I took a moment the other day to look at the pond skaters living on the surface of the water. I should have been concentrating on the sun slowly rising over the ancient Angkorian temple but the Asperger Path often gets diverted. My Syndrome give me an ability to focus but also makes that focal point quite random.
I am, of course, digressing.
The pond skaters were there and I was pondering. I watched them whizzing about on the surface and creating magical patterns on the solemnly still waters of the pool. I was captivated and hadn’t even thought to look deeper. The fish were pointed out to me and then I saw them in the shadowy depths. Solid and sturdy, these creatures barely moved while above, their ethereal neighbours performed a showy cabaret.
Here in Cambodia I feel like a pond skater skimming the surface of a culture that is too deep for me to comprehend. Look at me I want to cry out I’m in the water! I have come to make a difference to the pond. As I skate around, making a big performance, real life carries on beneath me, oblivious and untouched by my presence. I am living on the surface. One day I will fly away from this kingdom but the fish will still be there quietly living and flourishing in the deep wonders of the Khmer culture.
Beauty comes in many shapes and forms. As I travel I see that some countries are more striking than other. They hit you full beam and leave you breathless.
For me, Cambodia is not breathtaking. Its beauty seems more subtle. It doesn’t stun you, it seduces with its smoky sunsets and purple horizons. The palm trees and the flat plains worm their way into your heart until, like the rice fields and the buffalo, you are immersed in their subtle watery beauty.
I rarely take pictures here. I cannot capture Cambodia with my camera. This is not Australia with its dramatic coasts, rolling hills and parched the deserts that pose daily and demand a snapshot. Everyday my breath was taken away in that vast continent. Here in Cambodia the landscape breaths with me until I am lost in its calm tranquility.
Beauty is everywhere if you open your mind and look for it. So, one day, I will leave this seductive place and seek something different but equally beautiful. But I’m not getting my camera out and my bags packed just yet
I am missing. Or, more accurately, there’s somebody I am missing. I think if he were here he would be a cause of some irritation. A month after we last met he still messages me every single day and I like the fact that possessive jealousy has melted away and been replaced by a playful flirtiness. He seems to have realised that being apart requires a fluidity and trust that was not exercised in the earliest days of our friendship.
It’s not like me. The Asperger Path is famously uncluttered. It’s narrow but so easy to navigate. I do not regret the passing of things or people. I’m not fatalistic my logic is too robust for that. Missing is something other people do. I have often pointed out that if you miss someone so much surely you should just see them or accept that you cannot. I am a rolling stone and yet moss is greening the damp corners of my arid soul.
It’s all theoretical. He lives with his mum and they run a café together. There’s no room at the inn for this Mary. I am pining for something that never was and never will be. Maybe my life has become so tidy and well organised I need a little dirty laundry on the floor. I have created so much emotional space that this man can echo in the pristine chambers of my heart. He tells me that he misses me too and so this thing, whatever it is, is reciprocated. I am missed and I like it.
I am missing. Missing presumed alive in Cambodia.
Funny how when I get sick I miss home more. Not that I have a home to miss. Cravings for comfort foods kick in and they seem hard to find here. Maybe the British cuisine can serve a blander dish with more ease than the Cambodians. Or maybe home is more than a place, it is a set of associations, responses and experiences that I pack in my case and unconsciously haul across continents.
I want mashed potatoes and, rather bizarrely, custard. I’m not even sure when I would have last eaten either of those. They were hardly staple foods in my low carbohydrate kitchen. In Cambodia, It will be easier to get some bananas and brown rice and I suspect all will be well. In fact, probably quite a lot better than I would have fared with custard. I’m not really sick, I just feel a bit under the weather but the heat and the solitude magnify things and I’m feeling sorry for myself.
What I really want is a friendly, familiar face to share a cup of tea with. Someone to remind thats everything’s going to be all right. Sometimes writing this blog is my daily cuppa. I share my joys and woes, my insights and my banalities with you. So I’ll say thank you to the potential millions of people that might see this and to the one or two who are actualy reading this.
I feel better already. Fancy a cup of tea?
Am I still travelling? I mean I’ve rented a flat, signed a work contract, and got myself a twelve month visa. That feels like roots. Then again, I am still thinking where next. I just bought a laptop for work and I’m freaking out. Most people don’t buy a laptop when travelling but then a lot of people already have a laptop so thats only a huge commitment in my eyes. After all it comes in a backpack. The Asperger Path comes with baggage too in the form of over analysis and anxiety. It’s all right, I am still moving, just not too quickly.
