November 19, 2010 / 2:26 PM / 7 years ago

Seoul cafes offer up tea, cake -- and fate

SEOUL (Reuters) - The Seoul cafe served tea, cake and fortunes.

“I will work in publishing or translation, and marry an accountant in six years,” said the woman in her early twenties, seated in a Seoul cafe.

“We will have one son,” she added, totally serious.

She was far from alone. The trendy cafe in downtown Seoul filled with antique tables and pastel-toned decorations was crowded with others who, like her, had come to find out what the future may hold for them.

Fortune-telling has permeated South Korea’s youth culture in the form of “saju,” or “fate,” cafes, where fortune-tellers tell customers in very specific terms about their possible jobs and marriages.

The fortune-telling is based on things such as birth dates and facial characteristics.

Big ears, for example, imply a person who is calm and easy to get along with, while big eyes show someone who is sensitive and sweet. A mouth with corners that turn up indicates a person who can easily lose control of their sexual life.

For generations, South Koreans have visited “mudang” houses, where shamans act as an intercessor between spirits and humans.

Donning a colourful costume, the shaman enacts “gut,” a ritual with a good deal of singing and dancing, to interpret the fortune of clients.

But the younger generation’s endorsement of this pseudo science dates from the last four to five years.

The first round of saju owners set out to lure customers wary from older fortune-telling styles, which seem outdated to young people in the world’s most wired nation.

Even to older customers, the glaring eyes, raised voices, and bluntly given information -- and not always pleasant information, at that -- of the mudang shamans can be intimidating.

The Gangnam and Sinchon areas of Seoul, favourite haunts of young South Koreans, are fortune-telling meccas. Large signs beckon every few blocks and people press fliers into the hands of passersby.

“One free cake for one fortune told!” said one flier.

Each cafe has a distinct fortune-telling method. Some fortune-tellers pull up a chair, while others see customers in a separate room.

Costs range from 5,000 won to up to 100,000 won depending on factors like location and the reputation of the fortune-teller.

“In my opinion, Koreans tend to need some sort of validation by others about their thoughts. They also tend to be a bit fatalistic,” Professor Suh Eunkook of Yonsei University said.

Customers leaving the cafe appeared satisfied.

“I‘m so glad I got my fortune told today,” the woman to marry an accountant in six years was heard saying. “I could have made a huge mistake.”

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