Sometimes I feel like I’m almost invisible. The world is transacting around me and I am there, in my bubble, untouched by the commerce of life.
Get your friendships here. How about a lovely bit of bonding. Who fancies a nice little chat. They buy and sell their time, love and care like market traders but I never quite feel that the offer is aimed at me.
Here in Cambodia, I am used to not understanding. My life is lived in one language, while daily life is transacted all around me in another. The protocols and customs are based in a culture that I understand only superficially. I know that I miss messages and mix messages. Yet, my life has always felt as if I am somehow apart from culture rather than a part of it. The lonely otherness of the traveller is second nature on the Asperger Path.
I enjoy the market place. The overload to the senses is a shock but life, even observed from a bubble, is marvellous in its mess. So I will buy my bits and pieces and play my role. I’ll take a small smile and a bunch of happy being me, please.
I lose myself sometimes. Within that loss I find another me. Forgetting all my traits, I just exist. The bubble is takes me high and then, pop, the euphoria dissipates and I am my real self again.
But oh, those moments lost in music. The rhythm takes me gently before I take the rhythm and we counterpoint on the floor. The music mutates in my head and my body expresses itself without thought.
I feel a smile on my face and it spreads like the sweat on the back of my shirt. Delirious, I care about neither, I just want to consume the music and expel the joy that is swelling inside me. I am alone among a thousand people. Unaware, I dance for and by myself.
An hour can pass or sometimes two before the magic is lost. A different beat brings a sudden reawakening of my self consciousness and I am left, old and sweating. The man who lost himself suddenly finds himself surrounded and the jarring lights of reality are an unwelcome illumination of the scene.
Reality is where I live and I am mired in it, but isn’t he also real. That man who syncopates the floor with his feet and draws heaven to the earth with his arms is not a fantasy. He is just ecstatically lost, lost in the music, lost in his mind and found in the moment.
Live everyday as if it’s your last.
How irresponsible would that be. I am not going to die tomorrow so I’ll make sure I’ve got food, a roof over my head and clean underwear. It’s good not to over plan and we all need to roll with punches, but I hope there are thousands of days between this day and my last.
Live everyday as if it’s important.
Meh. There are the occasional sofa days and duvet days. Don’t let rainy days and Mondays bring you down because they happen with alarming frequency. The ups and downs of being human are not circadian but life repeats and life revisits. Live your life as if you are important. Allow yourself the down times so that when you soar you are truly astounding.
You only live once.
Hell yes. We are born and we die. In between we lead may lives and are many people. I am a friend, lover, teacher, writer, traveller and survivor. My current incarnation is the result of many creations and much destruction. I am an architect and I will continue to strive to be as well constructed as I can be. If today is my last day, I spent it well. It was just an ordinary day, full of living the great and the small.
Travellers on a journey we have happily coincided. This Emerald City is where we three live and teach. We were talking about Aspergers in the classroom, but my colleagues were unaware that I am the Tin Man. Thinking my knowledge was purely professional, the questions came flooding out. Questions reveal so much more than answers.
Do you think he knows he is different? Is he aware how others see him? Why can’t he adapt? Why does he look so sad?
Each question was given to me to answer. Such difficult heartbreaking questions to hear because each was so personal and yet I couldn’t say it. Why couldn’t I tell them? I guess because I fear their observation. I choose to remain a colleague.
I know I am different, but I forget until it slaps me in the face. I am unaware of how others see me. In fact most of the time I assume that they don’t see me. When they do, it usually another slap. I do adapt. I live in the world and I pass for almost normal in almost all situations. The sadness you see is when the world treats me badly. Sometimes it comes crowding into my carefully constructed spaces. It judges and points fingers in my face.
Those questions flooded me. The third person was not a barrier thick enough to deflect them. They told me how “other” I might be labelled. Until I’m brave enough to say I am like him, people will see us as not them. Aspergers might make me feel like a tin man, but sometimes I am just a cowardly lion.
I don’t like getting my feet wet. I don’t like how it feels. Today it’s raining but it’s still hot so I am torn between the cool comfort of my sandals and the tough impermeability of my walking boots.
The smallest choices are often the most pondered. In my life, I create routines and regularity to help me avoid that endless vacillation that can consume time and mental energy. I sweat the small stuff like plastic micro beads polluting my psychic eco-system. I need to make a decision but right now I’m blogging about it.
Those big decisions that people have, they seem to cause me less trepidation. Moving to Cambodia was done on a whim with no prayer. I just upped my life and landed with my full 30kg allowance and recreated a life. Things have worked out just fine so I must assume I am a resourceful little sausage. I have a job, a roof over my head and there’s healthy food on my table.
So, I can just jump sometimes. I guess it’s fine to get my feet wet, but only when it’s metaphorical. Maybe I should just wear the sandals and see how it feels.
I no longer mark time. Time is very different here. The punctuations I took for granted have gone. Now time doesn’t comma or full stop.
You see things differently at a distance. The detail is lost but the panorama allows each piece a place, and the whole is quite unlike the parts.
