Time does not stand still. It marches along and we humans are the foot soldiers of progress as technology carves out a new era for this planet.
Yet here in Cambodia, life often seems untouched by time. That boat now has a motor but there’s nothing here to say modernity has struck. The rural life, where living just above subsistence is considered good, must be gruelling. The fishermen are whippet thin with dark sinewy bodies that know no fat.
Today my path took me through places where progress has stopped at electricity and the combustion engine. A landscape where men work hard and women work harder to raise children who will leave school too early to follow in their parents footsteps.
There may be dignity in poverty but there is no glamour. I marvel at the simplicity of the life, and yet I am thankful I am not trapped in its net like a fish gasping for the possibility of the wide ocean.
I know that inequality will always exist and when progress ravages this landscape it will not free the fishing families from poverty. It will merely shackle them more efficiently to a newer form of injustice.
I am just passing through and will travel onwards with my privilege intact. For I am truly a twenty first century citizen. My unfiltered pictures are placed on social media, and my friends gasp at the wonders I capture. However I see this world through the bluest of eyes and this inequality is a filter on my reality.
Living in Phnom Penh has made a capitalist of this small town boy. Happier of late on my funny little path because I have realised that life in the big, bad city can be managed. I have put in a few kerb stones and carved out routes to make a personal village within the metropolis.
Limitations, like safety barriers, protect me from the harsher realities of the twenty-first century. What you might see as a padded cell I simply regard as well upholstered space. Cambodia can be chaotic and Phnom Penh is a city of violent change, where the extremities of life are laid bare. Wealth drives roughshod over the bones of the poor. I am both outsider and part of the status quo. I sip my iced coffee and observe the dirtiness of the everyday being transacted from my bespoke, gilded cage.
I am already supposed to be elsewhere and yet here I remain. Sane within the craziness and standing still in the constant traffic the Asperger Path is on a detour. The rolling stone is mossed. I have a home, a job and a somebody else to soften the urban loneliness of this brutal capitalisation.
He stepped into my private life and had a look around. I hadn’t invited him in and yet there he was. This sort of intrusion must be something I wordlessly offer, for this is not the first time I have been invaded.
I like good conversation. I like to dip my toe in muddy waters and ruminate about the endless possibilities and probabilities that life throws at us. The paths taken, and those forsaken, make good fodder for the random chats I so often have along the Asperger Path.
My public life is lived quite publicly. I am out there, on air and on line broadcasting to my meagre audience. My voice, loud as it may be, is lost in the curiously furious mumbling of the wide webbed world. The chaotic cacophony ensures a bizarrely public privacy. My wood would not be seen for the trees are forming a barrier of popularity I will never hurdle. Judgment is something different. When he judged me, asking why this pattern he has identified repeats, I retreated. His opinion, given as concrete fact, was dropped heavily on my toes and I naturally stepped back. My answer was stony but solid enough to build a wall. Be careful, dear reader for whilst my life is set out before you in the market place I choose what I hawk. What I write is public, but my feelings remain on my side of the counter. Stay if you want or leave, but spare my dipped toes the weight of a crushing opinion.
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.
Life isn’t a bed of roses and romance should be left in the pulpy swamps from which it is dredged. What is being acted out around me is grimy. Those visceral feelings are not pure and altruistic, but far more deep seated in a brutal survivalism. Man invented his wheel, but it has been used ever since to ride roughshod over our neighbour.
Humanity is stretched across our flaws like a thin veneer, often chipped and peeling. Social media is full of inspiring clips, much liked for they are deemed remarkable purely because an ounce care and compassion was shown. We have evolved so little since our cave dwelling times. The pictures on the wall may be cable rather than chalk, but the bloodlust is far greater than the killing of a buffalo to feed our kin.
Everywhere I look I see mass acts of greed and hate, of envy and pride, of man beating his chest to prove he is just the dominant ape. It is hate,and not heroism, that has gone viral.
So I will put down my rose tinted spectacles and see my life in the mire. The future isn’t looking good so I am going to turn off my television, leave my cave, and see if someone wants a slice of buffalo. I will find the meme inside myself and share it in the social networks of reality. It’s time for me to reinvent my wheel.
Is it a coincidence that I’ve been having so many coincidences lately, because if it’s not then what is it? I do hope it’s not divine intervention because I’m a devout atheist. I don’t believe god and creator. There is no divine one.
