- Matthew Keegan
- BBC Travel*
On a hot and humid day in Hong Kong, Wai Li, a finance clerk, is visiting Wong Tai Sin, the city’s busiest temple, for a divination practice known as kau cim.
This popular practice involves shaking a tube filled with bamboo “lucky sticks”, numbered from 1 to 100, until one falls to the ground.
Each stick is associated with a story that, when interpreted by one of the temple’s soothsayers, allows one to glimpse their future.
Li kneels on a pad in front of the main altar, closes his eyes, and begins shaking the tube, while concentrating on the question for which he seeks an answer.
A few minutes later, stick 24 falls to the floor.
In the fortune telling arcade (the building has two floors and 161 cabins) Li meets Master Joseph, a veteran fortune teller with 20 years of experience, who interprets the toothpick based on the advice Li seeks about his career.
Sitting across from her at her booth, Master Joseph tells Li not to expect any advancement or promotion this year, and that she will likely experience further frustrations at work.
In general, he says his luck will be normal.
Open to superstitions
Li, who has visited the temple numerous times in the past, believes this interpretation is accurate.
“Wong Tai Sai has never failed me,” he says. “I always come here when I have questions or have to make decisions about my future. I feel like it was right, it has been in the past.”
Li is not religious but, like many of the 10,000 other visitors who pass through the temple daily, she is outspoken when it comes to local superstition practices.
“If I’m honest, I think a lot of people in Hong Kong are superstitious in various ways. Most of the people here will do things to increase your luck or avoid bad luck“.
It was superstition, Li says, that kept her from renting a new apartment recently.
“The building managers offered me apartment 1404,” he explains. “I didn’t even go to see it because that number in Cantonese sounds like ‘you will surely die.’ I didn’t want to take the risk of living there, even though they offered me a very large rent discount.”
Fear of 4
Li is not the only one actively avoiding or fearful of the number four, something known as “tetrafobia”.
In Cantonese, four has a sound similar to the word used for death. The numbers 14 and 24 they consider themselves even less fortunate, as 14 sounds like “will surely die” and 24 sounds like “easy death.”
Apartment buildings, hotels, offices, and even hospitals in the city often skip floors containing that number.
“It’s kind of superstitious,” says John Choi, who has been working in Hong Kong as a teacher for more than 10 years. feng shui.
“Even in my building, floors 40 to 49 don’t exist. They end at 39 and then start again at 50. There is no 4th, 14th, 24th or 54th floor.”
That bad luck does not pass
Beyond the floors that do not exist, something common that is seen at the entrance of houses and buildings in the city are Tu Di Gong temples.
Usually located at the main entrance to buildings, these small temples are dedicated to Tudi Gong, god of soil and earth, believed to keep negative energies or ghosts away and bless the people who live on his grounds.
“Many people here believe gods and spirits have great power to alter a person’s luck or destiny,” says Choi.
“You will see that many stores have a Tu Di Gong temple near the main entrance. It is similar to an administration office that prevents intruders from entering the store.”
Choi says that the highly competitive nature of the city is what drives many people to adopt superstitious beliefs to try to improve their luck and opportunities.
“In such a competitive place, how can you outperform others?” Says Choi. “The only thing you can do is use the feng shui to help improve your luck. “
Feng shui, literally “wind and water”, is the ancient Chinese practice of using energetic forces to harmonize people with the environment around them, to improve their health and luck.
A form of geomancia (the practice of arranging buildings or other sites in an auspicious manner), is currently prohibited in mainland China by the Communist Party, which considers it a “feudal superstition” that goes against the fundamental beliefs of Marxism.
“When feng shui was first banned in China, many of the feng shui masters fled and came to Hong Kong,” Choi notes.
“Some of them also went to Taiwan for the same reasons.”
Modeled cities by andl feng shui
Today, feng shui is still popular in Hong Kong, and Choi says that around the 40% of the builders consult a feng mastershui to advise them on the most auspicious design of their projects.
