CLICK HERE FOR PART I                 
CLICK HERE FOR PART III                 

by Mike Maui

This continues our series of stories written by my very good friend Mike Cappadona. The first told of his inheritance of a cherished island tradition. This installment relates a curious tale from Thailand, as Mike travels the world with his special skill.           Ed.

Mike Cappadona

The city of Bangkok, Thailand is hectic at best. Chaos prevails in the never ending traffic jam, with manic tuk-tuk drivers defying odds and physics, challenging each other's insanity to gain a bit of progress by squeezing their three-wheeled moto-taxis into seemingly inadequate niches during the shuffle between intersections. Vendors, beggars, and con artists take turn accosting you and testing your street-smarts with convincing stories and annoying persistence, while the bad air and frenzied atmosphere bombard your senses and keep your equilibrium in a state of flux.

In contrast to the madness, the many Buddhist temples and shrines, with their high walls and enclosed courtyards, offer an oasis of calm, their doorways being portals to partial serenity, attempting to block out, or at least, keep at bay, the mania which surrounds them.

Elaborate tile work, paintings, and illogically surrealistic carvings, take form as Buddhas, dragons, dizzy geometric patterns, stylized animals, warrior-guardians, or any representative of the complex mythological world of southeast Asia, thick with deities; each requiring eccentric recognition.

Apparent chaos takes shape and form in meticulous decoration, as we observe and absorb the symmetry of intention, and awe in appreciation at the dedication required to visualize and realize the improbable designs meant to satisfy and glorify the godliness of divinity.

So it was, that I sought a break from the street madness, and came upon a small temple, entering the portal of partial serenity, sliding easily into a tranquil courtyard with scattered trees and a few people. I found a shady spot on a small-roofed platform housing a large bell equipped with a pendulous log meant to strike and sound the gong in accordance with some ancient ritual unbeknownst to me.

From my perch I regained my calm and observed in the courtyard, an indiscreetly situated, slightly older than middle-aged man, sitting crossed-legged on the ground with papers and indiscernible objects scattered neatly around him. For some reason I imagined him to be peculiar, and in that way, interesting. So, out of curiosity I made my way toward him.

As I neared, we nodded and smiled at each other in that international greeting which vaults the language barrier. My knowledge of the Thai language consists of "hello," "how much," and "thank you," and after exhausting my repertoire, I took to evaluating the man and his backwards tie, dirty clothes, school-boy style book bag, and most predominately, a large magnifying lens.

He laid on of his hands out flat, pointing at his upturned palm with the other, and threw me a question with a nod and a wink, and I concluded he was a reader of palms. A teller of futures, a seer of the past, a revealer of love and fortunes yet to come, or traumas and dilemmas ominously awaiting us - whichever the case might be - neither of which I had any desire to be aware.

But, all through Thailand I had seen mystics and palm readers tempting my curiosity with claims of ability and accuracy, and I had decided to remain distantly curious, a bit out of skepticism and also out of reluctance to admit that they could be right and might tell me something I may not want to hear.

But here was a man who spoke no English. He wouldn't be able to tell me exactly what he saw in the lines of my palms, but I would be able to discern through the tone of his voice whether it was positive, or less than wondrous events awaiting me in my inevitable and apparently pre-planned destiny.I felt safety in my ignorance as I sat down on the ground in front of him, and smiling in agreement I thrust both hands, palm up, offering them for inspection.

He studied them intently. He used a pen as a pointer and made various marks and slashes on the creases in my flesh. Through his magnifying lens he peered deeply into the wrinkles and I imagined him to be reading a story scribed in a language even more unfathomable and incomprehensible as the language in which he spoke to me. He seemed serious enough and relayed his findings in a tone which I took to be positive, as he would occasionally stop to look at me and smile, and he appeared to be getting a bit excited as he marked and drew in blue ink dots and dashes, explaining cryptically to me, what they meant, as if I could understand.

He continued to get more animated in his speaking and he smiled widely and looked at my face often. A passing Thai man stopped to observe us, and my reader and he began to exchange a happy sounding dialogue, all the time pointing at me and laughing.

Suddenly, the palm reader reached to his pocket and pulled out a bronze medallion bearing a Buddha on one side and warriors riding elephants engaged in a classic battle on the other. He offered it to me with body language, which said it was a gift. He pointed at the side showing the battle scene and raised a clenched fist triumphantly, as he placed the medallion in my palm, closing my fingers around it and grasping my fist firmly. We made deep and electrifying eye contact. His smile and his eyes relayed goodness and understanding. I felt warm, yet vulnerable, as if he knew something which I didn't.

Time stopped, and as the moment etched itself in my memory, I was instantly aware it would remain for life. I sensed the stare of our nearby onlooker and the triangle was complete. We three were connected and suspended, momentarily encased in a bubble of oneness as human emotion mixed with godly intervention to dissolve cultural barriers and transcend our mortality.

When I regained possession of my physical self, I bent forward and kissed both of my reader's cheeks in that Mediterranean gesture of affection. The onlooker lent me an outstretched hand, which I accepted and shook sincerely, exchanging smiles and nods, saying much without words.

The reader pulled a sheet of paper from his book bag and began to write, in artful fashion, Thai characters and a few numbers, and when he had completed this, he placed in in an envelope and gave it to me. Not knowing what else t6o do, I reached for my camera and snapped a picture. T rough my lens I saw a man, but with my heart I felt a presence greater than the small frame which housed his true identity. As I slowly took leave of the courtyard and my Thai compadres, I felt a bit bewildered, but at the same time, confident that my future had expressed itself in an honorable fashion.

I was speculating on the written message and its contents and decided against having it translated, being content with the overall impression of the experience, and not wanting to disturb my tranquility with the anxiety of expectations. I also realized in that moment that i would cherish and forever carry that medallion as my personal icon of luck, remembering the man and his smiles, the sparkle of his eyes, and the tone of his voice.

As I fell head first into the mania of the street scene, I pondered the medallion in my pocket and its images, wondering what they meant, and what this piece of metal meant to the man who carried it before me, and how the lines of my hands had prompted it to become my newest possession, a spontaneous gift from the palm reader.




The Zen of Basket Weaving



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