Our guest this week is Esta Fischer, a New York playwright, poet, and short story writer. Her 10-minute play, Eco-babble, is currently running at the Shelterbelt in Omaha, Nebraska, and her short play, Be Well, opens at the end of February in San Diego. Her short stories and poems have appeared in numerous literary magazines and e-zines. Her short story, The Good Fortune Cookie Monsters, was a semi-finalist in the 2009 Moondance Film Festival. She received her M.A. in Creative Writing from Boston University and is a member of The Dramatists Guild of America, Inc. Esta is about to make her twentieth trip to Asia and frequently writes about Asian subjects. Since the Chinese New Year falls on February 3 this winter, it’s about time we learn what to expect.
It’s the Chinese Year of the Rabbit and the Chinese will be eating dishes of long noodles to ensure a long life. They will smash clay pots at midnight, right before the New Year begins, to ensure the evil spirits that have plagued them this year will not follow them into the next. They will perform dragon dances to chase away any evil spirits still lurking around. And fortune tellers will be busy predicting who will be rich, who will be healthy, and who will make a good marriage.
I’ve had my fortune told numerous times in China during my far-flung travels to outposts rarely visited by foreigners. Many of these consultations took place near Buddhist temples or at one of the holy Buddhist mountains, where fortune tellers proliferate. In Sichuan Province, I picked slips of flimsy rice paper marked with Chinese characters from a bamboo container while sitting in the niche of a rock wall. Outside a temple in Taiyuan in the northeast, my consultant was set up on a tree stump flanked by two small wooden stools on which we squatted. This was a more comprehensive session: my astrological profile was calculated from my date of birth, the distance between my nostrils and my upper lip ascertained, and the lines across my forehead examined. I picked bamboo sticks, about the size and shape of popsicle sticks, with Chinese characters written on them, from a container. My Chinese was not fluent and my guides provided translation service. Sometimes I wondered if the translations were accurate, but I was more interested in the experiences than in the predictions.
Years later, in more up-to-date Hong Kong, I was taken to a fortune teller with a real office, a space ten by ten feet, with a desk, chairs, and electric lights. The walls were covered with portraits of Buddhist deities and ba guas (eight-sided images used in Taoist cosmology to represent the fundamental principles of reality). This was also the most expensive of my consultations, although nowhere near what such a session would cost in the U.S. In addition to the usual techniques, the bumps on my head were felt. The predictions I received from all of these fortune tellers was pretty much the same: smooth sailing overall, with minor ups and downs. Since I was born in the Year of the Pig, this was not surprising. The lives of pigs are relatively easy.
My final Chinese fortune-telling experience took place in Hong Kong several years ago. My friend and personal guide had found a guru and insisted I see him. After a late dinner we took a taxi to his apartment, where he had turned one of his small rooms into a shrine with statues of Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy. I’m a great fan of Kuan Yin, but this guru and I took an instant dislike to each other. Unlike my previous seers, he berated me about all sorts of things I was doing wrong in my life. (He also suggested I change my style of eyeglass frames, which I did when I got home, and I had to admit the new ones were much more flattering.) My friend sensed my discomfort and finessed the session’s end. She called for a taxi. It was midnight as the cab sped through Hong Kong, and I reflected that I had heard enough fortunes. What I really wanted to be told was that I would become rich and famous. I decided to give up.
So getting back to the Year of the Rabbit. The Chinese horoscope is not simple. In addition to each animal, each year has one of the five elements assigned to it: metal, water, wood, fire, earth. And to complicate things further, each year is assigned a positive/negative or Yang/Yin element. Our 2011 Rabbit is a Yin Metal Rabbit. This Rabbit wants to stay home and be comfortable, and doesn’t care about the rest of the world. Both individuals and nations will be more interested in themselves than in others, and those at war will start to lose interest in it, which our world can use. If you want more details on the year ahead, find a fortune teller in Chinatown, or, if there are no Chinatowns nearby, try an astrology website. I’m sure the gurus already have it all figured out!
The Chinese Astrology Sites: