Myanmar Misfortune: a visit to the fortuneteller in Yangon

The man who told me my unfortunate future, did so with glee. I quickly learned he had a proclivity for sustaining the last syllable of every sentence, like a Spanish-speaking soccer play-by-play announcer after a goal, or a game show host announcing I’d just won a BRAND NEW CAR……!

“In future, you will be very unluckyyyyyyyyy,” he said after recording my birthdate and looking it up in a tattered book filled with numerical codes.

I was doing a self-guided tour of Yangon, the erstwhile capital of Myanmar, as outlined in my guidebook, Lonely Planet Myanmar. The walking tour took me down a street lined with fortunetellers and palm readers. I hadn’t planned on sitting down but I thought that if one of them was particularly insistent, I’d do it.

That’s when Min Kyot Kyow announced himself to me. I took a seat on the bench and within seconds he was rambling on about my unfortunate fate. Astrology is taken very seriously in Myanmar. The location of the new capital, Naypyidaw, was reportedly determined by astrology.

I’ve never really gravitated to fortunetellers, palm readers and psychics, but I’d randomly had a couple experiences with this ilk that left me both intrigued and perplexed. In Rajasthan, a fortuneteller’s main message to me was that the best years of my life were 1996 and 2005. Up until 2011, those were, by far, the worst years of my life. Or did he mean that suffering equals growth which eventually equals positivity? It’s possible, I suppose; after a terrible last year, I’m currently quite happy about the way things have worked out. In Rajasthan, though, I didn’t stick around for clarification. Instead, I walked away distraught and confused. The second brush came when I was reporting a story on people who privately collect holy relics. One of the collectors, it turned out, was also a psychic. In the middle of his answers about how he attained the complete skull of St. Anne, he’d get a glazed look in his eye, stare over my shoulder and make random (and, at times, frightenly accurate) statements about my past.

But no one had dared tell me my future yet. Min Kyot Kyow picked up a piece of paper and began reading badly worded statements in English about what lie ahead for me. It was as if this crumpled notebook leaf of paper had been divinely inscribed just for me. But because the ballpoint pen ink looked long faded and the piece of paper itself appeared to have been through the wash several times, it was like someone saw me coming about five years ago. Or did the fortuneteller just say these things to all the foreigners who happen to walk by?

Telling me things like I would live with my father until I was in my 70s or that I have a kind relationship to “beasts,” as he put it, was fine, I guess. I didn’t really need to know this information. I won’t be living with my father and I already know I’m a friend of the beast, after all.

But then he started to get specific. “You will marry foreign womaaaaaaaaaaaaan!” he screamed. And just in case I didn’t understand, he began naming nationalities, counting off on his fingers with each one. “China woman, Thai lady, Brazil woman, Indonesian woman.” Then he paused before adding: “Burma woman,” and raised his eyebrows up and down at me a few times.

I wish he would have stopped right there. I could have walked away and begun my search for my new foreign-born wife.

“But in eight years,” he added after studying my palm, “you will become widowwwwwwwwwwww.” A widower? Really? He was prophesying the death of a woman I’m going to fall in love with but haven’t met yet? (Note to any foreign-born women who may take a romantic interest in me: unless you like the idea of knowing you’re going to die in 2020, stay far away from me.)

The fortuneteller gave me a candle and pointed me toward the Sule Pagoda, the large Buddhist temple in the center of town that was looming in the distance. He said I’d know what to do with it when I got there (um, light it, maybe?). Which is what I did. I put it on an altar, set the wick ablaze, and sat there, meditating with a handful of Burmese Buddhists, hoping this fortuneteller was terrible at his profession.