Garry Marchant con­sults a bru­tally hon­est sooth­sayer in Hong Kong

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - China Holidays -

YOUR nose is big,’’ Miss Lam an­nounces. Well, I don’t need a phys­iog­nomist to tell me that. And my medium has more bad news: I am a year older than I thought. Ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese tra­di­tion, the smil­ing sooth­sayer in­forms me, age is counted from con­cep­tion, not birth.

I get this dis­con­cert­ing in­for­ma­tion in the bois­ter­ous, aro­matic precincts of Wong Tai Sin Tem­ple, a con­glom­er­a­tion of East­ern reli­gions about a 20-minute sub­way ride from Hong Kong’s deluxe ho­tels.

The busi­ness of wor­ship starts right at the Wong Tai Sin Mass Tran­sit Rail­way sta­tion exit, where men­di­cants and mer­ce­nar­ies sell joss sticks and pieces of red pa­per with words such as luck, health and wealth in gold Chi­nese script.

Gold-painted plas­tic amulets dan­gle from hawker stalls, and a pro­fu­sion of bright, tem­ple-red pa­per prayers, cards and pack­ets of in­cense clut­ter the shelves. The rich scents of musk and jas­mine and the smoke from burned pa­per of­fer­ings hover in the air along the stone steps.

In the tem­ple com­pound, wor­ship­pers gather around taps of blessed wa­ter, be­lieved to cure many ill­nesses, while oth­ers light in­cense sticks, bow and set them in the sand in big brass urns. The rhyth­mic click-click sound of peo­ple shak­ing bam­boo cups with chim (or­a­cle sticks) comes from the tem­ple. While many wor­ship­pers kneel and pray, oth­ers gos­sip or take fam­ily snapshots while chil­dren run around play­ing.

Wong Tai Sin, the busiest, most bois­ter­ous of Hong Kong’s 600 tem­ples, is named for the city’s most pop­u­lar Taoist de­ity. Built in 1921 and dwarfed by high-rise hous­ing es­tates, the com­pound is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of tra­di­tional Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture with ver­mil­ion pil­lars, two-tiered golden roof, yel­low lat­tice­work and an ar­ray of mul­ti­coloured carv­ings.

Un­der a green and gold pine ceil­ing, the de­ity Wong sits on a raised mar­ble plat­form sur­rounded by carved and gilded or­na­ments while sev­eral wish­ing ponds and a pagoda are ded­i­cated to the Bud­dha.

In the for­tune-telling and obla­tion ar­cade to the left of the tem­ple, in more than 100 cu­bi­cles, free­lance sooth­say­ers, chim stick read­ers and palm and face read­ers of­fer their ser­vices. Along the ar­cade, lo­cals win­dow-shop for the right or­a­cle: young cou­ples anx­ious about their love, stock­bro­kers wor­ry­ing about their fu­ture, gam­blers look­ing for help from Lady Luck.

At an al­ley of stalls la­belled ‘‘ English’’, a cheery man presents a card writ­ten in Chi­nese char­ac­ters and an­swers my ques­tions with a smile, and a price. I walk on.

A few stalls away I find Lam, who does speak English. Di­a­grams of faces and hands writ­ten over with Chi­nese script dec­o­rate her cu­bi­cle, along with draw­ings of dif­fer­ent chins, noses, eyes and lips. The most pop­u­lar way to divine the fu­ture in this ce­les­tial bazaar is through kauchim , shak­ing bam­boo sticks from a can­is­ter.

‘‘ That is just sto­ry­telling,’’ Lam sniffs, clearly favour­ing her more de­tailed (and ex­pen­sive) palms and face pack­age.

I bar­gain, but not too hard, fear­ing she will read stingi­ness in my char­ac­ter among my other fail­ings. So, opt­ing for the full fa­cial and hands treat­ment, I squat be­fore her on a lit­tle kitchen stool like those used in Asia’s road­side teashops. In her gold neck­lace with jade pen­dant, Lam looks more like a Hong Kong of­fice worker than a Gypsy palmist. She asks for my date and place of birth, trans­lates it into Hong Kong time and con­sults a book to trans­pose the date from the Gre­go­rian to the Chi­nese cal­en­dar.

‘‘ Chi­nese think when you are in the womb that counts as part of your life, so you are al­most one when you are born,’’ she says, not­ing the date, and in­form­ing me that I am a snake. In the Chi­nese zo­diac, that is.

‘‘ We be­lieve that the palm tells about 60 per cent of your life and the face 40 per cent,’’ Lam says, grab­bing my two hands and star­ing at them in­tently. ‘‘ You have a square face and square hands. Palms and face match. That is good.’’ Fi­nally, some­thing pos­i­tive. ‘‘ You do what you want.’’ Mean­ing I am stub­born. ‘‘ You are prac­ti­cal, don’t trust things of the imag­i­na­tion.’’ Hardly de­sir­able qual­i­ties for a writer.

‘‘ Your nose is very long,’’ she con­tin­ues. ‘‘ Most ne­go­tia­tors have a long nose. They are very pa­tient, they keep in­sist­ing on hear­ing what they want to hear.’’

My eyes are deep, so I plan more than other peo­ple. My ears are close to the head, so I play safe and don’t take chances. And I have thin lips. ‘‘ This gives the im­pres­sion of be­ing sin­cere and hon­est,’’ the chirpy di­viner con- tin­ues, with­out say­ing I pos­sess th­ese qual­i­ties. ‘‘ Your ca­reer line is strong. You can work all your life with­out re­tir­ing.’’ Great, a life­time of drudgery. Fi­nally, the stock in trade for for­tune tell­ers. ‘‘ You will lead a long life.’’

At this point, she starts to sound more like a med­i­cal ad­viser. ‘‘ Your face is hot even though it is not sum­mer. Your blood is too con­cen­trated.’’ Now she is like a school coun­sel­lor. ‘‘ Do­nate blood, then don’t eat so much meat and oily food. Eat less chicken, pork and fast food, and more green veg­eta­bles and fresh fruit.’’ She con­tin­ues: ‘‘ As a writer, your spirit is im­por­tant. Get fresh air. It is good for the brain and bright ideas.’’

And fi­nally, with a last glance at my face, she an­nounces firmly, ‘‘ You will be fat­ter in the fu­ture.’’ Can­tonese for­tune tell­ers def­i­nitely don’t al­ways tell you what you want to hear.


Take the Mass Tran­sit Rail­way from Cen­tral (Hong Kong Is­land) or Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon) to Mongkok, cross the plat­form to change trains, and con­tinue an­other five sta­tions to Wong Tai Sin.


Joss­ing about: Pray­ing at Hong Kong’s Wong Tai Sin Tem­ple

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