Once upon a time I would have said that friendship was a magical connection that was made so rarely that it should be treasured and nurtured. I had a tight inner circle as sacrosanct as that of Arthur’s knights.
My well organised life was full of lovely people and I categorised them into a bewilderingly bizarre, teetering hierarchy. ‘Friend’ was the highest accolade and few made it to those dizzying heights. There were more mundane positions which were easier to fulfill such as ‘people I know’ or ‘people I like’ and even ‘people I like to say hello to’. ‘Nice ladies in shops’ were good for a quick chat as were ‘bus stop people’. I defined my relationships and used these distinctions to keep people at a distance despite being essentially quite lonely. I rarely allowed movement as I was a fan of my slightly melancholy status quo. I left that ivory tower life and jumped headlong into the unknown.
Have I become more breezy. Is it possible that I am easy going. I doubt it. The Asperger Path will always be a challenging route . However, now that I am travelling there is no status quo for me to protect from would be friends and so my relationships do need to be scrutinised into the calcified classifications of before. This means that my use of the word friend has become more generic and as result my life feels a little less complex. I’m still awkward, clumsy and inept and I avoid some situations but I no longer bestow friendship like some coveted prize to be earned like a knight’s spurs. These days I have more friends and my relationships are governed as much by proximity as any other factor.
So if you’re in Battambang, are not a racist, like to laugh and have a reasonable level of intelligence chances are I see you as friend. It is as simple as that.
I took a moment the other day to look at the pond skaters living on the surface of the water. I should have been concentrating on the sun slowly rising over the ancient Angkorian temple but the Asperger Path often gets diverted. My Syndrome give me an ability to focus but also makes that focal point quite random.
I am, of course, digressing.
The pond skaters were there and I was pondering. I watched them whizzing about on the surface and creating magical patterns on the solemnly still waters of the pool. I was captivated and hadn’t even thought to look deeper. The fish were pointed out to me and then I saw them in the shadowy depths. Solid and sturdy, these creatures barely moved while above, their ethereal neighbours performed a showy cabaret.
Here in Cambodia I feel like a pond skater skimming the surface of a culture that is too deep for me to comprehend. Look at me I want to cry out I’m in the water! I have come to make a difference to the pond. As I skate around, making a big performance, real life carries on beneath me, oblivious and untouched by my presence. I am living on the surface. One day I will fly away from this kingdom but the fish will still be there quietly living and flourishing in the deep wonders of the Khmer culture.
Today I walked the tourist trail rather than the Asperger Path. I got up, more early than bright, and headed off with two strangers for a rather ambitious full-on day of marvelling at the ancient culture that both my companion and our driver are descended from.
Just when I thought the sun would not appear it rose triumphant like it has for nearly a thousand years over the ancient temple. I saw the dark stones slowly reveal themselves and the true wonder of the Kingdom I live in was revealed. The temple did not fail to keep me gasping as level upon level was explored. I came away feeling that my day could not improve.
I was wrong. The tuk tuk driver suggested that we head to the most northerly point of our trip next and I assured him that as long as there was a coffee on the way that would be great. The long awaited sun was already making its presence felt but the forty or so kilometres were covered with ease, breeze and an interesting conversation. My companion give me an insight into ancient Khmer culture and growing up in a country scarred by the tragedy of it’s recent history. Our steep ascent to see waterfalls and lingas was testing as the heat rose but being greeted by Vishnu hanging out with Ananta, Lakshmi and Brahma was a delight I was happy to share.
As we slowly headed back wonder upon wonder was revealed. Each different and yet linked which created a sense of uniform splendour surrounding these amazing early architects with mathematical precision and an ability to see divine inspiration in three dimensions.
The real joy of my day though was its ease. I was comfortable with strangers in intense heat and following a physically demanding itinerary. I accepted help graciously and was not worried about time or schedules. I was as lost in the landscape as those temples once were. I was asked why I kept smiling and I was able to answer that I just felt happy. That in itself is a wonder. I forgot who I was and in doing so found myself in receipt of a wonderful day.
I am a bit stressed and anxious. Life has come along and overwhelmed me. I was not thinking or planning and I was quite happily suspended in the moment. A traveller resting in a tranquil bubble. When I am away from anxiety it feels like I am away from reality because, sadly, anxiety is the most real feeling I know.
