Spirits and the cards

Spirits and the cards

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Sitting on a small plastic stool at the front of a hair salon, a factory girl with bleached hair starts to cry.

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Her nails are chopped; her clothes are dark and cheerless. The phone in her purse rings, but she pays no attention. She looks like a woman in mourning.

You can’t tell that she’s pregnant yet, but she has just shared her story with the 23-year-old fortune teller – the most popular one at the Boeng Keng Kang market – as he laid out the cards in front of her.
Her husband left her, she told the fortune teller, and he advised her not to go back.

“Your husband has a lot of girls and if you go back to him your life will not be happy,” the fortune teller says. “But if you break up with him, you will meet a new man who can take care of you and your life will be better than now.”  

Pov Pannabunnaren has been telling fortunes since he was 17 years old, and on most days there is a long line of women waiting to see him. He says he doesn’t like his job too much– because it involves listening to people’s problems all day – and all this negative energy brings him down. But, he says, he just can’t help doing what he does because when he sees a person, he hears a voice that tells him everything about him or her. That’s why he can’t help giving people advice.

Pannabunnaren said he became a fortune teller after dreaming of a man in white clothes. At first he thought the dream meant that he should stop studying and become a monk, but three days later he fell ill, and his mother consulted another fortune teller who told her that her son was also meant to predict the future. Since then – this is the only job Pannabunnaren has ever had. And he’s good at it – he says he can make a good living, enough to support his family and two children.

Pannabunnaren looks like any well-dressed man, except for a thin beard. He said shaving it off almost cost him his life. He had a very bad motor accident and blamed the shaved chin. Another girl asks Pannabunnaren for her future, and he lays out the cards for her. It’s her first time at a fortune teller and after hearing what he has to say about her relationship with her boyfriend, she can’t get over her excitement.

“Unbelievable!” she says over and over. “How did he know all this?”

While waiting for an hour to talk with the fortune teller, she stopped by at the adjacent nail salon to get her long fingernails painted bright blue.

Behind the fortune teller, one lady got her hair shampooed and styled, while another looked in the mirror while her makeup was done. A third woman had her toenails polished, and an employee of the salon practiced braiding and brushing the hair on a mannequin. After getting their hair done, a few customers stopped by to eavesdrop on other people’s fortunes and misfortunes.

Pannabunnaren said there is no particular reason why he decided to place his fortune telling business in a beauty salon, except that it’s a popular spot that attracts many customers, all of whom seem to be female.  

“In the market, everyone likes me and wants me to stay,” he says.

On some days, he sees as many as 100 customers, he says. Sometimes the line of people waiting to speak to him snakes for a several meters down the narrow market alley, according to market manicurist Srey Mom, who says she had never had her fortune told because she doesn’t have the time to wait in line.

The fortune teller, too, says he has no free time – no time to play football or drink beer with friends. After he gets done predicting the women’s futures at the market, he is usually off to bless businesses, he says.

It is hot in the market and one quickly starts to feel thirsty. The fortune teller lights a few incense sticks in front of a small statue, and an ice-cream seller walks by with his cart, ringing the bells.

A woman in line to see Pannabunnaren glances nervously at the clock – it was almost market-closing time. Would she have time to hear her fortune today?

A few shops nearby begin to close up, loudly bringing down their doors. The fortune teller’s predictions get shorter. It looks like he, too, might be in a hurry to go.

So what about the New Year? Will the world really end in 2012?

Pannabunnaren says he doesn’t think so. According to him, all the disasters will stay in the old year, while the coming 12 months will be happy and bring lots of good luck to everyone, maybe even to a pregnant factory girl.  

“Next year will bring good luck for the whole world,” he predicts.

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