The Mekong River threads through Asia linking countries, cultures and people. It has flowed through through time and history and threads moments together like pearls on string. This mighty river is taking me on a new adventure.
However, as I look out mournfully from my window, I can’t help but think that being on the Mekong when the rain sets in is not dissimilar to being on the train from Crewe to Manchester. The sky is a relentless, indistinct grey and the rain on the windows drives away all thoughts of a landscape.
I had never imagined that my first crossing into Vietnam would evoke Cheshire, but journeys should be full of surprises, and minds long broadened by travel can still bring home sharply into focus.
There is no tragic tea trolley or inversely cheery attendant on this boat and my one banana and drinking water were consumed well before the border was crossed. The sky and the river merge long before the unseen horizon. There is a nameless hue brewing outside that is somewhere between grey and brown. Wet and warm, it resembles that cup of Travellers Fayre tea which, more often than not, was bought to simply to alleviate the tedium.
I arrive in Vietnam in the unwelcoming dark of the wet season. An ill equipped traveller, I scurry, umbrellaless, to the safety of the nearest hotel. Travel isn’t always glamorous and exciting, but my journey so far has been a good one. Even on rainy days, there are blessings for the counting. Tomorrow I will wake up and explore a new city in a land I have yet to see in daylight.
Many years have passed since my forays to and from Crewe, which are now like water under the suspension bridge on the road from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City. Then a student, now a teacher, life is so different. Then I thought of my future while being haunted by my past. Now, there is just now. I’m living in the moment, but ever mindful that moments are connected in time, like a river.
There was much talk of great things. Impressive plans were made and yet, somehow, they were not implemented. Awesome ideas were placed on a shelf and never got dusted off.
Those grand designs, so perfect and precise, did not become part of my life. The life I lead is messy. It is busy and crowded, full of a million small things but that is how my life is lived. The devil may be in the detail but so am I. Work is done, clothes are washed, groceries are purchased and life slips by in insignificant moments.
These moments, so small and yet so purposeful are where love is found. I look after myself, not through grand schemes of how life might be , but in the daily routines where I already am. So it is in these moments that happiness must be built. Enjoy the commute, smile at the market, smell the fresh warm smell of clean bedsheets, because every chore can be act of love and a reminder of your worth. If you can see love and happiness in the doing of small things, what more do you need.
We all see the world differently. Perspectives can change with time and place. However difference can unite us or divide us. It is up to us to decide on that.
I am a gay. That makes me somehow different. In my life, that difference has been the source of intense hatred from some and touchingly profound love from others. Being outside, my brothers and sisters showed me what solidarity can look like. Being outside, sometimes I really needed them. My family never cast me out and indeed, love and acceptance has been more of a motif than hate.
Hate is strong though. The power of seemingly isolated incidents can butterfly effect into a tsunami that crushes self esteem and inhibits self expression. I remember so many of the acts of hate, so vividly. Why then can’t I recall the individual kindnesses with the same focus too.
I am going to change my perspective. Acts of love need to be marked and gratitude needs to be both registered within and expressed without. I am surrounded by love, not hate, and the bubble I float in should not be popped by the occasional small prick.
From today I will see the world differently.
We need to smile more. Happiness is everything and yet it seems so rarely mentioned. The trappings of success are cars and houses, boats and planes, trophy wives and empty lives that are full of material things. Corporate lives and corporate jobs may be good for some but I have chosen a different path.
I am not the happiest man alive. I have days that are good and days that are bad. However, the underlying feeling I have in my life is contentment. Life isn’t meant to be lived in constant euphoria and I still have my full range of emotion.
Having Aspergers brings anxiety and worries, but I live with those and accept them as part of who I am. Aspergers also brings many gifts and these are also a factor in the joy I find in life. The Asperger Path, this blog, is a great source of contentment but my writing also allows me to explore and share my perspective on life.
Happiness, this last few years, has been something I have practiced, and I feel I can find it more and more within me. Taking time to think about how lucky I am and the good people I come across helps to remind me that life places wonders all around us.
Recently I lost my wallet. For ten minutes I berated myself and ridiculed my stupidity. Then I stopped. I had lost ten dollars and it didn’t matter. I would still have food on the table and a bed. I looked around and realised that my wallet would most likely be found by someone more in need than me. I felt happy that some person could benefit from the situation.