Anyway along came reality. Would I like a promotion? Experience should say no. My mouth says yes and even as it is being said the scenarios start playing in my head. I call it the what if chain. My mind can string countless hypothetical situations together. The first one or two are where the world discovers the genius that has now been hidden in its midst for fifty years. Then the disaster movies start. In each I play a leading role in my own humiliation and downfall. There are more sequels than a Rocky movie and the plot is always formulaic. I play the loser and the tragedy is that I am brought to the ground by my own shortcomings.
The joys of the Asperger Path are manifold and diverse. I have amazing skills but I do not hold a broad portfolio. I have so many blind spots and I am a great deceiver. The other day I was talking about being a good friend and my companion said I didn’t sound like a man on the spectrum. Reality has taught me harshly that talking the talk and walking the walk are too very different things. I know my weaknesses and my how I have analysed them in detail. Knowing you’re blind doesn’t give you sight and knowing that I’m not a “people person” doesn’t make it easier to be one.
I will go back and explain that I am not the right man for the job. Humble pie with sour cream will be my plat du jour. Hopefully I will stay where I am but, more likely, I will move on . Am I a traveller seeking the next adventure or merely a man who is constantly running away from the last debacle?
The post started by asking when respect had disappeared. There has been an long exchange on the Siem Reap expats page of Facebook. An American has ranted about the noise of loudspeaker outside his room and the lack of respect in modern Khmer culture. I should have sympathy for him as not so long ago I was the victim of a Cambodian wedding’s speaker volume. However the exchange has brought much darker issues to the surface.
There is a man, a Swedish man, who is blaming the Cambodian people for the Khmer Rouge. He is coming to the defence of his American friend. Now I am not known for my pro USA leanings but I try not to blame any stray Americans who cross my path for the startling catalogue of dubious activity which that bastion of democracy has achieved. A people and their governments or regimes are not the same thing. Cambodia is not a perfect country and it has had a terrible recent history that will take years to recover from. I am lucky to be here and work as a teacher. I hope that the lives of the Cambodians I have met will continue to improve. Poverty and corruption are easy to find but so are happiness and laughter. Living abroad is a great gift and one that, when done through choice, is a gift that only the relatively privileged can afford.
Complaining about being disturbed by weddings, muttering about respect, and then randomly moving on to not wanting to be forced to get a work permit doesn’t sound like racism, that sounds like a petulant toddler who can’t have things just so. However hese two friends have shown, through their comments, that they regard themselves as intrinsically better than their hosts. Now, I don’t know what you think, but that does sound like rascism. These two men might be great people. I’ve never met them so I can this Facebook debacle is all I know of them and it has not parented them in a favourable light.
Living in a different culture is always a challenge. It brings both amazing rewards and unexpected problems. Being on the Asperger Path I know a lot about frustration and how cultural differences can put you off kilter. Dear reader, if I am ever racist or xenophobic while I write this travel blog please let me know. I hope that am respectful even in my most difficult moments.
I write what’s in my heart. Or what’s in my head. Sometimes it is both. But what I write has been through a process not unlike photoshopping. I take an image that’s real or an event that’s happened and I tweak it a little. My primary school teacher used to say I embroidered the facts and I like to think I’m still quite handy with a needle and thread.
People say believe half of what you see and some and none of what you hear. So my blog is a grapevine of my musings for my own amusement I am not hindered in my story telling by honesty or reality. This narrator is totally unreliable but, let’s face it, sometimes reality needs a little lift.
So the Asperger Path will take you off the straight and narrow, divert through La La Land and even add a little neon to the sunset. So come with me as I spectrum disorder the universe around me . Follow me as I blunder through the Kingdom of Wonder and try to make pictures from words and form words from my senses. Welcome to the fiction of my life where the facts are filtered, the details developed and the people processed.
How do people feel about their lives!
My life is amazing, in theory. Every day I teach great kids who, for the most part, are engaged and happy. I feel that they are growing under my firm care as I teach them the joy of learning through helping each other and sharing things. I am much more than an English teacher. In my role, I build good relationships with children, perhaps more distant than some, but I give them my honesty and authenticity. I guess I make a difference.
