Fortune teller Per Chouk So invites her next client to come forward at her home located in the Roulos temple group near Siem Reap.
Private matters become public fodder as crowds flock to fortune teller
Siem Reap – Each morning at dawn, while sleepy tourists gather to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, in the nearby village of Bakong a different kind of a local crowd begins gathering at the doorstep of a humble village home.
At 9am the soothsayer Per Chouck So emerges from behind a thin curtain and sits on a cushion before a Buddhist shine. By this time a crowd of more than three dozen sits patiently watching, each with a number and a bowl of flowers and incense, as they wait their turn for the fortune teller.
Now age 39, Chouck So’s powers of foresight have been renowned throughout the Kingdom since she first began her career as a seven-year-old.
“People have always come to me for advice and healing since I was very young,” she says. “I can see the truth about people. The gods provide this knowledge.”
The first client on a recent February morning is a respectable looking middle-aged man who stands and lights his incense sticks. Immediately Chouck So begins to loudly describe the man’s girlfriends while the onlookers listen in, snickering at his embarrassment, and his wife listens intently.
Chouck So goes on to say the man is a hopeless gambler and will soon lose his wife if he does not change his ways. She hands his gift of money back to him, urging him to spend it wisely and warning that unless he shapes up there will not be a lot more cash coming his way. He leaves in shame, his wife in tow as the unfazed Chouck So resumes meditation in preparation for her next revelation.
The next client is a young woman with a troubled love life. Chouck So informs the conservative Khmer crowd that the woman has already had two husbands and is now carrying a baby of a third man. She goes on to say that despite some mistakes, she is a good and kind person and that the father of the child is a good man. Chouck So advises her that if they marry she will find happiness. The woman leaves smiling.
About 70 people a day come from around the country to have their fortunes told by this charismatic soothsayer who is famous not only for her insight, but for her public satire and an uncanny ability to describe hidden birthmarks and intimate body parts of her clients with accurate precision.
Part of her appeal is her insistence on only meeting clients in the open room where anyone present can listen in. “I want them to feel ashamed enough to change and do something good,” she explains. “They know what I say is true.”
Although she offers her advice for free to anyone, visitors often bring gifts of all sorts. One pleased client gave her a car now parked in the driveway of the home where she lives with her husband, five children, and extended family.
Chouck So says she can sense when people offer more than they can afford and when that happens she gives back the gifts. “Sometimes poor families borrow money and travel a long way to come here. If I accept their gift, how can they pay that money back to the lender?”
The walls of the home are decorated with photos of herself with clients. There are photos of various Cambodian officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen. But she has no interest in who the people are, she says. She takes people as they come, but says that sometimes officials show up late at night with dozens of bodyguards so no one is present to hear what is said. Most enquire about land or business, she says.
“Some people travel a long way to see me even though they don’t believe in fortune tellers – like that man,” she says, pointing at a man in the crowd named Som Pheap.
Pheap confesses that it’s true he doesn’t believe in fortune tellers but had traveled from Kompong Cham at the urging of his wife.
“She is the good one for sure,” says Kao Nimol, a young woman from Phnom Penh who came to visit Chouck So. She says Chouck So accurately described her family life and many personal issues including the details of a personal prayer to Buddha regarding her older sister.
Nimol says that Chouck So is unusual because she often refuses to accept money from clients. “Other fortune tellers say whatever they think will make you happy and then ask for your money, but they don’t really know anything,” she says. “If she feels something not good, she will say it. She doesn’t care what people think.”
Chouck So, who often spends ten hours a day with clients, says she tells fortunes because she wants to help people. She also believes that her powers of foresight will carry over into her next life.
But the work can be difficult. “I want people to be happy. But if I know something bad I have to tell them the truth,” she says. “The truth can help them prepare.”