The Kingdom of Wonder is how Cambodia promotes itself. My friend calls it the kingdom of blunder while I generally opt for the kingdom of wondering. One thing is certain, life isn’t predictable.
Today is certainly not going quite to plan. All that was supposed to be happening is not. That’s usually a red rag to my inner bull. Yet the china is intact in the shop. So here I am in limbo and goodness knows I’m not built for that kind of flexibility.
My flat isn’t ready just yet so I cannot move in. Until then I have to live across the hall. All my dreams of spending my Saturday making my new home look just a little bit less unloved and a bit more ‘me’ have been shelved.
So here I am in the empty old flat cleaning what I have left because I can clean what I am going to. The bathroom has a baking soda freshness it never had when I lived it and surfaces are so free of dust that I realise my flat wasn’t subtly grey and was just a bit grubby. I move in, I clean then I do the same when I move out. In between the dirt that live in is mine and I am happy in that.
So here I am limboing like I have a flexibility many would confirm I haven’t possessed when under duress in the past. Life isn’t quite going to plan. I haven’t lost my temper or shouted at anyone. In Cambodia, even I have become unpredictable
I’m feeling sad because across the world my family is in trouble. I’m not sure how other minorities feel but for me, every lesbian is my sister and every gay man, my brother. I am a part of a great big family and I hope that we have more than oppression in common.
The gay movement has always been at its finest under duress. We come together and fight for our freedoms and rights. We put aside our many differences and we are brave in the face of adversity. I am European and my expectations are high. I demand respect and expect equality. I want the freedom to live and love as I wish with minimal intervention from state, religion and judiciary. I have fought in many ways and can see the benefit of my labours. The rainbow is our symbol because because through the tears of oppression comes the sunshine of liberation.
The world is a multi faceted place. My brothers and sisters lead different lives in different parts of the world and their struggles for freedom are not yet as advanced. In places it feels like we are moving backward. Would I be brave like if I lived in Russia, Uganda or Saudi Arabia? The truth is I don’t know.
My family is having a tough time but hang in there brothers and sisters because one day the sun is going to shine and we will see that rainbow all across the world.
After months of silence I received a message from an old friend. One of those old friends I love like family. It was the unkindness that stung me. From across the ocean a tigress took my weaknesses and ripped me apart until I was just raw remains. She vacuum packed her vicious comments into one long painful diatribe.
She says I’m self centred and unreliable. I don’t give her my full attention and I’m easily distracted. She says I never listen and I don’t understand how busy her life is and how much stress she is under.
I am not very good at being a friend in the traditional sense. I have Asperger’s Syndrome and the closer you get the more noticeable it becomes. She claims to have planned Christmas around me but I didn’t go because so many other people were invited. I hate big groups, social settings and fuss. I thought she knew that. I had tried to explain to her that I just wanted to go for a walk and have a cup of tea. She was too busy preparing for Christmas and needed time and space and had warned me of that a month in advance. So we didn’t meet. I’m not sorry I didn’t come for Christmas. I am not sorry that I spent the day alone. I am sad that if Christmas was really planned around me, that she didn’t think to make it something smaller and understated.
The message was well targeted and will hurt for a long time. If we hurt the ones we love the most than our friendship will survive because I may have Aspergers but I still know love is the foundation of friendship.
Being a water buffalo must be awesome. Outside it’s 40 degrees and the sun is baking and there you are standing in a flooded field in lovely, cooling muddy water. No targets to think about, no deadlines to meet, just day after day of hot sunshine tempered by a cooling foray into the water for a sub-aqua graze.
Tilling a rice field sounds like hard work though and many buffalo in Cambodia are made to earn their keep this way. Around Battambang the fertile rice plains could keep an aspirational buffalo busy for years. If I were a buffalo I might promote the idea of Asian mozzarella. Everybody loves pizza and the Cambodian people are no exception. And being milked sounds like a better life than ploughing.
