香港日記 Hong Kong Diaries. Shaking a Stick at Wong Tai Sin

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.


Unknown said…
The contact lens thing made you wonder, didn't it? Love following your travels
Angela Britnell
Chris Stovell said…
Hi Angela - it did! And I promise you I wasn't winking at him, so I don't think there were any visual clues! I'd been a complete sceptic up until that point! Thank you!
Kathryn Freeman said…
I love these diaries Chris - and great news about your next book!
Kathryn Freeman said…
I love these diaries Chris - and great news about your next book!
Chris Stovell said…
It is good news, isn't Kate? Shame about the money though! Thank you - I think that's it for now though!
Chanpreet said…
It's funny, money is always come and go. That's why there are so few millionaires and billionaires. Or maybe people just get lucky when it comes to their investments.

However I do know you're next book will do well. I know I'm looking forward to it. It's creepy how he knew about your conjunctivitis but also really cool too. It really does make you wonder.
Chris Stovell said…
Thank you for your vote of confidence about the next book, Chanpreet (although I really did enjoy writing this one!). It really threw me when he said that. Oh, and Tom's just submitted his dissertation for his MA and the fortune teller said, as an aside, that he would be a professor!
Frances said…
Chris, just this evening, I've found enough free awake minutes from my own post-trip time to give myself the great pleasure to read your continuing relating of the experiences you and Tom had in Hong Kong.

Truly amazing, definitely trip of a lifetime, and Chris, your writing has absolutely taken me along with you all on all these visits along the way.

I am way behind on reporting on my own recent journey reporting, but you have inspired me to find the time to remember the details that really help others to appreciate what I saw, heard, smelled and otherwise experienced.

Bravo to you on your writing Chris, and to both of your for having taking this trip to a very faraway place. How I do look forward to eventually being able to sit down with you to talk about this trip.

Chris Stovell said…
Oh Frances, we had a wonderful time and it did me the world of good to recharge my batteries in such a fascinating city.

Thank you so much for your very kind words, but your first blog about your recent trip also transported me to places I haven't yet visited. I'm really looking forwards to reading more about your travels. And, yes, to the day we can meet up and talk about them! Cxx
Jane Lovering said…
It all sounds so wonderful, almost fairy-tale-like! There's a book in there...(which makes trip largely tax-deductible too....)Lovely to have it confirmed that your next book will be a huge success, perhaps the money will come and go on wonderful things! (And anyway, I have a huge honker of a nose and I can't hold on to money, so...)
muddyboots said…
Really enjoying reading this Chris!
Flowerpot said…
Wow you have been up to a lot while I've been away - sounds absolutely wonderful!
Chris Stovell said…
It was absolutely amazing, Jane - left to me, we'd never have gone, so I'm glad Tom just announced we were going. I can't stop thinking about the place so it may well appear in novel form one day. (I've never noticed your nose - it can't be that big!!)x

Muddyboots - thank you!

Sue, I loved it - so much to take in... though it's done for the boat plans!!
Well maybe my long nose isn't such a curse after all! Actually it isn't all that long now I look at it but when I was a teenager I was convinced it was something like Pinnochio's in an untruthful phase. I could have told you your next book would be a success entirely for free!
Chris Stovell said…
Ah, thank you for that vote of confidence, Elizabeth. And wouldn't be nice if we could reassure our teenage selves that some of the things which seemed so worrying then won't matter a hill of beans?
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