Everything is relative. Am I rich or am I poor? Maybe I am both and it depends on how you view my position.
So if everything is relative does truth become less absolute and honesty then a much more subjective concept. Perhaps the problem lies within relativity itself. If you look at something in relation to something else you are, fundamentally, making a comparison. You are trying to fit something into a bigger framework where things can be judged as being within or outside of parameters. You can calculate a standard deviation from the norm and label and classify.
I don’t so much mind my wealth being measured. My emotions however are something else. I view myself as a happy fellow. I live my rather unremarkable life with pockets of joy which I find, for me, in quite the most expected of places. A random chat with a stranger or a piece of music can lift my mood. The brilliance of the dawn or dramatic descent of the sun can captivate me and leave me feeling awestruck at the grandeur of the natural world.
So I must admit that I don’t really like relativity. I have found my happiness and I hope that you find yours. My happiness isn’t greater or better it’s just different. I hope only that my happiness is not at the expense of yours. This is my truth and this is my honesty. Is it relative or absolute? Maybe it’s both and it depends on how you view my position.
I lead a very small life. I get up and go about my business and to most I am an unknown. I am a nameless stranger on the streets of a city whose language I cannot read or speak.
Yet, everyday I feel welcomed. When shopping, the generosity of a smile, when I struggle to communicate, calms me down. The old ladies of the market laugh at me but I can see the kindly twinkle in their eyes as I stumble through buying my vegetables. The toddlers, standing on the footplate of their parents’ scooter even shout hello as they go past. So I may be unknown but I’m not unnoticed. As a foreigner, a barang, I stand out. I am tall, even by British standards, so here in Cambodia I feel as if I’ve come down a bean stalk. I sail around the town on a big old fashioned bike, having eschewed the ubiquitous motorbike, gathering smiles.
In my small life, these seemingly meaningless interactions are anything but. Each one contributes to a sense of happiness. Here in Cambodia people are shy but they are not wary. Having come from Europe where the single adult male is shunned as potential stranger danger it is lovely to receive happy waves and carefree waves and hear parents encouraging their children to say hello.
I will never change the world and I have no aspiration to do so. Nor will many of the people I see every day. However, a cheery hello or an open smile can change someone’s day. I know this because the good people of Battambang share their small city and their kind, friendly nature with me, making my small life a happier one.
A streetcar named desire stopped in my town the other day. A stranger disembarked and before he got back on he got and the bell clanged to signal his departure he declared that I looked comfortable in my own skin. Such a lovely compliment, thrown as he sped away to elsewhere.
We had spent such a short time together but looking back, the conversation was deep and the humour dry and sparkling like a good champagne. Certainly I had felt easy in the to and fro of the friendly conversational joust in which neither of us were tilted from our seats. We were well matched.
I’ve never depended on the kindness of strangers but when you’re travelling alone a stranger’s takes can light up dark unknown skies. I thrive on meeting new people. The relationships are superficial even if the conversations are deep and the torturously subtle complexities and conventions of long term relationships are hazards that need not be traversed.
As I travel alone on the Asperger Path, I realise that my life has acquired an openness and sense of freedom that it had often lacked. I have neither the time nor the ability to set up bizarre rules and restrictions. My life, so often run around a set of self constructed, constrictive mantras, is now open to the four winds and whoever they blow my way.
I have made some unusual choices and I’m sure the odd eyebrow is raised in my honour. However I took the road less travelled so I grateful when the streetcar drops off a stranger and he walks a block or two with me. I don’t depend on their kindness but it is most welcome.
I met a man the other day who blew away the cobwebs that had gathered in forgotten corners of my mind. Through his conversation he gently reminded me of lost passions and interests that have lain, unvoiced, in the hinterland of my consciousness. He was travelling at light speed through South East Asia. However this cosmic hare paused for breath before zipping past me, the earth-bound sluggish tortoise.
We talked of things from home mostly. A trip back to the familiar which was less memory lane than a base touch with my own culture. The politics of the left and the left out was discussed over one too many beers and the world unable to righted was dispaired over. We shifted our focus to love and relationships and discovered much in common. We both believed in the openness and flexibility of love. Seemingly polar opposites, the more we discussed the broader out common ground became.
When he left I knew that I would never see him again. I wish he were a tortoise because I could have travelled and talked with him forever. How easy life would be but I don’t fall in love with tortoises. I fall in love with hares and so I wake up with spiders rebuilding their homes in forgotten corners.
It’s been a while since I put thumb to phone to tap out a metronomic message to put in my bottle. Life has taken me and carried me down a dizzyingly bizarre route. However far I have travelled I’m still here. My backwater life has had a few up and downs but the journey has been an internal one.
The twists and turns, at times almost Machiavellian, havr surprised me but they have failed to knife me and I have walked away, unscathed and unscarred. I have a new and, for me, more interesting job. I got called professor the other day and when I checked irony was not lurking in the corner. I am falling in love with my teaching. Adults and small groups seem deliciously simple after the dramas and joys of teaching my large grade 1 classes. However easy the management might be however, the content is challenging and my skills are being sharpened. My mind is tingling in ways I thought were long lost. It’s a privilege to be teaching teachers and seeing colleagues introduced to new concepts and ideas.
So, backwater Battambang will be home for a while longer. There’s a contentment in lingering yet still knowing that, a year from now, I’ll be elsewhere. The Asperger Path is moving slowly and the restless motion of my thumb taps a reminder to live each moment and let each moment pass.
