Saturday, August 04, 2007

We go be tourist Part II; The Ninth Son of the Dragon Turtle

We were still on the bus, with no sign of our destination in sight. I thought HuYi had said it was only an hour’s drive from Shenzhen to the hot springs, but two hours had come and gone, and we had just stopped at a gas station to refuel and take a bathroom break. All of this seemed to indicate we would be pressing on for a while longer. Our fellow passengers had bought snacks, but none of the selections had really caught our fancy, (dehydrated chicken feet anyone?) and now we were feeling a little hungry. We settled in for the ride and gave ourselves a pat on the back for remembering to charge our i-pods.

Forty five minutes later, we pulled off the highway and down a dusty dirt lane. We piled out of the bus and gathered under a tree in a vain attempt to escape the blistering sun. We were at the gates of a terracotta roofed temple situated right on a river. (It is very good feng shui to have a view of water we were told). Our tour guide was speaking into a megaphone, giving what I only imagine was fascinating and useful information about the place we were admiring and our itinerary, but “China…water…Chinese persons…bus” were about the only things I understood.

I stood admiring the prayer ribbons tied to the trees by the river, the branches fluttering with red streamers that represented wishes, concerns, and questions. I also noted a sort of altar filled with sand where pilgrims were kowtowing with foot long smoking incense sticks.

At last we climbed the steps to the temple. There was a group of six statues at the back and a table filled with offerings for them. I don’t claim to know much about religion in China, but I do know that ancestor worship is widely practiced. The statues wore brightly colored pink and red costumes embroidered with gold trim and elaborate hairstyles. Before them on the altar were baskets of plastic fruit, silk flowers, glasses of liquor, and piles of gold coins, jade and incense. Everything you’d need to really enjoy the afterlife, I suppose.

Since I couldn’t understand what our guide was saying, I occupied myself with staring hard at my surroundings. I have to admit, the place looked a bit dingy. The floor was littered with ashes from the incense and there was a significant amount of what appeared to be bird poop spattered on the walls and tabletops. A lone fan stood in the corner in a noble but pathetic effort to cool the visitors. Or perhaps it was to please the ancestors, a symbol of a fan, akin to the plastic fruit that only symbolized sustenance.

A well wishing youngster decided to try to translate for us. “He said that old lady in picture comes today, is very good luck we see her.” He gestured to the tray of jade on the altar. “You choose one now, but take with left hand.” People in the group circled around choosing the little oblong jade charms and Eric and I each took one also. The tour guide lead us into the next room.

It had a humble dirt floor and bamboo screens for walls. Four men looked at us from behind official looking desks. They wore black and white turbans on their heads, long pointed beards and black robes. The guide talked for awhile longer and people sorted themselves into two lines. Our translator appeared at my side and said “He says fortune for you to know, but not to tell it to anyone else.” I laughed to myself. Since I was unlikely to understand what he said, it was unlikely that I would be able to repeat it, even if I'd wanted to. People filed up one by one and sat before the fortune teller. He took their piece of jade and pulled out a pink slip of graph paper with a list of characters. They talked earnestly together and some people took bundles of the foot long incense sticks as they rose to leave.

My turn soon arrived. The secrecy of my fortune was going to be seriously compromised by my translator who had taken it upon himself to accompany me to the desk.

“Do you speak Chinese?” the fortune teller asked me in Mandarin.
He looked doubtfully at my companion and took my piece of jade. He pulled out a piece of pink paper, halfheartedly circled a few things and talked to my translator.
“He says, you choose the highest number, you are very lucky. If you want even more luck, you can buy some of this incense.”
“I see.” I said. “How much is it?”
“Thirty yuen.” It seemed a little strange to not want extra luck, so I took one packet.

Eric's time had now come. He was accompanied by the translator and a curious crowd of onlookers. He looked supremely uncomfortable. I hung back despite the crowd, because the idea was that this fortune was private. It didn't look good. The fortune teller was gesticulating and the translator was leaning over Eric trying to explain. He had picked a low number, his luck was very bad.

"Do you have a desk at home?" the translator asked
"Yes." he answered.
"Bad things coming through your desk. You must turn your desk to face east. The ninth son of the dragon turtle can protect you. Do you have one?"
"Umm, sorry the what?" Eric was looking bewildered and uncomfortable in the midst of the gathering throng of black heads.

"Ninth son of the Dragon Turtle is very wise, very lucky. You have one?"
"No, I don't." Eric said
"You need this incense, two packets." said the translator

He took the packets and rose to leave, the entourage followed, enchanted by the site of this American with the horrible luck, whose misfortunes they were able to hear so clearly without the aid of a translator. Eric shot me a look of dismay as they whisked him to the next room, where a row of cashiers handled the payment for the incense packets. The fortune teller had accompanied us and now guided Eric and I to a separate room filled with jade carvings. He spoke loudly to our translator and the crowd behind us grew.

"He says here is the 9th Son of the Dragon Turtle. The bigger one brings more luck, the middle one middle luck, smallest one least lucky. You choose now."

We examined the price tags. I don't mind telling you that these statues were exactly what they sounded like, the wierd mutant offspring of a dragon and a turtle. They weren't exactly aesthetically pleasing and they were running for about $350 yuen (about $50). It didn't seem appropriate to bargain at the temple, so we did what any good Midwesterner would do. We stalled.

"Umm, I don't know" I piped up. (I didn't want this statue to end up in my house through the brute force of mob intimidation. It was truly ugly.) "We have to think about it. Let's go honey"

Our translator looked around nervously. "I think, there is no later, you must choose now."

"Okay," I say, I"m trying to be culturally considerate, and not force our translator into loosing face. He was kindly translating for us, and now we were embarrasing him. I glanced at Eric and realized I needn't have worried. Eric smiled smoothly and said "Sorry, we don't have enough money." \

It wasn't totally untrue. We had $400 yuen in our wallet, but it was in case of an emergency. We hadn't really budgeted for The Ninth Son of the Dragon Turtle.

I sensed that we had disappointed every one and the crowd dissipated as Eric and I made our way to burn our incense at the altar in a half hearted attempt to ward off bad luck. Where would this crazy weekend lead us next?

1 comment:

david said...

I'm not one to tell a fortune teller their job, but I don't think he was mathematically correlating your luck with Eric's. Your lots o'luck forified with extra luck should more than cancel out his very bad luck.
L+(L*L)-(L*L)=L. Your now back to a little bit of luck and you still have your $50 bucks.

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