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Stranger in the woods

My list of undone and unfinished tasks continues to grow as I recently added a new title¬†to my list of unread books ūüďö ~ The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel.

It wouldn’t be difficult to identify the common threads that run through my reading list: nature, exploration, wilderness, walking, solitude.

Stranger in the city

I was born in a small country surrounded by city skyscrapers and man-made landscape. Our family activities and weekends were spent mostly in malls and cinemas. The only nature I knew was the botanic garden, the tree-lined avenues¬†and the weather. The highest hill stands at 163.63 metres (537 ft.) tall and I would hardly call that wilderness. My closest encounter with nature and outdoor activity was to get myself deliberately drenched in rain. It is a fast-paced, cosmopolitan city. There was hardly any rural life to speak of. The rural¬†was considered undesirable and outdated by modern standards, people would have scoff at the idea of living or working in the rural. In short, the city is the only way of life I knew and the default way of life I was encouraged to strive for.¬†And thus, I imagined myself grew up to be a¬†successful woman living in the city and working in a large corporate firm, confident, sociable and popular. This is far from reality and yes, I pictured myself sociable, even though I had difficulty making friends. This was why I chose a university in London to pursue my undergraduate degree without hesitation. If I was going to further my studies abroad, it had to be a city and preferably, the capital city. I did end up in¬†London eventually but I can hardly say I’ve experienced the city life for I was already quite a hermit back then and my reason? I was focused on my studies. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t get to explore much of London in my 3 years of study in the city. Nevertheless, I still harboured the thought that one day, I’m going to turn out successful and sociable. I¬†honestly thought that the social aspect¬†would come naturally after I graduated and embarked on my career. Not that I was unhappy to be alone, in fact, I’ve always been comfortable on my own but on the other hand, being alone doesn’t sit well with the society image of a high-flyer.¬†I didn’t know much about autism then. In hindsight, I’d say I was trying to¬†fit myself into society’s mold. When I moved to Hong Kong at the age of 24, I still believed that I was destined for the bustling city life and was determined to make the most of¬†the city for I regretted not making good use of my time in London to explore the city and the rest of the country.¬†Still, I¬†was adamant that I’d make plenty of new friends and lead an active social life. I started hiking.

Hiking provides a great opportunity for me to get up close and personal to nature and the wild side and the experience has changed me in subtle and profound ways. It invigorates my soul and senses like no man can. Funnily¬†enough, the more I hike, the more solitude I crave. Nature has the ability to reflect and bring out your true self whether you are aware or not. My diagnosis and understanding of autism later on put things into further perspective. It’s time to admit that I’m never going to become the sociable person I imagined myself to be. For nearly three decades, I tried to blend into the city and lived under the false sense of belonging but all along, I am a mere stranger in the city.

“I¬†took a walk in the woods and came up taller than the trees.” Henry David Thoreau

Stranger in the woods

In my¬†reading and armchair travelling, I often wondered what are the chances of encountering a deadly snake or spider in Australia or dingoes or leeches and ticks? What are the chances of encountering a bear if I’m hiking in the US? To be honest, it scares me although most books would point out that the chances of being killed by a wild animal are slim and advice people to exercise their common sense and leave wild animals alone. If anyone asks if I’m afraid to hike alone in the dark, to certain extent, I’m. But it’s a question of probability (depending on the location and circumstances etc) and a question of relative (I’m scared but my desire to hike alone is¬†even stronger). I guess it’d be akin¬†to asking whether¬†surfers are afraid of sharks in the ocean?

I was out on a night hike and¬†expected the trail to be quiet as it was after 9:30pm and especially after a day of rain. As I walked up to the Pinewood Battery historic site¬†(link opens in new tab), I stopped as I heard movements immediately¬†followed by the sight of an animal moving swiftly across the trail and towards the direction I was going. Despite my headlamp, I couldn’t make up what it was that just moved across my vision. It was the size of a big dog, could have been a feral dog or a lost dog but I didn’t hear it bark. Also, I thought the animal looked stout and¬†‘thicker’ than a dog, could have been a wild boar. I immediately thought what are the chances of running into a wild boar on Hong Kong Island? Wild boars are common in Hong Kong but mostly found¬†in the New Territories region although they have been sighted on Hong Kong Island too. Whether it was a dog or a wild boar, I was certain that the animal was scared and wanted to avoid me as much as I was scared and wanted to avoid it too. At this point, I could either press on ahead without any idea where the animal went or retraced my steps back. Common sense and a cowardly mind told me that I should retrace my steps back. While it presented no immediate danger, I didn’t want to provoke it or made it felt threatened. In addition, my intent was merely to spend time alone, it didn’t matter whether or not I got up to the peak. Tracing my steps back down, I was amused that since I’ve started night hiking, no two nights were the same, each hike was¬†a new different experience. But then, I haven’t started night hiking for long. On my way down towards a pavilion, I was once again alerted to movements in the bush. It was a much smaller animal compared to the one I just saw, about the size of a duck or goose and feathery, moving¬†into the bush. If they were birds,¬†it must be quite a¬†big (medium sized) bird. It was a strange interesting night, mysterious, even creepy! The woods is very much alive in the dark and I wondered if the rain earlier had anything to do with my unusual encounter.

