When I was young I never really knew what I wanted to be. I was a good all rounder academically so I was not encouraged to make any decisions. People told me I should keep my options open and not specialise to early. I never committed to anything and, as I have made my way through life, I never really have.
So here I am. At fifty I am still drifting through life and wondering what and where is next. I fell into teaching more than twenty years ago. It was more about escaping the drudgery of life at the town hall than finding a vocation. I now appear to happily richochet between the two, though teaching is my preferred choice.
My current incarnation, a teacher of English in Cambodia, is going rather well. I am enjoying the challenges and there are plenty of them. My current path has taken down some very new and different teaching avenues and might almost tempt me to stay a while. I have already been here six months and it’s starting to feel like home but then there are so many other countries and they are so close.
I am a restless soul. I roll and I drift and I don’t gather moss because I can’t keep still. Some researchers say that ADHD and Aspergers are closely linked. I don’t know if it’s true but certainly I can switch my focus from one thing to another fairly easily. It’s what I do best. After all I am a good all rounder. It seems a bit daft to settle down to something at this point. So I will continue along my rather chaotic Asperger Path, passport in hand, and no doubt find some activities that will divert my attention. The only deficit I can see is the judgmental way society labels and classifies its dazzling differences and distinct diversities.
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.
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.
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.
I have chosen the path I walk through life. The multiple decisions that I have made all through my life have brought me to where I am now. I am happily living in Cambodia, some six thousand miles from where I was born and working as teacher. I may never return to England or I might fly home tomorrow. My life has no long term plans.
It has been an amazing life so far. I was a school dropout at seventeen. I left home and my studies suffered as a consequence. That decision, catastrophic as it seemed to my parents, had set the tone for my entire adult life. I have made decisions that have been hard for others to fathom. I have lived outside the box and more than once have come dangerously close to living in one. My life has always had a semi permanency as I have travelled through. I was told, at fourteen, that I was a dilettante and I would seem to have fulfilled this idea that I am a butterfly who may never truly settle.
Along the path I have acquired tools and strategies. I had to work hard in a variety dull jobs when I was young but I have learned a lot. I have returned to education many times. I may have dropped out of education once but over the years I have acquired a plethora of teaching qualifications and these enable me to live and work almost anywhere in the world. It’s hard to say what makes a good teacher but I hope I have something to offer.
I love teaching and I thrive on change and new challenges. So here I am on the path I have chosen, slowly travelling through my life one country at a time. Hopefully helping a few people along the way and earning money for food and a roof. It’s not everyone’s dream and I’m not sure it’s mine. It’s where my decisions took me and I am happy to be here, for now.
It’s not so much that one conversation can entirely change the course of my life. At fifty I am probably no longer open to that sense of immediacy and change. However, as I travel languidly through life, I meet people and there is a connection and it’s like a fresh breeze blowing through my cognitive cobwebs.
On the Asperger Path my small talk is rarely small. The little social niceties are often over looked as I dive headlong into conversations. I enjoy people with something to say and love an evening happily squandered over food and beer sharing thoughts about the thorny issues of life, love, death and god.
I would love to say I am open minded enough to share my table with the full range of human ideology. I am not. I like to discuss things with people who may have similar core beliefs but see the world from another perspective. I find it best when my core foundations are left stable but questions are poised that make me question what I have been constructing.
My life is simple. I don’t believe in much except myself. And it is this simplicity which becomes complex. To build a moral framework from scratch without the church, party or the state offering you a blueprint. So I would like to thank the architects and the engineers, the thinkers and the dreamers who have shared their time and thoughts with me. I am who I am today because of a thousand big conversations and no small talk .