Perhaps life is just smaller than we give it credit for. We think we are rolling around on this mighty planet in the centre of the universe but in fact we are little more than a speck of space dust somewhere on the fringes of nowhere.
So my coincidences, happy as they were, are not evidence of a great divine design. They are merely testament to probability which is just a branch of maths where things add up to one.
One seems almost divine. Being neither a prime number nor a composite, one is known as unity. One is both the square of itself, it’s own square root and its factorial too. However this is neither a holy trinity nor a coincidence, it is simply how our world is constructed. It is mathematics and one is where it starts. We live in a mathematically constructed world where coincidences are part of a beautiful, complex, but very rational, order.
Somethings in life are chosen and others predetermined. We have choices, but they are always within parameters. You might think outside the box but climbing out of it can be harder. You can, and should, question everything, but you can only change a few things. You can’t change who you are but you can change what you do and how you do it.
My happiness is found in the doing of simple things. The joy of waking and seeing a new day, rain or shine. The love of a few good and well trusted friends. A pride in doing the things I do well. The pleasure of eating healthily and taking some daily exercise. These things keep me ticking over with a smile.
My box was quite a package. A touch of autism and a dash of cerebral palsy were combined with the proud peacock flourish of being gay. Life might have been easier, but it wasn’t and I am now wise enough to know I can’t change much about my life, but I can chose how it is lived.
So, be who you are and love yourself as you are, while allowing others the same privilege. In doing this, we choose to make those boxes a little bit easier to think in.
Her blue jacket is beautifully graphic and I lose myself for a moment. The lines of white and grey intersect, forming squares within endless squares to consider and reconsider. Her face, though equally lined, is softer, less mathematical. It’s human. Life has been witnessed, lived and ultimately survived with a quiet dignity.
Having dismounted from an ancient bike, which is possibly older her, she passes through the early morning coffee drinkers. Each is addressed with a low, gentle voice and an open smile. Few refuse this woman, for her poise and grace starkly highlight that life can be far from fair.
Finally, she comes to me. Her smile becomes a soft chuckle and there is an impish, mischievous glint in her eyes. Unlike her back, her spirit is unbowed. She offers me her lottery tickets, fanned out for my perusal. We both know I don’t really understand what she is selling and that I don’t speak the language. However, she chooses to include me in her day and as she looks directly into my eyes I see the kindness of one who has known what it means to be left out.
She remounts her bicycle and cycles away but she has left me behind, knowing that happiness isn’t found in a winning ticket.
When you first meet him, his happiness shines through the cracks and scars of a careworn face. He works hard and lives well in this life he has built. Things were very different once and beneath his scratched surface there is still a shadow of darkness.
He had been dead for years. Unhappy with himself he fulfilled his own prophecy and became a loser. Once lost in hazes of his own destruction, he got high and then higher until one day he realised that he was lower than he ever thought possible. Rage, sadness and loathing had been numbed in toxic gutters until he choked in his own filth.
Now he is born again. This man found redemption in himself. He fell in love but didn’t change for someone else. He looked within and saw the bitter reality of what he had become, but also he saw his the glimmering vestige of his own hope. In loving another, he realised he could be better. And so, step by painful step, he changed into a man that he wanted to be, kind, content, sober. Once transformed he fought for, and won the heart he desired
Just now and then you see through the cracks. The profound sadness and dark anger will never completely disappear. Life can change and heal but it leaves livid scars. Scarred he may be, but he is longer scared for he carries the marks of a survivor, a fighter, a winner.
There was much talk of great things. Impressive plans were made and yet, somehow, they were not implemented. Awesome ideas were placed on a shelf and never got dusted off.
Those grand designs, so perfect and precise, did not become part of my life. The life I lead is messy. It is busy and crowded, full of a million small things but that is how my life is lived. The devil may be in the detail but so am I. Work is done, clothes are washed, groceries are purchased and life slips by in insignificant moments.
These moments, so small and yet so purposeful are where love is found. I look after myself, not through grand schemes of how life might be , but in the daily routines where I already am. So it is in these moments that happiness must be built. Enjoy the commute, smile at the market, smell the fresh warm smell of clean bedsheets, because every chore can be act of love and a reminder of your worth. If you can see love and happiness in the doing of small things, what more do you need.