Fortune

As I move through different parts of Asia, into different cites and districts, as I meet different people, I am ever reminded of how fundamentally some believe in the powers of fortune. Here are some of my glimpses into the world of fortune as they’ve brushed up against my experience.

At Asakusa Temple

At Asakusa Temple

1) Asakusa Temple, Tokyo, Japan:

My first encounter with fortune came at the temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. I had read in some guide books about receiving your fortune at the temple and as I saw various people minding these small drawers to the side of the main plaza, I assumed it had something to do with this. So I went over to the long row of drawers and simply opened one to receive my fortune, written on a small piece of paper. Luckily it was in printed there in English -though the exact translation is perhaps questionable.

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Fortune No. 76 Regular Fortune:

“To be rich or noble are given by God, you can’t get them by your own endeavor, and knowledge. Although you work hard with your best, it doesn’t come out so well without help of the God.

Coming fortune in future depends on all what you have done at past. If you be have your best to others, you can be rich and get honor by people.

Your request will be granted. The patient get well soon. The lost article found. The person you wait for will come. Building a new house and removal are both good. It is good to start a trip. Marriage of any kind and new employment are both well.”

I’m inclined to believe that all of the fortunes are similarly positive and generic. Yet, there is a little rack beside the wall in place to tie up bad fortunes and burn them. There were many burning when I went, so I suppose it’s indeed a good one. Additionally, I found out later that I was to pull a stick from a container in order to first receive my fortune number -rather than randomly picking a drawer. So I’m not sure how that effects me and if it perhaps nullifies the fortune. However, I feel happenstance drove me to this particular drawer; and so, that’s right enough for me.

IMG_10042) Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand:

My next fortune came from a fortune telling machine beside an elevator in Bangkok’s, Chinatown. At first I passed them by on the way to a bathroom, but on the way back I decided to see what it had to tell me. I chose the scary looking one at right in the picture, half expecting it to be grim. (I was in a rather macabre, solemn, perhaps mental twisted mood.)

Now, I cannot at this point say exactly what the fortune said, as it was only written in Thai. But I am currently learning to read Thai, so perhaps I can read it myself and in its entirety one day soon. Yet, I did have my Thai friends translate it, but this translation was rather confusing; and I have a suspicion that if it were bad, they’d not tell me anyway. However, they said it was good.

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From what I could gather, the fortune ran something like the following (I’ve added some finesse to enhance the symbolism):

I was a dead tree, black and withered. Nourished by the morning’s dew, a new baby leaf grows out of my old roots. I will now be ok, grow anew, and flourish. The court of justice had condemned me, but the verdict was awarded in my favor. I will have a good life and prosper.

I think there was probably more to it than this, and maybe some modifying words made what was bad into good. I do not know. All I know is that they seemed kind of timid and hesitant when telling it to me. Perhaps it’s not good to receive ones fortune from a machine. Or maybe they were just reluctant to explain an exact translation and preferred the simpler route of just telling me it was good. But I’d like to read it for my self at some some (given that I actually learn to read Thai, a task that seems monumental at this point and I’m on the verge of giving up out of newfound feelings of pointlessness.)

3) Wat Na Rong Buddhist Temple, Bangkok, Thailand:

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I went to  the Sunday ceremony at Wat Na Rong Buddhist Temple last week. I must say I’m glad it was pouring rain before we left and that we arrived 35-40 late because we were there for a nearly an hour from that point (listening to monotonous chanting in foreign tongues while sitting holding my hands up in prayer position and staring into a leftover puddle from the morning’s rain.)

I was glad that I went though. I do enjoy communal spirituality on occasion and the novel experience was enlightening of a practical scene of religion in Thailand.

I’m not sure exactly who he was or if he knows Cathy, etc. But a man came over and proceeded to read my palm. He just came over and asked to see my hand and started talking to me. From what I gather he works in some capacity for the government or law. He said he studied English in America at some University. Although he spoke English rather thoroughly, his accent was hard to decipher.

The first thing he said was that I’ll have a long life, ie., that my life line is long. Several people in my family have lived into their 90’s and past 100 even, so this is not too outrageous a prediction. Next, he told me I have a good, strong brain. Now this was a rather odd, unexpected thing to say, I thought. I’ve never had or seen a palm reading where the brain was specifically mentioned; it’s usually love, wealth, success, length of life, happiness, etc.

He continued to look at my hand for a while saying various supplementary things; but mostly kept coming back to and harping on the fact that I’m smart, have a strong brain, a good mind, and can do great things with it. I can even be a doctor if I want, he said. As he swapped from right to left hand, he noted that I have two brains, even, pointing out the diverging midline of my left hand. This is very good, he said. I will do great things with my brain (I suppose that’s assuming I can master cohesion of these two different brains!).

