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.
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.
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.
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.
Life can be an emotional marketplace. People displaying their wares and constantly attracting people, but also and equally not attracting others. When I look at relationships I see hooks and eyes, Velcro or even a zip. People are busy meshing together in different ways to form bonds, friendships, marriages and a whole myriad of complex, interdependent relationships.
Some of those hooks are universal while others are more esoteric. There are people who are loved by almost everybody. They can somehow see what is on offer and move towards a mutual bonding solution. We are all different and unique. Within this melee I stand like a cactus. I am part of life and yet I am passed by. Many people fear and avoid my thorny spiked exterior.
The Asperger Path is not lonely. There are people I attract too. When I see beautiful, kind souls I flower. I offer up my self for those who see my differences and are not scared by them. These rare creatures who allow me to be who I am are what I seek. Together we build gentle spaces where I can be safe in a love that holds, but not too tightly. I do not attract many but I know a strong, true heart when I see one.
The market is no place for a cactus. I hurt people as they brush past living their lives furiously. My hooks are spikes and so I have chosen wider, open spaces to make my home. My emotional landscape isn’t barren or empty. It’s beautiful, like the desert after rain.
I went to market, Psar Nath, yesterday and bought a few bits and pieces. A smiley lady reminded me that communication is much more than words and home I came with a bag of goodies. It’s been a month or so since I had access to a cooker and I have eaten out come rain or shine. Now if it’s raining I can stay home and dry and eat. It’s going to be awesome.
I tend eat my own version of Asian food. I have a wok and a love of veggies so a stir fry is the usual choice. Last night I sat in my kitchen and cleaned and chopped and peeled. It was so relaxing. The wok went on and soon as I smelled the garlic and ginger releasing their aroma I knew dinner was going to be great.
Simple home cooked food is a joy for me. A one pot approach and an emphasis on plenty of vitamins and nutrition. A second shopping trip this morning and I experimented making soupy noodles with some leftovers. I’ve still got enough for supper.
So tomorrow I’ll be off to market again. I’m hoping I’ll get another smile with my shopping.