I‘m not a superstitious person… well, not anymore. When I was little, I read a children’s book called The Ghost Hunting Handbook (or something like that). During the day, I was really excited about the possibility of finding a ghost, but at night I would freak out. For years I slept with the covers pulled over my head. By the time I was in high school, however, I was reading publications like the Skeptical Inquirer. I no longer believe in ghosts, souls or the afterlife — and I definitely don’t believe that you can tell the future. I also feel dumbfounded every time people tell me that Ron and I should have children during the year of the dragon because I can’t believe that people are seriously planning their family around an astrology chart. But I still love the ritual and creepily magic atmosphere of fortune telling. When my friend Lauren told me about fortune tellers in the Longshan Temple MRT station underground mall (龍山寺捷運站地下街) who use live birds as divination tools, my head exploded.
The underground mall has rows of fortune tellers working out of tiny cubicles, but only a few of them use birds. The man we went to had a pair of fat white finches. They looked like dumplings with wings and beaks. To get your future read, you first tell the fortune teller your name (and partner’s name, if you are asking a relationship question). Our fortune teller used a couple methods for each of us. Lauren went before me and one of the birds picked out bamboo divination sticks (or qiúqiān, 求簽) for her fortune. When it was my turn, the fortune teller asked me to pick some rice out of a small jar and sprinkle the grains into three bowls.
Afterward, the fortune teller had one of the birds pick out three cards from a batch he had asked us to shuffle.
I got these fascinating images.
The one on the left is my favorite. It is a rooster who is forced to walk slowly because someone tied a wooden slipper to his leg. The fortune teller told me that I was facing some challenges because, like the rooster, I hadn’t looked back to see what was holding me behind. I was like, “Damn, I never thought of it that way! I am a rooster with a wooden slipper tied to my leg!”
This is the same reason why I like tarot cards. The images are detailed and enigmatic, but they leave room for you to project all sorts of meanings onto them — and by doing so, maybe you’ll be able to find a new way of thinking about a problem. My fortune made me think that I should approach challenges thus: a) figure out how to get the wooden slipper off, b) keep the wooden slipper as a trophy, c) use wooden slipper to beat the crap out of whoever put it on me in the first place. Okay, that makes no sense, but it was still fun to turn over in my head (and, coincidentally, my Chinese astrological sign is the rooster, which means I’m kind of cocky).
My friend Lantz went to another fortune teller who looked up his future based on Lantz’s time, date and year of birth. The same guy also gave him a palm reading. I was also tempted to get a palm reading, but I was afraid the fortune teller would take one look at my chubby hands and say, “Well, first off, you are kind of bloated. Lay off the processed food.”
I have to admit that I’ve stayed away from visiting the fortune tellers at Longshan Temple because I find the concept somewhat unsettling, even though I don’t believe that you can divine the future. I had a lot of fun, however, and I wouldn’t mind going on another outing with friends to the underground mall. To be honest, I just want to see those birds again. They were very clever. I’d like to ask them what my cat really thinks of me. Man, I can’t even begin to imagine what would happen if I did that.