The wooden stick fortune reading is popular way to have your fortune told is one that you’re likely to come across at Taoist temples.
The queue was long and disorderly which made me waiting more anxious. The monk on the other side of the counter dressed in his traditional orange robe was solemnly taking the thin, pink pieces of paper given to him by the over-excited audience, carefully opening them, ratcheting up the suspense, then whisper something to his assistant who would translate it into English to the bearer of the message who would either beam with delight, look confused or just staggered.…
“There is nothing to worry about. He doesn’t seem to translate bad messages” I was trying to comfort myself. The last thing I wanted to hear in the middle of Yunnan Province at 3250 m above sea level was that my plane would crash on the way home or that I had an incurable disease.
The monk took my message, looked straight into my tired eyes and without reading it, handed it back to me.
On the way to the temple on the other side of Chicken Foot Mountain my brain was racing with many unanswerable questions. What did he read in my message? There were hundreds of us on the trip and I hadn’t seen anyone being asked to repeat the whole process except me. Worried, I entered the temple, found a small fire holder and quickly burned the unlucky piece of paper. Not feeling much relief I returned apprehensively to Zhusheng Temple for another attempt at having my fortune told. I would have paid anything not to feel that fear.
The wooden cylinder with its bundle of 100 wooden sticks inscribed with different Chinese characters was heavier for me to lift this time around. I was tired from climbing up the mountain and exhausted by the thought of an unpredictable future which could bring something dreadful. One of the 100 possible sticks fell onto the floor at my feet, and I seized it, seeing it as my saviour this time around. After quickly exchanging a stick for a corresponding pink note I ran back to Jindang Temple. Optimistically I was hoping to be told about my book being published, my lottery win or that email I had been waiting to receive the last two years. But the curse struck again and I was told by the same monk to go and burn my message again! This time he didn’t tell me to come back.
“I am definitely going to die in China far from everything or anybody I know! What a miserable death! If I am lucky I may die in the plane crash on the way home”
Now on the verge of a panic attack, determined to make a change to my destiny I ran to the fire again, threw my unfortunate paper in it, swearing instead of praying and, forgetting about the high altitude, breathlessly ran back to the Temple. The monk in charge of the sticks was surprised to see me again and refused to take the payment for the third lucky draw.
Outside the temple, the amazing views were slowly descending into darkness. The sun disappeared and with it, the people. I was the last one left in desperation to turn my luck around and stay alive. On seeing me again the fortune teller monk nodded, acknowledging an old friend. He read the note said something to the assistant and disappeared.
“You are much luckier now” said the assistant giving me the piece of paper back. I descended the mountain happier but that night I didn’t sleep at all. My mind was racing with so many questions…Why did the monk disappear after my third reading? Did he run off scared to tell me the truth? Can you change your destiny by burning a piece of paper? Maybe the monk in charge of the wooden sticks didn’t like the look of me so gave bad notes on purpose? No one else was told to burn their messages.
“What if” was my mantra for the next seven days of travelling around China. It ruined my trip, not to mention my 12-hour flight home which I spent consuming a huge amount of alcohol and taking tablets. I was preparing for “that” plane crash.
The pink piece of paper is saved in one of many travelling diaries. A friend of mine, Chinese by birth, read it and declared it nonsense.