After ten days of silence and solitude, one hundred and twenty hours of mind-crippling, body-aching meditation and over a week’s worth of hourly tsunamis of emotion, I left the peaceful hills of Mandalay and took a one way flight to Bangkok.
I’ve never been one to think things through properly, or apply common sense and logic to any major decisions and this particular move on the chess board of my life was no exception.
From the Sanctuary of Saints to the City of Sins was quite a shock to the senses and I didn’t give myself time to process what I’d just put myself through.
The vipassana-induced emotions continued their dramatic ebb and flow throughout my body as my senses were assaulted with bright lights, roaring engines, loud music, bold colours, pungent smells and people, people everywhere.
And if this wasn’t all enough for me to take in, after no more than twelve hours of touching down in Bangkok I was in the passenger seat of a white jeep headed for a temple in the hills of Nakhon Pathom province to have my future predicted by a monk.
YOUR FUTURE IS AS BRIGHT AS YOUR FAITH
I was with my friend Kung, an ex-colleague and my first Thai friend who welcomed me into her home with open arms and a traditional Thai smile. We were off to see her monk, somebody she goes to see maybe once or twice a year to hear what her future has in store.
As we were driving down the motoroway at over one hundred miles per hour, I asked what he’d said the last time she’d visited him.
“Oh”…she said, with those eyes that are contemplating whether or not to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth or to tell a big fat lie.
“He said I would have a car accident in the next few months”.
“Excellent”, I replied as I shook my head in disbelief, quickly checked my seat belt was fastened and stealthily held onto the door handle, semi-hoping that this monk I was about to meet was a complete and utter charlatan.
THE LAUGHING BUDDHA
We pulled up at the temple grounds which was full of the usual awe-inspiring mosaic-clad temples, dazzling us with their ornate opulence with familiar loud.
A frenzied voice was echoing over the speakers, destroying all of the tranquillity the beautiful Thai countryside had to offer as we walked across the gravel car park, dodging the gangs of friendly-looking stray dogs and towards an open temple full of a hundred golden Buddha statues.
We were greeted first by wafts of incense and then by a smile.
It belonged to a large, dark-skinned monk who was standing next to a spirit house at the North East corner of the temple. I think he was smoking but I was too far away to tell.
As we got closer, I could see his shaven head was shaped like a rugby ball and his ears stuck out a little. He looked like one of those fat Laughing Buddha statues with an orange robe draped neatly over his big round belly, his chubby cheeks cushioning a friendly grin and accentuating his playful eyes.
He began plodding towards a broad teak wood bench and turned around to beckon us over with a gentle nod.
He watched me attentively as I shuffled off my sandals and tiptoed across the old patterned mat to kneel before the main golden Buddha. I bowed three times, lit three sticks of incense and a small yellow candle then walked over to find a spot on the bench facing him.
Kung sat next to me, ready to translate as he didn’t speak a word of English.
YEAR OF THE RAT
Since my New Year’s morning incident when I was blinded by a holographic sticker from a bathroom appliance manufacturer, I’d had an overwhelming confidence within me that I was totally invincible. This was going to be a Good Year and I thoroughly believed this friendly, Laughing-Buddha-Monk was going to reassure me so.
I gave him my Birthday time, date and year, the day I was born and my Chinese Zodiac sign; 6.10am, Thursday 17th January 1985, Year of the Rat.
Kung translated my answers and he fell silent, scribbling down a load of numbers into some sort of sequence. There were seven columns in total and all of them had three rows, except for the second and third columns which each had five.
He stared at the numbers silently for a few minutes, twizzing the marine blue felt tip pen in his left hand as his eyes darted around the page. I tried to make out what the twitches on his face could possibly mean – something about a Good Year, no doubt.
He began to talk, a few sentences at a time then would pause for Kung to translate.
“You are always successful in what you do” was his opening line. A promising start, I thought, as I stared at him wide-eyed with a head full of a scepticism but a heart full of hope.
“Stay with your current situation and you will have success. Whatever happened in the past, move on. Do not worry about the past, or the future. Stay in the present”
My head started churning out a bombardment of sarcasm as I looked at him through dubious eyes.
“When you were fourteen years old, you did something silly. This was when your barriers went up and you decided you didn’t want any help. You didn’t want to let people in.
He paused and started shaking his finger frantically in my face and shaking his head. ” You came very close to death. You didn’t know it at the time, but you were very close to death”.
My eyes looped up towards the skies and my frown of cynicism deepened into a frown of puzzlement as I pondered when that could have been.
“You’re a problem child”, he said with an impish smirk. “You need to travel and see the world… but be careful”.
He started patting his huge belly with both hands – loud, dramatic slaps that made it wobble from side to side and echoed around the cluster of golden Budhas. “You loose things. You always loose things. You are not careful. Your passport. Do not loose your passport”.
At this point my frown had melted away. How does he know I’ve lost about nine passports?
Yes at fourteen I transitioned from a fat geeky overgrown child into a skinny teenager with long poker-straight hair and cheek bones. Yes at eighteen I probably did dance with death, cycling the roads of Venice on my way home from all-night beach raves. And yes, I am a problem child who wants to see the world and cannot keep hold of her passport.
THE NOT SO GOOD YEAR
He looked down at the paper, at the numbers he’d scribbled down and then out towards the lush green hills in the distance. He very rarely looked at me.
“Last year was big for change. This year will not be very good”, he said.
I almost slapped my thighs dramatically, shook my head and yelled “oh for God’s sake”, but instead I just looked at him through the eyes of a rebellious non-believer. He clearly hadn’t spotted the bathroom appliance manufacturer logo sticker in his visions.
“This year you will get a job, but it might not reach your expectations. Your expectations are always very high. Make sure you read the contract or you could end up in jail”.
And when you turn thirty-five next year, from then on, your life will get better and better and better.
Then, just as I was about to ask him some very important questions the lunch bell rang and he leapt up from his cross-legged position on the wooden bench, quickly bowed his head with his hands in prayer and stomped off towards the dining hall.
And so that was that.
Ten days of emotionally traumatic silence followed by a prediction that this year is going to be just as abominable as the last few – plus I’m probably going to loose my passport and end up in jail.