Romantic plans put on hold as clairvoyants warn of unholy matrimony
A fortune teller gives a reading to two women on the Phnom Penh riverfront, May 22.
Sat Sovann's heart has been broken since 2003, when the woman he hoped to marry dumped him because of a fortune teller's gloomy prediction about their future together.
"My girlfriend believed the fortune teller when she said I would betray her if we married," said Sovann, a 25-year-old English teacher at the Asean International School in Phnom Penh.
"I cannot forget it because she was my first love and no one can replace her. I am still suffering."
Astrology's once powerful grip over the Kingdom has loosened considerably as Cambodians, particularly those belonging to the better-educated post-war generation, turn away from traditions that once dictated the decisions of their more superstitious elders.
But fortune tellers still exert considerable influence as informal relationship counselors and many unquestioningly heed their warnings, said Phan Chanpeou, a professor of psychology at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
"The words of fortune tellers still have a strong impact on marriage in Cambodia," he said.
Take, for instance, Phat Samphy's bid to marry his sweetheart, which ended abruptly when a soothsayer predicted death for the couple if they married.
"The girl I love told me her parents asked a fortune teller about us and they said we couldn't marry because of our different astrological signs," said Samphy, 27, a student at Human Resource University.
However, while fortune tellers remain pivotal arbiters in matters of love, Chanpeou pointed out that some independent-minded Cambodians are less willing to swallow completely their often dire predictions.
"Before my girlfriend and I wed, we went to a fortune teller who said one of us would die if we married," said Yen Kunthea, 24, an employee at the FCC in Siem Reap.
"My parents tried to stop us from marrying but I went against them and now my wife and I live together happily," he said.
I cannot forget it because she was my first love and no one can replace her. I am still suffering.
"We should not believe in superstitions more than we believe in our own hearts.... In the end, we spend our lives with the person we love, not with fortune tellers."
Sok Pongsa Metry, a 25-year-old software developer, was also adamant with his girlfriend that they would not consult a fortune teller about their wedding plans, saying that the words of a stranger should not influence their decision.
But he said that while the younger generation is increasingly likely to shun fortune tellers, parents still use them because they find their prognostications about their children's future reassuring.
Even for some young people, the tradition of consulting a fortune teller is a hard one to break.
Ham Davy, a fortune teller who dispenses advice in front of Wat Onalom, said about five or six young people see her each day to ask about their future with their loved one.
"I'm not sure how I affect them," the 65-year-old said. "I know only my predictions."
Sam Vannak, 45, a fortune teller who operates in front of the Royal Palace, has no doubt about the value of his advice to couples planning to wed.
"It is very important for them to see a fortune teller before they get married because they need to know if they will be compatible," he said, adding that about ten young people came each day to consult him about their love lives.
"I know my predictions are true because I believe in myself," said Vannak, who has 40 years' experience in the business.