Time does not stand still. It marches along and we humans are the foot soldiers of progress as technology carves out a new era for this planet.
Yet here in Cambodia, life often seems untouched by time. That boat now has a motor but there’s nothing here to say modernity has struck. The rural life, where living just above subsistence is considered good, must be gruelling. The fishermen are whippet thin with dark sinewy bodies that know no fat.
Today my path took me through places where progress has stopped at electricity and the combustion engine. A landscape where men work hard and women work harder to raise children who will leave school too early to follow in their parents footsteps.
There may be dignity in poverty but there is no glamour. I marvel at the simplicity of the life, and yet I am thankful I am not trapped in its net like a fish gasping for the possibility of the wide ocean.
I know that inequality will always exist and when progress ravages this landscape it will not free the fishing families from poverty. It will merely shackle them more efficiently to a newer form of injustice.
I am just passing through and will travel onwards with my privilege intact. For I am truly a twenty first century citizen. My unfiltered pictures are placed on social media, and my friends gasp at the wonders I capture. However I see this world through the bluest of eyes and this inequality is a filter on my reality.
It’s quite a feat. I have been in the same job for 6 months. Three months from now I will have completed my contract. Then, finally, it will be time to move on.
When I arrived in Cambodia I ricocheted like a pinball. I had lost any faith in myself to settle. Even in the ever changing world of English teaching in Asia, I was a wild card. I changed towns three times in two months and had three jobs in the first six months.
Here I am now. Hitting society’s success criteria with my steady job and home in the heart of chaotic Cambodia. Externally it’s all great.
I sold my freedom for the price of the filthy dollar. My job means long hours in the sedentary prison of the staff room. My blood pressure is up because the nine hour days make healthy choices more difficult. I exercise little and, once home, I have no will to head back into the hot crowded streets to forage for what’s left at the closing markets. This cat is getting too fat.
Success is a double edge sword. Society’s approval has come at the cost of my health and, more sadly, my inner contentment. I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of depression. I look at my escape which is a pinhole at the end of a long and dark tunnel.
June can’t come to soon. My feet are itching to roam. So I will say goodbye to success and achievement and return to the Asperger path. Seemingly purposeless, it will meander until I find a place to rest and recuperate.
It’s been quite a feat, but these feet long for some walking boots and a distant horizon. I am the wild card and taming my game has come at quite a price.
He was a nice man, though I met him only once. He took my breath and left me reeling. I guess I will never forget him or the weaving of his stories.
Living alone in a foreign land can be somewhat up and down. When you factor in the chaos of being teacher there is the potential for high drama. I may not have chosen Aspergers but I have chosen my path. The decisions I make are made based on judgment and a logic that defies the understanding of others. I can survive life and whatever it tosses my way though even I am occasionally thrown off kilter.
When we first spoke, he was depressed. He wallowed in his melancholia and could see nothing but loneliness in his future. He was frozen in the trap of not being able to do things alone. He got several large spoonfuls of my good but unsolicited advice and a friendship rockily started.
He wanted to meet me but we lived in different countries. Eventually I decided he was worth six hours by bus and off I set with no expectations and free page in my passport . We were going to meet and it was all going to be so easy.
Twenty four hours later we part with tender promises and sore lips. I returned, assured that I am no longer alone and that he will soon be crossing the same border. I let down every guard. Logic was cast aside and vulnerability suited me. I wrote poems that ached with longing and were woven with trust.
Ten days passed on cloud nine. Then a message that didn’t make sense was quickly followed by a hundred more, each contradicting its predecessor. Everything I thought I knew, was not. Still, he was the victim, for I had plunged him into the sad confusion of choice. If only he had met me at a different time. If only we hadn’t spent those hours in that way. If only he could keep us both. He can’t because ifs are not part of my life. My syndrome deals in certainty. Within hours, my vulnerability disappeared. I am back behind the armour of my logical judgment.
This man I met once is not so nice but I am breathing and standing firm. I guess he will never forget me or the cutting of myself so cleanly from the lies he had woven to keep me reeling.
Imagine standing in the middle of the desert. Nothing as far as the eye can see. Imagine looking at the ocean. Only the horizon disrupts waves. There is a majesty and splendour in that frightening isolation.
Here I sit in a café. The cars pass by, horns sounding warnings to the market shoppers. The street vendor’s bell jangles above the humming drum of the city. All of the chaos of Asian life is crammed into the narrow streets of Phnom Penh and in the February heat it feels as if there is no space for air.
Here I sit in a café. I shift my focus. The heat cools and the sounds silence. In the glaciers of my psyche I create a shimmering isolation. The lone man lost in his mental landscape and divided from the jarring reality of life.
Once I found the world as an overload on my senses. It attacked and assaulted me with unwelcome sights and smells that left me aching and disoriented. Now I can disappear. I have made my Aspergers a rabbit hole and with a little focus I can fall into the detached wonderland of mind.
I can imagine standing in the middle of the desert for I do not fear the majesty and splendour of my own isolation.
I wake about thirty minutes before the alarm. A cup of tea is made and my bed is returned to. By the time the alarm decides to start my day, I am showered and towelled and a second tea is already half empty. Soon the sun rises and I walk to my workplace.
The banalities of work pass and do not bear mention.
After a swim I return to my house, stopping at the market to purchase a few odds and ends on my way. The setting sun marks the end of my dealings with the outside world. My sofa is comfortable and by nine my head droops.
