I bought some bananas on the road from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. To eat a banana you must first peel the skin. A thick and rather unyielding exterior hides a fruit of delicious sweetness. Filling and healthy, and yet, if you didn’t know to look beneath the surface, you might discard it.
There are three right ‘nanas here with me now. If travel has broadened their minds they must have been imbecilic when they left Heathrow. One main theme is their schmicheal. This is apparently irresistible to all women and yet woefully under-utilised. They have met women who go on about shit and they just agree with them to get a bit, but still don’t get their end away.
A second topic is shit. Not the aforementioned kind spouted by women, but various hues and consistencies of what passes, or pours more often than not, from their bodies. This is all the fault of the food and not at all related to the alcohol, cocaine and marijuana that have been a daily part of their trip. The small bus bears painful testament to the fact that Jamie is none too well.
The slightly infected wounds, which are yellowing and weepy, were caused by a motorbike accident equally unrelated to their choices. A stunt that went epically wrong but apparently that’s because you only live once. They might go to a doctor when they arrive in Cambodia, though the talk is more of unregulated pharmacies and lounging by the pool in speedos that enhance their respective schmicheals.
I wonder how far under the slightly racist, very sexist, phallic obsessed, pus encrusted exterior I would have to delve to find the true sweetness in these countrymen of mine. At the market, if the bananas don’t have a healthy skin I pass over them. Mould on the outside often means there’s nothing worth looking for inside. Here to I have decided not to buy, so I will never know if Jamie Jamie Blow Job, Jackoff and Fingers have more to offer than the facade they are offering to people on the road from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh.
I have talked so much about changing, I don’t think I actually noticed it happening. Yet, last night, I left a bar early, and sober, and with the same man that I had arrived with. There was a time when that didn’t happen.
For some years now, I have argued that there has been precious little temptation in my path, and that has been what’s kept me on the ‘straight’ and narrow. I can’t claim that here, for I now reside in dirty Phnom Penh with its edgy nightlife and minimal regulation. In the big bright lights and small dark bars, alcoholic ex pats mingle with drug dealing locals to produce a nightlife where everything is available, and everyone has a price.
I don’t know if I am growing up or growing old. In fictional 70s San Francisco, Armistead Maupin’s character, Mona had a law that stated “you can have a hot job, a hot apartment and a hot lover but you can’t have all three at the same time.” I don’t know if mine would qualify as “hot” but I like what I have. I hope Mona’s more content these days too.
At fifty, I am coming into my own. Because I am happy in my skin, my glass is far more than half full. So, if you think you need to change, change. Life should be an amazing place in which to live. If yours isn’t currently, then find the source of your discontentment and resolve it. We live long lives even if we only live then once. Don’t live it in misery, for happiness can be found everywhere, even in dirty Phnom Penh.
Her blue jacket is beautifully graphic and I lose myself for a moment. The lines of white and grey intersect, forming squares within endless squares to consider and reconsider. Her face, though equally lined, is softer, less mathematical. It’s human. Life has been witnessed, lived and ultimately survived with a quiet dignity.
Having dismounted from an ancient bike, which is possibly older her, she passes through the early morning coffee drinkers. Each is addressed with a low, gentle voice and an open smile. Few refuse this woman, for her poise and grace starkly highlight that life can be far from fair.
Finally, she comes to me. Her smile becomes a soft chuckle and there is an impish, mischievous glint in her eyes. Unlike her back, her spirit is unbowed. She offers me her lottery tickets, fanned out for my perusal. We both know I don’t really understand what she is selling and that I don’t speak the language. However, she chooses to include me in her day and as she looks directly into my eyes I see the kindness of one who has known what it means to be left out.
She remounts her bicycle and cycles away but she has left me behind, knowing that happiness isn’t found in a winning ticket.
On my travels, I turn to no one. When I see wonders, I see them alone. My experiences are shared at arms length for there is, by my side, nothing but empty space.
This is how I have shaped my life. I enjoy the sparsity of my emotional landscape. Friends and lovers, colleagues and thinkers, writers and artists all bring much to my life but none are my partner, my confidante or my other half. Some are more transient than others, but none are as impermanent in themselves as myself.
I am whole in my self constructed solitude and, when I steer clear of holes, this square peg travels quite comfortably. Life is lived, large and sprawling, for I am a nomad passing by and experiencing all that my senses can withstand. My social circle, by comparison, is kept small and tidy. The Asperger Path is my route and I navigate a way through this world with heart and mind as my map and compass.
So, when I see the world and I want to share it with someone, I choose the most intimate strangers I know. I choose you, dear readers. For you are sparse and far flung. If I want you, I can send fire off my missive into the void. Even if my message is never read, it is sent.
For me, that act of sharing is enough.
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
So I woke up this morning thinking I would not see the more isolated temples I had read about. I was not too upset. The large, and largely overlooked Angkorian Temple at Banteay Chhmar had been a super treat. The homestay property, a wooden house up on stilts, had allowed me a window into daily country living and the roosters’ dawn chorus had ensured an early start to my journey home.
Then all of a sudden everything was possible. There was a driver who could take me, so off we set. Thankfully, I had already found some pork and rice and this, along with an iced coffee, meant I was ready to head even further off the beaten track.
