IS IT A RESULT of channelling the peach blossom spirit? The power of positive thinking? Or both? Whatever the case, some of Hong Kong's lovelorn are finding consolation in a bizarre ritual devised by Taoist medium Fong Hoi-yue, supposedly to help them win back partners who've lost interest. Fong has coined a term for the ritual, ga ming fun, or mock spirit marriage - a reference to the old Chinese custom of arranging nuptials for offspring who die unmarried. But he says the practice is based on wo hop fa, an ancient ceremony used to reunite lovers. Some might call Fong's service mumbo-jumbo for the gullible. Yet in a city with one of the highest broadband subscriptions in the region and access to up-to-date information, some people are willing to pay his $3,800 fee for the ritual. Usually performed at an altar set up in his Mongkok office, the 45-minute ceremony typically involves two eggs painted with male and female features, incense and chanting, wish-lists and written spells - and offerings to love gods with the power to reunite the petitioner with his or her love. According to Fong, the altar acts like a transmitter and the ceremony is essentially a way to broadcast messages to the missing partner. 'The client's wishes can develop spiritual power to make their partner think of their time together during sleep or when the brain rests,' he says. Feeling this 'call', the partner is moved subconsciously to telephone or make some contact. Psychologists say such ceremonies may help people in broken relationships feel better but express concern that emotionally fragile individuals may become delusional. Anthony Chan Yuk-cheung, a clinical psychologist, says some women may derive short-term comfort from the ritual but warns that it's unhealthy to continue the illusion. At the least, it's a barrier to new relationships. 'Some people are in denial. They've tried everything, so they use the ritual as a last resort to get the man back.' Arguing that the ritual contravenes Taoist philosophy, he says 'they should think through what went wrong in the relationships and learn from the experience'. Kindergarten teacher Janny Lam Puk-yan claims the ritual worked for her. Distraught at her boyfriend's decision to end their four-year relationship, she turned to Fong after stumbling across his website. 'I tried to see my boyfriend, but he was so determined to split up with me,' the 32-year-old says. So she went to Fong with the particulars needed for the ritual, including birth dates, photos, job and home address. Apparently a lock of hair, a bit of nail or some personal item also help to home in the positive vibes on the subject. Typically, Fong then prepares a wish-list addressed to deities such as the peach blossom spirit, which is associated with romance. The petition carrying the pair's particulars entreats the gods to bring them together again, and to bless their union. Fong must also write the appropriate spells on bookmark-sized papers. Other than that, the accoutrements are much like those used in a traditional Chinese marriage: combs to smooth the bride's new life, a couple of coconuts for fertility, a sprig of pine symbolising a long life together, and a pair of red candles for the union. Fong reads out the wish-list, then rings the bell while praying. He then burns paper offerings while the supplicant offers incense to the gods and focuses his or her thoughts on the partner. Finally, Fong waves a fan to boost the romance. If the relationship still retains some 'magic' the lover will contact his client within 49 days, says Fong, who claims a 70 per cent success rate. His choice of clients may help his odds - he's rejected some older, plain-looking women, saying their cases were too difficult. Lam got a call from her boyfriend within a week. 'He sounded so concerned about me. Before, no matter how often I called, he would switch off his phone.' The boyfriend has called several times since, and Lam is hopeful they'll get back together. Fong, 48, first encountered Taoist rituals in his teens. He accompanied a classmate to a celebration of a god's birthday, and was amazed by the mediums' apparent invulnerability to the slashing swords in the ceremony. Fascinated, he started to learn about fung shui, ghost-busting and other Taoist concepts. By 19, he was helping his friends patch up their love lives with his newly acquired knowledge. 'I used them as guinea pigs,' says Fong. Eventually, as the clothing industry shifted to the mainland, the former garment worker turned his hobby into a career, petitioning the deities for the well-being of clients' families, or for help with their ailments or rocky relationships. At first, there were only a few requests each month but in recent years, Fong says, the number has risen to more than 20. Observers view such interest as part of the fad for fortune-telling that's attributed to people's quest for assurance in uncertain times. His clients are mostly women in their 20s and 30s, and come from all walks of life. Some are highly educated, including a university-educated nurse who'll only give her name as 'Judith'. Judith, 30, says she's been unlucky in love in the past, and earlier quarrelled with her new boyfriend. When he ignored her for two weeks, she turned to Fong for help. The boyfriend asked her out again within days of the ritual being performed, she says, and they even discussed having a family together. 'It seems he's committed to our relationship. I feel the gods have helped me. It was amazing.' For a $6,800 fee, Fong performs rites for the traditional spirit marriages through which Chinese families secure a spouse for their deceased children. But demand for this kind of service has slumped over time. Requests come from elderly people who still adhere to old beliefs. One recent example was a couple from Sheung Shui who had found a 'wife', a dead mainland woman, for their dead son. Fong performed the ritual. But he also has younger clients. In one case, a woman whose fiance died in a traffic accident wanted him to perform the spirit marriage ritual for them. 'They were a close couple and just about to get married, so I helped her to fulfil her wish,' Fong says. 'She was sobbing during the ceremony.' Call it a placebo effect, if you like, but Fong says his rituals help give people emotional comfort, and many feel more at peace after the ceremony. Judith has another take on it. 'I sometimes question whether using a spell is right or not, but I think that it's just like people praying - only my way is different.'