Saturday, January 8, 2011

Missed fortune

At the suggestion of the rabbi, I went out to Wong Tai Sin temple. 

My first problem was that I couldn't find the temple.  It was supposed to be packed with people, and the streets were supposed to be packed with religious paraphernalia vendors.  But it was kind of empty for Hong Kong.  I followed a sign that said "to the temple," and I passed a bit of a creche with a few people doing what looked like davening; then I kept going through the fenced path; a woman handed me a new year's gold coin in a red envelope; and I found myself back at the subway station.  So I did another loop, this time not following the sign to the temple.  Not surprisingly, I got myself lost.  I am really good at that.

I started to suspect that the temple was closed.  Where were all the people?

I asked a woman who did not speak English where the temple was.  That wasn't productive.  Then I showed her my octopus card so she would at least direct me back to the subway.  And back I went.  I did another loop, this this time entering the soothsayer mall, and on the other side of it was the temple.  Which was closed for the weekend. 

Trying to scrape out a Chinese experience, I stopped at the soothsayer mall.  Row after row of fortune tellers in little closets.  Some napping, some on their laptops, most absent.  I picked out an old man at the end of the hallway who claimed to speak English. 

Lesson #1: Old guys who are sitting in soothsayer booths do not speak English very well.

I drew lots for my fortune.  The process was interesting: think of a question, shake a cup of sticks until one pops out (and one does -- I want to think about the physics of that), and the number on that stick is the number of the slip of pink paper he pulls out of a rack.  The slip was covered in a matrix of characters.  Then he asked me what my question was (finding the man, blah blah blah -- he wrote down "love," and I realized I had taken myself to the land of the unoriginal).  He asked me my age, counted rows and columns, and said something about a man dreaming of a butterfly and flowers but it is just a dream.  I managed to figure out that the answer meant: the love I am looking for is not coming this year. 

Then I had him read my palm and my face.  This is where things truly really went awry.  I'd like to believe that I will have a long and healthy life, as he reported.  But pretty much everything else was so far from accurate about me that I felt like he was the worst fortune-teller ever.  Either that or that he got everything backwards and he was really good and just needed to say "not" in front of his comments.

He said that I have a strong mind and that when I make a decision I stick to it.  Strong mind, yes; decisive, no.  As I write this, I am going into a full hour of being paralized about where to go for dinner. 

In reading my face, he told me the major phases of my life.  Like:

  • Before I was 28, things were rocky.  
  • When I was 28, things got better (OK, those two are right, except I was 27.  But isn't life like that for everyone?).
  • When I was 34, I became happy (no: became very unhappy at 33).
  • When I was 41, I became unhappy (no: I started the happy phase).

The level of sophistication of his English was pretty much that. 

Lesson #2: If you want to feel like you've had a meaningful experience getting your fortune read, find someone who can communicate not just in unaccented English but with a large vocabulary.

I think he said I should be careful driving when I'm 51.  And, looking at my palm rather than at the pink slip, he said I'd find love within two years from today and that I would have three children, two boys and then a girl. 

I then discovered I didn't have enough money to pay him fully and that there was no ATM nearby.  I felt like I would be cursed by him.  He let me pay what I had, though, which was almost enough. 

So I left feeling entirely misunderstood and like I was a schmuck for not paying for it.  I couldn't shake being bought into this whole thing even though I know it's crap.  I spent the morning worshiping with my own faith: why am I caught up in this?  Fortune-telling exploits something about our hopefulness.

Now my decisive mind has to figure out what to do for dinner.  The rabbi suggested a Manchurian place nearby.  Do I follow another suggestion, or will it lead me toward disaster?

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