Monday, April 11, 2005


I'm not saying that I believe everything the fortune teller told me, or even any of it, but still, when someone takes out the cards and reads you your fate, whether they be mystic or saint or the blackjack dealer in Room 234, you listen, and you listen carefully. (At least I did, anyways.)


I was on the beach, Hawaii Beach, to be precise, even though this beach is not anywhere near Hawaii but is to be found instead in the lovely and sceanic port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, named after the former King himself. (And it really is lovely and scenic.) The occasion is a work sponsored getaway, at which free accomodation is provided, a meal and dancing is par for the course, and lazing on the beach under a broiling sun while deceptive waves hint at a tsunami-free future is not mandatory, no, but encouraged.

The fortune teller was a lucky (?) break.

A few of the other staff members were having their fortunes read, so I figured what the hell, life's short, let's give it a go. I'd never had my palms read or my future told, and last year I read a really interesting and enlightening book called A Fortune Teller Told Me by an Italian journalist, Tiziano Ternani (who passed away last year). The book chronicle's Ternani's adventures around Asia as he travels by land and by sea to chat with various fortune tellers of all shapes, colours and sizes, after vowing not to journey by air for an entire year after being warned not to do so by a particularly insistent sage. His conclusion: Most fortune tellers use similar tactics, relate similar stories, but every now and then, when you least expect it, you hear something about yourself that, if not unsettling, is, at the very least, spooky.

Not that I believe in any of this, of course.

She looked like a typical middle aged Cambodian woman -- forty to forty five, long gray hair, a little plump. (Actually, the life expectancy of most Cambodians is around fifty something, but women usually live a little longer than men, just like everywhere, so I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt.) She sat before a spread-out blanket, on the sand, a pack of regular playing cards in her hands. A Cambodian staff member from our work would act as translator. Everything was set.

Split the deck three times, I was told. I did so. She placed a handful of cards on the blanket, and asked me to pick three.

Thus, it began.

First, she made some general statements -- that I loved my friends very much, that I was a kind man, that I would have good luck from now until October. (My birthday's in October, which worried me a little.) And even though I am kind, I have to be careful, because those around me, those I call my 'friends', are out to deceive me. She stated that I don't rely on others for work, that I find it myself. She also said that I was of mixed nationalities.


Whether I'm a kind man is not up to me to declare, and whether my friends are deceiving me, scheming and plotting and forming conspiracies to silence me, well, I'll soon find out, I guess. The other stuff rings true -- I have relied on myself for work these last few years, purposely staying independent, travelling from country to country. And I am of mixed nationalities, in a sense, since my father's originally from England.

I asked her: "Am I going to die young?" (For some reason, don't ask why, I've always had this feeling. I'm not sure what 'young' is -- thirty-five, forty, but it's a feeling I've had.)

She promptly said no, no, that I will live to be 96 years old. (My great-grandmother died at 96).

The final parlor trick was a reading of my signature. A chaotic, slightly reckless person I am, according to her, after reading my John Hancock.

So there you have it. No burning incense or thundering clouds or black magic; just a deck of cards, and a blanket, and a few, seemingly random observations. I thanked her, headed back to the waves, looked out at the sea.

Nonsense, of course. A bunch of generalities, applicable to anyone at all, really.

Still, there were enough specifics -- somewhat general specifics, to be sure, but applicable to me and my life nevertheless -- that it left me thinking. Left me wondering. What do I do with those words? Do I apply them? Do I discard them like seashells lovingly picked by a young child on the beach only to be forgotten hours, if not minutes, later? Why believe any of it? Nothing more than a money-making scam. Nothing more than wishful thinking, priced for sale.

I stood on the beach and looked out at the dock that stretched into the beginning of the beginning of the sea. It looked similar to docks I'd seen in Ontario, docks I'd seen in Shimane. The water, the ocean, the small islands visible from the shore -- these, too, were familiar. In that moment I found myself unsure of where I actually was at that present moment in time -- Canada, Cambodia, Japan? If I were to have woken up here, on this beach, with no recollection of who I was or where I'd come from, I would have nothing to guide me. Nothing to hint at home.

A vast and concentrated universe this is.

Sometimes, on certain specific (albeit isolated) days, when the sun is bright and the waves lap the shore at the right, regulated pace, when fortune tellers deal their decks of cards on blankets that shield their feet from the hot and slippery sand, I'm tempted, if not encouraged, to wade into the water and wait, patiently, anxiously, for celestial signals that will reveal the universe's splendor in all its maddening simplicity and glory.

I'm tempted to believe.

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