Situations have been a little overwhelming lately and I needed to do something to resolve them. Life in Cambodia can see chaotic to an outsider and I guess I can be chaotic too. Chaos squared does not bode well. Chaos can cause me anxiety so I don’t want things getting exponential. When I get anxious, I feel make rash decisions because my emotions, those unreliable things that should not cloud sensible decisions, run riot. They bounce around like pinballs at the arcade and the bells and flashing lights overload my senses. All too often I end up annoyed and frustrated because I feel my actions have been useless and yet instrumental in my own failure.
A friend of mine was listening to me berate myself over a beer. She knows me well so waited patiently for me to exhaust my train of thought. When I stopped for breath she intervened. She placed a calming, cooling, rather compassionate logic over my thoughts. First she explained that actually in situation x what else would one do but y. She elabotated that, because x was so pressing, obviously y was a short term solution to alleviate the situation until z could be implemented.
I wish everyone could be more algebraic with their care and love. On the Asperger Path, it is rare to meet someone can translate the world in a way that makes life suddenly seems so beautifully ordered.
Maybe love is just a very difficult simultaneous equation. Perhaps each of my friends could be approached as a quadratic equation. If my friend can both salve and solve me with algebra, it’s time for me to start applying some maths and solving a few of life’s problem.
I was thinking of writing a letter to the fifteen year old me but I realised that I would not have read it. I thought I was so cool, so knowing but in reality I was too gauche and dull to be open to the wonder of life.
I could write a letter to future me when I have lost my mental capacity to make decisions. However what would be the point of telling future senile me that the life I can’t remember was great.
So I am going to write something to you. And here it is. Brace yourself.
Today I opened the curtains and saw the dawn. Even insomnia is a gift if you grab it and embrace it. Mother Nature was flaunting her beauty for the crowing cocks while most of the world was oblivious. I could have spent my hour grumpily bemoaning to my pillow that sleep is a necessity but instead I did something. I seized the day and made my lemonade and a whole host of gee life is great and amazing clichés.
Fifteen year old me was too stupid and maybe ninety year old me will be senile. However, right now I’m fifty years old and living in the moment. Why don’t you come and join me.
Today is just an ordinary day. The sun rose and an hour or so later, so did I. My mornings are remarkably similar. I potter through the news and messages and intersperse my updates with word games and brain training.
I lead a charming, charmed life. Here I am now sitting on comfy chair composing poems that few people read and writing this blog, that apart from you, I am uncertain ever gets read. Life is sweet and simple.
I could defame the government, blaspheme expletives onto the page or indulge in amateur auto pornography. I don’t think my readership would rise. Though I suspect your eyebrow might. However I am not feeling provocative or provoked so this blog will also carry on in its ordinary fashion. I will write words and wonder who reads them and why.
So here I am in Cambodia. Gratefully reporting that all is well. For that is surely what ordinariness is. It is not only the absence of anything unusually good but also the continuation of the fact that nothing particularly bad has happened. Now that is surely something to celebrate.
“Whatever makes her happy on a Saturday night” sang Suede once upon a misspent youth I squandered many years ago. However I don’t think Brett and the boys ever thought that going out on a Saturday night could be so tragic and terrible.
In London there has been yet another attack and yet more loss of life. So tonight it won’t “be okay like everyone says” it won’t “be alright and ever so nice”. It has been carnage and chaos on the streets of Britain’s capital and far away from home I worry about the people I love.
However, what happens after an event like this is what is important. If you allow hate to be planted in your heart then the war on terror has been lost. Hate and fear are what terrorists want. They seek to divide the world. At a time like this, I hope that people will look for commonality and not difference. The diverse people of Britain are united in a kingdom where we share more values than we realise. We want to live in peace and go to work and get on with the banal and humdrum daily activities of being a mum, dad, sister, brother, daughter or son. We want to build a life to share with the people we know and love.
So on this Saturday night I won’t be singing to Suede. I will return to the song, that for me is a relevant today as when it was written because “we have got to find a way to bring some understanding here today”. Forty six years later I still agree with Marvin Gaye.
War is not the answer for only love can conquer hate
Living in Cambodia I see what life is like without a welfare state. It’s frightening for the poor and underprivileged. Money talks and poverty doesn’t really have a voice.
Here they barely have a state school system and even in that system the underpaid teachers often sell the information need to pass tests. Universal access to good quality education is key to providing good life chances and allowing all people to achieve their potential.
Here, getting sick is a privilege. There is no sick pay from work and the cost of a trip to the hospital is beyond the means of the average person. I am advised, as a foreigner, that if I get really ill to get a taxi to Bangkok. I have been raised in a country where I have never had to think how much a treatment would cost. I get free health services not just when I am ill but when I want to be more healthy.
Here the railway station is closed. There is no track and in truth there is no public transportation system of any kind . The roads are unsafe and there are high numbers of accidents. There is not much investment in public transport. The rich drive big cars and the poor don’t travel very much. When I was young everybody complained about National Rail. Now in Britain have to complain about private companies which we subsidise.
Here the postal service doesn’t really work. The price of electricity varies on where you live. People don’t have running water and sanitation in many homes outside of urban areas.
I am not criticising Cambodia. They have survived things I personally cannot imagine. This is a call to the people of Britain. Living here highlights the things that I have taken for granted. You have a choice to make on Thursday. Are you going to vote for a country that views education, health, transport and postal services as publicly owned parts of the nation’s infrastructure that are there for the good and benefit of all. Or are you going to head down a road of privatisation where money talks and poverty doesn’t have a voice.