News / Asia

S. Koreans Hope Fortune Tellers Point Way to Top of Class

South Korean fortune teller Kim Yong-son poses with his crystal ball in his Seoul office. (File photo)
South Korean fortune teller Kim Yong-son poses with his crystal ball in his Seoul office. (File photo)
Reuters
Byun Mi-kyong sat quietly with her hands in her lap as she listened closely to every word the fortune teller said about her daughter's chances of getting into the right university.
 
Dealing with intensely competitive college entrance exams has driven South Korean students to despair, and sometimes to suicide, as they fight for the few places in the best programs that are seen as the key to a successful career.
 
Anxious parents have long sought hints from fortune tellers about how well their children will do in school. But now Byun and others are turning to divination for specific guidance on picking the most promising activities, courses and colleges.
 
In the heat of summer, Byun went to the shaman's house in Seongnam, a city on the outskirts of Seoul, giving her daughter's name and date of birth to the softly spoken man dressed in a traditional, white Korean costume.
 
Alongside a large shrine with golden statues and colorful paintings of deities, she sat across a small table from the shaman as he leafed through the books of his trade.
 
To Byun's great relief, he said her daughter would get into her dream university, especially one with a name starting with J, D or K. The 19-year-old wants to go to Joongang, known officially as Chung-Ang University, to study nursing.
 
“I could not have a heart-to-heart talk with anybody about this but I can speak frankly about what's in my mind to him,” Byun said after the 10-minute consultation.
 
“It was a big help to me.”
 
The shamans, men and women who perform traditional religious rites, say parents asking about their children's academic and career prospects - at 50,000 to 100,000 won ($45 to $90) an hour - usually take the advice they get very seriously.
 
“If I give guidance to parents, they just follow it blindly for their kids,” said professor-turned-shaman Choi Kuing-hun.
 
Rain or shine?

 
Shamans base their recommendations on “saju”, or fate, determined by the four “pillars” of a person's life: the year, month, day and time of their birth.
 
Every bit helps, it would seem, when aiming for a spot at university.
 
Up to 600,000 students take the college entrance exams each year and their preparations are grueling. Teenagers put in long hours as they pack into cram schools after a day of classes.
 
But the pressure takes its toll. Nearly 40 percent of teenagers said they felt suicidal, according to government data.
 
Hoping to ease some of the stress, Song Byung-chang has advised nearly 16,000 people over the last 19 years. Parents turn to shamans, he said, because luck plays a big part in a complicated admissions process and his guidance can help families minimize the risks.
 
“If I have to go to an outdoor event next week, I would probably check the weather forecast,” Song said, adding that fortune telling “is exactly like that.”
 
Kim Do-kyung started college preparations early for her 13-year-old son, consulting Song about the boy's best subjects. Word of success spreads fast among parents keen for any hint of help, she said.
 
“Many parents come here by word of mouth because some moms said their child did better than expected,” she said.

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid