I had a few interactions with death during my time abroad. One Cambodian friend was drunk and drove his dirtbike into a wall. An expat I knew in Cambodia succumbed one day to his many ailments. Everyday he had come to the bar at 6am, sat in the exact same spot, took out his book for the day, and then drank and smoked until nightfall. Every single day. I’m told he had been holding this schedule for the past five years. The day came when he wasn’t there for the opening shift of the bar. We knew what had happened, and we left his spot at the bar open for him.
And then there was Julie.
If you are backpacking through Southeast Asia, everyone you meet will be new characters in your story. They pop up, they play their part in your story, and then they disappear back into the dust. For the expats, these characters don’t leave so quickly. To the uninformed eye, Bui Vien Street in Saigon is a haven of miscreant travelers all pausing their schedules to have a beer before heading on to the next destination. But to us, to the ones who lived there, it was our local place. And every good local watering hole has its share of interesting characters.
I met Julie the Fortune Teller many times during the course of my stay in Saigon. I even bought her a beer once or twice, and she read the fortunes of my friends a handful of times. Never mine though. (I’ll leave my own fortune telling story for another time.) She was a local; she plied her trade up and down the streets of the backpacker sector, engaging travelers and looking for a couple bucks here and there. She was odd, sure, but who isn’t who lives in Saigon? She also never once remembered me. Not the name I mean, but just my face and just the simple fact that I was an expat and not a traveler. Every once in a while she would come up to us and start her spiel, “Hello, I’m a fortune teller and….” blah blah blah, okay Julie we know who you are. You ask us every week and we always tell you we live here, come on! “Oh, righto. Okay have a nice evening.” See ya Julie.
My friends and I spent hung out nearly everyday for months in the same exact outdoor space. We knew the bartenders, the hookers, the restaurant workers, the other expats, the drug dealers, everyone. The place was a chaotic tornado, but after staying for a while it was easy to pick out the expats. But Julie couldn’t do it. She always had her eyes and her mind focused on something else.
We didn’t see her for a few days, but no one paid it any mind. People came and went all the time. But a few days later the word spread – Julie was found dead in her hotel room. The other surprise was her age: 43. If you had seen her you would have sworn she was at least 65 or 70. Perhaps that is what a life on the road does to a body.