Sun, May 01, 2005 - Page 17 News List

Date with destiny

Despite the proliferation of science in the nation's development, the ancient craft of fortune-telling continues to draw those seeking answers to their problems

By Graham Norris  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

The nation's rapid development has been based on the modern, the scientific and the technological, with the youthful population of this "green silicon island" more at home with mobile phones, computers and other gadgets than many of their Western counterparts.

But old traditions die hard, and even young Taiwanese will seek out the practitioners of an ancient technique to give them advice on love, their career and investments.

While Western culture has come to look suspiciously on the crystal balls, Ouija boards and tea-leaves reading of fortune-telling, in Taiwan, divining the future is more popular than ever. Putting a figure on how much Taiwanese spend on fortune-telling is difficult, but one survey estimated the industry to be worth more than NT$5 billion in 2002.

So why, in a society that has so warmly embraced technological development, do so many people place their faith in a craft that is so difficult to explain scientifically?

One reason is that maybe it works, or at least people believe it might work. Chen Sung-yun (陳松筠) is perhaps typical of Taiwan's modernity. She studied in the West, speaks English and works for a mobile-phone company. But when the 25-year-old seeks help for a personal problem, she prefers the anonymity of a fortune-teller to the personal advice of friends or family.

The first time she went to a fortune-teller was after she broke up with her first boyfriend. The fortune-teller told her the guy was unsuitable for her and that she would do better without him. She found the words comforting and moved on.

"After I broke up with another guy, I went back to the same fortune-teller and he told me the same thing, but eventually I got back together with my boyfriend again," she said. "So I can use the words or not. It's just a tool for me."

Love and relationships form the bulk of questions to fortune-tellers, followed by work problems.

Fortune-tellers estimate that about 70 percent of their clients are women, who may also ask them about how many children they will have and whether their spouse is cheating on them. Men tend to seek investment advice.

The methods employed to explain the present and future are almost as varied as the people who use them. While some methods, such as mi gua, which involves dropping grains of rice into wooden dishes, appear to cynics as too simple to possibly be useful, other methods are complex and take years to learn.

Fortune-tellers emphasize that their work is based on science, usually astrology, rather than any special ability on their part to see into the future.

Cici Fu (傅瀚瑤) has been a fortune-teller for more than three years and uses an astrological technique called zi wei dou shu, which requires the client provide details of their birth, including the hour and place. The information is used to produce a chart, which Fu then interprets.

The chart can be produced by a computer, which is what usually happens at the Web site that Fu works for, but the interpretation requires skill and practice, an art Fu says can be very accurate.

"Because zi wei dou shu builds upon details of your birth, we can produce a map of your life, identify the point you are at now, and see why you are doing what your are doing," Fu said. "We can help people understand the mysteries in their life and future."

Fortune-telling's purported accuracy is perhaps one of the reasons it has been so ingrained in Chinese culture. As well as the Gregorian calendar, Taiwanese have been brought up using the lunar, or farmer's calendar, which indicates what days are good to get married, move house or install a stove.

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