I’m usually not the type of person to pay 10 dollars for advice from someone who claims to see the future in a few fine wrinkles on my palm. But maybe it was because I was once again jobless, homeless and directionless and wanted some answers so badly that I was willing to suspend my disbelief. Or maybe it was just because I was caught up in playing the role of tourist in China (temple, shrine, dim sum, museum, repeat) that I just temporarily lost touch with my cynical side.
Whatever the reason, I ended up fortune teller shopping with my mom, my friend Kanako and her boyfriend last Sunday afternoon, and ‘shopping’ is definitely an accurate way to describe it. There were over 50 psychics all with ‘offices’ located in closet-sized doorless cement stalls in what resembled an abandoned two story strip mall. The stalls only had enough room for a desk, a couple of stools and a few framed photos of Buddha or some celebrity client or generic white tourist.
Kanako and my mom walked up and down the aisles and peered at the psychics in silence, hoping to pick up on their ‘vibes’; sense the ‘real’ psychic that was somewhere hidden among the dozens of phonies who were smiling widely and beckoning us into their offices with calls of “Hello! Hello? Come! English!”
My method was a little more scientific. I wanted someone who looked the part. I wanted someone wise, wrinkled and with a habit of speaking in half-finished sentences in thick-accented broken English. In other words, I wanted the Yoda of Chinese fortune-tellers.
I found her on the second floor, in one of the stalls hidden near the Emergency exit. She was reading a newspaper and smiled serenely when I asked about the price. I chose her because her sales pitch didn’t reek of desperation. In fact, she looked like she could care less.
She turned out have a ‘nagging mother’ approach to psychic readings. She barked out all of her questions and glared at me when my answers weren’t sufficient.
“You live long…85 age. You understand?” She examined my palm and frowned. “But you marry very old.”
“Where does it say that?” She was indicating the entire left side of my hand, which made it difficult to tell what line she was looking at. I felt embarassed because although I’d resolved to not believe in shopping mall psychics, I wasn’t prepared to be told that I was going to be an old maid. “How old?”
“Mmmmm…Very old. 31.” Before I could comment on that, she continued. “You want husband?” Again, I tried to answer but apparently this was a rhetorical question because she rushed on to say: “You too picky.” She took out a piece of paper and wrote the following message, pausing as she scribbled to tap the message, glare at me and say: “You understand?”
“Don’t too much worried.
You must forget past love.
Don’t trust – Can’t find boyfriend.
Hard-working – Can’t find you boyfriend.
You too picky.”
Apparently I was also too ‘stubbornd’ and bad-tempered as well, as she went on say in an impatient voice…as if I was the 100th 20-something Western woman she’d given this exact lecture to that day.
She then told me to put fresh flowers in the west and north corner of my house (“buy compass!”) and I will then meet my good husband sometime this Autumn.
She also told me that I’d have three children, be promoted to a ‘manager’ (“no…supervisor!”) at the of 35.
After scribbling out another series of illegible, garbled sentences, she set down her pen and leaned back in her seat…apparently the reading had worn her out.
“You have question!” She said sternly.
“Uh, yeah. What about my career? What should I do with my life?”
I leaned forward, hoping beyond hope that somewhere under the 80’s perm and grandma glasses was a genuine mystic who held the answers to my purpose in life.
“You too much think, you understand?” She said, exasperated. She wrote out the word ‘think’ and underlined it three times. “You too much worried.”
With that, she folded up the papers and stuffed them in a red envelope, along with a picture of three balding, bearded men carrying a snake and standing next to two children who were riding a fish and holding a giant tomato.
My mother and I, praying at the neighboring temple. People journey to this temple to pray for success and good fortune in their careers. I prayed to find a job. We bowed, made a wish, waved the insense around and then placed it in a sandbox-looking structure infront of the alters.