Fortune Frowns Upon Palms of Phnom Penh’s Soothsayers

More than a year ago, optimistic customers filled Ly Srey Roath’s fortune-teller stand in a dusty plot on the Phnom Penh riverfront, hoping to learn when they should sell their land for the maximum profit.

At the time, land prices were still booming and property was frequently sold over and over with each seller making more money than the last.

Often customers paid her handsomely with tips amounting to as much as $100, particularly when she told people what they wanted to hear, the 32-year-old said.

But that was last year, before the country’s property bubble burst in spectacular fashion.

Now, Ly Srey Roath’s customers come seeking supernatural relief from their financial concerns.

“They come with many worries and they want relief and to feel better,” she said Monday, adding that her clientele ranges from the poor to government officials. “They owe money and they worry they can’t pay back it.”

Fortune-tellers have long held a place in Cambodian society, and as the economy has shifted from record GDP growth to predictions by economists of a recession, Cam­bodians continue to seek fortune­tellers’ talents for comfort.

At Phsar Toul Sangker, soothsayer Ly Na, 58, has seen her customer base decline from 15 to 20 people a day earlier last year to five a day, she said.

Many garment workers ap­proach Ly Na seeking answers, as they fear their factories will close and people lament the falling land prices that have depleted their nest eggs. Mothers also worry about the finances of potential sons-in-law, she added.

“They worry about their families. They worry about their finances.”

For Chan Dara, a fortune-teller who reads cards at a nearby stall, her job has become far more de­pressing as she hears the increasing number of problems people face.

“We are depressed thinking about what will happen to them,” she said of her customers.

Miech Ponn, an adviser to the Ministry of Cults and Religion, said it’s not surprising that people have turned to fortune-tellers because people often turn to religion and soothsayers in uncertain times.

“Religions and fortune-tellers are something to console people when they have a problem. It is like a shadow. It follows the human condition,” he said.

Riverside noodle seller Seng Keomalis, 36, said she went to have her fortune told Monday to ease her mind and was told that five years from now her family will be very successful.

“I don’t believe that. I just came here to feel better,” said the mother of four, adding that despite the good news from the soothsayers she still worries about her business failing.

And even the fortune-tellers are skeptical about the future.

In spite of her ability to predict the unknown, card reader Ly Srey Roath said she had no idea when the economic crisis would cease.

“I don’t know. I cannot predict that,” she added.


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