The Shaman from Monaco
At the start of 2015, I met a Canadian ex-banker-turned-shamanic healer from Monaco, who was in China to close a deal on his robotic inventions. He introduced himself by coming over to my table in a hotel café and asking me what I was doing here. A straightforward question, yet it hung in the air, reluctant and vague. He told me that he had left his estranged family in Mexico to travel the world, meeting with Buddhist monks in hidden Indonesian temples, healing people with his hands in villages on the islands of Panama. He casually stated that he was clairvoyant and that he went on quests that came to him in his dreams. But here he was, in a 5-star hotel in Kowloon, signing off a million-dollar contract for his product, which was destined to change the optical industry.
I had no idea at the time, but the next 36 hours or so of shared coffees, teas and noodles, were the beginning of one of the most bizarre experiences of my life, with a complete stranger. Our dialogues held most of their weight in the words between the lines, as though we were having two separate, but entirely comprehensible conversations at once. Then he would say goodbye, go off to his appointments, and I would think nothing more of it.
Three weeks after our initial encounter I received a call from the hotel’s concierge, saying that a guest who met me in the café was on the other line. I accepted the call, and the shaman asked if I was around, as he was back in the city alone, for work. I thought over our past conversations and decided that he seemed like an interesting fellow, albeit somewhat eccentric, and that it would be harmless to play tour guide for an afternoon.
We went to some exhibitions nearby: Jeff Koons, Friedrich Kunath’s ‘Earth to Fuckface’ (a title which seemed to amuse him) at White Cube, and a group show at Ben Brown, where the shaman mentioned he owned some early paintings by David Ostrowski who, coincidentally, I’d recently spoken to. At Simon Lee, there was an image of a field of red flowers, and he asked me if I’d read ‘The Little Prince’. Nope. He asked if I knew the story of the little prince who loved a mysterious single rose which grew on his home planet and so was disappointed when he travelled to Earth and found that roses were commonplace. The moral of the story being that the rose was still unique to him – because of his love for it. Then he proceeded to tap my nose. Nope. Don’t touch my nose.
Later that day, sat atop the Mandarin Oriental drinking $80 tea, the shaman spoke to me of chakras, the collective consciousness, about the things you know but you don’t know how you know. I tried to mask my stone-cold skepticism out of politeness, yet likely seemed defiantly proud of my sturdy, safe logic set against his clichéd, esoteric ideas. He even ‘read’ my aura, demonstrating how body language, posture or emotional disposition can affect it. He said he had healed many people with his powerful hands, but it had brought him great trouble so he had had to quit his practice. Although it occurred to me that he might just be a crazy old man, the reason I was there was to learn something from another, very different, human being, and so ultimately, I had to suspend my constant, smug disbelief to make it worthwhile.
Given our differences of opinion (although unvoiced on my side), there entailed a bit of a power struggle. He was of an imposing build, 6'5", with long bright hair and an intense gaze, which added to his unusual character. He’d started tapping on my ‘third eye’ every so often, an unfamiliar gesture which made me feel 12 years old. He kept insinuating certain qualities and narratives into the mundane things around us, drawing imaginary lines, making barely noticeable gestures and sounds between small, but cleverly abstract, analogies. He said that people saw each other as obstacles, mere objects in the way of other objects and their universal entitlement and ownership of such things. “This seat on the train is mine. That girl by the bar is mine.” But at his age, he had come to accept that true goodness and love for other humans is the meaning behind it all. “If it were not for feelings and experiences, then why are we here?” And after travelling the world alone, he discovered that the only home you have is with the person you love.
I should explain that at the time, I was having an existential crisis. It mostly hinged on deciding whether to move back to my home across the world, but that January, everything felt a little purposeless. I didn’t know where to go anymore. Whether it even mattered. Without any prior knowledge of this, he offered up that losing your roots (home) is the hardest thing to do, but it’s necessary to find your true roots (l-o-v-e) – as he spelled it out. Ew. I changed the subject.
Over the next few days, he kept messaging me and we were bumping into each other a lot. I began to see abstracted meanings – visual, aural, physical – in everything around me. What I had perceived as my daily reality was being augmented. I saw complex networks of layers, relationships and emotions that I had never noticed before. Every sentence contained a multitude of meanings, references to references, endless universal tangents and yet I could follow them all, like a set path. He’d relate everything through symbolism, etymology, numerology, tarot cards, and then there were the things I had randomly heard about the day before – he’d drop a word and knowingly wink. Had he hacked my emails, my computer? I guessed that he was cold reading me. But I hadn’t thought it was working until I realised that he’d been planting things in my head all along, the bastard.
In effect he was haunting my consciousness: a constant presence, in my ear, in the lines of a bathroom floor, referencing things only I would know. At times he got uncomfortably close. I felt I was constantly in retreat. He had given supplementary meanings to everything through cryptic phrases and had even overtly referenced his manipulative influence referring to it as “telepathy”. It seemed he was influencing me through some crack in cognitive bias that I hadn’t safeguarded against. I was starting to feel sick. How could I explain this without sounding insane? I confided in a colleague who was going through a weird patch with her intensely manipulative ex-boyfriend. Uncannily, he had brought up the same lines from ‘The Little Prince’. What the hell was going on?
The whole situation began to feel darker. The shaman’s texts became increasingly manic, predatory and obsessive, intense and nonsensical. He wrote like a teenager, not in Googled text-speak, but in his mannerisms, tone and vivacity, which made him all the more creepy. He started sending me presents: odd, disparate things – books on Taoism, boxes of expensive truffles, 64GB USBs, a child’s wristwatch.
He said he would be making frequent trips back to Hong Kong, eventually moving here from Monaco, and as he had found out what I wanted to do but never could (art curation), he suggested that he would purchase a gallery space on Hollywood Road and “find a curator”. He tried to commission me to write a book about Stonehenge for him. He acted like I owed him something. I decided it was getting too weird and made my excuses the next time he wanted to meet.
After he left the country, he sent me bizarre messages I was mostly too scared to open. The ones I did contained panoramic videos of his hotel room in Verbier and poorly rendered CGI men skydiving. He told me of the next quest that came to him: to form a circle of ships around the coast of Africa. Would I help? Lol. I wished him the best of luck.
On reflection, I was grateful to have been taken far beyond my mental comfort zone. It gave me the ability to go somewhere new, which I thought was only possible through psychoactive drugs. I felt I had accessed an untouched part of my brain. Somehow, I’d solicited a heightened sensitivity and with it eventually regained some sanity. Perhaps it was a bad spell of paranoia, but it established a deeper connection to something I was already connected to. Visions of underlying dormant realms, everything falling into place.
Photograph by Flora Yin-Wong