With his trademark baseball cap, sunglasses and dishevelled hair, Dennis Gillman wanders Siem Reap trying to avoid people who might seek out his services.
During his eight months in Templetown, Gillman has developed a reputation as something of a palm reader extraordinaire. He is also an author, having recently published a book about his travels as a palm reader and, more intriguingly, the secrets of the arcane art of palmistry.
Gillman’s book – titled Travels of a Palm Reader – is a perfect representation of the man: light-hearted, restless, meandering, highly entertaining and freakishly insightful in places. It tells how he fell into reading palms while in Mexico, and the adventures that ensued: from murders in Thailand to dancing Frenchmen in China, and much more besides.
With his relaxed, easy charm and a trust in the fates, Gillman developed his passion as he moved around the globe from Mexico to Southeast Asia, China and beyond, always learning. And as the journeys unfold in his book, so does his own wonder that people believe in his skill. Eventually, he comes to believe in it, too.
“You are a devil!” he says on hearing that this reporter was born ambidextrous, before launching into an explanation of palmistry’s lure.
“My job is to intimidate you,” he says in a doom-laden voice that sends a shiver down the spine.
Gillman is nothing if not psychologically seductive.
“There’s another way, too!” he says, perking up. “I’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re incredible, you’re really good with people, you can do this!’ and then you’ll go away and, when people ask you how it was, you’ll say, ‘Oh, he was amazing! So true!’”
After all, who doesn’t love to be told after a half-hour reading that they’re a wild animal?
Aware that it might sound a little flaky, Gillman gets down to business. His conversation is peppered with explanations of technical details, yet his code is not the language of the mystics but a more prosaic devotion to The Beatles.
“This is Paul,” he says of the index finger before grabbing a torch to peer intently at it. Paul, he explains, is the leader and the ego (pace, Lennon fans); John, the middle finger is the intellect; George, the wedding finger, is the emotional one; while little Ringo – the pinkie – brings up the rear with his intuition.
So how did he do? Well, despite his unorthodox Beatlemania approach to palmistry, Gillman’s insights were perceptive. How he manages that, though, is anyone’s guess: perhaps it comes from years of reading palms; or maybe Gillman is, like the character in the TV show The Mentalist, blessed with an acute understanding of people, honed over years of observing human behaviour, particularly how people respond (frowns, eyes widening or narrowing, facial tics) during a reading.
Either way, his patter is charming and illuminating. And seeing oneself reflected in someone else’s eyes – especially a person so practiced in the human psyche – means you walk away with more than you started.
As for his book: that concludes prior to his arrival in Siem Reap. But what comes across by the end is a genuine belief in his art.
“When you focus, really focus, all kinds of truths come out,” he writes. “That’s the magic.”