Fortunes of Cambodia

“Oh Rollo, if you truly knew what the gods have in store for you, you would go down now and dance naked on the beach. (LAUGHING)” ~Seer’s oracle, The Vikings

The fortune-teller glanced down and stated to silently read my prophesy. And just as quickly as he started, he immediately slammed the small booklet of Khmer palm-leaf writings shut.

“No good,” flatly said Thalay, our Cambodian tour guide, without any further explanation or elucidation.

“Well that’s not good, not good at all,” I thought to myself. Good thing I had two more choices at my fortune’s revelation!

Entry into the Silver Pagoda Compound

Entry into the Silver Pagoda Compound

We were visiting the Silver Pagoda, located adjacent to the Royal Palace in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. A couple of lessor shrines here specialize in fortune-telling, a common belief throughout the Far East, and I was eager to indulge myself.

The Library Adjacent to the Silver Pagoda

The Library Adjacent to the Silver Pagoda

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda, burial stupa WMWe watched as a young, well-dressed man received his fortune. The teller was located in small library just outside of the Silver Pagoda proper. Here were stored many old and historic Buddhist manuscripts written on palm leaves using Sanskrit, preserved in glass-faced cabinets, which were also lined with more modern translations in bound books. Thalay explained to us that this student was here to get his fortune regarding the future of his studies. Apparently, and unlike me, he got a fairly good one.

And on his first choice. Lucky.

Palm Leave Fortunes

Palm Leave Fortunes

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Khmer rooflines 2 WMPalm leaves have been used for millennia both for writing and painting because of their thin and flexible qualities. From the first millenia up to the 16th centuries, manuscripts were written on palm leaves called Tādapatra. They provide an excellent surface for writing which is easily preserved and transported as rolled bundles. The rolled palm leaf manuscripts here were stored in small boxes, themselves placed inside modern steel and glass cabinets to further protect them from dust, dirt and thieves.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Khmer rooflines WM

The mystic had a small bundle of fortunes written on palm leaves but in the more modern Khmer script. The leaves were bound top and bottom by a hard covering of bamboo, and the entire collection was held together with what appeared to be a hemp-like cord.

Clarity & Focus before Fortune-Telling

Clarity & Focus before Fortune-Telling

Before my first attempt it was explained that one must clear their minds entirely and focus on the one thing for which the fortune would apply. On my knees in front of a sacred bull, I closed my eyes, bowed my head and took a few deep cleansing breathes to help clear my thoughts. Then I started to hone my mental energies in order to focus the fortune’s predictions.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Buddha's Tripitaka, sacred bull closeup WM

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, metal-worked gate WMI wished to know the prospects for my health in the coming years. Last May, almost exactly a year previous to this fortune-telling, I had started to become very seriously ill (see Offshore Okinawa: A Scuba Diver’s Paradise to Lose). And my condition, one which I will remain “stuck” with over time, is also one for which the Western medical establishment has no clear answers…or cures. When I felt my mental energies were sufficiently engaged and fixated, I was ready for my second attempt at better providence.

The Silver Pagoda and a Stupa

The Silver Pagoda and a Stupa

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Khmer spire WMThe Silver Pagoda is a small walled compound adjacent to the Cambodian Royal Palace complex, both located in the busy riverside district of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. It features a royal temple commonly referred to as Wat Preah Keo (Khmer: វត្តព្រះកែវ), which houses many national treasures, most notably the Emerald Buddha of Cambodia, a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha, as well as a near-life-size standing Buddha figurine encrusted with 9,584, diamonds dressed in royal regalia. The Pagoda itself is inlaid with more than 5,000 silver floor tiles, most of which remained covered for their protection.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, Kevin picking another fortune WM

This time I placed the bundles of fortunes on my head as I saw the student do. Attached to the bundle via a worn and fibrous string was a small wooden dowel, which is used to select the fortune in question.

“You can use your left hand,” said Thalay. I was using my right hand to do the choosing. After thinking about her somewhat odd comments, it suddenly dawned on me. Maybe I was doing it wrong.

“You mean I should use my left hand?” “Yes,” came her reply with a smile. Ah, perhaps I had discovered the cause of the first fortune failure. At least that’s what I chose to believe.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, Kevin picking a fortune WM

I select my fortune and hand it over to the seer. He silently reads the fortune. And continues reading for quite some time. I look at the palm leaf, and this fortune is quite long; the beautiful twists and twirls of the Khmer language written small and without margins right to the edge. I attempt to read his tells during his contemplation, and I’m struck that again he is not happy. I turn to Thalay and give her a rather pleading look.

