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Lunar New Year

Fortune-telling machines underused at Hong Kong temple as divine and digital don’t mix

Worshippers say they still prefer face-to-face interactions for discussions about fate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 2:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 4:35pm

One of Hong Kong’s most popular temples has rolled out fortune-telling machines for worshippers in the lead-up to the Lunar New Year, but amid spiralling plumes of incense smoke and the rattling of bamboo divination sticks, one fact the new system could not predict was that tradition still trumps technology.

At the bustling Wong Tai Sin Temple on Thursday, the space around one of its newly launched automatic fortune-telling booths was unusually quiet.

The machines were installed to scan and interpret Kau Chim fortune sticks embedded with radio frequency identification tags.

Traditionally, worshippers would shake out a divination stick from a cylinder of 100 flat wooden rods, and have nearby vendors read out their fortunes accordingly.

The three e-stick reader booths launched by the temple digitised this process by allowing visitors to scan their sticks and print out their fortunes for the Year of the Rooster.

Worshippers could also use the temple’s mobile app to scan a QR code from the booths and receive their fortunes.

But the machines appeared largely underused late Thursday morning.

Two staff workers at the temple said there were “a lot of people” trying out the facilities earlier in the morning, but the crowds had since dissipated. Another worker admitted he did not even know the booths were available.

Still, some traditional fortune-tellers were concerned, with one woman, surnamed Lau, saying the impact on their business was inevitable.

“But because the digital system was just recently launched, it’s hard to say for sure,” she said.

Lau had been reading people’s fortunes for more than 10 years. She believed the traditional element of fortune-telling would continue to attract customers, since people could directly ask questions about their fate and receive immediate answers.

Such interaction was the main reason why Noctey Li from Beijing, who was in town for the Lunar New Year, preferred to have his fortune told the old-fashioned way.

“I saw the machines,” he said. “But I think it’s important to preserve tradition and this is a perfect example of our traditional roots.”

Some young people might prefer digitised fortune-telling, Li added, but he would rather have his told in person.

Another temple visitor, Chan Kwong-chun, agreed, saying: “Of course I prefer the traditional way since they can explain your fortune to you and talk to you about it in detail.”