It is a simple life lived plainly. Routines are set and they are adhered to. I’m comfortable in my ways and my ways are set. Set more like jelly than stone, but the Asperger path likes the known and the familiar.
I am the traveller who travels slowly enough to create routines but far enough for home to be a memory. The autist who fears the routines he craves and rebuilds the life he constantly tries to leave behind.
I wake about thirty minutes before the alarm…
Living in Phnom Penh has made a capitalist of this small town boy. Happier of late on my funny little path because I have realised that life in the big, bad city can be managed. I have put in a few kerb stones and carved out routes to make a personal village within the metropolis.
Limitations, like safety barriers, protect me from the harsher realities of the twenty-first century. What you might see as a padded cell I simply regard as well upholstered space. Cambodia can be chaotic and Phnom Penh is a city of violent change, where the extremities of life are laid bare. Wealth drives roughshod over the bones of the poor. I am both outsider and part of the status quo. I sip my iced coffee and observe the dirtiness of the everyday being transacted from my bespoke, gilded cage.
I am already supposed to be elsewhere and yet here I remain. Sane within the craziness and standing still in the constant traffic the Asperger Path is on a detour. The rolling stone is mossed. I have a home, a job and a somebody else to soften the urban loneliness of this brutal capitalisation.
It was the sort of café one ends up in. A place that no one would choose, where time is wasted before something better happens. They were sitting at a table, four Europeans, with unloved luggage left carelessly on the forlorn terrace.
Smoking heavily, they must have been travellers on their way to the next awesome experience. Shorts that mismatched t shirts hinted at uniformly alternative new age leanings Long gaps in their millennial conversation were adequately plugged by the WiFi that comes free with the mediocre coffee.
It was fifteen minutes before I noticed her. A girl of no more than five years, who must have spent more moments than just these unwanted. She came from nowhere and talked to the group but no one seemed able to look up from the internet to respond. One or more of these slightly grubby people must have been her parent. A small blonde girl with blue eyes was bored in Asia and no one seemed concerned. So conspicuous and yet unacknowledged by those who have a duty of care.
Cigarettes were finished and butts were squashed underfoot. Backpacks were swung into position and the four travellers were ready to depart. The girl’s hand was taken wordlessly as if she were just excess baggage and off they set, towards the next adventure.
What untold want do you have, little voyager, whose parents have set sail to seek and find? What memories of childhood will you create? How must it feel to be incarcerated on the backpack trail of someone else’s escape?
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost invisible. The world is transacting around me and I am there, in my bubble, untouched by the commerce of life.
Get your friendships here. How about a lovely bit of bonding. Who fancies a nice little chat. They buy and sell their time, love and care like market traders but I never quite feel that the offer is aimed at me.
Here in Cambodia, I am used to not understanding. My life is lived in one language, while daily life is transacted all around me in another. The protocols and customs are based in a culture that I understand only superficially. I know that I miss messages and mix messages. Yet, my life has always felt as if I am somehow apart from culture rather than a part of it. The lonely otherness of the traveller is second nature on the Asperger Path.
I enjoy the market place. The overload to the senses is a shock but life, even observed from a bubble, is marvellous in its mess. So I will buy my bits and pieces and play my role. I’ll take a small smile and a bunch of happy being me, please.
Travellers on a journey we have happily coincided. This Emerald City is where we three live and teach. We were talking about Aspergers in the classroom, but my colleagues were unaware that I am the Tin Man. Thinking my knowledge was purely professional, the questions came flooding out. Questions reveal so much more than answers.
Do you think he knows he is different? Is he aware how others see him? Why can’t he adapt? Why does he look so sad?
Each question was given to me to answer. Such difficult heartbreaking questions to hear because each was so personal and yet I couldn’t say it. Why couldn’t I tell them? I guess because I fear their observation. I choose to remain a colleague.
I know I am different, but I forget until it slaps me in the face. I am unaware of how others see me. In fact most of the time I assume that they don’t see me. When they do, it usually another slap. I do adapt. I live in the world and I pass for almost normal in almost all situations. The sadness you see is when the world treats me badly. Sometimes it comes crowding into my carefully constructed spaces. It judges and points fingers in my face.
Those questions flooded me. The third person was not a barrier thick enough to deflect them. They told me how “other” I might be labelled. Until I’m brave enough to say I am like him, people will see us as not them. Aspergers might make me feel like a tin man, but sometimes I am just a cowardly lion.
I don’t like getting my feet wet. I don’t like how it feels. Today it’s raining but it’s still hot so I am torn between the cool comfort of my sandals and the tough impermeability of my walking boots.
The smallest choices are often the most pondered. In my life, I create routines and regularity to help me avoid that endless vacillation that can consume time and mental energy. I sweat the small stuff like plastic micro beads polluting my psychic eco-system. I need to make a decision but right now I’m blogging about it.
Those big decisions that people have, they seem to cause me less trepidation. Moving to Cambodia was done on a whim with no prayer. I just upped my life and landed with my full 30kg allowance and recreated a life. Things have worked out just fine so I must assume I am a resourceful little sausage. I have a job, a roof over my head and there’s healthy food on my table.
So, I can just jump sometimes. I guess it’s fine to get my feet wet, but only when it’s metaphorical. Maybe I should just wear the sandals and see how it feels.