After an extended discussions with the fortune-teller, Thalay starts to give me her interpretation. I can tell that this is not easy for her, and she is struggling with an explanation after two or three false starts. Finally, after even more discussion with the oracle, she comes up with this analogy:

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, fortunes WM

“It is not good, but not bad,” she starts, obviously trying to diffuse the growing anxiety that she clearly sees on my face. “It is like this: a fisherman can work hard all the day all his life, and at the only short time that he relaxes, the fish he wants swims by….”

Now for my third attempt. And my last. I took a few extra moments to center my mind and spirit. And again I take my chances with the bundle of what has only been, for me, bad or sad news. I turn over my choiced chance to the soothsayer.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, fortunes and the fortune teller WM

This time the slightest of a smile comes across his face. So, either he is amused at my exceedingly bad luck over three attempts, or actually I finally found a fortune worth having. What was it this time?

Well, after another difficult translation, it apparently comes down to this: that what I seek will require a life-long struggle, one that is fated to be not easy over time, and that will require the active support of my wife Jody. Jody, Thalay and I all make light of the situation, finding the obvious humor in having my health in the hands of my nurse-wife (literally – she’s a nurse). But of course, for me, in the recesses of the darker parts of my consciousness, this resonates true.  Maintaining my health may not be easy as I age, but with Jody’s help I will in fact keep aging.  Which is a good thing.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, fortune teller checking my fortune again WM

Most of us are drawn to having our fortunes predicted, as it has been throughout time. Almost everyone at some time or another wishes to know the Kismet with which we have been blessed…or cursed, and have the opportunity to confront the unchangeable fate to which we are bound.

But most of the time, it’s better to not openly know. Let the gods plan and scheme; we, like the Viking Rollo, simply strive to make the most of the lot we have drawn, waiting for our destinies to take hold. We never really know what the gods have in store.  We should dance naked anyhow.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda, Cambodian greeting and show of respect WM


Kishikaisei: Long Odds & Unlikely Connections

“Kishikaisei” is a Japanese phrase which is used when someone “recovers from a hopeless situation,” for example, in sports when a loosing side snatches victory from the jaws of defeat.  Or like when a man meets not one, not two, but three Godzilla on the mean streets of Japan.

Not 1, Not 2, But THREE Godzilla!

Not 1, Not 2, But THREE Godzilla!

“It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in.  However, not every one of them is inhabited.  Any finite number divided by infinity is as near nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero.  From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely products of a deranged imagination.”  ~Douglas Adams quotes (British comic Writer, 1952-2001)

“At different states in our lives, the signs of love may vary:  dependence, attraction, contentment, worry, loyalty, grief, but at the heart, the source is always the same.  Human beings have the rare capacity to connect with each other, against all odds.” ~Unknown (sourced from

“WATO.” ~A former Skipper in the Naval Aviation Training Command.  WATO stands for “What Are The Odds,” implying that things will happen if you keep pushing or testing them, even against the longest odds.

The Odds of a Meltdown are Supposed to be Quite Long.... Oops.

The Odds of a Meltdown are Supposed to be Quite Long…. Oops.

Although some of my friends may consider me a product of their deranged imagination – and you know who you are, I try and keep the schizophrenics in my life to a bare minimum.  Mr. Adams makes an interesting and humorous point, but being a former “math-lete” from high school and college, his underlying assumptions are flawed.  Technically speaking, his stated quotient tends towards zero as a limit since there is, in fact, a finite number of worlds, but it is not zero.  Whew.  Dodged a bullet with that whole imagination thing and actually existing and all….

I do math, therefore I am.

Oh, and nerds need love too.

Love a Nerd

Love a Nerd

As those of you who have been following my blogs may recall that one of my most cherished pieces of prose is the “Desiderata.”  It has played in central elements of my life for the last two decades now, from helping me through a painful divorce, to being the keystone of a recent memorial I penned for a departed friend, to forming the basis for my wedding vows with Jody.  I have even nicknamed my wife “Desi-D” in acknowledgement of the very meaning of the singular desideratum in Latin:  Desired Thing.

Tom Cruise Makes an Odd Yet Alluring Samurai.  Maybe the Last One....

Tom Cruise Makes an “Odd” Yet Alluring Samurai. Maybe the Last One….

