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The Occult in Hong Kong
26-10-2013, 05:33 AM
Post: #1
The Occult in Hong Kong

The next time you’re walking a visitor down Temple Street’s Night Market, do yourself a favor and proceed past the plethora of purses, paintings, and plastic playthings. Keep walking (slowly) past the dildo vendors and Cantonese opera singers, too, and you’ll eventually reach the fortune telling stalls that line the gardens of Tin Hau Temple.
As a Kowlooner, I’ve walked down the Mystic Mile hundreds of times, but I’ve never stopped for a reading. It’s not for lack of curiosity, but rather, a surplus of frugality. I’m not religious and haven’t felt even remotely spiritual for years, and so it just seemed like a fun cultural experience for which I’d eventually shell out a few bucks to service my long, backpacker’s bucket list (which includes such other gems as “eating live octopus” and “getting mugged in Spanish”).
But the more I told expat friends about my plan to get my fortune read, the more I encountered odd reactions. “The Devil can only drag you to hell once you’ve let him into your house,” my friend Aaron warned. I was confused—he didn’t believe in it, did he? “It doesn’t matter if I do or not,” he replied. “I’ll dwell on what is said regardless, and it’ll come to influence my decisions. The supernatural seed is hard to
While the West often regards fortune telling as a gimmick or scam, its roots in Chinese culture run deep, and it still remains an important practice in Hong Kong. Be it marriage, family, babies or business, reasonable adults regularly step into these stalls to pose pressing questions about where their life is leading them, and to seek advice on everything from ideal children’s names to the timing of corporate mergers.
It’s serious stuff.
So with Ghost Month behind and Hallowe’en ahead, it was time for me to get down and dirty with destiny. I walked down to Yau Ma Tei with an open wallet in hand (and open mind to match), eager to chat with any and all English-speaking vendors who would indulge me. I present my findings to you, with this forewarning: once entered, it’s impossible to know how deep this rabbit hole goes.

Fortune 1: The Bird Method
Fortune Teller Tse Po-loy.
Experience Over 20 years under his belt, since being taught the traditional methods by his master.
Stall Location North side of Market Street, about five stalls east of Shanghai Street.
Initial Creep Factor 2/10, mostly on account of the cuteness of the bird.
The Skinny Using trained birds to read fortunes dates back hundreds of years in Chinese culture, and is used to make a generalized prediction of a chosen subject: marriage, fortune, love, business or studies. Some practitioners will also use the birds to answer “yes” or “no” questions, meaning that the mini mentalists are essentially a flying, more irritating version of my childhood Magic 8-Ball.
The Method I sat down in front of a birdcage and picked my poison: “love.” The surly Mr. Tse spread out a pile of wide, flat envelopes in front of the cage, opened the cage door, and Artie (name provided by me) hopped out and pulled a parcel back into his cage. For his services, the bird gets fed. Given that the fortune is hidden inside, wouldn’t it have been easier to train the bird by just tossing a bunch of fortune cookies onto the table?
The Fortune “Good news by Fortune Bird!” The contents of the chosen envelope told me that my love is like a tree: when it blossoms, I must “wait for the delicious fruit with patience.” My love is blossoming now, apparently, so I must keep a long view of the future, make a concerted effort to make my love grow, and I’ll find marriage. Is this a fortune, or an episode of “Dr. Phil”?
The Verdict What I learned was pretty vague, and not unlike a crummy newspaper horoscope. Excuse me while I ask my trusty 8-Ball whether I’m likely to use the bird method again. It says: “Outlook not so good.”