Returning to teaching is not the only thing I’ve done in the last year. I lost my job as consequence of discrimination and I made the wise decision to spend the money doing things I had never dreamed of. I travelled across a continent and then moved to another and started a life in Cambodia. I have seen unbelievable things and met some pretty awesome people. As I approached fifty I decided to open my mind and my life to new opportunities and I turned a bitter experience into a sweet solution. It’s horrible knowing that you have lost a livelihood because of a disability and discrimination is very ugly. If teaching is one thing I excel at then rising like a phoenix from ashes of a disaster is another well honed skill I’ve developed
Howver those things I have never dreamed of worry me. I’m living the dream but I don’t know who it belongs to. I wish I had some dreams of my own I could follow. I stand next to my life and feel almost untouched by it. The good and the bad roll by and I watch each with an air of
detachment. I know other people feel about their lives. I just don’t know what they feel. I’m not envious. My life may seem an odd place to live but I wouldn’t want to be anyone else but me.
I can see that I am blessed. I know it. I just wonder what it would be like to feel it.
Things that we don’t fully comprehend can seem deeply mysterious or ridiculously trivial. What I am about to explain to you may seem silly, but to me it is a source of pain and anguish. Try to read without prejudice. I have Asperger’s Syndrome and that should not be a surprise to any of my readers. I talk about it a lot but rarely give examples of the impact it has on my life.
There’s a woman who has been a little unkind to me. Nothing serious but she has been unhelpful and unsupportive. I avoid interactions with her and that makes my life better.
I was sitting in a café, lost in my own world. Happily speculating on nothing in particular and drinking a flat white which is a favourite pastime. The café is small so when she lumbered in she had to sit in close proximity. She said hello and then sat with her friends who I don’t know. My happy speculation stopped. The nothing in particular suddenly became an almost obsessive panic. This is the social awkwardness that Aspergers causes in me. I wanted to run. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to be anywhere else but near her. My coffee was ruined.
But it got worse.
A mutual friend arrived. Clearly she had arranged to meet this woman and after saying hello to me she joined their table. My levels of discomfort increased to a point of excruciating social pain. I felt claustrophobic and I wanted to leave but also didn’t want my leaving to perceived as a statement.
I left the cafe and the following day left town and went and stayed overnight in a nearby city. I am always more flight than fight. Three days later I’m still analysing this debacle. My anxiety allows me to try and explore every possible permutation in which our paths might cross in the future. I live the potential pain and feel it as if it’s actually happening.
Irrational thoughts are so perplexing. I want to leave work. I want to leave town. I want to create a world where I never see this woman again. Of course what I need to do is get some perspective. She is just a person. She is liked by some and not by others just like me. However I have a tendency to see things in black and white. I catastrophise situations and see only the negative outcomes and in doing so create my own catastrophe.
So there you go. She is an extreme example but I analyse every relationship and every interaction to the same degree. I take the ridiculously trivial and create something deep and mysterious and that is something I don’t fully comprehend.
This chaos is my life. This wonderful, amazing life I am leading is just a sequence of disasters held together by a touch of bravado and good deal of hoping that everything will be all right. I have never had dreams or ambitions. There isn’t a someone I forgot to be. I am here and now and I’ve got my wits about me.
So I career, without a career plan, across jobs, countries and friends. My life is like bunting. Piece after piece, each little moment of beauty is separate and yet strung together hanging in the breeze for all to see.
Many of my colleagues in the spectrum disordered world have strong deep passions and life long obsessions. My obsession, if I have one, is with the new. I can’t bear to bored or stuck in a routine though ironically I create them. I hem myself in, experience a moment or two of safe, comfortable acceptance before I feel it. That irritating itch as if I am allergic to my own contentment.
I don’t have dreams. My life is lived in stark reality. I’m on my own and I have created the Asperger Path and this, this chaos, this is my life.
I have been seduced. I have been lulled into a real sense of security. The Asperger Path has become a park and I am playing on the swings of good fortune.
Funny how life conspires sometimes to throw handfuls of happiness at you. This life I am not building, this uncharted course that I am taking has moved into a safe haven and it’s time to drop anchor for a while. There are still no plans and few ties and I could be ready to sail next week. For now though, I’m living in the moment and from moment to moment. Those cherished moments are blossoming into memories and experiences that are cushioning the sharp corners of life.
So I will work, rest and play in the park for a while but I know where the gate is and one day I’ll be gone. For now though, Battambang, work your lazy magic and swing me gently in the evening breeze.