From the Publisher
“Terzani’s thoughtful progression provides great pleasure because he is more open to the people, and people are always the real journey.” —Book Page
“A marvelous traveling companion, Terzani entertains us with his reflections on subjects from astrology to political violence, from the depravity of Bangkok to the sterility of Singapore, and introduces us to the characters he meets along the way.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“An extraordinary and nuanced account of a journey through the Far East and Southeast Asia.” —Library Journal
Forbidden from flying for one year by a wizened fortune teller, skeptical journalist Tiziano Terzani decided to heed the soothsayer's words after all, traveling for a year by bus, train, automobile, or even on foot -- anything to keep him away from airplanes. As he ventures forth into the countries of Asia and Southeast Asia, Terzani reacquainted himself with the potent thrill of distance, a quality often lost in today's world of airline travel. As he travels, Terzani makes a point of seeking out the fortune-tellers and astrologers, interested in their pronouncements, and, even though he remains mostly unconvinced, respectful of their ancient traditions. Terzani's travels bring him face to face with the rapidly encroaching commercial world of television and soda pop, and the thought that even the most remote land will soon be changed forever by the Western world. Opinionated and full of character, A Fortune-Teller Told Me is a glimpse into the traditions and lifestyles of a vanishing world.
The author of Gai Phong, a riveting eyewitness account of Saigon's liberation, and Behind the Forbidden Door, an account of early post-Maoist China, Terzani, a resident of Asia and multilingual correspondent for Der Spiegel, has written an extraordinary and nuanced account of a journey through the Far East and Southeast Asia. In 1993, heeding a nearly stale 13-year-old fortuneteller's warning against air travel that year, Terzani visited Burma, Thailand, Mongolia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore by train, car, bus, and foot. Along the way, he sought prophecies from soothsayers, astrologists, monks, and fortunetellers, often in old and fabled places. Making many contacts, he was able to venture into the heart and soul of Asia where ancient customs and new fads coexist, where past wars and politics leave room in their wakes for drug lords, and where occult beliefs persist. Asia is felt rather than described. Highly recommended for public libraries. Margaret W. Norton, Oak Park, IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A straightforward literary travel guide that takes us through Bangkok, Malacca, and other points east. Terzani (an Italian correspondent for Der Spiegel and other European publications) opens his account with an odd anecdote: in 1976, a fortune-teller in Hong Kong warned him that under no circumstances should he fly in 1993, "not even once." Taking the soothsayer at his word, he chose instead to take a leisurely tour of South Asia by train and car, and thereby "was obliged again to see the world as a complex network of countries divided by rivers and seas that required crossing and by frontiers that invariably spelt ‘visa'." As it turned out, the fortune-teller was right: a German correspondent who took his place on the air circuit died in a helicopter crash. Duly chastened, the author reflected on his narrow escape (and other matters of life and death) as he traveled throughout the region, taking in the sights in Thailand, Singapore, and Ho Chi Minh City (and briefly venturing as far afield as Mongolia, Russia, and Italy). Terzani is a trustworthy enough narrator (albeit somewhat given to spiritual musings of a vaguely New Age bent), and he takes us through such little-explored landscapes as the Bolovens plateau of Cambodia ("the most heavily bombed region in the history of the world") and Nanning (a Chinese city in which "the impatience between Chinese and foreigners is mutual, and in the Chinese it is now mixed with envy, anger, and an ever less concealed racial aspiration to settled old scores with outsiders"). This is a well-written account, but undistinguished from the usual run of travel narrativeseven when Terzani salts his standard guidebook descriptions with(equally standard) PC denunciations of Western materialism. Solid if unexciting fare. Author tour
Read an Excerpt
Life is full of opportunities. The problem is to recognize them when they present themselves, and that isn't always easy. Mine, for instance, had all the marks of a curse: "Beware! You run a grave risk of dying in 1993. You mustn't fly that year. Don't fly, not even once," a fortune-teller told me.
It happened in Hong Kong. I had come across that old Chinese man by sheer chance. When I heard his dire words I was momentarily taken aback, but not deeply disturbed. It was the spring of 1976, and 1993 seemed a long way off. I did not forget the date, however; it lingered at the back of my mind, rather like an appointment one hasn't yet decided whether to keep or not.
Nineteen seventy-seven . . . 1987 . . . 1990 . . . 1991. Sixteen years seem an eternity, especially when viewed from the perspective of Day One. But, like all our years (except those of adolescence), they passed very quickly, and in no time at all I found myself at the end of 1992. Well, then, what was I to do? Take that old Chinese man's warning seriously and reorganize my life? Or pretend it had never happened and carry on regardless, telling myself, "To hell with fortune-tellers and all their rubbish"?
By that time I had been living in Asia solidly for over twenty years first in Singapore, then in Hong Kong, Peking, Tokyo, and finally in Bangkok and I felt that the best way of confronting the prophecy was the Asian one: not to fight against it, but to submit.
"You believe in it, then?" teased my fellow journalists especially the Western ones, the sort of people who are used to demanding a clear-cut yes or no to every question, even to such an ill-framed one as this. But we do not have to believe the weather forecast to carry an umbrella on a cloudy day. Rain is a possibility, the umbrella a precaution. Why tempt fate if fate itself gives you a sign, a hint? When the roulette ball lands on the black three or four times in a row, some gamblers count on statistical probability and bet all their money on the red. Not me: I bet on the black again. Has the ball itself not winked at me?
And then, the idea of not flying for a whole year was an attraction in itself. A challenge, first and foremost. It really tickled me to pretend an old Chinese in Hong Kong might hold the key to my future. It felt like taking the first step into an unknown world. I was curious to see where more steps in the same direction would lead. If nothing else, they would introduce me, for a while, to a different life from the one I normally led. For years I have traveled by plane, my profession taking me to the craziest places on earth, places where wars are being waged, where revolutions break out or terrible disasters occur. Obviously I had held my breath on more than one occasion landing with an engine in flames, or with a mechanic squeezed in a trapdoor between the seats, hammering away at the undercarriage that was refusing to descend.
If I had dismissed the prophecy and carried on flying in 1993, I would certainly have done so with more than the usual pinch of anxiety that sooner or later strikes all those including pilots who spend much of their lives in the air; but I would have carried on with my normal routine: planes, taxis, hotels, taxis, planes. That divine warning (yes: "divination," "divine," so alike!) gave me a chance in a way obliged me to inject a variant into my days.