A stranger's face is an open book to Tran Quyen. He interprets past, present and future from the forehead and the temples (he found me patient and hardworking), the wrinkles around the nose (I must stop thinking about buying land for farming unless it is close to a large body of water), and the lines between the cheekbones and the chin (journalistic fame awaits me abroad in covering one event of importance, but I must share the glory with a colleague who will reap 70 percent of the financial benefit).
His fellow Vietnamese call Quyen one of the best fortunetellers of his generation, no small honor among a people who may consult a fortuneteller before marrying, buying a house or taking a job. At the World Bank, where Quyen often works 10 hours a day, six days a week, he uses a computer to forecast the economic future of nations.
The problem for Quyen, 46, is that his bank job is so demanding he has too little time to read faces, what the Vietnamese call "tuong." But he still makes time to advise friends--and friends of friends who are in "critical situations." He accepts neither money nor gifts for his services.
"I am never worried about getting rich or famous," he says. "I have always tried to have a peaceful life. I am not ambitious." Quyen studied under Ngo Hung Dien, often called the best Vietnamese fortuneteller of this century.
"As my teacher predicted, I will have to work in finance for 20 years," Quyen says. "It is only after I am 56 that I will have time to help my friends. Then I will have my own life."
It was in 1964, Quyen says, that Ngo Hung Dien warned him that he would be separated from his family for nearly 10 years, but that they would be reunited before he reached age 46. In 1974, Quyen left for the United States to train in bank management, and the fall of Saigon prevented his return home. This year, he received word that his mother and his children were on their way to Washington. It was, he says, the eve of his 46th birthday.
Face reading is "an empirical science"--an accumulation of centuries of observations by Vietnamese and Chinese, says Quyen, who sketches a person's face as he tells his future. "It is like my regular job," he says. "I am a mathematician, and I can't believe in something that's not logical."