Fortune 2: Chinese Fortune Sticks (Chien Tung/Kau Cim)
Fortune Teller Grace Ng.
Experience She’s self-taught, and has been on Temple Street for over 20 years.
Stall Location West side of Temple Street just south of Market Street, across from the karaoke tents.
Initial Creep Factor 0/10, in that the grandmotherly Grace is more adorable than a sleepy kitten cuddling a baby sloth.
The Skinny Also referred to as “kau cim,” the practice of using sticks to determine one’s fortune dates back to the Jin Dynasty (AD 265-420). Thousands flock to the Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kowloon each year to draw a stick, as that shrine and its fortune tellers are renowned for their prayer-answering prowess.
The Method Grace first asked me for my name, birth year and age, and then told me to think very hard about a question I’m dying to have answered. She picked up a jar filled with bamboo sticks and began spinning them, telling me to concentrate on the question. I then spun the sticks counterclockwise with my left hand three times before choosing one, which had a number printed on it that corresponds to a fortune listed in her Chinese Almanac.
The Fortune I chose stick number 86, and told Grace that my question was: “Will I meet the woman I am to marry in the next four years?” She checked her book, and smiled. “You would be wise to marry in the next few years,” she said, “and when you do marry, it will be a lasting and happy union. But—don’t marry someone rich or powerful. This would be very bad for you.”
The Verdict While this perhaps dashes my dreams of finding a sugar mama, I liked the combination of on-the-page Zodiac insight with the ritualistic stick drawing—far more engaging than those birds, and less hokey. It’s the Almanac that demands your faith, rather than the fortune teller. It was sort of like talking to a friendly pastor: Grace listened, applied my question to what her good book ordained, and gave me the straight goods. A positive experience.

Fortune 3: Palm Reading
Fortune Teller Master Joseph.
Experience He’s been studying feng shui and Chinese astrology for 21 years, has been featured countless times on overseas and local television, and also has an Masters in Business Administration. That’s one savvy mystic.
Stall Location Corner of Shanghai Street and Market Street.
Initial Creep Factor 1/10, but only because the stall was essentially a big plastic CV for Master Joseph. Media logos intimidate me. The Skinny The practice of palm reading—also known as palmistry or chiromancy—dates back more than 2,500 years, and is believed to have originally spread from India to China, and then west into the Middle East and Europe. Alexander the Great was a known advocate of examining his officers’ character by studying the lines on their hands, after he learned of the practice from Aristotle. Old school, yo.
The Method After taking my name, birth year and age, Master Joseph looked at my hand. With his eyes. Pretty low-tech stuff.
The Fortune As a former teacher, MJ (as his boys call him in the ‘hood) was happy to walk me through the different lines on the palm, explaining what each represented. He told me that my Life Line is shallow, which isn’t necessarily bad, but means that health is something I have to work to maintain in my life. My Head and Fate Lines (the latter of which also speaks to one’s career) are pronounced, though, which means I will be successful thanks to my intellect, but I must beware of my stubbornness—I likely thrive when I am working for myself, and not taking orders (This is very true—Ed.). Finally, my Marriage Line is split into two, which requires a stern warning. “If you marry before 30,” said MJ, “it will not work out. A late marriage is very good for you.” A very interesting warning, indeed... where were you on that one, mindless bird? Were you just going to eat seed while I careened into a divorce?
The Verdict I found the process of palm reading fascinating, but partially because the fortune teller is combining two tools—your palm lines and your Zodiac sign—to essentially build a personality profile. Add MJ’s teacher-like demeanor (which I assume stems from his ability to read me and to sense the right approach), and his conclusions felt eerily on-the-nose. For the educational experience alone, I liked it.