Cambodia is so flat with only the odd rocky outcrop, a Phnom, passing for a mountain dotted here and there. However along its borders are real hills. So with eyes fixed forward,I passed through lush vibrant green paddies, knowing that the horizon was my goal.
Our first stop was Prasat Ta Moan. The driver happily told me as we pulled up that the last kilometre was too steep for his car. Thankfully it was only eight and the road was shady. At the top, the army halted me in my tracks and for twenty minutes I sat looking at a rack of automatic weapons while the soldiers drank beer and smiled. Once deemed open, I was allowed to travel the last twenty metres through the trees. The temple was beautifully serene, and being the first visitor I shared it only with the Thai and Khmer soldiers both of whom guard this disputed land.
Stop two was a drive east with the hills on one side and the pancake landscape on the other. At Ta Krabei I got a military escort, though he would have preferred to have watched the boxing on the TV. He walked me twenty metres through the woods and posed happily for pictures. A different temple, smaller but more intact then my first stop.
I, the eternal planner, have jumped from one unplanned activity to another these last two days. My driver dropped me in Sisophon and I was offered an onward journey back to home at a very good price but it was ‘go now go now’. So now I’m sitting in a share taxi with three Cambodians and a rather lively rooster. All in all, this unplanned weekend has been quite a little adventure.
Waking up too late to do what was planned, left me in the realm of unplanned so here I am. I am waiting for a driver to take me to a place to see something. All unplanned. Cucumber calm, without a schedule to worry me, I wait for whatever is going to happen, to happen.
When he arrives I will set off and then tomorrow the unplanned journey will be reversed. Thirty six hours of liberation before ‘Sunday night is noodle night’ and I slot back into my routine. Yarns will be spun and tales will be talled of my mini adventure as life resettles.
Now, however, I am having an adventure and seeing things I never thought I’d see. No one knows quite where I am. That includes me.
In the pouring rain, a boy stands. His t shirt is pulled up over his head. He watches the traffic speed by. My twenty first century existence is locked inside the bus as I travel distances that would make saucers of his dark eyes.
His feet, clad only in flip flops seem unaware of the puddle in which they stand as he waits to cross the national highway. In his hand, that has never held a smart phone, he holds a chain as beside him, equally patient and equally wet, stands a huge water buffalo.
I wonder if that’s his daily task, the safe passage of the buffalo from sodden paddy to equally submerged garden. The house opposite, tin roofed and up on stilts, is more a room than house, but there’s something in his stance that says it’s a happy home. Life, like rain, is what it is. The life in rural Cambodia has a simplicity I cannot imagine.
The land is flat and the wet season is far from over. Perhaps I should find a puddle and stand patiently in the rain until I can accept my life as it is and allow the lives of strangers to pass me by, unnoticed and unimportant.
I washed up here on a tide. A star crazed traveller who got marooned in happiness. My rolling stone stopped to gather a little moss but now I am rested and my ocean soul is in flood.
The silvered moon is pulling me away. Taunting me to be anywhere but still, she disturbs my restful surface. Light is shined into my depths and pinpoint my moorings which are not too firmly fixed.
So I follow the capricious moon, waxing and waning through life. Not for me the trappings of comfort and peace, for I am touched with wanderlust. Each man is made different and I was born under a beautiful lonely spell. But do not cry for me. I am the happy lunatic who dances where the wind blows. Love me while I am here, for I will be gone. I love you now but now is not tomorrow. The tide is turning and my path is written in shifting patterns of stardust. But when the night is cold and clear and the moon invades your window, look up, for I will be the dancing man in the moon.
He asked me if I was lonely in Cambodia and if I missed home. An unexpected touch of concern from a man I met in passing, but ultimately it was an ill thought question. He thinks that I should come home, but he doesn't realise that I am at home wherever I am. That wasn't his only mistake though.
I am not lonely in Cambodia. I am rarely lonely anywhere. My loneliness is something others see but it isn't actually there. I have always led quite a self sufficient existence. My life is hermetically sealed and my emotions are lived out in the landscapes and scenarios of my mind. No one really knows me and no one gets invited in. I am not lonely but I am often alone.
I love people. Well, I like a spot of company is probably more accurate. I enjoy telling silly stories and presenting my public face to the world. I get up and out and go about the town and say my hellos. However, more often when I have free time, I choose to relax in other ways. I have my own place and I just go there and lock the door. Being self obsessed, I enjoy my own company. When I am alone with my thoughts, time passes easily. My mind is the most beautiful place I know and I could dream my whole life away in there.
My problem is that other people cause me stress. It's not deliberate. The people I meet are kind and lovely as well as intelligent and witty. It's me and that beautiful mind of mine. I never feel I might have said something wrong, crossed a line, or not been considerate enough when I am on my own. Because I can't read other people too well, I am constantly on the wrong foot. Or I think I might be. So, I hop awkwardly through the briefest of encounters and then run away to my quiet, empty home.
Here is as good as anywhere. I know a few people and my language problems keep most relationships stripped back and simple. I don't know when I'll go back to England, but if I do, I'll be looking for my own place where I can just go and lock the door. If any asks, no one's home.