Weary of sunny afternoons the Phnom Penh’s fortune tellers doze off in their hammocks in careless anticipation for a confused customer willing to put their supernatural skills to use. My visit causes a little stir as they pull themselves up and put on the most inviting sleepy look they can conjure.
A small market in front of the Royal Palace is lined with stalls where fortune-workers team up with vendors of lotus flowers- a commodity in high demand as an obligatory accessory of those who dare gaze into the future. A fortune teller’s kit also includes candles, a bouquet of incense sticks, a standard deck of cards and a photograph of an ancestor to ensure a smoother communication with the spirits.
A few at the market have put some effort into pulling off a fortune teller look, but most are happy with an ordinary appearance and little concern for fashion. In this profession wrinkled face acts like a magnet on answer-seekers but carefully applied eyeliner compensates for fewer gray hair on the scalp. An occasional earring adds to the aura of spiritual guru and is likely to inspire customer’s trust.
The winner of this casting is long-nailed Meung Saory, a woman of 40, who will unveil the intricacies of both my past and future using cards. Needless to look for screeching sounds and rolling eyes- my fortune teller is as composed as an office clerk and shows no signs of abnormality. After having her work station encompassed in a cloud of incense fumes, she whispers a short prayer and gets down to business.
Seated on a dwarf-sized plastic chair I follow detailed instructions and shuffle the cards in countless sequences to make them speak. Numbers and touch matter: my left hand pulls three and the right one 2 cards.
She makes the ghosts of my past loves and the heroes of my romantic future appear before my sceptic eyes. The soap-opera version of my life is told with a month and year precision as she checks periodically for the accuracy of her readings.
“You’ll have two new suitors of different nationalities in the next 3 months and if you marry the older man you’ll have a lot of money”- she throws in a piece of sound advice from an experienced woman’s manual to love affairs.
“Keep in mind that whatever you choose, it’s for the better” she adds promising that my days of glory are yet to come.
Mrs. Saory wasn’t born with a special gift. She says that only some 4 years ago the spirits instructed her to join ranks of Cambodian clairvoyants. Now, she works in tandem with her husband -a palm reader- installed right at the next stall.
San Vannak was initiated to the future reading lore back in the days when he was a teenage monk, “under the previous king Sihanouk”, he tells me.
The career path twist occurred when he decided he’d rather get married and perpetuate his bloodline on Earth. Offering different techniques and with his wife under his tutelage, they make a very successful mystic couple.
He barely looked at the zigzagging lines on my hand and continued inspecting the teeth, face and upper body looking for any signs of moles residing therein.
Because moles, dotting the wrong parts of the body, can be a serious obstacle to happiness.
“Moles on your buttocks and face will bring you good fortune. But beware these on legs, arms and back! You’ll be better off having them removed.”
At an extra charge but without surgical intervention he offers a magical trick that would rid me of their malicious curse for ever. I decide to carry on listening with moles intact.
The color of underwear and days I choose for aesthetic procedures, like nail colouring, are also said to affect the fate.
He prescribes wearing red and blue to keep evil spirits at bay and with all seriousness warns that a visit to a hair salon on any other day than Monday can end up in tears.
Once I grant a permission, he places his hand on my head, neck and earlobes and proudly announces the result:
“You will live a long life, more than 90 years but once you have a husband, always sleep on his right side”, with a piercing stare he delivers his last message and peers at his cellphone as if in a hurry.
The professionalism of the fortune-telling couple might be questionable but in superstitious Cambodia they play a role of psychotherapists.
“Many people and especially young couples, very concerned about their future, come to me for advice and it makes them happier”, says Mrs. Saory with a motherly smile.
Those under a great deal of stress also resort to her soothing words more often to solutions offered by modern medicine.
“People need to talk about they problems. They go home with refreshed minds and a new hope for the future,” she adds.
No one feels disappointed hearing the future lies in one’s own hands. Soothsayers have good intentions towards the customers and evil ones toward their wallets. This day my soothsayers made sure good fortune was on their side. Whether by works of magic or skill of persuasion, they had me pay double the regular fee.
To contact the reporter on this story: Dagmarah Mackos at [email protected]