Fortune 4: Tarot Card Reading
Fortune Teller Ally.
Experience Ally and her stall-neighbor B are two of the most popular tarot readers in Hong Kong, and the long queue to see them (as well as the staff they employ to manage the customers) speaks to their strong reputation. B has been working the stall for a decade, and considers Ally her mentor.
Stall Location Corner of Shanghai Street and Market Street.
Initial Creep Factor 6/10, thanks to the total lack of light in their stalls, the spooky vibe that tarot cards give off, and the close proximity to the public-use toilet.
The Skinny While you can trace the origin of playing cards back to the Chinese (they invented paper, after all), the 78-card tarot deck dates back to 15th Century Italy and France, where it was used for games. It wasn’t until the late 18th Century that mystics in Europe began using it to foresee the future.
The Method Ally told me that while tarot cards can only predict six months into the future, I may ask any question on my mind. Sticking with the love theme, I asked: “Will I fall in love in the next six months?” She then fanned the cards and had me draw eight of them, which she flipped over and analyzed without the aid of a book or other tools.
The Fortune “In the next three months, you will have two women in your life,” said Ally, without a hint of creepiness. “They will both like you, and you will have strong feelings for one, but will like the other for a different reason. After six months, this will be resolved and you will happily be with the one you like best.” I was then given the opportunity to ask two follow-up questions that relate to the answer, free of charge.
The Verdict The tarot reading aligned most closely with what I suspected a fortune teller would be like before ever sitting down. It was mysterious, unscientific, and yet oddly compelling. It reminded me of one of those “cold reading” TV shows where the host claims to connect to the dead relatives of those in the room—vague enough to minimize striking out, but specific enough to strike a nerve. In terms of smoke and mirrors, this technique is a home run. And its inability to “see” long into the future likely explains the long lines and repeat business. User beware: this one may suck you in.

Fortune 5: Face Reading & Coin Divination (Or, The Turtle Shell Method)
Fortune Teller Master Yut Ming.
Experience Ordained at birth, probably. The other readers in the area identified him as their own master, and his appearance and demeanor suggest that he’s spent a long time in that stall. He also claims to have been responsible for naming Li Ka-shing’s son. That’s (crystal) baller.
Stall Location Corner of Temple Street and Kansu Street.
Initial Creep Factor 9/10, because Master Yut Ming may be the inspiration for every “eerie old man” character in cinema that warns the protagonist of impending doom. Seriously. He feels the fortunes so fully that he literally spits, and is about two degrees short of convulsing.
The Skinny Chinese face reading dates back to around the 6th Century BCE, originating as a shaman’s tool before evolving over the next four hundred years into a mainstay of Chinese life. It’s believed that a person’s energies, health and fortune can be understood by looking at their forehead, ears, nose and lips. A face reader will analyze your changing fortune from childhood to your elderly years, and can do so decade by decade.
The Method Master Yut Ming needed only to glance at my face and jot down my birth details to read my characteristics, but it’s notable that reading facial features to determine a long-view, year-to-year fortune makes it a close ally of the coin divination method of fortune telling. This ancient practice for casting an I Ching reading begins by inserting three bronze Chinese coins into an empty turtle shell, shaking it, and then releasing them onto a plate. Using an Almanac for reference, the teller can use the heads-tails orientation to indicate your luck over a specific period in your life, or can identify particularly lucky years in your future.
The Fortune Upon viewing my face, Master Yut Ming lost his shit. He said that tremendous success lies before me, pointing to my large forehead and the wide gap between my eyebrows as tell-tale signs of intelligence, independence and creativity. The height of my ears relative to my eyebrows, too, suggests future wealth, and my nose indicates good fortune through to my fifties—though I must be careful with my money. Using the coin divination method, he then indicated that 2014 would be a very good year to marry, which put him in agreement with Grace, but at odds with those patience-encouraging birds and my ol’ buddy MJ.
The Verdict Like palm reading, the reading of facial features combined with the Zodiac feels more scientific, because the theory behind it is publicly available and can be learned by anyone interested. That said, the overly positive reading was then followed by a hard negotiation of price, leading me to wonder if anyone can make money in the fortune telling racket by telling people that their shitty faces spell impending doom. But hey—if you want to freak out a tourist friend by introducing them to a possibly God-like old Chinese man, Master Yut Ming is your man.

