...life can be translucent


Mr Ping and the Chinese Fortune Teller


May 10, 1971
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Mr Ping is at it again! This message received by my alter ego, Miss
Lotus Shoes:

The Chinese Fortune Teller (as told to Mr Ping)

Hey Ping, long time no see !!! What have you been doing with
yourself? My, don't we look well-fed this morning ... you even have
egg in your beard ! No, I'm not doing too badly this year ... see, I
even got a new jacket for Chinese New Year. See that on the back? I'm
told that's a Spice Girl, whatever that is. My grandson wanted to
borrow this jacket but I told him to get his own. Children today ...
always wanting to get something for nothing !!!

Ok ok, I know you want an interview. As you know, I used to live in
Shek Kip Mei, yeah, a real dump, even by Chinese standards. I was
pretty poor, only had the clothes on my back practically, but I
wanted to learn a real trade. None of that rickshaw stuff for me,
thank you. Anyway, I had this neighbor, a real fortune teller by the
name of Uncle Shu. He was quite a character, a huge smoker !!! I
heard he even smoked while he's asleep. Anyway, after hanging around
his house for a couple of months, he decided to take me as his
apprentice ... he had no sons so I guess I became his No. One Boy.

The first thing I learned was how to train a Java sparrow to come out
of its cage and pick up a guazhi (oracle paper) with its beak. That
was tough because the first two birds I picked were pretty stupid. I
was lucky with the third one ; it took me only 2 months to train him
and he was a very pretty bird besides. Anyway, there are 36 pieces of
oracle paper. When a customer asks for advice, the Java sparrow will
pick a piece or oracle paper from the 36 papers available, and I
would divine the customer's future according to the words and picture
on the paper. At least, that was the idea. The first time I did it
with a real customer, he drew a White Tiger, which is a harmful star
in Chinese astrology. I was still kind of green in those days, so I
told him he would have to burn lots of incense and bring 3 roast pigs
to the temple and maybe a whole sack of grapefruit. Anyway, the
customer got really upset ... he was poor, you see, and how on earth
was he supposed to even get one roast pig for a sacrifice, much less
a sack of grapefruit. As it turned out, Uncle Shu told him that a
piece of raw pork would be fine, so everything turned out well in the

Anyway, that was 30 years ago and lots of things have changed.
Before, it was mostly the older people who cared about such things,
but now it's the young ones who come and see me here on Temple
Street. By the way, do you know that I have a sideline in "building
magic?" Yeah, I know, the Chinese have a curse for everything. But
believe it or not: when a carpenter or a mason feels insulted by low
pay or bad food, he will often put a curse on the house he's
building. And he could use anything too: dice, knives, little dolls.
I remember there was this case in Hung Shui Kui: the husband and wife
murdered each other for no reason whatsoever. When the house was torn
down, they found a clay knife hidden in the wall, pointing toward the
bedroom. I tell you, some of these fellas can be right bastards. But
my job is to figure out these curses and do counter-magic. Yeah, I've
diversified, as they say.

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