Even though I was by myself, I was aware that I’m sharing the trail with numerous living beings at the same time. When I think about how I felt when someone intrudes my solitude, I¬†felt a sense of guilt¬†for intruding their habitat. I was the intruder and the stranger, thankful to nature¬†for tolerating my presence.

“I love nature, I love the landscape, because it is so sincere. It never cheats me. It never jests. It is cheerfully, musically earnest.” Henry David Thoreau

In the¬†British tv series, New Lives in the Wild,¬†presenter Ben Fogle travels around the world to meet people who have given up the rat race to start a new life in some of the wildest and most remote places on earth. I watched the series with interest and admiration for these people. I also know that my¬†notion of wilderness will never match up to their living off the grid raw wilderness lifestyle. I simply lack the skills to do so. But I am content to leave the city behind for a more rural lifestyle, just as the¬†Walden woods wasn’t that remote from civilisation.

There is a saying that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. I sometimes feel like a fish that has learned how to climb a tree poorly but doesn’t know¬†how to swim.

Married at first sight

News of a more stringent citizenship test and work visa requirements in Australia as well as overcrowding of Sydney train stations got me a bit down this week if they are signs that it is getting harder to move to Australia. I woke up today and my nemesis thought this the best time to pop the question.

You know, why don’t you get out more, make friends with expats, get a bf, find yourself a husband, that way, you can actually get out of This country. That’s the easiest and fastest, if only you’d take the first step!

……

……

Are you serious? You mean matchmaking?
Are you telling me to be more sociable?
But you don’t even like going out…
Is arranged marriage even legal?
Will you just marry someone so
you could move to another place?
But you can’t even stand the thought
of living with someone else,
let alone commit to a relationship!
You’re not even good at making friends!
Do you seriously think
this is going to work?

Think about the other options and you’d realise this is the best option! You don’t have the special skills to get yourself employed. You don’t have the brains to get yourself a scholarship. You don’t have the money to move. You are going to die poor and miserable!!! All you have to do now is get out more, make some friends,¬†make yourself seen! That is your only chance. You won’t make yourself seen by staying at home. Won’t you do anything to get out of here, to make your dream comes true?¬†Is it just all talk? I thought you are desperate to leave This country, maybe not so.

……

I like the idea but
marriage is not my thing.

Dammit.¬†What is your thing anyway? You have no brains, no skills, no money and no guts. You’re beyond help. Oh by the way, how is your research proposal going? Ah I forgot you are too consumed by fatigue to work on it, Miss Lazy!ūüėŹ Prepare to die poor and miserable HERE!

……

ūüíĒ

Now if you’d please leave so I could get back to my work…

Aspie in Wanderland: Easter cat hunt

In my Wanderland, I play a different game which I called cat-n-seek.¬†It involves wandering into the neighbourhood looking up and down, left and right, every turn and corner, in search for cats. It is a must do activity in my itinerary and I’d google for places with cats, or even check into accommodation¬†with cats. I lost count of the number of cat photos I’ve taken over the years. I do know that when I see one, my face beamed with joy and excitement ūüėÜ


How much time do I have left before it’s game over?

This is a¬†game I’ve been playing for a while. The aim of the game is simple enough: in order to survive, I must avoid stressors that might trigger¬†a sensory overload. If I fail to avoid the stressors, I put my life at risk of a sensory overload. Oh yes, it is potentially lethal. I haven’t thought of a name but F Off seems apt.

