Tag Archives: cambodia

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. 

Diana and the Muesli

You have to love Diana Ross. Well, I guess you don’t have to but I do. She was with me at breakfast this morning and asked if I knew where I was going to. Hell no as Oprah Winfrey replied in the film version of The Color Purple. Luckily, not being black or southern, I did not receive a beating for my strident response. Diana just went on, almost as if she hadn’t heard, to ask if I liked the things that life is showing me. This time my answer was a life affirmating smile that wasn’t covered by hand but shared with the morning muesli. 

I am starting to believe that life is a gift. Like all the other gifts and talents I possess, it benefits from a bit of practice and honing. I am just past fifty and feeling fabulous. I have created a life that, right now, plays a rather gentle hand. My skill sets and strengths have been carefully balanced with my, let’s call them, eccentricities, and life is being lived in a contented manner. I have a home far from home and I have found friends far from friends. There have been a few hairy moments over the years but my diploma from the school of hard knocks looks dusty in the bright sunshine of easy street. 

Diana might be worried about my lack of destination but this life is easing on down the road. On my slow journey away from Oz I seem to have found myself a rather comfortable window seat. My name is not Dorothy and I will not surrender. I am somewhere, over my rainbow, living my spectrum disordered life one day at time.  

Do I like the things that life is showing me? Hell, yes Diana! Hell yes. 

Hyper Diversity

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. 

Small

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. 

The Kindness of Strangers

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. 

Yesterday Once More

Sitting in a café with Karen Carpenter on the radio and the rain falling my mind drifts and it’s yesterday once more. For a moment it is hard to believe I’m not back in Swindon town. 

How did I get here. That boy with the bad highlights, a French horn and Clarks shoes is a long way from that tatty terrace on the hill. I never dreamed of going to Cambodia though I have a dim and distant memory of raising money for Kampuchea with a school fete. 

I am not quite sure why but just for a day I became Madame Pasta Macaroni with horoscopes cut out of my gran’s copy of The Woman’s Realm. I read palms and told tall tales of dark strangers at ten pence a pop. A plump thirteen year old in drag raising money for a country I had barely heard of and certainly couldn’t place on a map. 

Now I’m here. Swindon is definitely yesterday . I no longer need look to the stars for my fortune because tall tales of dark strangers are no longer just a fantasy. 

The Cambodian Smile

Cambodians smile a lot. It’s one of the most wonderful things about living here. There is almost no situation where a smile is not appropriate. Unfortunately the smile had dropped from this Cambodian face. 

He wasn’t very happy and he seemed very anxious for me, the source of his anguish, to share in his misery. I had tendered my resignation and he thought that telling me I was a bad person and how I had acted wrongly would make me reconsider and stay.   There was nothing positive evolving and in the end I left the room. I had tried to do what I perceived to be the right thing, but it wasn’t being well received. 

Outside, I spoke to a kind and helpful colleague. He always smiles and is a delightful man. I was trying to rebalance the situation.  Even on the Asperger Path I like to leave avenues open though I seldom return. In the course of the conversation I made a comparison with England. Like a bullet from a rifle, the angry man charged from his office to chastise me for talking to his subordinate. You’re not in England now he shouted, this is Cambodia. He was right, but this  Cambodia was rough and angry and not like the land of gentle harmony I have seen so far. 

I have a month’s notice period to work. It feels like it might be tough. I have a plan though. I will take a gentle path and wear a Cambodian smile. After all there is almost no situation where it’s not appropriate. 

Living On The Surface 

I took a moment the other day to look at the pond skaters living on the surface of the water. I should have been concentrating on the sun slowly rising over the ancient Angkorian temple but the Asperger Path often gets diverted. My Syndrome give me an ability to focus but also makes that focal point quite random. 

I am, of course, digressing. 

The pond skaters were there and I was pondering. I watched them whizzing about on the surface and creating magical patterns on the solemnly still waters of the pool. I was captivated and hadn’t even thought to look deeper. The fish were pointed out to me and then I saw them in the shadowy depths. Solid and sturdy, these creatures barely moved while above, their ethereal neighbours performed a showy cabaret. 

Here in Cambodia I feel like a pond skater skimming the surface of a culture that is too deep for me to comprehend. Look at me I want to cry out I’m in the water! I have come to make a difference to the pond. As I skate around, making a big performance, real life carries on beneath me, oblivious and untouched by my presence. I am living on the surface. One day I will fly away from this kingdom but the fish will still be there quietly living and flourishing in the deep wonders of the Khmer culture. 

A Wonderful Day

Today I walked the tourist trail rather than the Asperger Path. I got up, more early than bright, and headed off with two strangers for a rather ambitious full-on day of marvelling at the ancient culture that both my companion and our driver are descended from. 

Just when I thought the sun would not appear it rose triumphant like it has for nearly a thousand years over the ancient temple. I saw the dark stones slowly reveal themselves and the true wonder of the Kingdom I live in was revealed. The temple did not fail to keep me gasping as level upon level was explored. I came away feeling that my day could not improve. 

I was wrong. The tuk tuk driver suggested that we head to the most northerly point of our trip next and I assured him that as long as there was a coffee on the way that would be great. The long awaited sun was already making its presence felt but the forty or so kilometres were covered with ease, breeze and an interesting conversation. My companion give me an insight into ancient Khmer culture and growing up in a country scarred by the tragedy of it’s recent history. Our steep ascent to see waterfalls and lingas was testing as the heat rose but being greeted by Vishnu hanging out with Ananta, Lakshmi and Brahma was a delight I was happy to share. 


As we slowly headed back wonder upon wonder was revealed. Each different and yet linked which created a sense of uniform splendour surrounding these amazing early architects with mathematical precision and an ability to see divine inspiration in three dimensions. 

The real joy of my day though was its ease. I was comfortable with strangers in intense heat and following a physically demanding itinerary. I accepted help graciously and was not worried about time or schedules. I was as lost in the landscape as those temples once were.  I was asked why I kept smiling and I was able to answer that I just felt happy. That in itself is a wonder. I forgot who I was and in doing so found myself in receipt of a wonderful day.