Blimey I nearly fell off the edge! The Asperger Path has been winding a route through some perilous peaks and spectacularly rugged ravines in the last month or two. Here I am on the other side. I am battered and bruised in places but, like any good traveller’s luggage, each scrape is a tale to add to my unfolding history.
I have been in Cambodia for about six months. I have made mistakes and compounded them by applying bad strategies. I have taken the wrong job in the wrong city and then the wrong job in the right city. I have been thrust into some rather awkward positions to expedite my extrication.
So here I am. Sweltering under the sun in Battambang. Currently I am working seven days a week but finally it’s the right job in the right city. The seven day weeks are just a blip. It is only for three weeks but I am looking forward to that day when I wake up and realise that I am not teaching. The workload, like the heat, will not be fatal. I have picked and chosen carefully and longer term life is looking rosy as I settle into undergraduate teaching.
The heat will not last forever. The rains will come and that is the next hurdle I face but my year here is already half over. My big reward will come when the rains subside. I will travel across this amazing country in the cooler months of winter. Then, as my visa nears expiry, I will choose a new country to explore.
Like Cambodia, the next country will no doubt be full of stops and starts as I awkwardly try to fit myself in to my new surroundings. I may be bruised and battered but my, what a path I am travelling down.
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.
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.
I’m still in Battambang and I’ve got the small town blues. I’m living in a backwater and it doesn’t matter if I have a paddle or not. This hot, dry season means the creek is a murky brown and my boat is going nowhere.
It’s time to stand still which is an odd thing for a traveller to do. I’m going to take a moment. I will count my blessings and realistically that should take a while. My life is charmed and The Asperger Path is rich in experience and diversity. I am strong and healthy. I am surrounded by good people who I should lean on more often. I have carefree days of writing and relaxation and I live life at a slow pace. There’s time to smell the flowers and time to savour my beloved flat white. My young students are interesting and kind and my teaching is going well. Life could be more interesting but it could also be more stressful.
A new day is dawning and the only blue I should be worrying about is the sky above. The air hangs and that’s not the blues, that’s just the heat. I am still, in Battambang.
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.
I am always out and about, I mingle and chatter and socialise my way through the day. Every morning I go out and drink a coffee and engage in the social niceties of everyday life. I might go to the market and pick up a few bits and bobs or maybe to the “drink shop” which sells a selection of western food. Then after a quick change into my working clothes I change roles and stand in front of a wild hoard of grade one pupils and attempt to teach for three hours. After work I sometimes have a beer with a colleague or head off to the night market for some noodles. I lead a fairly easy life.
Yesterday I had a day off. I took a day off from everything. I reclused. I pottered around my tiny flat and did not venture forth into the world. A chance to recharge the batteries and have a little down time. I like people a lot but they tire me out. On The Asperger Path I try very hard to be outgoing and interested in the world around me. The social skills I possess are well honed and subtly employed but they are still learnt tools and coping mechanisms. I am not naturally interested in people and in my head I file facts about people so I can remember pertinent questions to ask. This man has a daughter and that woman has started a new job. I follow up on the information I have. I play my role but I need those cue cards
Yesterday I talked to nobody. I had a day off from trying to fit in. Some time spent away from other people expectations. There is no loneliness in soltitude for me. I only feel isolation in a crowd. I read messages badly and the unspoken rules trip me up. When I do say something wrong or inappropriate I shrivel inside and the fear of that creates a lurking anxiety. If I get excited and start rattling and prattling I suddenly catch myself and my awkward unawareness leaves me floundering as I scan faces to see if I’ve overstepped one of the invisible lines. On my own life is much more tranquil.
All the world’s a stage and one man plays many parts. Yesterday I was just me. I had no entrances or exits. I spent my day off stage.
The first time the power went out I learnt a lot of things. Most surprisingly that no electricity means no running water in my second floor room. So this time, when the power went off again, I approached the situation with a Zen like calm that should please the predominantly Buddhist subjects of The Kingdom of Wonder.
The first clue was that my iPad mini could not connect to the wifi and I lost my calming classics that YouTube had been providing. Then I realised my ceiling fan was not rotating and that the room was getting hot. Bearing in mind that the temperature was a humid 31 degrees with a feels like factor of 36 I’m surprised that wasn’t noticed first. However I realised it was time to get up and get out of my sundrenched room and look for a shady spot.
So I washed in the dark windowless bathroon using the big water container and my handy jug. I brushed my teeth in mineral water and threw on some clothes. I assumed that the power might be on in the centre of Cambodia’s second city. I was wrong. However my favourite café has a breezy terrace and can still offer everything on the breakfast buffet menu.
Some days I would have been in melt down by now. Thankfully it is Sunday so I have no external pressures like work to tip me off balance. The insistent little voice in the back of my head is being kept under control but I keep thinking over and over and over that if they have gas to make an omelette then surely they could get a coffee on the go. I guess even on my good days I still have Aspergers. There’s no outage for me.