Every situation is an opportunity. Our lives are amazing if we start looking for happiness. So next time you feel you aren’t successful, look inside and find the many things you can be grateful for and a happy smile will soon be on your face.
Once upon a time there was a man who was happy. He was a humble man who didn’t do much, but as he went through life he sang and smiled at the people he passed by. He had his place in the world and he never stopped to think.
One day he was accosted by an angry woman. “When you smile,” she said, “you only see your own happiness from inside . Why don’t you think about other people.” The happy man stopped and he thought. It was true. All his life he had been so happy and he had never wondered about anyone else. He just sang and smiled at people even if they were feeling sad. He looked around and he saw all the sadness in the world and his smile disappeared. He felt terrible inside because he had never noticed the pain of life around him. Now he had seen it, he could feel it, and he was sad too.
A few days later he was stopped in the street again. “Where is your smile?” the stranger asked. “I see you everyday as you go about your business and your smile makes my heart sing.” The once happy and now sad man recounted the tale of the woman he had met a few days earlier. “That woman was a witch.” the stranger exclaimed. “You give so many people a little happiness with your smile. You are not a bad person just because you have so much joy in your heart that you cannot hide it on your face.”
The once happy now sad man stopped to think again. He knew there was happiness inside him and he decided to let it out. “If other people are unhappy,” he thought, “maybe my smile and my songs will make them happier. Being unhappy too doesn’t seem to help.”
So the once happy, then sad but now happy again man lived on in his own happy world. He walked along with a smile and song, not doing much except giving out happiness to anyone who wanted it. The world was a happier place because he was in it.
I travel alone. Perhaps we all do. The universe surrounds us but we are here locked inside our sensory, sense making brain. We see, hear,smell, taste and touch the world. However what I am sensing is totally unique and bears no relation to the sensations my neighbour creates.
I travel alone. I am not frightened of my own company. I amuse myself and confuse myself and can even look myself in the eye. An able contortionist, I can pat myself on the back though the need doesn’t arrive too often. I am my own best friend and yet I am not hermetically sealed.
I travel alone. I have left you behind, I haven’t yet met you or maybe our paths will never cross. I have stopped wanting to be an us and I have allowed myself to be me. I will not be lost in the world of compromise where everybody goes somewhere that nobody truly wanted to see.
I travel alone because I am not the centre of my universe. I travel like the stars, a pattern in my path that I have not designed and a rhythm in my life that makes me part of something greater than myself.
I travel alone and yet I am not alone. I both am and am not. I travel alone and in doing so create hundreds and thousands of micro relationships. Each is real and unique and has the potential to generate energy and change. My energy is diffused and suffused into the world and I receive power from all around me. I am a fraction of so many wholes and I am a million beautiful fragments of the people who have touched my life.
I travel alone with the universe
Life is full of simple pleasures. I rediscovered one recently and I am loving the manifold delights it's bringing me.
I have always been a walker. From a very young age I would happily pound the paths of Wiltshire with my parents and explore the rolling hills and forests that surrounded the town I grew up in.
A few years ago, having moved from London to Suffolk, I decided to build walking into my healthy mind, healthy body mantra and I fell in love with Suffolk in general and the River Deben in particular. Bleak and beautiful, serene and scary, this tidal river with its constant ebb and flow was both the heart and border of Woodbridge.
Then a year ago I deserted my homeland and I ran away. Sydney was a revelation. Stunning National Parks fringe the city and the bus and train network opened up a plethora of opportunities. As I travelled Australia I realised that every town boasted great opportunities to get out and get my stride on.
Then in 2017 I landed in Cambodia and it all came to a halt. Searing heat and the traffic chaos of Phnom Penh meant there was precious little opportunity for a relaxing, life-affirming stroll. I knew I wouldn't last in the capital and in February I took a job in Battambang.
There are frangipani trees everywhere,here, and there's a magnificent muddy river that bisects the city. On both sides of the river there are shaded paths but the heat meant I never took advantage of the amenities.
