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.
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 not so much that one conversation can entirely change the course of my life. At fifty I am probably no longer open to that sense of immediacy and change. However, as I travel languidly through life, I meet people and there is a connection and it’s like a fresh breeze blowing through my cognitive cobwebs.
On the Asperger Path my small talk is rarely small. The little social niceties are often over looked as I dive headlong into conversations. I enjoy people with something to say and love an evening happily squandered over food and beer sharing thoughts about the thorny issues of life, love, death and god.
I would love to say I am open minded enough to share my table with the full range of human ideology. I am not. I like to discuss things with people who may have similar core beliefs but see the world from another perspective. I find it best when my core foundations are left stable but questions are poised that make me question what I have been constructing.
My life is simple. I don’t believe in much except myself. And it is this simplicity which becomes complex. To build a moral framework from scratch without the church, party or the state offering you a blueprint. So I would like to thank the architects and the engineers, the thinkers and the dreamers who have shared their time and thoughts with me. I am who I am today because of a thousand big conversations and no small talk .
Last night I had dinner with friends and it was a lovely way to end the long holiday weekend. In other parts of the world people were celebrating Easter but here we are still celebrating the Khmer New Year.
The world can be such a small place and most of the people around our table last night know a friend of mine from the capital city. This link, albeit tenuous, makes me feel a sense of trust belonging that is rare. The Asperger Path tends to shy away from multidimensional relationships and favour black and white labelling and compartmentalisation. Circles of friends are tricky for me. The subtle interrelationships can leave me floundering and lost. However there I was sharing an evening with work colleagues and non work colleagues, friends and partners, homos and straights and I was happy.
I usually prefer my friendships to be like a simple spider diagram. Each friendship separated and independent. Each one stranded out into a straight line. This does not leave me in the centre of anything but does allow an intensity on which I have thrived in the past. I tend to meet a friend and devote my attentions solely to them. Deep conversations are preferable to the lighter chatter of a group setting.
I will persevere with this group. Serendipity has dropped me amongst good-hearted people who I enjoy spending time with. I’m travelling because I wanted to change the life I had. So I will try circles, spirals, wheels as well as the straight lines I am used to.
Sour s’day chhnam th’mei – Happy New Year.
The roads of Cambodia seem chaotic and most people in Cambodia travel by moto. Helmets, like lessons, are scarily optional and as a foreigner, you see things that are almost inconceivable. It’s not uncommon to see mum, dad and two or three young children riding on a motorbike together. Often you just see three children, none with helmets and all under fourteen. The motorbike is king and can have all kinds of trailers attached enabling you to carry much, much more than my western imagination thought possible. Small tractors also feature heavily outside of the cities with bizarre long steering shafts at the front. These two forms of transport seem slightly safer as the speeds are generally low. Cambodia is changing. Now you must factor in the rich, cruising in their enormous, powerful 4 x 4 cars. For them, speed is king and the horn is fair warning to get out of their way. On all the major highways horns blare while feet seem allergic to the brake pedal. They are wealthy and successful and demand priority. Money talks loudly in Cambodia. I saw a man dead on the highway. His bike was someway off and his brains were drying in the sun. I wonder if the driver stopped. And if he did, was he able to buy his way out of the situation. An ambulance passed us slowly some twenty minutes later. Perhaps they knew they were too late or perhaps they at least put safety above speed. Cambodia is changing rapidly but those changes must prioritise protection and safety for all who live in The Kingdom of Wonder.