It's time for some serious woolgatheringWhenever a new year starts, Koreans more than anything like to make mad dashes to their local fortune-tellers.
There are different ways of foreseeing the future. Some fortune-tellers hold conversations with the souls of clients' ancestors or with unseen gods.
Some use mathematical and scientific methods that apparently only they can can read or understand. Some rely completely on visions that seem only to make sense in their eyes and no one else's.
Some spread rice on a table and read the grains. Some read wooden sticks to see what's ahead.
All fortune-tellers talk of a future that, well, may or may not come true.
To celebrate this Year of the Sheep, the JoongAng Daily randomly selected three fortune-tellers and asked each what 2003 holds in store for this country.
'When July arrives, it's time to leave the stock market'
By Chun su-jin
Lee Soo foresees the future through the past.
Mr. Lee, who used to be a foreign exchange dealer, bases his fortune-telling on two principles -- "history repeats itself" and "numbers don't lie." Now he runs a fortune-telling Web site, www.askfuture.com, available in English.
Early last year, in the Year of the Horse, Mr. Lee predicted that Roh Moo-hyun would make it to the Blue House. "Reformers have historically taken the inside track in the Year of the Horse," Mr. Lee says. "It's the perfect timing for such a progressive as Mr. Roh."
Mr. Lee, seated in his office in Mok-dong, southwestern Seoul, says he also foretold the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy in the Year of the Snake. "Fortune has not been favorable to the United States in the Year of the Snake -- for one thing, Pearl Harbor happened that year."
The year 2003 is like a calm after a storm, like vegetation refreshed by rainfall, he says. In other words, Mr. Lee sees economic and political stability, to some extent, at least compared to last year.
But in the latter half of the year, Mr. Lee sees growing discordance in the Five Elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth), portending misfortune that will reach its peak in 2004. He sees haplessness beginning in August of this year, which will affect President Roh Moo-hyun. The year is not expected to be a successful time for progressives. Therefore, Mr. Roh should be ready to undergo great afflictions. Fortunately, Mr. Roh's long-term fortunes look better, and Mr. Lee sees innovation hanging in the air beginning in 2004.
Mr. Lee has only bad news for the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, who he predicts will continue to decline until reaching bottom in 2006.
For U.S. President George W. Bush, however, luck continues to be near. In 1943, another Year of the Sheep, the U.S. economy rebounded after a long malaise. Mr. Lee predicts a similar recovery for the United States in 2003. Another big sheep year was 1823, when the Monroe Doctrine was created.
Mr. Lee expects it will be highly likely for the United States to begin a war against Iraq before February, when the Year of the Horse ends by the lunar calendar. "The U.S. historically had many wars in the Year of the Horse," he says.
Mr. Lee is keenly interested in the stock market, too. "Based on a 60-year cycle, the first half of this year is in favorable shape."
Beginning in August, however, the spirit of metal will get stronger, which projects great jeopardy for the market.
"Get out of the stock market at least in July," Mr. Lee warns.
Then what kind of stocks does he recommend? Mr. Lee likes stocks related to the information technology industry, for the Year of the Sheep symbolizes a chisel and a fire. Overall, he sees an improved economy for Korea.
In culture, especially in movies, Mr. Lee predicts that films with quality will prevail over mere "popcorn flicks." "In the Year of the Sheep, Water from the Five Elements goes deep and heavy -- and that means it's a time for serious art films."
This year cannot be free from calamities like terrorist attacks, droughts or floods, Mr. Lee predicts. "The Five Elements are placed incompatibly this year, which foretells sacrifice of numerous lives. People should especially look out for water-related disasters," he says.
'Young politicians, some in their 20s, will make news'
By Lee Ho-jeong
"For the Year of the Sheep, the roadway ahead will be cleared and cleaned," forecasts Cha Jin-bae, 54.
Mr. Cha, working out a small tent in Daehangno, central Seoul, is a fortune-teller who reads the future chiefly through a customer's face and palms. He also uses the more traditional "four pillars," which utilize the year, month, day and time of a client's birth. When he feels like it, he also has visions.
"It is difficult to predict with much accuracy the future of this country," he says, hedging. "Unlike telling a person's fortune, the prospect of a country has a lot of variables that could change the future. Therefore, my prediction may not be exact and things may change."
That said, he does believe that the country will settle down and grow more stable －－ sometime in July. "Everything will turn out fine by then. Even the nuclear crisis in North Korea will be resolved," says Mr. Cha.
Mr. Cha predicts that the stalled relationship between the two Koreas will improve after June. "And in 2004, the pace of unification will really pick up," he says as he slowly brushes his beard. "Of course, the United States will fall short of expectations in inter-Korean relationships."
Mr. Cha also says that China's influence on inter-Korean relations will increase. Of the President-elect Roh Muh-hyun, Mr. Cha says he will do a better job then his predecessors and that changes will be made in political circles.
"I can't say exactly what he'll do, but the president-elect will do a fine job, better then what the public expects of him."
Mr. Cha adds that several well-known, older-generation politicians will announce their resignations, and that new and younger political figures will emerge.
"There will be one or two young politicians who are in their 20s," Mr. Cha says.
Mr. Cha says that President-elect Roh will follow the course of nature and he will excel at improving the nation's labor and welfare.
"Mr. Roh on the surface will look very reformative, but inwardly he will be conservative."
The Korean economy, he says, will go into a major stall throughout the year.
"Some experts say the economy will improve in the second quarter, but from my vision it will struggle for the whole year."
The fortune-teller says the gap between the rich and the poor will only worsen.
"But all in all the country will remain peaceful."
'If I see bad things, I avoid telling a client about them'
By Brian Lee
With a new year many ajumma are eager to visit their favorite fortune-tellers to ask what the future holds for a family. Dad's promotion at work, what college a son should go to, whether to hold onto a stock, there is never a shortage of questions.
Often at the beginning of the year, fortune-tellers try to tell the future not only of an individual, but of a nation as a whole as well.
For instance, in an article in a monthly magazine, a fortune-teller predicted that Korea should brace itself for a grave crisis in the summer of 2003.
But not all soothsayers agree with this practice. Kim Jae-won, 72, who plies his trade in his apartment/office on the fourth floor of a building in Mangwon-dong, northwest Seoul, says that the outlook for the new year is something a fortune-teller cannot and should not predict.
"I have a basic guideline that I use when talking about the future, but unlike other fortune-tellers I don't predict the outlook for a country," he says.
"And that, my friend, has been my belief for more than 30 years."
For individuals, however, he says he has a systematic method of predicting what may lie ahead.
"It may not look like it, but this is very scientific," says Mr. Kim.
He also says that he adds to the usual formula of dates and times his own experiences about what events he thinks are extremely likely to take place.
Nevertheless, there is one rule of thumb that he always follows when telling others what will follow.
"If I see bad things happening to a client, I never tell him directly what that will be," he says. "I merely point him in the direction so that a bad thing can be avoided. For the good things, I spell them out."
Sticking to his rule of thumb, he says that he has only one thing to predict for this year.
"It's the Year of the Sheep, but even sheep come in several varieties. They come together and form one, which will lead this year. You understand? No?"
by Lee Ho-jeong