Gadget aids visually impaired in seeking religious guidance

DIVINE INSPIRATION::A student decided to invent ‘talking’ divination blocks when he saw a visually impaired man having to ask for help in a temple

By Wei Yi-chia and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Thu, Mar 13, 2014 - Page 5

For many Taiwanese, casting divination blocks is a popular way of communicating with the gods, but people who are visually impaired often have to depend on the assistance of others to know the gods’ answers to their prayers.

However, thanks to an invention by Chuang Tzu-wei (莊子葳), a second-year student at the Affiliated Industrial Vocational High School of National Changhua University of Education, the traditional religious practice has become more user-friendly for the visually challenged.

Also known as zhijiao (擲筊) in Mandarin or bwa bwei in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), the religious practice involves throwing a pair of crescent-shaped red blocks to seek spiritual guidance.

Each block has a flat and a convex side. If the blocks land with one flat and one convex side up — also known as the “sacred combination” (聖杯) — it means the deity has given a positive answer.

However, if they land with both convex sides up — known as the “yin blocks” (蓋杯) — it generally represents a negative response.

And if they land with both flat sides up — called the “laughing blocks” (笑杯) — it means that the god has not yet made a decision.

Inspired by his father’s religious devotion, Chuang has been doing voluntary work at a local temple in Changhua County since he was 15.

“One day, I saw a visually impaired man toss a pair of blocks and ask people near him to tell him what the outcome was. I thought: ‘What would he have done if he had been the only one around?’” Chuang said.

Chuang said the incident inspired him to invent plastic “talking blocks,” which are equipped with a wireless device that can identify the results with nearly 100 percent accuracy and announce them out loud.

“Although a few details of my invention still require improvement, I have already filed a patent application,” Chuang said.

Chuang’s endeavor made him one of 30 young volunteer workers who received the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards this year.

Another recipient of the award is Chen Yu-hsin (陳禹心), a first-year student at the Taichung Municipal Li-Jen Junior High School.

Chen started doing volunteer work at the age of seven, when she helped an elderly grape farmer sell her produce for a living.

She has also volunteered at a number of community centers in the Philippines, feeding abandoned children and collecting goods and medical supplies for the underprivileged.