Tempting fate: Bangkok fortune tellers reviewed

Tempting fate: Bangkok fortune tellers reviewed

A CNNGo contributor road tests three different Bangkok seers in the hope of learning what wonderful things, or not, lie ahead
Thai fortune tellers
A woman gets a reading from a Bangkok palm reader. Palmistry originated in China, but it was brought to Europe by the Greeks.

Fortune telling, possibly the world's oldest profession besides the oldest profession, has a long and salient pedigree in Thailand. While the practice carries significantly less weight here than it does in, say, Myanmar (where everything from city planning to currency rollouts are based around astrology readings), many Thais from all walks of life take fortune telling very seriously, and tables offering a taste of the future can be seen on many corners and in most markets.

My personal feelings on fortune telling can generally be described as ‘highly skeptical’. This is due in no small part to the fact that a good friend of mine once had a summer job as a phone psychic in Vancouver, making $12 per hour reading pre-determined answers out of a huge binder.

But there was a part of me that still wanted to see what the fuss is about. I decided to visit three different seers (in Thai called "mor doo" -- seeing doctors) using three different techniques: numerology, tarot cards, and palm reading. 

Thai fortune tellingPalm readers use charts like this to define all the lumps and lines on your hands.Your fate is in your hands

Palmistry (aka Chromancy) originated in China and spread outward from there, adopting various names and attributes of the zodiac as it went and uses not only the palm, but fingers, fingernails, cuticles, wrists and even skin texture to round out the art. To be honest, the thought that my destiny could have been entirely different had I learned to hold a pen another way was not entirely convincing.

After choosing a mor doo with a good reputation at a nice hotel on Sukhumvit and giving him my date of birth, he started pinching, poking and stretching my fingers, focusing on a particular crease with his magnifying glass or measuring with his ruler.

Most of the things he told me were what you’d hear from a nice friend: I’m kind and like to help people. I’m good at solving problems. I should invest my money instead of hoarding it. And apparently, my two-tone eyebrows are an indication that I have a strong sense of right and wrong. 

This was all well and good, but what about the bad news? He told me that it would be beneficial for me to live on an island or near water, to take care of my heart and to be careful when driving. He also told me that I would marry a foreign girl, which was a bit of a coincidence considering my girlfriend was sitting next to me helping in the translation. Awwwkward…

The verdict: Palm reading is traditionally considered a way to read a persons’ character, not so much to forecast what lies ahead for them, but what I was told was pretty generic and uninspiring. 

Thai fortune tellerA tuckered out Bangkok mor doo catches a few winks in between readings. Your number’s up

It was 2,600 years ago that trigonometry nerd Pythagoras theorized that every detail in the universe could be boiled down to numbers, and thus numerology was born. I visited Wat Pho, famed for its seers, and was quickly sitting in front of a friendly old gaffer who asked me to write down the day, month and year of my birth, and with the help of a thick book and star chart started his spiel.

He told me that my life has been a series of peaks and valleys (true for anyone, I imagine), but that after I reach 35, success will come in a big way (hopefully true). He told me not to wear black on Saturday (it was a Saturday and I was wearing a black shirt), that I would have two boys and one girl (I don't want kids), and that I should live close to water (same as the palmist). He then gave me a pretty standard chunky breakdown of my life (38 to 52 will be happy times, 55 to 63 will bring big changes), etc.

The capper was when he told me that I would die at age 88 in the year 2063. At least I’ll get to see Halley’s Comet one last time.

The verdict: Despite my impending death, numerology didn’t give me any shivers, but it was nice to hear some definitive dates and years thrown into the mix. 

Tarot cardsDespite their reputation in some circles as dangerous and/or evil, tarot cards didn’t gain any mystical connotation until the mid 1700s.Playing with a full deck

I have to admit, I was looking forward to the tarot reading as it was the only one of the three methods where I had some influence on what type of fortune was told, since I picked the cards that were read. I sought another seer near the Wat Pho area and after two hours in line (he’s apparently quite good) sat down in front of him.

Tarot is relatively new in the fortune telling scheme of things, dating back to the 1400’s, though the ubiquitous Waite-Smith deck that my seer used wasn’t even created until 1909. He splayed his deck like an expert Vegas dealer, told me to pick out 10 cards with my left hand, bent over my choices and started to ‘read.’

He said that I’m a fairly solitary person and do my best thinking when I’m on my own (true), and that I dream big but am able to differentiate between an attainable idea and a preposterous idea (usually true). He also told me that I need to live near water, the same piece of advice given by the other two (although he didn’t specify what ‘near water’ meant. Bangkok? Phuket? A houseboat? Somewhere with working faucets?). He held up a heart pierced by three blades -- the three of swords -- and told me that I wouldn’t settle down in love. Asked if he could provide anything more specific, he told me that my wife will be tall and her name will start with a vowel. Mental note: Call Aishwarya Rai.

The Verdict: Tarot gains a modicum of credibility from the fact that you pick your own cards. This makes it surprisingly easy to take what the seer tells you at face value, but still didn’t wow me with any mind-blowing revelations. 

I wouldn’t say I’d been converted, but it was an interesting look into a practice that many Thais take quite seriously. While waiting in line for the tarot card reader, I talked to Pook, 30, who explained that she never takes what they say as gospel, but instead thinks of her readings as educated advice.

“I don’t consider it magical or supernatural actually, but rather as an emotional pick-me-up by someone who is qualified to give suggestions and guidance," says Pook. "I use the advice I get to help inform my decisions.”

Greg hails from a wee town in Canada that's hard to pronounce and even harder to remember. After coming to Bangkok on a vacation in 2001, he somehow forgot to leave, and has been here ever since.

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