Those that come here have already chosen a quiet diversion from the highlights of this country. On a lonely planet, the irony is that most are guided along more well beaten tracks. This backwater, Cambodia’s second city, cannot boast a UNESCO heritage site or awesome experiences. It’s quirky, a little offbeat and has a crumbling post colonial charm that doesn’t look amazing on social media. However, as a place to reside, it has a lot to offer. Great cafés and lovely restaurants, a tree lined river and lots of happy friendly people make this city a jewel. I am lucky to be able to work and that allows me to travel at a different pace. I am not a moss gatherer and one day I will roll away but for now Battambang is a home and a great place to experience life in one of my favourite places, the slow lane.
The cafés of Battambang are a leisurely way to waste away a Sunday and I ignored the thundery heavens as I cycled to Street 1.5, just south of the central market. My favourite café was uncharacteristically full and I and my flat white were wedged in a corner between a well upholstered, coke swilling American and an anxious Londoner who was hopelessly unsure about her salad. An Australian accent cut through the generally quite subdued chatter of the corner café. I looked up to see an ancient outbacker informing his equally elderly friend he had plans to read the Quran in the not too distant future. I dropped my gaze but remained all ears.
“Apparently, there are Mohammedans who deliberately misquote the Quran to Westerners.”
“They call us Kafirs,” his friend announced in an accent that was several hours drive south west of Dublin.
Still loud enough to be considered a Public Service Announcement, our man from Alice continued, “Once I have read the details I will be able to know when they are lying to me and be able to put them straight. Half of them don’t understand their own beliefs”
“Of course some say it’s what readers of the Quran have interpreted and that these interpretations build together to give a bigger picture.”
The man from Cork was stopped there. Clearly this dialogue was becoming a little cluttered and the outbacker had a point to make. Making it plain he wasn’t interested in anything but the actual words of the holy text iself he dismissed the idea of Muslim intellectuals, favouring a more fundamental approach. He’d met some, in a Melbourne college, and they, Muslims, were hypocrites. They talked about the sanctity of marriage and leading a good life while they were having affairs with Australian women and drinking beer. He assured his friend from Cork that people can’t follow a religion if they don’t believe hook, line and sinker. Hoping his colleague was not a defrocked priest fleeing Catholic guilt and frolicking in South East Asia, I listened on. I was no longer pretending not to stare. Sadly, moments later, the conversation was interrupted by a diminuitive Khmer woman with a surprising voice that overpowered even my Antipodean ranter. She was a tour guide and explained to her group, The Intrepid Explorers, that showers had been forecast and therefore transport had been arranged so no-one would get wet returning to the hotel. The discussion, like the salad, was left unfinished as the obedient travellers filed out. Moments later, the place was deserted and an empty coke was my only companion as the first heavy drops of rain thumped onto the corrugated iron verandah.
They say that travel broadens the mind and I hope the cliché is true. Each day I see and hear different things and my mind tries to process and understand the experiences. I try to observe without judging and I always fail so I observe and I comment because that’s how my mind works Every mind is different and we all start our journey from different places and perspectives. As for the Intrepid Explorers, now safe and dry in their respective hotel rooms, I hope tomorrow’s itinerary will provide them with much more than just conversation, Coca-cola and the eternal questioning of salad.
I have a hundred thousand words in my head. They jostle noisily each keen to escape the obscurity of my mind and land in the spotlight. Fame and glamour will follow once they escape into the world. What an anticlimax they must feel. The leap made faithfully to discover a regimented place in the ether. There were thoughts of vellum, iridescent inks and golden nibs forging an italic masterpiece. Instead they have become row after technological row of evenly spaced semantic units like some dull but well planned suburban housing project. All hopes dashed, aspiration extinguished, as the dreadful realisation hardens like a concrete pavement. They have jumped headfirst into a blog. The last hopeful thought, a successful blog, is crushed.
These words will never know Caxton’s machine or the loving labours of a brotherly illumination. The beautifully artisanal imperfection of times past is not their destiny. Modernity has taken the life of the word and made it quite proletarian. They were not even mused over by a consumptive with a candle in a draughty vicarage. My words, more touched than pressed, are entered silently into a phone and then set adrift. Lost in an enormous blogosphere, they will sit awkwardly awaiting hits that will be single digit in volume before disappearing wordlessly into the void of the archive. My apologies words, for you are on the straight and narrow asperger path and, despite the absence of forks, there can be no doubt that is the road less travelled.
So last June or July I mentioned to Wendy that I would start a travel blog. We were sitting in a cafe in Ipswich just as I was going through the process of giving up work. I was rather excited as I was heading back for a second much longer trip to Australia. Recently Wendy asked where my travel blog was and I confess that I wrote an entry in July which I subsequently deleted. So for Wendy, and anyone else out there who cares to read it, a short paragraph a day will start today. My aim is to write about a hundred words to help you see something of my life which is currently taking place in Cambodia, The Kingdom of Wonder.