Mon, Feb 28, 2011 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Superstition still widespread across high-tech Asia

By Amber Wang  /  AFP, TAIPEI

A fortune teller waits for a customer at her office in Taipei on Feb. 10. From regular people to the very rich and powerful, age-old spiritual practices such as feng shui, divination and folk beliefs still play a role in the daily life of many people in Asia despite the region’s fast modernization.

Photo: Sam Yeh, AFP

From the compatibility of her groom to the timing of her wedding and the naming of her child, Shen Yi-ching has always turned to fortune tellers for guidance on life’s big decisions.

“It’s for good luck and peace of mind. I’d rather be safe than sorry,” said Taiwanese teacher Shen, 38, whose parents consulted a soothsayer to pick a name with an auspicious arrangement of Chinese characters for her.

Young and old, rich and poor, ancient spiritual practices and folk beliefs still sway daily life for many across Asia despite the region’s rapid modernization.

In ethnic Chinese communities, and societies where their influence remains strong such as South Korea and Thailand, the age-old art of feng shui commands a huge following when it comes to seeking ideal homes, offices and burial sites.

Many of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers were built in line with feng shui “rules,” while the direction of the world’s biggest observation wheel in Singapore was reversed after warnings it was sapping good fortune from the city-state.

“People who are not doing well want to reverse their bad luck, and people who are successful want to retain their wealth,” said Dave Hum of Singapore’s Classical Feng Shui Consultancy.

Superstitious beliefs can often be extreme. Hong Kong property tycoon Nina Wang (龔如心) allegedly shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars for feng shui rituals aimed at curing her terminal cancer.

A court in the city earlier this month rejected a “thoroughly dishonest” claim by a bartender-turned-fortune teller who laid claim to her estimated US$13 billion estate.

Some Chinese are willing to pay extra to register phone numbers and car plates containing the number “eight” simply because it sounds similar to the word for “lucky” in Mandarin and Cantonese.

Conversely, the number four is avoided as it is pronounced almost exactly like “death.”

China’s Sichuan Airlines paid about US$280,000 to register the phone number 8888-8888, while Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa casinos both opened on the dot at auspicious times ending with eight.

The ancient Chinese zodiac system also deeply affects people’s choices.

In Taiwan, birth rates always fell sharply in the years of the Tiger because of a belief that babies, especially girls, born to the sign are less lucky as they bear the animal’s fierce attributes.

Just as the Chinese consult the Lunar Calendar, Indonesia’s Javanese people turn to their ancient calendar, created during Sultanate of Mataram in the 17th century, before making important decisions.

Imam Syafei, a 35-year-old construction contractor, said he always fasts on his birthday to avoid misfortune and times the start of new projects according to the calendar.

“If the beginning is good, then the goodness will follow,” he said.

Most Indonesian conglomerates reportedly have sent representatives to Mount Kawi on the East Java province, where believers make offerings to seek fortunes for their business.

Indians too are ardent followers of astrology and numerology, which uses numbers and alphabets to predict the future, deferring to the techniques for everything from sealing business deals to picking the title for a Bollywood movie.

“People are much more insecure today and when they see numerology work for others, they want to try it out for themselves,” Mumbai-based numerologist Sanjay B Jumaani said.

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