Fortune Telling Community College in Taipei

A lot of junk comes through my letterbox everyday. More often than not it’s housing advertisements, but I thought that this fortune telling class for local residents was quite interesting:

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It reads:

REALLY ACCURATE!

A beginners’ class on the art of telling fortunes with people’s names

Do you want to know who is holding you back and who is there to help you? How much does one’s name influence one’s life?

In order to be of service to the residents of Wangxi Li, we’ve invited instructors from the Taiyi Numerology Centre to give classes to the residents of this li on the art of telling fortunes from names, so they can understand life and grow together!

The rest is details of the cost and contact information.

Many Taiwanese people that I have met are extremely superstitious, they believe in ghosts in a very literal way and they believe that if they’re having a run of bad luck they can change their luck in several ways. One of these ways is to change their name. Many Taiwanese people I know have changed their name at least once, some several times. Baby names in Taiwan are often chosen by fortune tellers and if you’ve been given a bad name, then you need to get it changed or you’ll be unable to turn your life around.

I’m not a massive fan of fortune telling and don’t hold any stock in it at all. Irish people have a lot of superstitions too, from older beliefs in leprechauns and fairies to the pseudo-Christian traditions of faith healers and relics (objects owned by saints or their body parts which are said to have magical healing powers). These traditions still go on today, for example, most irish cars will have holy water somewhere in them as a blessing. I also heard a story about a miraculous Medal being thrown into a house up for sale by interested buyers in the belief that it will secure them the property.

A good antidote to superstition like this is a play by Brian Friel called Faith Healer, although, obviously you’re free to believe what you want:

But the questionings, the questionings… They began modestly enough with the pompous struttings of a young man: Am I endowed with a unique and awesome gift? – my God, yes, I’m afraid so. And I suppose the other extreme was Am I a con man? – which of course was nonsense, I think. And between those absurd exaggerations the possibilities were legion. Was it all chance? – or skill? – or illusion? – or delusion? Precisely what power did I possess? Could I summon it? When and how? Was I its servant? Did it reside in my ability to invest someone with faith in me or did I evoke from him a healing faith in himself? Could my healing be effected without faith? But faith in what? – in me? in the possibility? – faith in faith? And is the power diminishing? You’re beginning to masquerade, aren’t you? You’re becoming a husk, aren’t you?

Faith Healer Brian Friel

I feel that some sociology doctoral candidate somewhere should take some of these classes though, as I find it so interesting how much this kind of thing affects people’s lives.

To be fair to the organizers, although the class costs NT$1000, those with low household incomes can take it for free.

I’ve heard lots of Taiwanese superstitions (/beliefs) over the years, like not whistling at night during Ghost Month; Oh yeah… Ghost Month, when the gates of hell open and ghosts come into the land of the living; Putting your umbrella down before you go inside (or a ghost will think you’re leading them in). And many more like this. How about you? Comment below with any beliefs that you’ve heard about in Taiwan.

I’m provided a link to the centre’s website (Chinese only) for anyone who is interested in the mechanics of how one’s fortune is told with one’s name. But this is not an endorsement.

Book Review: ‘Poet Robot’ by E.I. Wong

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Some time ago I stumbled across a blog on WordPress called “A Narcissist Writes Letters To Himself” that made me laugh. The style of the blog reminded me of a mix of the absurd humor of Flann O’Brien and the comic logical fallacies of Douglas Adams, and this was reflected in his self-published book, Poet Robot: An Introduction to E.I. Wong. I preferred the off-the-wall absurdity to some of the other stuff, but it was an enjoyable read overall and had me laughing out loud at parts.

The highlights of the book for me included ‘To Describe Blowjobs Artistically’, wherein the author takes up the challenge of one of the literary critics in SlaughterHouse 5 who states that the purpose of the modern novel is ‘to describe blow-jobs artistically’. I enjoyed the tone of this section of the book, essentially charting the thought process of a man receiving a blow job. Much as it may be packaged as pastiche, there was a real depth to his examination of the male psyche and how it hovers between the horrifyingly banal and the comfortably lewd when inhibitions are wavering:

As Oscar’s mind leaves for an indescribably present yet distant sense of time, the beast within this soulless man will occupy her with pulsating gyration of up, down and up, and she will sync up with him, her fishy lipstick going, up and down.

The other highlights were a bit punchier. Some of the shorter pieces hit the mark and made me laugh, while a few just didn’t land. I liked the internal monologue that ran through the book, from the copyright information, through the footnotes and in the letters to the governor about the author’s bid to be Poet Laureate of California. When it came to the other longer piece in the book, ‘The Second Person’ I found that it was the more outlandish lines that really made me laugh. I laughed at the repeated reference to police officers having an irrational hatred for foster children, for example, and the moose pee. I didn’t quite get the attempts at race humor, but that could be that I’m not American. Wasn’t sure about the “it’s funny because he’s a dwarf” angle of the story either, and the male presence in the book could have done with a little more female input than references to my girlfriend (read: the shrew) which came up now and again.

Looking forward to seeing what he gets up to in the future.