After the studied serenity of the Chi Lin Nunnery and the drift of dark-robed nuns sliding silently to prayer, Hong Kong’s Wong Tai Sin Temple feels more like a grand bazaar with so many stalls selling aids to help prayers on their way. Bundles of incense sticks are best-sellers; clutched in hopeful hands, they send spirals of smoke up through spherical red and gold lanterns, past the terracotta flying eaves of the altar and towards the soaring white verticals of modern skyscrapers to touch the windows of everyday lives.
Before the altar, querents, me included, rattling our fortune sticks in bamboo tubes, seek answers from the oracle. ‘You’re supposed to let one drop out,’ laughs Tom when embarrassment forces me to beat an early retreat. Ah. I decide to pick a stick myself instead. I mean, it’s not as if I believe in fortune-telling, I’m just curious to try something new.
But before rushing off to the soothsayer, we visit the Good Wish Garden where a notice expressly forbids the release of terrapins into the pond. No one seems to have told the terrapins though as there are plenty here already. Three of them skim the surface, blinking at a woman who crouches to croon at them. A baby one floats up close by, like a tiny green pork pie with a petit pois of a head, before submerging in the shadow cast as I lift my camera.
|Pick a stick - but mind the floor!|
‘English Spoken’ says the sign at one of the booths where the palm readers wait to interpret Wong Tai Sin’s predictions. This, however, is not immediately apparent when the fortune teller and I try to communicate. My luck improves with the return of her husband who has good English and a very kind face.
‘Three hundred dollars,’ he smiles.
Hmm. Tom and I only have two hundred between us.
‘Two hundred dollars,’ he nods, taking my hand. ‘What do you want to know?’
‘I’m a writer,’ I tell him, ‘how can I help my career.’
‘Never give up,’ he tells me.
Hmm. Sixteen quid’s a lot to pay for being told the bleeding obvious. He continues, probing my hand with something that looks like a knitting needle and with many a murmuring of ‘beautiful’ and ‘good’ and other promising pronouncements. Taking my other hand, he squeezes a fold of skin and tells me I’ve had a ‘little contact lens’ problem. My startled reaction amuses him; I’ve recently suffered a troublesome bout of contact lens conjunctivitis and thought I’d be doomed to wear my thick specs for this trip until it cleared up at the last minute.
The good news is he can see I've got a novel coming out next year. Even better, it's going to be hugely successful. The bad news is that my nose is far too small for me to hang on to any money. ‘Easy come, easy go,’ he tells me, smiling.
‘Well, that’s two hundred dollars gone already,’ says Tom as we walk away.
|A few more dollars go up in smoke.|