Most of the skyscrapers in the city’s central business district are considered feng shui buildings. In fact, many of its design features are influenced by this ancient practice.
Experts say there is even a feng shui battle in the city center. The Bank of China skyscraper is said to resemble a knife which is cutting the fortunes of the surrounding buildings with its unfavorable energy known as sha qi, what does it mean “killer energy”.
The neighboring HSBC building allegedly added two cannon-like objects to its roof as defense.
Shortly after the Bank of China building was completed in 1989, HSBC’s share value fell to a record low.
To ward off negative energy, HSBC allegedly aimed its “guns” directly at the Bank of China. Since then, legend has it, HSBC’s results have improved.
After extensive consultation with feng shui experts, HSBC also placed two bronze lions directly in front of your main entrance.
In feng shui, lions are a symbol of protection, wealth and social status.
Since HSBC is the sixth largest bank in the world, some locals like to pet lions’ noses and paws in the hope that some of their feng shui good fortune will stick to them.
“We think that touching some auspicious feng shui objects can bring us good luck,” says Choi.
70% work, 30% luck
It’s similar, he says, to spending time with lucky people: You will find yourself exposed to a greater number of good opportunities, but there are never any guarantees.
“To be successful, there is an old Chinese adage that 70% depends on your work, 30% depends on your luck.”
Choi is mainly consulted on the design of interior spaces to guarantee the best feng shui for his clients.
If a building has been constructed recently, it will go into the unit and calculate where to place the doors to bring the best luck.
“For any unit, the door it is something fundamental, “he explains.” The door is related to the arrival of luck and prosperity. We can align the door at a very good angle and install it at a good time using a feng shui compass to do the math. ”
He also advises clients on the optimal feng shui setup for their homes using their date of birth to determine the best direction for things.
According to Choi, feng shui doesn’t have to be expensive.
The cheapest way is to place ornaments feng shui in certain areas. Most are wu lou (life givers).
These small objects, usually made of brass and shaped like a gourd, can be positioned in specific places to absorb negative energy and minimize the effects of illness and bad luck.
Superstitions for the dead
Superstitious beliefs in Hong Kong also extend to the dead.
During festivals to honor and venerate deceased ancestors – including the day when graves are swept known as the Qingming festival, which is celebrated in April – the mourners they burn fake money, and clothes and houses depicted on paper and even cell phones and televisions.
It is believed that these offerings will allow the dead to have a happy and prosperous life in the afterlife. “We believe that if you take care of the ancestors, they will bless you,” said Choi.
“When my father died, he was quite poor at the time. So we burned a lot of things for him so that he could be rich in the afterlife. Even I did. After all, this is a superstitious society.”
The reasons behind Hong Kong’s rich repertoire of superstitious beliefs are difficult to pin down.
After being a British colony for over 150 years, with a mix of both eastern and western beliefsToday, many residents believe in popular superstitions of both cultures.
For example, Hong Kong people will avoid walking under stairs (which is considered bad luck in the West), as well as giving away a watch (considered bad luck in Chinese, since the word watch sounds similar to attending a funeral).
Yan Zhang, a professor at the National University of Singapore, author of studies on the role superstitious rituals play in warding off bad luck, says that the most important reason people believe in superstitions is to gain a sense of control over your environment.
“Performing superstitious actions makes people feel in control, which makes them feel less anxious or nervous,” says Zhang.
“Religion, science and superstition can help people have a sense of control and comfort. Hong Kong is not a particularly religious place, so to feel better you need to rely on science or superstition.”
But whatever the cause, the city’s superstitious beliefs are unlikely to go away anytime soon.
“Superstitious beliefs can update over time when people know better how certain things work, “says Zhang.
“However, I don’t think superstitious beliefs will completely disappear. Since people can never have full control over their lives, superstitious beliefs will remain as long as we can imagine.”
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