Laura Cook from Mt Isa, Australia, wants to know what the future holds. I suppose we would all like a little insight into the future from time to time, and fortunately for the 23-year-old Queenslander, she’s in just the right place.
Taipei city is full of people who, for a fee, will read your palms, look at your tea leaves, calculate your numerology, check your stars, or use any other of the countless methods to peek into your future.
Having spent five weeks travelling around Europe, Laura had a three-day stop in Taipei before returning home. While in the city she has soaked up the culture and even did some karaoke, but today she’s come out in search of answers that time might be willing to give up a little early.
Along with Jean Wang, the manager of the hostel Laura and I were both staying at, the three of us headed to a roadway underpass where a number of fortune tellers sit in little booths that look more like the offices of an under-funded government department rather than a mystical gateway to a time yet untold.
“How will you choose one?” I asked Laura as we walked slowly past booths from which women, both young and old, motioned for us to come in.
“I want one that seems a bit mysterious, you know?” Of course I knew exactly what she meant. A fortune-teller should indeed be mysterious, probably old, with dark flowing hair, and maybe long fingernails or a spectacle, right?
Eventually Laura stops and tells us “This one.” An old woman wearing blue with somewhat scraggy hair sits behind a desk under a faded picture of an ancient Oriental Wiseman who bares a passing resemblance to the Buddha.
The future will cost five hundred Taiwan dollars, the woman tells Jean who translates for us. Laura does a quick conversion into Australian currency ($15) then takes a seat at the rickety table that is as near to mystic as this underpass is going to offer.
The fortune-teller gives Laura a piece of paper and asks her to write her name and date of birth. She then instructs her to take a pinch of rice grains from a cup and place them into three empty cups. With this the old woman begins to make notes and do calculations in silence as a plastic pink fan whirs in the corner.
Through Jean, our interpreter, the old woman tells Laura she is 22 years old, and married. She’s actually 23 years old and single, so Jean corrects the fortune-teller. It’s not a good start for the old woman who, it would appear, is calculating some kind of numerological chart.
She asks Laura what her job is then says “This is a good job, You can do this in Australia. Or maybe Japan. Or maybe Korea.”
With a strained expression on her face the fortune-teller then feverishly makes notes and calculations on a pink piece of paper. We all watch closely then she speaks quietly and Jean interprets. “Wear white, or yellow. These colors will be helpful with luck and your work.”
A couple more minutes pass then she says, “Don’t stay up late. Go to bed early or you will have trouble with your chest.”
I’ve never been to a fortune-teller before, but so far the only fortune here seems to be the amount Laura just paid for some fairly useless information.
She asks the old woman about relationships. Picking up her pen, the fortune-teller does some more calculations then announces, “By the end of the year you will have a baby boy.”
This comes as a surprise to Laura, after all, it’s September and she’s not even pregnant. Jean points this out to the fortune-teller who then extends the deadline. “Or by the end of next year.. And maybe a girl too.. But last chance to have a baby is 2016.”
The three of us shoot sceptical looks at one another. Then Laura asks for some clarification about the father. “He will be someone you do not know yet.” That sounds interesting to Laura who, it would seem, is about to meet her Mr Right. Only, there’s another nugget of news from the future. “Or you may know him already.”
The future didn’t seem to have a lot else to say, so with that the reading was over and we all left.
“It wasn’t what I expected.” Laura told me afterward when we spoke about the experience. “I’m surprised about the baby!” She said with a laugh.
As we chat I learn that this wasn’t the first time Laura has asked someone to peer into her tomorrows. In May she had her tarot cards read at Mindil Beach in Darwin, and in June she paid $50 to visit a fortune-teller at the physic fair in Mount Isa.
So what has she learned from all this? “I’m a bit confused about my future, so if it gives me ideas and inspiration that’s a good thing.” She tells me. “I don’t think about it too much you know. After all, I think happiness is a choice.”
I like that notion, that happiness is a choice. So while I might not think that it was a great choice to pay an old woman to make odd predictions, or indeed to part with any money in exchange for a preview of tomorrow, I like the idea that for Laura happiness is something she actively chooses, and from the brief time I spent with her that certainly would seem to be the case.
I’ll check back with her in a year or so to see if she’s been wearing white and yellow, going to bed early, and looking after the baby she’s going to have with the man she’s about to get together with.