I love being on my own. I can happily spend the majority of the day in my own little world. Today I have barely spoken to anyone and it is now lunchtime. I have just been wrapped up in planning lessons and getting ready for my six hour teaching day tomorrow.
I like a routine so I get out of the house about 6 in the morning. My alarm isn't set but I am usually awake before dawn. I walk and watch the good people of Battambang. At the start of my walk the streets are quiet and life hasn't really commenced for most khmer households. I see the same faces exercising by the river. There's the kindly looking fellow who teaches his adoring, all female class Tai Chi and the men who play Kinja, a game where you kick a shuttlecock to each other.
I stop for a bite to eat at the same little place. Sok sabay I say to announce my presence. I like the fact that peace and happiness are my first words each day as I take my seat and wait for my dollar breakfast. I've usually walked two miles or more before I sit down, so I am more than ready for my pork, rice, pickles and broth.
After breakfast I wend my way home. By seven the town is feeling more awake and the streets are full of life. Children off to school and parents off to work. Others, like me, choose to have a Khmer pavement breakfast.
A cup of coffee just before home signals the fact that there is work to be done. I try to start early so I can have a break and eat my fruit salad lunch. On good days, like today, I get a paragraph or two hammered out before it's time to put my long trousers on and face my students. After the peace and happiness of the morning, my afternoons are more hectic. I love teaching, but I don't find it calming or tranquil.
Most nights after work, I will go out and be sociable. A chat with friends is great but the Asperger Path will have me home by about seven. That will leave plenty of time for some vegetables and rice and another slice of peace and happiness before bed.
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.
The time to write
A poem down for you
So for now
It’s just a note
And that will have to do
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.
Situations have been a little overwhelming lately and I needed to do something to resolve them. Life in Cambodia can see chaotic to an outsider and I guess I can be chaotic too. Chaos squared does not bode well. Chaos can cause me anxiety so I don’t want things getting exponential. When I get anxious, I feel make rash decisions because my emotions, those unreliable things that should not cloud sensible decisions, run riot. They bounce around like pinballs at the arcade and the bells and flashing lights overload my senses. All too often I end up annoyed and frustrated because I feel my actions have been useless and yet instrumental in my own failure.
A friend of mine was listening to me berate myself over a beer. She knows me well so waited patiently for me to exhaust my train of thought. When I stopped for breath she intervened. She placed a calming, cooling, rather compassionate logic over my thoughts. First she explained that actually in situation x what else would one do but y. She elabotated that, because x was so pressing, obviously y was a short term solution to alleviate the situation until z could be implemented.
I wish everyone could be more algebraic with their care and love. On the Asperger Path, it is rare to meet someone can translate the world in a way that makes life suddenly seems so beautifully ordered.
Maybe love is just a very difficult simultaneous equation. Perhaps each of my friends could be approached as a quadratic equation. If my friend can both salve and solve me with algebra, it’s time for me to start applying some maths and solving a few of life’s problem.
Once upon a time I would have said that friendship was a magical connection that was made so rarely that it should be treasured and nurtured. I had a tight inner circle as sacrosanct as that of Arthur’s knights.
My well organised life was full of lovely people and I categorised them into a bewilderingly bizarre, teetering hierarchy. ‘Friend’ was the highest accolade and few made it to those dizzying heights. There were more mundane positions which were easier to fulfill such as ‘people I know’ or ‘people I like’ and even ‘people I like to say hello to’. ‘Nice ladies in shops’ were good for a quick chat as were ‘bus stop people’. I defined my relationships and used these distinctions to keep people at a distance despite being essentially quite lonely. I rarely allowed movement as I was a fan of my slightly melancholy status quo. I left that ivory tower life and jumped headlong into the unknown.
Have I become more breezy. Is it possible that I am easy going. I doubt it. The Asperger Path will always be a challenging route . However, now that I am travelling there is no status quo for me to protect from would be friends and so my relationships do need to be scrutinised into the calcified classifications of before. This means that my use of the word friend has become more generic and as result my life feels a little less complex. I’m still awkward, clumsy and inept and I avoid some situations but I no longer bestow friendship like some coveted prize to be earned like a knight’s spurs. These days I have more friends and my relationships are governed as much by proximity as any other factor.
So if you’re in Battambang, are not a racist, like to laugh and have a reasonable level of intelligence chances are I see you as friend. It is as simple as that.
I am woken every morning by the birds with their playful chatter. I go to bed early so the dawn chorus is perfectly timed to gently rouse me from my slumber and help me embrace a new day. That fresh hour before dawn is my time to celebrate the new day and to reflect on the joy and wonder of life before the rising sun takes to the sky.
Once the sun is up, the birdsong quietens as the heat intensifies. The first light brings a realisation that life must be lived as well as pondered. Most days I am out and before eight, purposefully scurrying around the town before rewarding myself with a long lazy coffee. I have a few daily chores and by ten my enthusiasm will be stifled by the heat and I will seek shade, caffeine and a moment to watch life pass by.
Later, just as the sun peaks, I head out on my bicycle. I am the mad dog, the English man setting off on my stately bike with a sun hat to protect my barang head. A short cycle ride brings on a sweat and I arrive at work, damp and crumpled like some second rate colonial clerk. If the birds are awake they are too hot to sing and the air hangs hot and still. My brief hours of teaching finish as the day starts to slide into evening and soon after sunset my first yawns begin to punctuate the evening.
My life is simple but never prosaic. Here in the Kingdom of Wonder I have time to reflect on the majesty of the everyday. I live here as a barang, a foreigner, and I observe life unfolding around me like a lotus. Tomorrow there will be the wonder of morning birdsong before the rising sun and a new page of my life will start.