Day one, I woke up early. Really early. Four A.M. to be exact. I pulled back the curtain in my room and witnessed a city at slumber below. At this hour, everything appeared so quiet and dark. Skyscrapers were black and the overcast sky above shielded all instance of celestial light. This cosmopolitan city of over seven million inhabitants had an almost quaint feel when stripped of its technicolour gloss. I debated getting dressed and exploring it under cover of night, just me and whatever creatures lurked the alleyways, but opted instead to rest a bit more. My first day would already have a lot of activity. I had planned a 15 kilometre roundtrip walk to Wong Tai Sin Temple, also known as the "good luck" shrine.
I am entering the phase of my life where spirituality is becoming increasingly important for my personal wellbeing. Losing my father somewhat unexpectedly in 2014 was the initial impetus for seeking deeper answers and construct, but the increasing apathy of society has been a powerful motivator as well. I wanted to start out my holiday on a positive note in this regard thus a tri-faith temple beckoned me - Taoist, Buddhist and Confucianist - where legend states "what you request is what you get".
A light drizzle filled the air when I left my hotel, only to turn into a downpour about thirty minutes in. I purchased an umbrella from a street vendor, thankful, but not really knowing what I paid - the HKD to CDN conversion isn't easily calculable in my head. I may have paid five dollars. I may have paid fifty. At that point, I was just happy to have a shield from the rain. With this, my pace became slower as I started to appreciate my surroundings. The busy commercial hub of Kowloon's core had given way to a primarily residential neighbourhood. In Canada, a high-rise living complex requires a significant base of land but in Hong Kong some of the plots seemed minuscule with a very tall, skinny multi-unit dwelling on top. The downright tiny living quarters in each unit appeared to be around 150sq.ft ... or less ... with items stacked against windows for lack of storage. The streets were also lined with yellow buses and children dressed in uniforms marching to- and fro. I passed one young artists institute and marvelled at the talent on display.
The panther was made by a ten-year-old. Amazing.
The rain eased somewhat as I found myself at Kowloon Walled City Park, a greenspace once ruled by the Triads and overrun with thieves, prostitution, gambling and drug abuse. The lawless enclave within Hong Kong proper was torn down in the early nineties, but prior to this it was the most densely populated spot in the world. Here is a fascinating brief history to give context:
A brief jaunt from Kowloon Walled City Park is Wong Tai Sin Temple, my final destination. Despite the gloominess of the day, large crowds were gathered to make offerings and seek counsel from one of the dozens of fortunetellers that lined near the entranceway. I took my time to soak up every inch of the shrine, carefully observing how practitioners lit incense from a communal fire and then worshipped to one of the many God-like statues that represented everything from health to love (although wealth had the most abundant gifts of mandarin). Wandering a bit more, I found a quiet spot at the Good Wish Garden to reflect and contemplate on my own needs in life. I live a blessed existence. There is not much I am left to desire. And so I turned to those I cared about that could use the energy; those facing health challenges and financial strain. It is audacious to think that a prayer could solve the world's ills but it is also of no harm to hope that it might. If this temple holds any magic at all, may it be known within my circle.
Before starting the long walk back to my hotel, I made my way to the alley of fortunetellers. I've never done it before but was intrigued enough to give it a try, if for nothing more than another holiday memory. A short man beckoned. Not all of the seers speak English, but he did, so my decision seemed to be made for me. The walls of his tiny stall were lined with pictures of him posing with Chinese celebrities of various status. I wasn't assured of his gifts, but he did appear to have a reputation. He informed me that he has been reading palms and telling people's fortunes at Wong Tai Sin since 1988. He took my hand and traced the lines, telling me that of all my romantic interests in life, only half loved me; the rest were using me. I had already known this though. My gullibility isn't written on my palm but rather my face. He then asked me to pull a stick from dozens placed in a cup. The lucky number on it would match to a numbered envelope containing a story that foretold my future. After explaining its meaning, I was struck by how accurate it correlated with events in my life.
It is audacious to think that a fortuneteller could inscribe my future but it is also of no harm to hope that they might.