The Final Verdict: Skeptic or Believer?
After spending time on Temple Street in and around the stalls, I’ve come to understand that fortune tellers—like their customers—aren’t created equal. While some tellers possess a vibe that suggests something eerily prescient is going on, most are fairly scientific about their craft. The Chinese Almanac is oft-present as a reference guide, and the personality traits prescribed by one’s Chinese Zodiac sign comes to influence the reading as much as the palms, face, or coins they’re seeing in front of them.
Most of these practitioners aren’t selling a circus act, but rather, appear to understand that a reading is a service that can provide comfort or guidance. It was perhaps the relationship established during the readings that surprised me the most. The tellers speak to their customers in a manner that is closer to a psychologist than a Messiah. Once advised, it’s up to every individual to decide how much weight they place on the reading. Like in any religion, it’s clear that the levels of devotion vary drastically.
And how did I find the experience? Surprisingly enlightening, actually. While at times I felt as though I was facing a cold reader (or even a business-savvy sycophant), the sensation of a stranger claiming to have insight into my own life and its future was oddly fascinating. I’ve reflected more than once on the readings since and have ultimately decided to move on and disregard the advice (I’m a slave to reason, it seems), but that slight pull I felt provided insight into just what people enjoy about visiting fortune tellers.
Our future is a mystery—unless you believe it isn’t. Work out which camp you lie in, and who knows—perhaps you’ll be the next curious bystander to walk past the sex toys, in favor of shaking some coins out of a turtle shell.
The fortune tellers in the Temple Street Night Market are available every night between 7-11pm. Prices vary, and bartering is encouraged. We paid between $50 and $200 for the readings in this piece.


Superstition: Don’t look while the coffin is being shut at a Chinese funeral.
Explanation: Peeking souls will become trapped in the coffin with the deceased.
Superstition: Don’t look backwards when leaving a funeral home.
Explanation: Bad energies will follow you home.
Superstition: Don’t have a mirror or reflective surface right opposite your bed.
Explanation: Spirits from the mirror can attack you. In your sleep, presumably.
Superstition: Don’t stick your chopsticks upright in your bowl of rice.
Explanation: Doing so resembles the two incense offerings to ancestors. Do it at a family dinner, and you’ll be disowned.
Superstition: Don’t give someone a clock as a gift.
Explanation: In Cantonese, “clock” rhymes with “sending someone to their death.”
Superstition: Don’t say hung—the Cantonese word for “empty.” Instead, say gut, which means “luck.” Example: “My gut’s so gut it’s growling.”
Explanation: Hung shares a tone with the word meaning “bad incidents related to death.”
Superstition: Some buildings by the coast are designed with a hole in the middle. Examples: The Repulse Bay, the Bel-Air in Cyberport, Tamar Site.
Explanation: Spirit dragons flying down from the mountains need clear access to the water. Don’t mess with spirit dragons.
Superstition: When the year of your Chinese zodiac comes around, you automatically make an enemy of the “Tai Sui” heavenly generals. Prepare for a year of bad luck.
Explanation: The gods have power over the zodiacs. But worry not—you can fend off the bad luck by wearing certain talismans or accessories.
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26-10-2013, 12:20 PM
Post: #2
RE: The Occult in Hong Kong
haha. thanks dr strange. was a very amusing read.

reminds me of my stupid predictions which were bizzare-er than the last one. done with readings me is and couldnt be happier!

When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head and laugh at the sky - Buddha.
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27-10-2013, 01:39 PM
Post: #3
RE: The Occult in Hong Kong
Makes note to not ever give a clock for a gift, and to run screaming from the room if anyone is ever silly enough to buy me one

And if I can ever master the art of using chop sticks, I do solemnly swear to never put them upright in a bowl of rice, no matter how tempted I might be to try and balance them there :-D

Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats. ~Voltaire
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27-10-2013, 06:56 PM
Post: #4
RE: The Occult in Hong Kong
Thanks for that "novel" of a review drstange Smile very interesting as well as funny actually. Don't think there was a method there that wasn't covered! I hadn't even heard of half of them, but doesn't sound like I have been missing out on too much!
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