This year was the inaugural Kampot Writers and Readers Festival. On Saturday morning, our little writing group drove down to Kampot to attend. We were hopeful, but a little wary. A lot can go wrong during the teething stages of a new event. There were a couple of hiccoughs, but those were far outweighed by the success of the festival.
We arrived a little late and I ended up watching the first panel discussion on publishing from the door. That was okay. It was a fascinating discussion and great to hear the views of writers who had been through the publishing process. Equally impressive was the audience. They were all seriously working on projects and very interested in learning what they could. I was also impressed to learn that a growing number of Cambodians are taking up both reading and writing.
See the Cambodian girls on the right side of the photo? They’re working on an English language book with their mentor/teacher. I was blown away by their intelligence and ambition.
Our next stop was lunch at Cafe Esspresso, one of the most popular (and for good reason) cafes in town. Unlike Sihanoukville, which is a young city, Kampot is old and it shows in a delightful way in the old buildings. Many of them you might call dilapidated, but what one calls dilapidation another calls character. The city exudes character. I hadn’t been to Kampot for about five years and back then it seemed like a sleepy town with little to offer a Westerner. It’s caught on now, though, and I was amazed by the number of cafes and other small businesses that have opened in the part of the city where the festival was taking place. The beauty of the new ventures is that they are all taking advantage of the city’s wonderful architecture. Some are giving them fresh coats of paint and restoring them to their former glory. Cafe Esspresso has left the walls in their “distressed” state, but decorated the interior with eclectic art. It has a wonderful atmosphere that is matched or surpassed by the quality of the food and coffee – their very own house blend.
The next presentation was about e-publishing. Here again, the panel had experience in publishing online and had some invaluable advice to offer.
Finally, we went to a presentation about violence in Cambodia. I wanted to attend that one because Brian Gruber was going to talk about his book, War: the Afterparty. Brian crowdfunded $10,000 to take him on a trip around the world to places where the United States had “intervened.” Brian has been in the media for most of his life and his talk reflected it. He was humorous, informative and so engaging, I forgot to take a picture of him while he was giving his presentation. I highly recommend visiting his website and reading about his project. I just want to take a side trip to share something Brian said during his talk that was significant to me. He probably won’t agree with my conclusion, but that’s okay. It takes a bit of a stretch of the imagination to follow my “logic.”
Brian Gruber is the guy on the right
Early in his presentation, Brian mentioned that he reached his $10,000 goal a half an hour before his Kickstarter campaign closed. That was significant because with Kickstarter, if you don’t reach your goal, you don’t get your money. The company doesn’t pocket the money — they just don’t process the donations until the goal is reached.
A bit later, Brian said instead of planning in advance and setting up interviews, he headed for Guatemala three days later. “Serendipity” helped, he said, putting him in touch with people in Guatemala who were able to help him immensely with his work. My book is all about Serendipity. I put my future in her hands when I went travelling in 2006. Without her, I would never have come to Sihanoukville or had the life I now enjoy. Brian may not agree with me, but it seems like Serendipity plays a bigger part in our lives than we give her credit for. Like Brian, you have to grab an opportunity when it comes, but in my life, at least, most opportunities that have worked for me have come out of the blue, with a little nudge from a “serendipitous” occurrence.
You’re more than welcome to think I’m nuts for throwing my future into fate’s hands, but that’s what I did and it all worked out better than any plan I had come up with. After I exhausted all my ideas, I asked a tarot card reader in Bali what fate had in store for me. Here’s a snippet from my book that sort of explains it:
It wasn’t something I planned on doing. It just happened one day when I was in a café on Jalan Arjuna in Seminyak. The card reader, a drop-dead gorgeous Italian woman in her late twenties, was just finishing up a reading with a customer when I walked in. As soon as her customer left, I approached her and asked for a reading. “What does the future hold in store for me in Bali?” I asked.
“Excuse me, but I only give readings by appointment,” she replied with more than a tinge of annoyance. Under normal circumstances, I might have walked away with my tail between my legs, but this time I held my ground.
“Sorry! I thought you worked here. Can I explain my situation to you? Maybe you can make an exception and give me a reading now, if you have time.”
She warmed to me after hearing my story of woe and even apologized for her rudeness. “Men rarely ask me for readings,” she explained, “and when they do, they usually hit on me.”
“No, I’d really like a reading,” I replied half-truthfully. Honestly, I might not have been as enthusiastic if she hadn’t been so beautiful. I had a bad attitude towards most tarot card readers. Without facts to back up my belief, I assumed they just told people like me who were in a bind what they wanted to hear. I was at an impasse, though, and set my prejudice aside. Besides, it gave me a chance to have a chat with her.
The first card she focused on showed a young man dancing on the edge of a precipice. “This is the Fool,” she told me. “He can play an important part in your life – if you let him.” The card nearest the Fool, the Four of Pentacles, was a picture of a man hoarding his wealth. He was the aspect of my personality trying to cling to its old life. From those two cards, the rest of the cards fanned out in opposite directions, like two paths I had the choice of following. Proceeding through the cards nearest the Four of Pentacles, she concluded that following his path might not be disastrous, but wouldn’t be materially or spiritually rewarding. If I followed the Fool’s lead and set my hopes, fears and prejudices aside, my future looked bright.
“What about teaching English in Bali?” I asked, still clinging to that fading dream.
She didn’t see it in my cards and wasn’t too enthusiastic about my question. “That’s the sort of job that’s on the Four of Pentacles side of the spread. See how the man has his feet planted firmly on top of two gold coins? That symbolizes his need to stay put and protect his wealth. He’s holding another coin close to his heart and the fourth coin on top of his head says money is all he thinks about. It’s up to you, but does that look like the kind of life you want to live?”
It didn’t. I took a leap of faith and followed wherever fate led me. It turns out my tarot card reader was right.
Anyway, back to our day in Kampot. A friend suggested we eat dinner at Tertulia, a Portuguese restaurant on the Sihanoukville side of the bridge. It took us a little while to find it, but it was worth it. I couldn’t decide whether to eat my barracuda or just stare at the beautiful presentation. I decided to do both and took a photograph before I started eating.
Lucky I did, because the food was delicious and we loved the restaurant, which was in a quiet, garden setting. After our meal, we headed home and all agreed it had been a great day. We loved the festival and loved everything about Kampot.