It was 1976 when Tiziano Terzani was warned by the fortuneteller
in Hong Kong: "Beware! You run a grave risk of dying in 1993.
You mustn't fly that year. Don't fly, not even once." Sixteen years
later, Terzani had not forgotten. Despite living the life of a
jet-hopping journalist, he decided that, after a lifetime of
sensible decisions, he would confront the prophecy the Asian way,
not by fighting it, but by submitting. He also resolved that on
the way he would seek out the most eminent local oracle,
fortuneteller, or sorcerer and look again into his future.
So after a feast of red-ant egg omelet and a glass of fresh water,
he brought the new year in on the back of an elephant.
He even made it to his appointments: Cambodia, to cover the first
democratic elections; Burma, for the opening of the first road to
connect Thailand and China; and even Florence, to visit his mother,
a trip that would take him 13,000 miles across Cambodia, Vietnam,
China, Mongolia, and Siberia. In this way, that jet-hopping
journalist rediscovered the art of travel, the intricate chains
of chance which lead to discovery, and the mass of humanity he'd
overlooked in his rush for newsworthy quotes. And he also saved his
Terzani's odyssey across Asia is full of revelations and reflections
on the dramatic changes underway in Asia. Having spent two decades
on the continent, he brings a deep love for the place to his
journeys, but also the eyes of someone troubled by the changes
he sees. Burma and Laos, finally open to outside contact, are now
funnels for AIDS and drugs; Thailand has been traumatized by its
rapid development; China is an anarchy fueled by money rather than
ideology, where Mao has been transformed into the god of traffic.
Surrounded by the loss of diversity wrought by modernism, Terzani
asks if the "missionaries of materialism and economic progress"
aren't destroying the continent in order to save it. Fortunately,
there is a flip side to his occasionally dispiriting commentary,
one that Terzani discovers in his hunt for fortunetellers.
Through his side trips to seers who read the soles of his feet,
the ashes of incense, and even the burned scapula of sheep, it
becomes clear that the Orient of legends, myths, and magic still
determines people's lives as much as the quest for money. By
staying earthbound, Terzani lived to tell of an extraordinary
journey through the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of Asia.
(From Lesley Reed)