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.
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.
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.
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.
There were three of them. I judged them on their expensive box fresh trainers and concluded they were Japanese. They sat and watched the sunset. The clothes they sported will never be worn in the chic, urbane bars of Tokyo. They sipped potent highballs perching on perilous high stools.
No doubt they are here to see temples and experience the Angkorian serenity of the massive complex. Buddhist-Hindu fusions that have defied gravity and time and still reach into the heavens. From these dizzy heights to the rather less divine, but equally disorientating, highs of sin city’s bars they have descended like a million others before them.
You can purchase a great deal more than sheep and oxen in this temple town and the money changers are sitting pretty on every corner. I am a resistor. I say no the marijuana from the tuk tuk driver and politely decline the myriad of earthly delights that my dollar can purchase. No happy herb pizza, no happy ending and no ecstatic shakes for me. The Asperger Path has become so straight and narrow.
Perhaps I should buy those elephant print trousers but for now I will leave that to my young highballing friends in the high end trainers
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 always been broad minded. I think far outside of boxes. I am quirky and out there. Eccentricity was something I excelled at long before I understood what fitting in could mean. I don’t think that’s what they have in mind. So perhaps I need to buy some baggy elephant print trousers and experience an authentic Asia. I could get myself some dreads even though I’m white and convert to Buddhism before returning home to take my job in corporate finance. I’m not sure that life is any better or worse than mine. Being broad minded in this context means having an understanding that life is lived differently by different people in different places. It’s tolerance and understanding mixed together with a willingness to immerse yourself in the new and the strange and learn about yourself from what you do. This widens the resources you can pull on in life.
I have always travelled. Wide eyes would stare on the double decker bus to Old Town and my ears like radio telescopes would absorb the chit chat, gossip and banter of daily public life. I watched the couples who bicker and the parents who nurture. I listened to advice given as criticism and saw love exercised as control. The private lives we lead are so very public. Now I watch travellers and they fascinate me. A diverse group of people each on a different journey. Some travel through time. Others move through space. The lucky ones journey within and travel to the landscapes of the soul and learn the truth of the human heart.
To a large extent I remain an observer. Broad minded in my views but I am not broad minded. I walk the Asperger Path. I judge and classify. I put people in boxes and label them. I am like an entomologist with drawers of specimens. I am on the bus but sometimes I don’t get off. I don’t get down into the real dirty underbelly of life. However my life is broader every day. The people that I meet are a source of fascination and delight.
There are many places I will see before I die. Like you I am traveller and like you I am unique. My list of things to do and see isn’t yours or theirs but mine. So hello and farewell my fellow traveller. We meet, we pass, we share and we move on in time, space and emotion.
“I think to myself, what a wonderful world.” I am in that place with Louis Armstrong today. A few weeks ago a film company announced on Facebook that they wished to screen a film in Battambang and were looking for places and audiences. I contacted them to suggest the school where I work.
Today I saw the fruits of that company’s labours. I sat in a room with a hundred or so students, none of them mine. We soared over pristine rainforest in the Cardamom Mountains before skimming the surface of the Tonlé Sap and the mighty Mekong. We surveyed the northern plains and the highlands of The East. I saw all of the natural beauty of the Cambodian countryside.
More marvellous than the landscape, and the focus of this documentary, were the many and diverse creatures that form the fauna of The Kingdom of Wonder. The call of gibbons in the wild forest near Angkor Wat echoed through my soul. The sight of a majestic elephant stopping to scratch its belly as it stepped over a fallen tree caused laughter in a room that was mostly quiet and captivated. The beautiful Giant Ibis, the national bird, now sadly endangered, was seen roosting in the trees.
My eyes and mind were opened wider today. It’s a wonderful world and I hope that those students will appreciate the beautiful fragility of the country they call home.