“Don’t sit there!” – the waiter shouted across to me as I plonked my bags down onto the table and my arse onto the chair.
This is the waiter, I’m afraid I don’t know his name, nor him mine; he is the guy who always looks after me, he’s the one who speaks the best English I guess, and through a process of elimination over the space of a year he has become my waiter. He’s just as friendly as all the other waiters who have a cheery word to say as I walk down ‘beer-street’ even if I don’t stop at their bar, though as I generally stop at this bar for some reason, he is the one who looks after me, he speaks my language, and I look after him as well, in a small way.
He is the waiter at this particular bar on the famous 19th street of downtown Yangon, this magnificent street of outdoor eating and drinking, the street of barbecued meat and chilled booze. A street where unknown parts of animals are carbonized over a charcoal flame until they reach a perfect consistency with the faintest hint of petrol that not only disguises their origins but goes delightfully well with ice cold beer.
“Why shouldn’t I sit here?” – It’s not raining, the table is clear; the bar is almost empty I need the space to set up my computer, and well, why ever not?
“You don’t sit here, you always sit over there.” – he points to an identical steel table to this one that is surrounded by identical dirty orange plastic chairs on the other side of the narrow street.
“Oh do I? Really, how peculiar, of course I do, how could I forget, thanks.” – I move. By the time I have settled he has brought me a beer and an ashtray, this guy knows his customers, this guy knows me.
Immediately I can see why I always sit at this table; it provides a clear and unobstructed view the length of the street in both directions, it is perfectly situated to catch the attention of him and the other beer sellers who huddle in the bar entrance and it’s within easy access of the barbeque lady and her spicy, petrolly animal bits; and at this time of year it’s sufficiently underneath the shelter to keep me reasonably dry. It really is a generally all-round perfect spot, why would I want to sit anywhere else? And I usually don’t, clearly. I must have spent a number of visits working out how wonderful this spot is, I don’t recall, this is my spot, I always sit here. However looking around, I am not sure that it is in any way better than the identical tables either side of me, or even really that much better than the one across the alley. Still, it’s my spot, and apparently it is where I sit.
I once followed a young man down the length of the Manchester train at Euston Station as he strategically placed his small Lego figure briefly onto every flat surface he passed along the way. His parents patiently waited at each pause as they slowly finished their journey into London. Intrigued I watched from a distance, he gathered a few strange looks from those rushing past, but as I had some time on my hands and was happy to dawdle I kept back and observed. He conversed with his parents throughout the whole walk, they were happy and clearly used to this routine of Lego-man placing and it appeared almost an incidental aspect to their journey as a family; it was as common and as normal as avoiding the cracks in pavements or keeping to the right on escalators.
I actually think about him often, and thankfully whilst I am not autistic as I assumed he was, I have realised that although my life doesn’t involve the need to follow such a specific set of rules and actions to survive as his did, and although not as debilitating, I find that I do tend to do a certain amount of Lego-man balancing to sustain me through my daily activities of life.
I have realised how reliant I am on routine, on the unnecessary manufactured routines I follow in my day-to-day undertakings; how dependant I am on following the norms I have established for myself. I can list a number of restaurants that I frequent on a semi-regular basis, and I can indicate exactly where I sit in each. I always aim for the same seat on a bus, in the cinema, on a train, on an aeroplane and even on the airport shuttle bus. But there’s more to it than that, I walk along the same streets, avoiding the potholes and puddles in exactly the same manner every day crossing the road always at the same point every time. I even try to head for the same checkout in the supermarket, go to the same petrol station where ever I live, stand at the same spot at the rugby stadiums, and go to the same urinal at whatever toilet I am attending. Am I a slave to habit, or do I need to perform these habitual repetitions? Why do I have to hold the last breath in until the cigarette is fully extinguished in the ashtray before exhaling, why can’t I pour the milk without sniffing it first, why do I always put my right sock before the left, and my left shoe before the right?
I don’t have a condition like autism, I am lucky, and I can change these things, these things I barely notice occurring, and through free-will I can choose wherever I want park my car, stand at a bus-stop or even change the order in which I wash my body in the shower. So why don’t I? What is it that forces me to unknowingly, unconsciously repeat that pattern, that routine, the ordinary, over and over again?
I think we all have our own curiosities, the little indescribable repetitive actions that we carry out to help us survive our world; those things that we just do without thinking, the peculiar way we place food on our forks or the order that we stock our cupboards, the way that we change lanes at a particular point on the road, or perhaps the shops that we use or the products that we buy. Perhaps these actions are things that make us feel safe, remind us we are in control? Perhaps these actions are brought about through self-discovery, or driven by advertising and through the media, or maybe our upbringing our parents and our peers?
Perhaps we can change them, perhaps we can’t?
But I wonder are our actions are really defined through an intensive subconscious period of trial and error or are they actually artificially subliminally introduced into our minds, and our lives through the direction of others, and is it another’s best interest that we don’t change them?
Why do I only choose Kellogg’s Cornflakes, why do I never change at Kings Cross, why do I always stir my tea clockwise, why do I drink a bottle of beer from the side of my mouth, (but only after chipping the label away at the middle), why do I arrange the coins in my pocket in size order? Why do I insist on visiting the same websites, watching the same channels on television and listening to the same radio stations? Is it because it is the best way, the better product, or because it is easier not to change?
What would happen if I changed the habits of my lifetime, if I broke free of the routines that dictate, albeit to a small degree, my life? What if I crossed the road at a different place, or bought my coffee from a different café? What if I read a different opinion in a different newspaper, sat with a different group at lunchtime? What if I escaped from my bubble of conformity, from my normality? Would I meet different people, experience new and different things? Would it change my experience, my perceptions of the world of the people around me?
Would it change my life?
What if I stopped for a day and changed the way I interact, the way I act, the way I live, changed my routines and my ingrained habits and did things differently? What if I questioned not only my actions, but the actions of those around me, my leaders, my friends, my peers? What if I looked at a way of introducing change to my life, not a change that was opposite to my beliefs but perhaps a change that was opposite to my habits? What if one day I decided to investigate the world around me from a different perspective?
What if I had a look at everything I believed to be true, and looked at it from a different angle, perhaps from a different table, in a different bar?
What would happen?
What’s the worst that could happen?…