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Fatal attraction: One man tests his belief in Shanghai fortunetellers
We compare and contrast 4 different fortunetelling techniques in the run up to Chinese New Year, and receive some scarily consistent prognoses
What does the Year of the Tiger have in store? With so many fortunetellers plying their trade in Shanghai, I decided to test out four different fortunetelling techniques. As a believer in traditional Chinese fortune-telling, this was not a trivial matter for me. Read on to see what unfolded. But at the very least, these guys provide a great story to relate to friends and family. You can find them roaming the streets, especially round the temples, if you fancy a forecast of your own this Chinese New Year.
Fortunetelling in Shanghai no. 1: Face reading
I meet Elder Sister Tao outside the Jing’an Temple gates (1686 Nanjing Xi Lu 南京西路1686号). She brings me into the mall next door to sit more comfortably as she examines my face. "I learned this from my grandparents," she says. "I see the future in your face."
Palm reading (手相) and face reading (面相) are two of the most common forms of Chinese divination. Elder Sister Tao tells me that in Chinese face reading, "the upper region of the face represents youth, and the lower region, old age." The lines of the palm are read for love, personality, and other traits.
I'm a little nervous but I decide to go for it and hand over RMB 40. I sit with Elder Sister Tao and let her expound. She tells me that a difficult time in my life is coming to an end. She is clear in her advice. “If you can make it until April,” she says, “then you will be prosperous for many years to come.” She tells me not to accept any unearned gifts and to beware of women born in the Year of the Tiger. She tells me to help others. If I can do this, in April, my difficult path will resolve itself.
Phew, that wasn’t so bad.
Fortunetelling in Shanghai no. 2: Astrology
Possibly the most popular method of Chinese fortune telling is Ba Zi (八字, eight characters). An astrologer will take the 'four pillars' (the year, month, day and time of your birth) and cross-reference them against a classic text to yield eight words that can be interpreted.
I meet Mr Wang Suqiang from the Huangshan, Anhui Province outside of Longhua Temple (2853 Longhua Lu, near Longwu Lu 龙华路2853号, 近龙吴路), he’s proficient in both astrology and spell-casting. “I understand that in calculating a birth date, foreigners must account for the time difference,” he says. “I interpret the future based on Beijing time.”
With confidence from Elder Sister Tao’s reading I consult Mr Wang. His prediction is less explicit than my previous one. “Your path is changing,” he says, examining characters in his book. “You had a difficult time before but now things are moving into harmony.”
He tells me that the next few months are of great importance. His prognostication agrees with that of the face reader, which is both pleasing and unnerving.
Fortunetelling in Shanghai no. 3: Chou qian
Dressed in traditional Buddhist clothes (the top half anyway), Guo Ming calls me over to tell me that my aura is red and that a force was protecting me. Sounded interesting -- and at least my aura is the correct color for Chinese New Year.
I sit down inside a parking lot near Longhua Temple (RMB 50) and chou qian (choose money), meaning that I choose three long strips of paper from a small deck. Each one opens to reveal poetic phrases that Guo Ming interprets with a childish, excited air. If you're going to have your future told, it might as well we be in verse, no?The verses were prosperous and spoke of a great time to come. He said I would live to be 180 years old -- a bit far-fetched but hey, if he's right, I'm laughing.
He notices my skepticism, so shows me the rest of the cards to prove that they aren’t all happy, that it wasn’t a loaded deck. Although not quite in line with the other predictions, I breathed a bit easier knowing that all my fortunes have been positive. Considering two fortunetellers told me to beware of the coming months, at least someone was watching my back.
Fortunetelling in Shanghai no. 4: Palm readingThe blind master Jin Ling (RMB 380, Mr Xiao: +86 21 5764 1769, +86 138 1892 9698), a palm reader, was the most formal of the fortunetellers that I saw. I needed to go to make an appointment to see him and his assistant at his office, giving him a bit more legitimacy in my mind and making me extra wary of what he would advise.
The master sits behind a large desk in his small Shanghai apartment. His assistant, Mr Xiao, a recent college graduate, sits on a plastic chair. “Fortune telling is like chemistry,” Jin Ling explains, “in that it reflects change. Life is always changing and suan ming [fortune telling] is a way to see what those changes become.”
For 45 minutes Master Jin Ling examined the straightness of my fingers, the thickness of my thumb and whether my hand, when extended palm up, can hold water steady. He also examines my face, including the chin, ears, nose and forehead. This method is not for those who don’t like the personal touch.
Master Jin Ling told me things that he shouldn’t have known; things about my life and my feelings. He seemed to know what questions I came to ask, but his answers took the long view of a lifetime’s path. After reading my palm by touch, my 'ba zi' Master Jin Ling told me to be careful of the coming months and not to go outside after midnight.
Considering almost all the fortunetellers agree on my future, I've decided to listen -- I'll see you in a few months.