The ability of humans to connect is quite amazing, no matter the odds.  Famous, timeless books, award-wining movies, the most popular songs, and the greatest emotional poetry all find some common root in at least facing, but usually overcoming all odds.  What makes The Notebook so damn good?  Love against all odds!  Okay, I’m a former mathlete who likes chick-flicks, and yes, I do own the movie.  This notion remains quite congruent with the very nature of Desiderata, which expounds that “…no doubt the universe is unfolding how it should.”  One would think in this age of massive information overload shared in mere instants anywhere across the globe, that unlikely connections would be less likely to occur.  That they happen at all should amaze and inspire each of us to contemplate the very nature of our personal lives.  We all live the greatest stories and star in the most profound roles.  We just have to see and embrace our parts.

The Odds are Exceedingly Good of Me Owning This Movie

The Odds are Exceedingly Good of Me Owning This Movie

Jody was in training this morning at the Hospital here on Okinawa where the safety briefings she was receiving included motorcycle safety.  Why this subject is covered in such a broad-brush safety overview is beyond me; very few Americans ride motorcycles on Okinawa, thanks to the US military making it such a royal pain-in-the-ass thing to do.  The opening slide of this particular section of the briefing contained a textual overlay and introduction to the subject, but had as its background, two photos.  Turns out one of the photos is me (see below).  On a motorcycle, in Okinawa, from 2005 just before I sold my bike and moved back to the states.  What are the odds?

WATO of this photo being used at Jody's new workplace?

WATO of this photo being used at Jody’s new workplace?

I have had a keychain since either 1999 or 2000 that I purchased in Okinawa my first time stationed here, but have never used…until now.  Someway, somehow, out of all the things I’ve moved (4 complete relocations since that tour:  Japan-Miami-Japan-Pensacola-Jody’s), the stuff lost in my divorce, and those items trashed, sold, or given away over the last 13+ years, this thing has not only survived, but it resurfaced in this move to Japan after being completely forgotten about and stashed away.

The Odds of a Blonde Short-Skirted Nurse in Japan are Lower than a Meltdown.

The Odds of a Blonde Short-Skirted Nurse in Japan are Lower than a Meltdown.

I probably didn’t use this back in the day as my kids were younger and my ex-wife was psychotically jealous, even of such an icon.  I really don’t know why I picked this particular image at the time, although I am a total fan of pinups and their associated fashion from bygone eras, and remain a lover of hats on women.  Plus, the Japanese anime quality of the image is so iconic for anyone who’s spent any amount of time in the wonderful and weird country.  And, without being too chauvinistic, what man doesn’t like the notion of a nurse taking care of him?  No disrespect to nurses or the nursing profession, mind you.  At the time, there was no nurse or nursing in my life.  But there is now.  In fact, I often introduce my wife as “…the prettiest nurse in the Navy,” something she no longer embarrasses over.  And now this keychain serves, proudly, as the keeper of my keys here on Okinawa.

Now, if I could only get Jody to wear one of those hats….

The Odds of Godzilla Risking Spilling His Beer in an Attack?  Infinitely Low....

The Odds of Godzilla Risking Spilling His Beer in an Attack? Infinitely Low….

And finally, just before we relocated to Okinawa, Jody’s command was throwing a formal military event called a “Dinning Out.”  This event, as a military function, required of course the males to wear uniforms; traditionally for evening formals, females in uniform are given the option of even gown or dress uniform, much to my happiness.  The formal uniforms, generally called “Mess Dress,” are not often worn, and usually those that just frantically purchased them have many questions and concerns about how to wear one properly.  When Jody’s coworkers were googling “Navy officer mess dress,” guess what comes up as one of the top results?  See below….  Don’t ask me why they weren’t reading the Navy’s uniform regulations.  Google is way too full of bad gouge….

Google has made me a Navy Uniform Reference

Google has made me a Navy Uniform Reference

These connections which appear from time-to-time in our lives, much too often to be attributable to mere chance, are a tangible illustration that we are not that far removed from one another as we may seem.  It hints, strongly given the long odds of such occurrences at all, that there is more to the universe than simply matter and energy.  That while all of its systems large and small may continually tend to disorder (the Law of Entropy, more correctly the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics – remember, I am a nerd), it is in such uniquely human connections that we can start to find order in the chaos, and we can take some measure of comfort that the universe is, indeed, unfolding how it should.

The Odds are Good that you'd find a Japanese Woman still wearing this Bikini

The Odds are Good that you’d find a Japanese Woman still wearing this “Bikini”

What are the odds?  Indeed.  Sometimes they don’t matter.

Real Airplane?  The Odds would Emphatically State:  NO

Real Airplane Paint Scheme? The Odds would Emphatically State: NO