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.
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.
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.
Everything is relative. Am I rich or am I poor? Maybe I am both and it depends on how you view my position.
So if everything is relative does truth become less absolute and honesty then a much more subjective concept. Perhaps the problem lies within relativity itself. If you look at something in relation to something else you are, fundamentally, making a comparison. You are trying to fit something into a bigger framework where things can be judged as being within or outside of parameters. You can calculate a standard deviation from the norm and label and classify.
I don’t so much mind my wealth being measured. My emotions however are something else. I view myself as a happy fellow. I live my rather unremarkable life with pockets of joy which I find, for me, in quite the most expected of places. A random chat with a stranger or a piece of music can lift my mood. The brilliance of the dawn or dramatic descent of the sun can captivate me and leave me feeling awestruck at the grandeur of the natural world.
So I must admit that I don’t really like relativity. I have found my happiness and I hope that you find yours. My happiness isn’t greater or better it’s just different. I hope only that my happiness is not at the expense of yours. This is my truth and this is my honesty. Is it relative or absolute? Maybe it’s both and it depends on how you view my position.
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.
I met a man the other day who blew away the cobwebs that had gathered in forgotten corners of my mind. Through his conversation he gently reminded me of lost passions and interests that have lain, unvoiced, in the hinterland of my consciousness. He was travelling at light speed through South East Asia. However this cosmic hare paused for breath before zipping past me, the earth-bound sluggish tortoise.
We talked of things from home mostly. A trip back to the familiar which was less memory lane than a base touch with my own culture. The politics of the left and the left out was discussed over one too many beers and the world unable to righted was dispaired over. We shifted our focus to love and relationships and discovered much in common. We both believed in the openness and flexibility of love. Seemingly polar opposites, the more we discussed the broader out common ground became.
When he left I knew that I would never see him again. I wish he were a tortoise because I could have travelled and talked with him forever. How easy life would be but I don’t fall in love with tortoises. I fall in love with hares and so I wake up with spiders rebuilding their homes in forgotten corners.
I have chosen the path I walk through life. The multiple decisions that I have made all through my life have brought me to where I am now. I am happily living in Cambodia, some six thousand miles from where I was born and working as teacher. I may never return to England or I might fly home tomorrow. My life has no long term plans.
It has been an amazing life so far. I was a school dropout at seventeen. I left home and my studies suffered as a consequence. That decision, catastrophic as it seemed to my parents, had set the tone for my entire adult life. I have made decisions that have been hard for others to fathom. I have lived outside the box and more than once have come dangerously close to living in one. My life has always had a semi permanency as I have travelled through. I was told, at fourteen, that I was a dilettante and I would seem to have fulfilled this idea that I am a butterfly who may never truly settle.
Along the path I have acquired tools and strategies. I had to work hard in a variety dull jobs when I was young but I have learned a lot. I have returned to education many times. I may have dropped out of education once but over the years I have acquired a plethora of teaching qualifications and these enable me to live and work almost anywhere in the world. It’s hard to say what makes a good teacher but I hope I have something to offer.
I love teaching and I thrive on change and new challenges. So here I am on the path I have chosen, slowly travelling through my life one country at a time. Hopefully helping a few people along the way and earning money for food and a roof. It’s not everyone’s dream and I’m not sure it’s mine. It’s where my decisions took me and I am happy to be here, for now.
It’s been a tiring day and I am feeling every one of my fifty years. My students are a happy, chaotic bunch. I learn new things about them every day. Today was phase two of our poster making day. The theme was ‘all about us’. Having established that the word post and the word poster are not as intrinsically linked as they had supposed, we ditched early attempts at envelope making. We went gung-ho into a world of frantic colouring, with rather more reluctant sentence construction, but slowly a picture came together of each of the individuals I teach. The posters are up on the walls and I think they were genuinely proud to see their bright colourful efforts on display. .
With twenty nine in one class and twenty one in the other, I admit I don’t know them as well as I ought. With a ten year gap between the youngest and the oldest, I am often trapped, dazzled in the headlights of the differing needs and demands of fifty children. I don’t do hugs so luckily I have an assistant who deals with that for the very youngest. I remember to smile more than frown and I can see they enjoy the time we spend in class.
My mantra of working together and helping each other featured in a few pieces so I guess they have listened to more than I give them credit for. We love our teacher said one poster. My name wasn’t spelt correctly but they did a great job getting my baldness on to the page. I love my students too. However most days I leave school feeling quite overwhelmed because love divided by fifty doesn’t leave much of a remainder.
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.