Even though Hong Kong may appear to be a modern, cosmopolitan city, there are a lot of old traditions that remain popular. Here are a few local places, each specialising in a different area of belief, where you can experience the superstitious side of Hong Kong.
Fortune stick drawing
Filled with smoke from incense sticks, Wong Tai Sin Temple is the place to ask the gods for advice when making an important decision. One practice involves shaking fortune sticks. A person gently shakes a cylinder filled with sticks that have different numbers on them. When one stick falls out, the number will correspond to one of 100 predictions, read by a soothsayer outside of the temple. Jiaobei blocks or moon blocks can be used to confirm the prediction. These are wooden tools which are thrown in pairs and used to answer a yes or no question.
One of the visitors who tried stick drawing for the first time out of curiosity, Cheung Yee-han, allowed us to listen as he had his stick interpreted. The soothsayer asked for the number of the stick and Cheung's birthday, including the exact time, and then referred to his books. Cheung is a fresh graduate, and wanted guidance on which career path would suit him. Cheung's number was a "middle" stick, indicating a mixture of both bad and good luck.
The soothsayer produced a poem that corresponded to his number. The poem was about a bird that delivered bad news. He told Cheung that his career might not change dramatically in the next two or three years, but he would start to accumulate wealth when he was 30. He also said Cheung's digestive system was not in good health, which Cheung verified as accurate.
Wong Tai Sin Temple has 161 soothsaying stalls to choose from, in different languages and for different purposes. Stick interpretation is usually HK$30.
"Da siu yan"
The spot under Canal Road Flyover is famous for getting revenge on the one who've wrong you. "Da siu yan" roughly translates to "villain hitting", with "siu yan" meaning "petty little people". It is mostly practised by old women and the purpose is to curse one's enemies using magic.
One of the stall owners said most customers are female because they're looking for luck in their relationships. Some have been betrayed by their husbands, who become their target for villain hitting, or their husband's mistress is the target, and the wives hope that will drive the other woman away. Others are simply worried about bad luck.
The "hit-woman" asks for the client's name and birthday, and then writes the client's enemy's name on a paper tiger. They then repeatedly hit the paper tiger with an old slipper or high-heeled shoe, chanting curses with every strike, wipe fatty pork oil on the tiger's mouth, and finally burn the paper tiger.
Villain hitting originated from the practice of "hitting white tigers", where Chinese people would symbolically "feed" the tiger to keep tigers from killing people in their villages.
Villain hitting costs around HK$50.
Tarot card reading
If you're looking for something more personal, fortune tellers like Letao Wang might be for you. As well as using the traditional 78-card tarot deck, Letao has designed his own cards, using a combination of Greek gods and Lenormand cards from famous French fortune teller Marie Anne Lenormand.
"My cards have simple images [so they're] easy to understand," explains Wang. Wang apprenticed with a fortune teller in Sydney and now offers fortune-telling services in Tai Hang. He can give predictions for the following six months.
Wang brands himself as a "happiness consultant" as his goal is to help clients rather than simply predict the future. "I don't want to intimidate clients," he says. "I feel for them and I want to offer solutions to help them prepare for the future."
Wang gave me a general reading using his own deck. There are 22 cards, from which clients pick 13. He lines the cards up in three rows. I asked about university and what I should study. The card at the left bottom corner is the house of studies, and I picked Orpheus. Wang thinks I should study something related to helping people, as Orpheus symbolises healing.
When I asked about my family relationships, Wang looked to the first and last cards on the first row, Hermes and Mars. As Mars is the god of war, he predicted that I feel stressed at home and believed Mars represented my mother as a strong figure - which is quite true.
But he said there won't be any big problems, as while Mars and Hermes aren't close friends, they aren't enemies either.
Wang charges HK$600 for a 40-minute reading.
Face and palm reading
Temple Street comes alive after 7pm, as stalls pop up offering a variety of fortune-telling services including face and palm reading, stick drawing, tarot and astrology.
I tried out face and palm reading with Master Tsang Sim, a lady in her 60s.
She made various predictions after looking at my palms, measuring the width of my forehead and looking at the positioning of my nose.
Apart from vague, general comments, she gave me specific advice based on my zodiac sign, such as keeping a low profile in July and December this year.
Some recommendations seemed more like common sense than predictions, such as a warning that I should be accompanied by at least one person close to me when I travel by plane after I'm 60 years old.
The stalls at Temple Street can charge as much as HK$300 for their services.