. He had studied abroad in Taiwan for a year, and I was hoping we could find some sort of common ground in that way. But to no avail.
After an awkward night of long silences, we ended up spending the night at G’s place instead of A’s. V later told me that he was actually a little afraid of A, since he had such a cold demeanor. There was one instance where I actually started laughing out loud at how absurd our situation had become. A glared at me and coldly demanded what was so funny. I shook my head and said, “Life.”
By the end of the night, one person in our travel group defended A and said he had a stunning conversation with him.
“I don’t blame him,” he said coolly. “I mean, he is letting random strangers freeload and stay at his house.”
“Then he shouldn’t have signed up for CouchSurfing if it was such an inconvenience to him,” I snapped back irritably. “You’re missing the entire point of CouchSurfing. It’s not a chance to freeload on someone, but getting to know someone and exchange hospitality. If he doesn’t have the decency for either of those, then he shouldn’t have joined.”
“And there is a decline option on CouchSurfing too,” my friend S. countered, equally irritated at his inappropriate time to play Devil’s Advocate.
This may be irrelevant to the current story, but those who plan on travelling (especially for a long time), make sure you pick the right people to travel with. Otherwise, you will feel like you are going to go into a rage black out and start foaming at the mouth by the third day of the trip. CouchSurfing is a gamble, but you have control over who you travel with. If someone does not share the same values as you, chances are they are not someone you want to travel with at all. It doesn’t mean they are an awful person capable of heinous crimes — it just simply means that they are different from you. There are plenty of people that I love dearly as friends, but I knew if we started traveling together, we would be at each other’s throats in an instant.
The next morning, V and I made our way back to A’s house to collect our belongings. I started to kill A with kindness, and I actually made him chuckle a couple of times.
“How much does a polar bear weigh?” I asked cheerfully.
A. rolled his eyes at me, and V. smiled nervously. “How much?” V. asked.
“Enough to break the ice!” I answered. “Ba dum chhhh…” I mimed playing the drums.
A. fought a smile, so I tried another joke, just as we were about to exit the front door.
“So a mushroom walks in a bar, and the bartender goes, ‘Sorry we don’t serve mushrooms here,’ and the mushroom says, ‘Why not? Aren’t a fun guy?” I said, laughing at my own joke.
A. stared at me blankly, as if I were the crazy one this entire trip.
“A fun…guy. Fungi.” I explained slowly. “Like a fungus…because a mushroom is a type of fungus…so he’s a fungi… Get it?”
A. handed me my bag and abruptly replied, “No.”
And with that, he shut the front door.