The book that found me: A Fortune-Teller Told Me

I have a light schedule during and immediately after the holidays. My clients get back to work after the new year and take a week or so to give me assignments. It gives me the perfect opportunity to go offline and read a book. We only have one bookstore in Sihanoukville now and finding a book is sort of hit and miss. I went in to Casablanca books not knowing what I’d find, so I did what I usually do in bookstores. I let a book find me. The book that found me was A Fortune-Teller Told Me, by Tiziano Terzani.

As so often happens when a book finds me, I saw the title, but didn’t pick it up until I’d looked some more. It had a magnetic attraction, though, so I returned to it and picked it up. As soon as it was in my hands, I knew it was the book I was supposed to buy. That might sound superstitious, but I believe in intuition, so I didn’t argue. As it turns out, it was the perfect choice.

I’ve put my book, Serendipity Road, on hold until after my birthday. I want to edit it one more time. I set it aside for a few months so I could look at it with fresh eyes. While Terzani’s style is quite different from mine, the book has an uncanny similarity to mine. A Fortune-Teller Told Me was published in 1997. The author had been in Asia since the 1970s and almost got killed by the Khmer Rouge when he crossed the border from Thailand to Poipet, Cambodia. A fortune teller had told him a smile would save his life. And so it did. The Khmer Rouge thought he was a CIA agent. He smiled and pulled out his Italian passport. They held him for a little while, but then allowed him to return to Thailand.

That’s not where the book’s title comes from, though. In the 1970s, a fortune teller in Hong Kong told him not to travel by air in 1993. He remembered his advice and decided to follow it. He traveled on land and sea in 1993 and discovered a whole new world he’d missed when he traveled by plane. It also saved his life. The fortune teller told him he would die if he traveled by air in 1993. A journalist who took his place died in a helicopter accident. Coincidence? I don’t think so, and neither does the author.

My book is all about how fate has determined my destiny. Terzani’s isn’t about fate, but living in Asia made him question our pragmatic Western ways. He visited fortune tellers wherever he went in Asia. Some were better than others and some he suspected were charlatans. Still, like me, he learned that there is more to life than reason. Intuition and signs that have no logical explanation often have a “logic” of their own.

Like me, Terzani is saddened by the materialism that has all but conquered the world. “Never in history has man drifted so far from nature as now,” he writes, “and this has been perhaps the worst of our mistakes.” When I reflect on the concrete jungles of Los Angeles and other big cities I’ve lived in, I often wonder how anyone can live in those crazy places, where the only glimpses of nature you see are in manicured yards and public parks. That’s nothing like the riot of nature I’ve seen in areas that have escaped urbanization.

Terzani made a habit of visiting fortune tellers. He didn’t always believe them, but they were his connection with an old way of life that was dying. I haven’t done that. I’ve let fate be my guide. The first fortune teller I visited was in Mumbai in 1972. He told me I would never get rich, but I’d always get by. So far, he’s been right.

In about 2004, I met a palm reader. I never asked her for a reading, but she offered me one when we were having lunch together in Sydney’s Hyde Park. “You will have two more children,” she told me. “The lines are fainter, so they may not be your biological children, but they will be yours.” I didn’t believe her, but that turned out to be the case. Luna and Kelly are like “my” children to me. Neither of them is my biological child, but they are definitely my children. I work for them; I feed them; I send them to school; and I care for them.

In 2005, I stumbled across a tarot card reader in a café in Bali. She gave me a reading that indicated two directions I could follow. One was the way of the Fool. The other was the way of the hoarder. She advised me to take the Fool’s path. I did, and she was right. At the end of the Fool’s journey was the World. I’m still not rich, but I enjoy a wonderful lifestyle here in Sihanoukville. I’m surrounded by a family that loves me. I’m able to support them on my freelance writing wages, which would be barely enough to support me in Australia.

In the same year, I took a “how to be a psychic” course. The instructor started with a guided meditation to put us in the right frame of mind. Then we were told to sit down and take a piece of jewelry from our partner. We were told to watch the images that appeared in our minds and not fight or filter them. It worked for me, but then a man gave me a reading that made no sense at all until about three years later. All the pieces fit perfectly into place, including the soccer field that sounded like “soaka” to him. My home in Sihanoukville is near the Sokha Resort. He knew the sound of the word was important, but his rational mind kept telling him it must be a soccer field because he also saw a green field. My office window overlooked a green field until someone built a house that now blocks my view. He also told me he saw a “fifties” style home, plastic flowers and a glass coffee table. I built my house in 2007, but the style is very fifties. I would never buy plastic flowers, but we have them in our house and my wife bought a glass topped coffee table that looks exactly like the one I visualized when my partner told me I’d have a glass coffee table.

Terzani is sad that Asia has become a consumer society like the West. I am, too. Asians are focusing on making money and accumulating material wealth. Terzani noticed that, too, over 20 years ago. As he writes: “We drove back to Bangkok through Chinatown, with its thousands of little shops. In each one, behind the counter or cash register, is a Chinese whose only desire is to be rich. It struck me that not one of the fortune tellers I’d seen had ever used the word ‘happiness’ — as if that were something non-existent or irrelevant. Or perhaps unattainable? Strange that it means so little to so many people.”

Oddly enough, I wrote about that same topic on my blog last week. What’s better, success or happiness? is all about the difference between the two. To my way of thinking, striving for success is a sure way to not be happy. When you’re chasing a carrot, you can never enjoy what’s right in front of you.

Terzani tells a story about a poor Italian woman who had a dream in which she saw numbers. She bet all the money she had on a lottery and won. It changed her life. When we ran out of money in 2009, Sopheak used information from her dreams to bet on lotteries. She won far more than chance accounted for and sometimes her winnings made the difference between eating and paying for our electricity.

So was it just coincidence that led me to the only copy of A Fortune-Teller Told Me? I don’t think so. My birthday is in four days. That’s when I promised I’d take another look at my book. I don’t intend to copy Terzani’s style, but reading his book has bolstered my confidence. His book sold well when it was released. I don’t expect my book to be picked up by a publisher and it will probably get lost in the ocean of books on Amazon, but fate will lead the right readers to it, like fate led me to A Fortune-Teller Told Me.

There must be people out there who, like Terzani and me, think we’ve lost something in our consumer society. We have. We’ve lost intuition and happiness, but they are there for the taking if we allow them into our lives. We just have to stop chasing carrots like donkeys and enjoy life as it presents itself to us.