Rules of the game¬†(current version is HK-17): To stay alive, I must avoid stressors that trigger a sensory overload.¬†For each stressor I come into contact with, my lifespan is shortened by a day. Examples of stressors and things to watch out for include: loud and noisy environments; long line up; physical contact with people; people not looking where they’re going; people who stand or sit too close; getting poked by people’s umbrellas; people obstructing the way with their luggage; people blocking the way generally; people using selfie sticks or pointing their fingers without paying attention to where they’re pointing; kids yelling and running about; people who smell like they’ve just smoked a whole pack of cigarette or haven’t showered for a week; people breaking into laughter; commute at peak hours; construction works; vehicles honking; the loud passenger in a bus or train carriage; pedestrians talking enthusiastically behind me I can’t wave away their voices; stuck in a packed elevator especially a packed elevator in the campus full of¬†noisy students babbling¬†across my face etc. The list is not meant to be exhaustive. In any event, each time I’m out and with all the stress, anxiety and mental effort, I feel as though my lifespan has been shortened by a year. Going out for a hike is considered a risk event¬†which brings no more than a momentarily psychological relief. I can earn lives by going on a holiday or getting a tattoo. I don’t rule out that most of the stressors that might trigger a sensory overload are also manifestations of my misanthropic tendencies or hypersensitivities to the human species. Yes, the rules are arbitrary, so is life.

If the human average life expectancy is 80 years, how many days or even years have been taken away from me and how much time do I have left?

Featured image: Thomas Hawk via Flickr creative commons

 

Autism is an alternative way of thinking

“I usually say to the child, ‘Congratulations, you have Asperger’s syndrome, and explain that this means he or she is not mad, bad or defective, but has a different way of thinking.” Tony Attwood, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome

Autism (Asperger) is a different way of thinking?

Where once autism was thought to be abnormal (not ruling out that it might still be seen as abnormal by some), what I’m increasingly hearing nowadays is that autism is a different way of thinking. I don’t disagree with that (sorry for the double negative) but I still have a problem with the word ‘different’.

First, ‘different’ according to who? The neurotypicals (NT) see people with autism as strange and different but that is only one side of the coin. Fact is, the sentiment is mutual, autistic individuals see NT to be the strange and different one. What is different¬†depends on which perspective or side you are taking and creates a¬†them vs us¬†divide.

Second, ¬†‘different’ implies that there is a norm, a default mode of doing things. It suggests that there is a¬†right (and wrong) or good (and bad) way. Anything different is frowned upon, if not unacceptable. The default mode is set to the NT way of thinking. These are the societal and cultural norms that govern the society or system people live in. Autistic individuals are often expected to assimilate into the default mode and judged by that standard.¬†What is considered right or wrong is arbitrary depending on what the majority does. People who break the norms are not taken to kindly.

Third, ‘different’ is a double edge sword. On the one hand, autistic individuals are treated as different, if not inferior being, individuals with special needs. On the other hand, the difference is conveniently ignored when autistic individuals ask for accommodation and their problems are dismissed¬†on the ground that they are no less different and “everyone is a bit autistic”. In autism awareness speak, it is awareness without acceptance.

Fourth, in general, ‘different’ suggests something that is out of the ordinary and unfamiliar, which some people may be uncomfortable with or aversive to. For autistic individuals with a preference for sameness, the word ‘different’ may trigger anxiety because it is outside¬†routine and therefore,¬†unpredictable.

Autism is a different an alternative way of thinking

Given the above reasons, I’d like to use the word¬†‘alternative’ instead. Asperger, if not autism, is an alternative way of thinking and doing things.

Abnormal

  • deviating from what is normal or usual, typically in a way that is undesirable or worrying (Oxford dictionaries)
  • different from what is usual or average, especially in a way that is bad (Cambridge dictionary)
  • deviating from the normal or average; unusual in an unwelcome or problematic way (Merriam Webster) ¬†

Different

  • not the same as another or each other; unlike in nature, form, or quality (Oxford dictionaries)
  • not the same. (Informal) used when you think someone or something is unusual or shows bad judgment (Cambridge dictionary)
  • not the same, partly or totally unlike in nature, form, or quality (Merriam Webster)

Alternative

  • (of one or more things) available as another possibility or choice (Oxford dictionaries)
  • an alternative plan or method is one that you can use if you do not want to use another one. Alternative things are considered to be unusual and often have a small but enthusiastic group of people who support them (Cambridge dictionary)
  • offering or expressing a choice; different from the usual or conventional (Merriam Webster)

If it’s not evident from the dictionaries’ definition above, I’m suggesting the word ‘alternative’ because it suggests a different way of thinking or doing without¬†the pre-conceived notions of right or wrong. In this respect, the alternative way of thinking exists as a right in itself, unusual maybe but not wrong or bad. Essentially, the gist of what I’m trying to say is if we free ourselves of any pre-conceived beliefs and ideas of right and wrong or good and bad, we open ourselves to new possibilities and alternatives and then hopefully, we can understand people with a different/alternative way of thinking in a new light. This might be a good starting point for awareness.

Autism is an alternative way of thinking.

http://jaenmora.deviantart.com/art/THINK-OUTSIDE-THE-BOX-203146884