Once there were four seasons. Nature kept my clock ticking. Larks and robins, buds and falling leaves, late sunsets and dark mornings, each a reminder and each setting me in a context. Here it’s hot. Sometimes it’s wet. It’s light for breakfast and dark for dinner. A year can pass unnoticed.
The seasons come with much more. Emotionally I used to shift. I was carefree in June, melancholy in November and oh so hopeful in March. Activities would change. Life would move to the garden, the balcony or the beach for the brief halcyon summer before beating a retreat to log fires and drawn curtains. My friends are far from me so birthdays are Facebook updates and Christmas isn’t coming. Now that I am no longer on it, I can see I was immersed in a cultural calendar.
My days run on like badly constructed sentences, weeks are just ill defined paragraphs and without the seasons there are no chapters. I am in a stream of consciousness and living in the now because the passing of my time is no longer marked.
Between us, there is never any friction. I am accepted as I am. I love as I do and I feel love in return. Springs of glorious warm love surround me in a world that often seems glacial.
These people, these few people I call friends, they seem to see the world differently. We are not kindred spirits and there has never been another pea in my pod, yet the ties are there. Strong enough to withstand the challenges and soft and pliable enough to not feel constricting.
To other people they just seem ordinary. Leading busy lives and juggling the demands of life, they live in the chaos of normality. I am removed. I part myself and park myself on the edges. I bristle where others are smooth and readily answer from my heart without filtering, purifying or distilling my emotions. These people, my friends, they come and sit a while in my world.
The Asperger Path is straight and narrow. It’s monochromatic on bad days but rainbow disarrayed on happy ones. My friends don’t seem to notice I’m different. Maybe they do and they just don’t mind. They seem immune to the irritation I create in others. We are all unique. Perhaps everyone is on the spectrum and has worries doubts and anxieties.
Maybe Aspergers is no more a syndrome than gregariousness. Maybe suffering from a malaise or being blessed with gifts is actually the same thing. My gift is to be lost in the hot springs and forget the glacier that surrounds me.
It was Independence Day today and as I live so close to Independence Monument I thought I would see how it’s celebrated in Cambodia. Obviously I had the day off, so I had breakfast at my usual street café but at a slightly later hour. Then I ambled up the usually busy boulevard, closed to all cars except the elite with their ruling party VIP passes.
There were so many balloons and that was most unexpected. I felt very conspicuous, a foreigner and a European, wandering through the celebration of an Asian nation’s overthrow of colonialism, but the warm gentle smiles that are ubiquitous in Khmer culture soon calmed my trepidations.
The Red Cross were out in force, as were the Scouts and hundreds of schoolchildren. Smiling children holding pictures of the late king, or his still living wife, waved small national flags and clutched artificial white flowers which were to be laid on the monument.
Another foreigner passed me. Hello I said questioningly. He stopped and looked, and it took us both a moment to place the other. He had been neighbour from London that I hadn’t seen in 6 years or more.
Life changes and relationships shift. Whether between friends or nations, it’s good to remember the past and look to the future. We never know when an old acquaintance might become a new ally. My independence, well charted in this blog, is full of days made brighter by a little random human interaction.
The event takes centre stage at least geographically. The full moon is here and so boats are raced along the Tonlé Sap river which runs through the heart of the city. Yet, first time celebrant though I am, I mostly wander alone through the hinterlands of the Water Festival and stumble on scenes of familiarity in this quintessentially Cambodian celebration.
The festival itself is almost irrelevant and only the dignitaries in their tiered and shady seating can truly ascertain what’s going on. They sit on a dais sandwiched between the palace and the water, staring at the boats going simultaneously up and down stream. A thin line of supporters extends either side along the river bank but many thousands are focused elsewhere.
Towards the front the vendors are very much pitching to the basic needs. Food and water are being sold as families picnic near but not in sight of the racing boats. Cramped but jovial the families laugh and joke as sour green mango is dipped in a chilli salt sugar mix that assaults and ultimately defies the tastebuds.
A street or two further away large bowls of boiling oil teeter perilously on charcoal burners to produce chicken that is ends up being somewhere between dried and fried but will never upset the stomach. Near by the generously stomached smiling coconut vendor skilfully wields his cleaver to prepare a cooling treat and then pierces the translucent thin flesh with the ever present plastic straw. Here the more complex epicurean desires mingle with other vendors selling balloons and little treats. None of these traders has a stall but merely sits or more often squats and trades alfresco. A mat forms a good base to sit for a picnic. There is more open space so families are sparser allowing room for children to run around and play games every bit as convoluted as those being enacted on the water.
A good kilometre away, but still within the network of closed roads there are the more formal markets and stages. Random big businesses each hawking their wares. Cell phones and detergents both play loudly distorted Khmer love songs to entice their customers. Empty now, but after sunset there will be quite a party on the big main stage. It’s corporate sponsored and it’s going to be loud.
As I head out past the gun toting police on the traffic exclusion barriers, normality, or what passes for it in Phnom Penh starts to reassert itself. The motorbikes and horns replace the vendors cry as I return through the crowded streets to my house. I do not see many solitary observers like myself so I feel slightly superfluous. The people will stay and talk, eat and promenade long after the boats have left the river. Food, family and business are the cornerstones of life here and this festival is ultimately a celebration of that.