Last week a look in the mirror horrified me and I decided to make a change. Now, when I wake at five, instead of bemoaning my fate and lolling like a beached whale till 8, I jump up and I am out the door. I drink a litre of fluids, brush my teeth and I'm gone. Early sunrises, other exercisers and a multitude of birds bring a smile to my face as walk up and down the banks of the River Sangker in the relative cool of the Khmer dawn.
I feel better. I look better. I get more done every day. Life has become a happier place to dwell. All of this I get from going for a walk. I try to do my 10,000 steps because on the Asperger Path we like a target but if I don't, I don't sweat it. I've already done my sweating for the day.
I took a walk along the river today. I wandered down under the shady trees and crossed over on the bridge that usually takes me to work on my bicycle. I stopped for a bite to eat with the barbecue pork lady before heading north. So many times I have walked passed the pagoda there, meaning to stop, but somehow I never find the time.
Today I found I had time to spare. My tummy was full of rice and I was feeling in the mood for a meander. For me the temple itself was not the main attraction though it is undeniably beautiful. It is surrounded by other buildings as most temples are in Cambodia, but in Battambang the architecture always seems just a little more special.
I wandered about and took a few snaps and then headed north along the eastern river bank. It was a cool morning and it’s been a while since I just went for a walk. Up to the bridge that takes Highway Number 5 over the muddy brown Sangker river. I wandered up to the ferry terminal and found myself a coconut to satisfy a niggling thirst then abandoned the river for the frangipani shaded walk east.
My last leg reminded me that this seemingly sleepy city is in fact the second largest town in Cambodia. After my dreamy walk where I felt quite alone with my thoughts I turned south and soon was in the happy midst of daily Khmer life. Psar Boeung Chhouk teems with people. The Psar Nath may be the landmark market hall but Boeung Chhouk market is were people come to shop in droves.
Four months I have lived in this city. It still fills me with wonder, charms me senseless and brings a smile to my face. Sok Sabay I say to almost everyone I meet. Peace and happiness is easy to find in Battambang.
It never rains but it pours. Sometimes things are just badly timed. No matter how good your intentions are you end up down that well paved road and it can be slippery when wet. The last few weeks I’ve been in need of an umbrella.
It’s not that I am work shy, but, much as I love teaching, I am a firm believer that less is more so I choose to work part time. I cut my cloth accordingly. My life isn’t particularly ritzy but here in Cambodia my qualifications allow me to access a good hourly wage. I like to keep my teaching hours at around fifteen for the perfect life, work, remuneration balance. Recently my hours took a precariously low dip but I had been given the opportunity to teach amazingly interesting classes at the weekend. Thankfully, serendipity popped by with a more bread and butter offer of daily work.
The weekend classes were just one module of a Masters in teaching and my lovely students have all passed; most with flying colours. But the daily classes have already been running for three weeks. Today is my first day off after eighteen consecutive days of teaching. A few of weeks of teaching almost thirty contact hours has meant time has flown. I have had to exercise planning skills to ensure I was delivering well sequenced, well prepared lessons to four very different groups. Work life balance has been on hold and, this month, payday promises to be filthy in its richness.
Today, however, I am not a teacher. I have left my course books at work and Monday’s lessons are planned. It is time to recalibrate. Today I am grabbing a good friend, some swimming shorts and a place by the pool. I will sit under one umbrella whilst stirring a slightly ridiculous, fruity cocktail with another. It never rains but it pours.
Thursdays are an early start for me. My eight o’clock class lasts until eleven so a good start to the morning is crucial, especially as I have my usual afternoon classes as well.
A good friend told me about the street café outside the Korean Steam Boat restaurant and as it’s on my way to work I thought I might give it a whirl. A lot of Cambodian people eat breakfast in a café. My Khmer language skills are pretty ropey but the aforementioned friend assured me there’s only one breakfast on offer with this lady. I know the word for one. It’s muy. And soon I was sitting down with a plate of rice, pickles and some truly magnificent barbecued pork. It was accompanied by some broth and was really tasty. I was feeling pretty lucky.
Just when I thought life couldn’t get any sweeter I realised that the noodle place next door sells coffee. So after my breakfast I indulged in an iced coffee and sat and watched the world go by.
Thursdays just got a whole lot better. I might even consider taking another morning class, or perhaps I should just get up early more often and enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the cool morning air by the river in Battambang.
Have a good day.