Mozzarella da Cambogia could be a winner. This agricultural country isn’t big on dairy farming and the cuisine is a dream for the lactose intolerant. However, Cambodia is changing fast who knows maybe the Cambodian water buffalo could be the vanguard of a culinary revolution.
I guess everybody has a job these days, even the water buffalo.
I try my best but some days I teach really bad lessons. Some days learning doesn’t happen in my classroom. Some days my students are restless and disengaged. The correlation between these is not as strong as you might think. Teaching, or facilitating learning, is not an exact science and a whole host of variables come into play.
I’ll take responsibility however. As an education professional it is my job to provide sequences of well planned learning experiences. I should be guiding my students on an engaging journey into learning landscapes that have been carefully architected to challenge, support and enthuse. For the most part I fulfil that obligation. Sometimes the route might be a bit duller than I had anticipated or there might be a steep climb which I hadn’t anticipated and will require additional resources. My lessons are well planned but they vary in quality, content and inspiration.
Yesterday I walked into a room. My students were fractious. Not noisy, this was fractious combined with a low battery. This lazy irritability found a focus and the class half-heartedly sabotaged my lesson. The heavy moist heat of impending rain was oppressive and if I’m honest I didn’t have the energy to attack their listlessness and create a buzzing positive learning zone. Yesterday was a perfect storm of apathy. A slightly stodgy lesson was sunk by lacklustre attitude and together we crawled our way through a humid muddy hour of disinterest. Each heavy step a concerted effort with minimal reward. The storm broke and just after class ended we were all soaked by the rain as we made our way to our respective homes.
Some days I teach really good lessons. Some days the quality of learning in my classroom is really high. Some days my students are motivated and engaged. Today is a fresh day. I will go again and stand up in front of my audience and tout my learning experience to the crowd.
I wonder what kind of some day today will be.
Awareness Day. How are people supposed to be aware there are a small minority of people with a vast, differing range of abilities. The easiest way to raise awareness is to tar up the brush and smear a large stereotype on the wall. Equally pointless would be to bathe the White House in blue light.
Acceptance is what I need. Awareness is a fine but I would rather be accepted as I am than as something to be researched . I am different. Aren’t you? Isn’t everybody? We all react differently to stimuli and we are all gorgeously unpredictable.
As for the burdens I would like to say this. I think I’m great. I’m rarely lonely on my own and I’m often lost in a crowd. There are people who would say I’m a happy, friendly soul who’s kind and thoughtful. On the other hand there are people who find me difficult, moody and self obsessed. Maybe different people pull out aspects of my personality. I don’t please anyone nor would I want to be so anodyne
I’m a traveller so my baggage is always clearly labelled, Aspergers, LGBT, and Cerebral Palsy are all there in my quirky handwriting. I use them as and when I wish. I am all of those things and many others and I combine and recombine my gifts, traits, flaws and quirks. Most often my labels are there to protect me.
If I had acceptance society wouldn’t make feel different. Awareness days make me different. When we no longer need these days and weeks and months and ribbons I’ll remove my labels because I won’t need to worry about my baggage
Funny how when I get sick I miss home more. Not that I have a home to miss. Cravings for comfort foods kick in and they seem hard to find here. Maybe the British cuisine can serve a blander dish with more ease than the Cambodians. Or maybe home is more than a place, it is a set of associations, responses and experiences that I pack in my case and unconsciously haul across continents.
I want mashed potatoes and, rather bizarrely, custard. I’m not even sure when I would have last eaten either of those. They were hardly staple foods in my low carbohydrate kitchen. In Cambodia, It will be easier to get some bananas and brown rice and I suspect all will be well. In fact, probably quite a lot better than I would have fared with custard. I’m not really sick, I just feel a bit under the weather but the heat and the solitude magnify things and I’m feeling sorry for myself.
What I really want is a friendly, familiar face to share a cup of tea with. Someone to remind thats everything’s going to be all right. Sometimes writing this blog is my daily cuppa. I share my joys and woes, my insights and my banalities with you. So I’ll say thank you to the potential millions of people that might see this and to the one or two who are actualy reading this.
