She is in her late 20s and has worked as a journalist for the past five years. She has covered politics and business, and has reported on tragedies. Yet, the first thing she does when she comes into the office is not read the front-page news but the horoscope section. Su Lin (not her real name) says she believes what is said in her horoscope and uses it as an indicator on how her day will progress.
Another journalist says Su Lin has the bad habit of asking a person's sun sign first before asking his or her name. Although Sun Lin may be an extreme case, in Malaysia, education and an urban lifestyle modeled after the West has not eroded young people's belief in astrology.
However, in this Muslim nation, most of those who look to the stars for help are the Chinese and Indians. Many Indian families still get an astrologer to write their children's horoscope so that it can be matched with their prospective spouse. The horoscope is used to determine their suitability in marriage.
The Indian community here also undertakes major functions like weddings or business deals only after checking with the Indian lunar calendar to determine the good and bad times of the day.
Many in the Chinese community, on the other hand, become vegetarians on full moon day. They also try to have their children born in certain years. They consider the year of the dragon, which comes once in 12 years, to be highly prosperous, and the year of tiger to be highly unlucky.
Although the younger generation considers such practices old-fashioned, young women these days aren't averse to seeking out astrologers, tarot card readers and even numerologists to get a glimpse of what's in store for them in the future.
Martin Choo, numerologist, says most of his clients are young women, curious about their career prospects. "These women may be stuck in dead-end jobs or in companies in which they are unhappy, and want to know if they should look for other jobs. They want to know what they would be good at and if it's time for a career change. Many young women also want to know if they would be successful if they started their own business and when it would be good time to do so."
The numerologist also says the many of his clients are highly educated single women who own a house, a flashy car and credit cards. "They rarely ask if their relationship with their male partner will work or if they will get married." Marriage and family doesn't seem high on their priority list, adds Choo.
M Asha, a 34-year old public accountant, is one such woman. Although her parents have been trying their best to get her to settle down and get married, she has managed to avoid it so far, claiming that she enjoys being single and independent.
However, this ultra-modern woman has one weakness: She never makes any career decisions until she sees her astrologer. An elderly Indian man advises her on all her career matters. "He tells me when I will get promoted and if there will be trouble at work and whom I should be wary of. So far, most of his predictions have been spot on," says Asha. She has recommended her astrologer to many of her friends.
A psychologist who did not want to be named said that it is not unusual for young educated women to seek help in such a way. "These women feel they are in control of their lives, but deep down they know that they have far too much on their plates not to be overwhelmed sometimes. They rarely turn to their parents for help as they feel they wouldn't understand their problems. So they seek out astrologers for reassurance and guidance."
He goes on: "Many young women here feel that they can have it all, the high-profile careers and eventually a family. All they need is someone to tell them what to do when they feel the pressure building."
In the psychologist's view, young women in the West may be encouraged to seek professional medical help when modern-day pressures overwhelm them. "Here, women know they would be stigmatized if they go to a psychologist, so they turn to astrologers."
In this country, no one thinks it is strange for people to seek the help of astrologers; it is part of the Asian custom. For centuries, our forefathers went to soothsayers for advice. So it is more socially acceptable than going to a psychologist.
The other factor, of course, is cost. In the long run, an astrologer would be much cheaper than a psychiatrist.