Changing fortunes for temple soothsayers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2012, 12:00am


Want to know your fortune using divination sticks according to ancient Taoist principles? One of Hong Kong's most famous temples has just the app.

A new smartphone application being tested by the Wong Tai Sin Temple allows people to learn their futures by keying the number printed on a divination stick into their iPhone.

But believers still have to visit the temple to shake the stick out of a bamboo canister.

The app even allows users to send the result to friends and family.

But some of the temple's 160 soothsayers say a computer programme will never be able to replace the skills they have spent years mastering.

'Two people can get the same stick but it would mean different things to them,' said one. 'You cannot get a correct interpretation by simply reading the scripture from the divination stick.

'We soothsayers take into account the year of their birth, what day it is and what the weather is like that day. We have studied for many years in order to qualify to take on this role. That cannot be replaced by a machine.'

She said the number of people visiting soothsayers had fallen since the temple began to offer fortune telling on its website. 'Old people won't go to these applications or computers because they know it is not accurate, but we are definitely losing younger customers.'

But a temple spokeswoman denied the application was a replacement for soothsayers' services.

'We are just giving people a convenient option,' she said. 'If they want a more in-depth and accurate reading of their fortune that takes into account their birth year and other personal factors, they should still go to a soothsayer.'

And temple director Wilson Or Wai-shun said the app was not a break with Taoist custom.

'The application still requires people to visit the temple and personally shake out their stick,' he said.

The temple is also trialling a digital kiosk where people can insert their divination stick and print out their fortune. It will be ready for public use later in the year.

The temple is still waiting for approval from Apple for the app.

About 20,000 people are expected to visit the temple to light up their first joss stick of the year tomorrow night.