I feel better already. Fancy a cup of tea?
Am I still travelling? I mean I’ve rented a flat, signed a work contract, and got myself a twelve month visa. That feels like roots. Then again, I am still thinking where next. I just bought a laptop for work and I’m freaking out. Most people don’t buy a laptop when travelling but then a lot of people already have a laptop so thats only a huge commitment in my eyes. After all it comes in a backpack. The Asperger Path comes with baggage too in the form of over analysis and anxiety. It’s all right, I am still moving, just not too quickly.
Those that come here have already chosen a quiet diversion from the highlights of this country. On a lonely planet, the irony is that most are guided along more well beaten tracks. This backwater, Cambodia’s second city, cannot boast a UNESCO heritage site or awesome experiences. It’s quirky, a little offbeat and has a crumbling post colonial charm that doesn’t look amazing on social media. However, as a place to reside, it has a lot to offer. Great cafés and lovely restaurants, a tree lined river and lots of happy friendly people make this city a jewel. I am lucky to be able to work and that allows me to travel at a different pace. I am not a moss gatherer and one day I will roll away but for now Battambang is a home and a great place to experience life in one of my favourite places, the slow lane.
Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder has me in its hot sweaty palms. I’m gripped, hooked, stuck or maybe even seduced by its charm. There are obvious down sides. The poverty, corruption and the rather undemocratic democracy, all of which leave me reeling. The health care is so bad that rich go abroad and the poor go without.
I am not Cambodian, I am barang, a foreigner, and freely admit I have no real understanding of the culture into which I’ve slipped. But my, how this country has me wondering.
Firstly everybody seems so happy. Smiles are freely given with the greeting sok sabay, peace and happiness. Of course Cambodians have their woes, probably disproportionately more so than many other nationalities. Culturally woe not worn the face and if a smile disappears then a line has been crossed.
Also everything works despite nothing appealing to my pedantic sense of logic and order. The traffic system is perhaps based on a traditional criss cross pattern of a Krama. Everyone has an equal right of way and somehow we all weave through with a smile.
My biggest wonder though is that I can finally work at a slower pace. Long lazy breakfasts with the laptop and a coffee and then home for cool shower before a spot of teaching in the afternoon. The climate and culture imbue a languor and my how it suits me. The smile spreads easily onto my face in the languid liquid evenings as my brow is soothed smooth in the hot breeze. The Asperger Path is still an uptight and anxious one but for how long, I wonder.
It’s all too easy to romanticise the simple country life. How wonderful things could be without the complex trappings of our twenty-first century existence. The dream of a simple home and simple food and the removal of the stresses and strains of modernity. An Aga to bake delicious bread and organic produce from your own well tended garden. An idyllic life drizzled in lemon juice and virgin olive oil and bursting with juicy tomatoes and ripe plums.
In Cambodia, there are people who live a simple life. Wooden houses on a plot of land with garden and some chickens. They have no access to the modernity of sanitation or clean running water in their home. They don’t have the worry of electricity or gas bills because they aren’t connected to a mains supply. No mountains of email because they don’t own a computer and if they did would not have wifi or power to use with it.
I am a hopeless romantic but I am also aware that for many our notion of the simple life comes with many givens. Givens that much of the world’s population are still years from achieving. I don’t want to stop people from being dreamy romantics but we need to look beyond our first world lives with our second homes and those three well deserved foreign holidays and look at what they truly cost.
The gap between the rich and the poor is widening not only internationally but also intentionally. Change needs to happen in the developing world but even more so in the so called developed nations. We need to start thinking about equality not just between men and women or different minority groups. What about equality of access to clean water, education and health? What about looking at equality of life expectancy and expectations across the world? Nation states and multinational corporations encourage us to close our minds, markets and borders to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people on our planet. However we must be mindful of the poverty gap because it is the world’s biggest killer.