On a hot and humid day in Hong Kong, local financial agent Wai Li travels to Wong Tai Sin, the city’s busiest temple, to use a divination practice known as kau cim.
I think a lot of Hong Kong people are superstitious in some ways. Most of the people here will do things to increase their luck or avoid bad luck
The common practice is to shake a tube filled with bamboo “makeshift sticks”, numbered 1 to 100, until one of the sticks falls to the ground. Each staff has a corresponding story, which, interpreted by the temple’s resident fortune tellers, provides an opportunity to glimpse your future.
Li kneels on a prayer cushion in front of the temple’s main altar, closes her eyes, and begins shaking the makeshift stick tube while focusing on the question she wants to answer. A few minutes later, the stick numbered 24 fell to the ground. On her way to the temple arcade, a two-story covered passageway containing 161 stalls, Li meets Master Joseph, a 20-year-old veteran fortune teller, who interprets her wand according to the career guidance she seeks. .
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 encounter some job frustrations. Overall, he says, his luck will be average.
Li, who has visited the temple many times in the past, believes the reading is correct. “Wong Tai Sin has never disappointed me before,” she said. “I always come here whenever I have questions or decisions about my future. I think this is correct; it was in the past.
Li is not a nun but, like many of the 10,000 daily visitors who pass through the temple, she is open-minded about local superstitious practices. “If I’m honest, I think a lot of Hong Kong people are superstitious in some ways. Most of the people here will do things to increase their luck or avoid bad luck. “
It was superstition, Li said, that kept her from renting a new apartment recently. “The building management offered me room 1404,” Li said. “I wouldn’t even see the apartment because that number in Cantonese sounds like ‘will definitely die’. I don’t want to take the risk of living there, even though they offered me a big discount on the rent.
Li is not the only one who actively avoids or fears everything that has to do with the number four, which is called “tetraphobia”. In Cantonese, four sounds similar to the word death. Fourteen and 24 are considered even more unlucky, since 14 sounds like “will definitely die” and 24 sounds like “easy to die”. Apartment buildings, hotels, offices and even hospitals in the city often skip the floors containing the number.
“It’s a superstitious thing,” said John Choi, who worked as a feng shui master in Hong Kong for more than 10 years. “Even in my building, floors 40 to 49 don’t exist. It ends with 39, then it starts over with the 50th floor. Then there is no 4th, 14th, 24th or 54th floor. “
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Beyond the missing floors, Tu Di Gong shrines are another common sight outside of buildings and homes in the city. Usually located outside the main entrance to buildings, these small shrines are dedicated to the Chinese deity Tudi Gong, god of soil and earth, who is believed to ward off negative energies or ghosts, and bless those living there. on his land.
“A lot of people here believe that gods and spirits have great power in changing a person’s luck or fate,” Choi said. “You may find that many stores have a Tu Di Gong shrine located next to their main entrance. In a similar sense, it’s like a management office that keeps intruders out of the store. “
Choi says the city’s highly competitive nature is what prompts many people to adopt superstitious beliefs in an attempt to boost their luck and opportunities.
“In such a competitive place, how can you outdo the rest?” Choi said. “The only thing you can do is use feng shui to boost your luck.”
Feng Shui, literally “wind and water”, is the ancient Chinese practice of using energetic forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment in order to improve wealth and health. A form of geomancy (the practice of arranging or placing buildings or other sites under auspices), today it is banned in mainland China by the Communist Party as a “feudal superstition” because it goes to against the party’s fundamental belief in Marxism.
“When they first banned feng shui in China, a lot of feng shui masters fled and came to Hong Kong,” Choi said. “Some of them also went to Taiwan for the same reasons.”
Today, feng shui remains popular in Hong Kong, and Choi says that around 40% of building developers still consult a feng shui master for advice on the most auspicious design for their projects. Consulting prices typically range from HK $ 8 / square foot with a normal master to HK $ 30 / square foot with a high-end master. If it is a new construction project, it can range from HK $ 1 million to a few million dollars per project.
In such a competitive place, how can you outdo the rest? The only thing you can do is use feng shui to boost your luck
Most of the skyscrapers in the city’s central business district are considered feng shui buildings. In fact, many of their design features are notoriously influenced by ancient practice.
Experts say there’s even a feng shui battle in the city center. The Bank of China skyscraper is said to resemble a blade that cuts through the fortunes of surrounding buildings with its inauspicious energy known as “sha qiWhich means “to kill energy”. The neighboring HSBC building reportedly added two cannon-shaped objects (service winches) to its roof as a defense.
Shortly after the completion of the Bank of China Tower in 1989, HSBC’s share price fell to an all-time low. To divert negative energy, HSBC reportedly pointed its cannon-shaped objects directly at the Bank of China. Since then, according to legend, HSBC’s performance has improved.
After extensive consultations with feng shui experts, HSBC also placed two bronze lions directly in front of its 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 stroke lions’ noses and paws in the hope that some of their feng shui good fortune will rub off on them.
“We believe that touching auspicious feng shui items can bring us good luck,” Choi said. It’s similar, he says, to spending time with lucky people – you’ll find yourself exposed to more good opportunities, but there are never any guarantees. “To be successful, there is an old Chinese adage that says 70% depend on your hard work, 30% depend on your luck.”
Choi mainly consults on the design of interior spaces to ensure the best feng shui for her clients. If a building was recently erected, it will go into the unit and calculate where to position the doors to provide optimum luck. “For any unit, the door is a critical thing,” he said. “The door is to bring good luck and prosperity. We can align the door at a very auspicious angle and set it up at a convenient time by using a feng shui compass to do calculations. He also advises clients on the optimal feng shui settings 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 most economical way is to place feng shui ornaments in certain areas. Above all you will see wu lou – meaning “the giver of life”. These small objects, often made of brass and shaped like a gourd, can be specifically positioned to absorb negative energy and minimize the effects of disease and bad luck.
Superstitious beliefs in Hong Kong also extend to the deceased. During the festivals to honor and revere deceased ancestors, including on the grave-sweeping day known as the Qingming Festival held in April, mourners will burn paper representations of money, clothes, homes and even the latest gadgets like smartphones and televisions. It is believed that these offerings will allow the deceased to have a happy and prosperous afterlife.
Since people can never have full control over their lives, superstitious beliefs will stick around for as long as we can imagine.
“We believe that if you take care of the ancestors, they will bless you in return,” Choi said. “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 Hereafter. Even I did. It is a superstitious society after all.
The reasons for Hong Kong’s rich repertoire of superstitious beliefs are difficult to identify. Having been a former British colony for over 150 years and absorbing both Eastern and Western beliefs, many locals today believe in popular superstitions of both cultures. For example, Hong Kong people will avoid walking under ladders (considered bad luck in the West) and will avoid giving a clock as a gift (considered bad luck in Chinese, because the word for clock sounds like attending and paying homage to a burial. ).
Yan Zhang, professor at the National University of Singapore and author of studies on the role of superstitious rituals in avoiding bad luck, explains that the most important reason people believe in superstitions is to develop a sense of control over their environment.
“Performing superstitious actions gives people a sense of control, which makes them less anxious or nervous,” Zhang said. “Religion, science, and superstition can all help people feel a sense of control and comfort. Hong Kong is not a particularly religious place, so to feel better, you have to rely on either science or superstition. “
But whatever the cause, the city’s superstitious beliefs are unlikely to be gone anytime soon. “Superstitious beliefs can be updated over time when people have a better understanding of how certain things work,” Zhang said. “However, I do not foresee that superstitious beliefs will disappear completely. Since people can never have full control over their lives, superstitious beliefs will stick around for as long as we can imagine.
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