YANGON Myanmar astrologer Myint Lwin is upset because he failed to see Cyclone Nargis coming.
In a country where personal, political and economic destiny are intertwined with mysticism and astrology, he vows to do better next time.
"Many people died, so I'm very sorry," Myint Lwin said, flipping through a folder of lunar, solar and stellar charts on his tatty wooden desk.
"I'll try hard to research for 2009," the white-haired astrologer said, tweaking one of the wispy strands sprouting from his cheeks.
Working in a shop-house on a bustling Yangon street of tea shops and trading companies, Myint Lwin has studied interplanetary alignments during tropical storms over the past two years.
He is vice-chairman of the Myanmar Astro Research Bureau, which aims to bring together a handful of eminent astrologers to train budding seers.
Word of Myint Lwin's study of cyclones has spread among astrologers in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which struck the southwestern Irrawaddy Delta and the former capital on May 2, leaving nearly 134,000 dead or missing and 2.4 million destitute.
Almost anyone in Myanmar who can afford it will see an astrologer before making an important decision, even the generals of the military government.
People speculate that on the advice of astrologers, they moved the administrative capital in 2005 from Yangon to Naypyidaw, an enclave in Myanmar's central jungles.
Myint Lwin said five of his colleagues work in Naypyidaw.
Six years ago, the government arrested relatives of former dictator Ne Win for plotting to overthrow the junta with the help of an astrologer using voodoo dolls.
During his rule, Ne Win introduced 45 kyat and 90 kyat bank notes because the numbers are divisible by, and their digits add up to, his lucky number of nine.
One astrologer who plies his trade in Bogyoke, the biggest and best-known market in Yangon, said Myint Lwin had predicted Nargis two months earlier, but the mystic said he failed to follow planetary paths in time.
"When the dragon hat occupies Aquarius, there's a good chance of a storm," he said. "But this time, Mars also approached Saturn, so it was a strong cyclone.
"Mars moved very quickly, so I couldn't predict it."
Having reached the pinnacle of his career, Myint Lwin says he should pass on the knowledge that he gained from his father and grandfather, who were both astrologers.
But he leaves government work to others. The civil service could mean relatively mundane predictions of auspicious times and dates for meetings and signing international agreements.
But high-flyers are known to give personal advice to the powerful generals and their wives, including what to wear and when to travel.
Myint Lwin is sure the planets will help him foretell cyclones, whipped up when water evaporates from tropical oceans, creating a vacuum that sucks in cool air.
"I can only see in January or February what will happen in the rest of the year," he said. "So all I can say now is there will be no more cyclones in 2008."
(Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Darren Schuettler)
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