The only other thing he noted was that my love line, -the line on the outside side of your left hand- is not deep. Therefore, that means my love life is either indecisive or undecided. I cannot tell which he meant to infer, but only that it wasn’t necessarily good. He showed me his -which was very deep as a consequence, I think, of his aged hands. Perhaps the older I get the more certain and deep my love life will become. All I know is that I cannot dispute the truth behind such an assertion -as my love life is currently undecided and perhaps appears a bit indecisive.

Also of note at this outing: I was mildly reprimanded by Cathy as I sat down on the floor next to the monk to take a photo, with “don’t touch him!” Not that there was a big risk of my touching him, but I suppose I was simply too close for comfort. He spoke decent English and said he studied in the states. He had a very happy demeanor with hints of a repressed anxiety and almost nervous giddiness that thoroughly conveyed the naivety of his experience in the presence of women.

As we were leaving Cathy brought over a guava that he gave her to give to me. Guavas are called Falangs in Thai – the same name for white foreigners. I was told they’re called Falang because they’re rare and beautiful; and this is why he gave it to me. Another man gave me a papaya as we left and the palm reading man gave me his card if I ever needed anything -I wasn’t sure if he was speaking about a job or what, but you can see the things I received in the photo.

4) Other things in the vein of fortune:

Upon glimpsing a photo of my family and I, I was told that I’m good luck and will have a good life because I have a face like my father. In the Thai tradition, a daughter will be good and successful if she has a face more like her father than mother. Although, I agree that I rather look like my father, (and it’s not the first time I’ve been told that) I think the photo merely accentuated it, as we have similar facial expressions.

I was also told that I was good luck because Cathy won some money in the lottery the day I arrived here and also I unknowingly gifted to her a lucky plant (in Thai called something like Bella Mi Setee Konuck), which is supposed to bring about money and power to the family who possesses it. Literally the name translated to a beautiful bird with feathers soft like mink, who has lots of power and money -or will bring about those things.

So, all signs point to something promising in the horizon of my future. I guess we’ll just have to see how all this comes into fruition.

Bella Mi Setee

Bella Mi Setee

 

Sushi Zanmai, Tokyo

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Sushi Zanmai is an awesome, popular place for sushi in Tokyo’s, Tsukiji Fish Market. It is a bit touristy and has a long line out the door, but it’s worth going here as the fish is great and the prices are fairly reasonable. I went to their main restaurant, but they have also another, smaller restaurant within the market as well. I also had a line, albeit a bit shorter.

I had read about this place in guidebooks and that it’s one of the best sushi places in Tokyo, that it takes hours to get in, but that it’s worth the wait. So I decided to go check it out and endure the wait, even amidst the random fish smells and despite the throngs of people.

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My wait was only about 25 minutes at 11:00am. Again, I must emphasize how awkward it is to not speak the language, have people yell at you as if you understand what they’re saying. and then, assume you understand what they’ve just told you. In addition, there are all these customs and rules in Japan that you’re supposed to go by; and you are partially expected to know them (like not poring your own beer or sake, which is something one cannot help if they’re dining alone). All the while, people constantly stare at you, as an obvious tourist, which cannot help but feel judgmental at times. And I’ve been told by expats and various others that the Japanese are a rather elitist group when it

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comes to tradition: that they do not think anyone but themselves can truly master their customs properly. I cannot justifiably speak to this assertion, all I know is that I did not know nor abide by all of their customs properly, though I did try.

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I had a sampler of the various kinds of fish offered, along with a few extras that I had in addition to the set sampler that I chose from the menu. There were several set options of various fish, but I tried to choose one that would give me the most variety. The one I chose consisted of: scallop (which was soft, light tasting, and excellent consistency), fatty tuna (which was delicious. The texture was spot-on, with a deep, buttery meaty flavor that could almost be filet mignon. I could eat a plate of it.), broiled fatty tuna (also very delicious. It is the fatty tuna that has been seared on the outside, so you get the best of the flavors both raw and cooked. It tastes a bit more salty the raw version. It being cooked, the texture is even softer and more moist, as the juices of the fat begin to come out), sea urchin roe (which literally tastes like a half-melted dollop of fresh farm butter dropped into the the sea), salmon, shellfish, egg, sea eel, albacore tuna, sweet shrimp, red snapper, salmon roe, and yellowtail (all of which were among the best I’ve ever tasted).
IMG_1553 My meal was also accompanied by staring off with miso soup and ending with a slice of asian pear and two plums. Though basically gorging myself on fresh, delicious fish, I did not feel a bit guilty or gluttonous by comparison to everyone around me, as they all seemed to me eating just as much in course after course. Moreover, I was only able to go here once on my visit to Tokyo, so I had to make one visit count.

All in all, Sushi Zanmai did not disappoint and, rather, left me feeling more satisfied than I had expected to feel, as I had somewhat doubted all the hype surrounding this place. Despite waiting nearly 30 minutes and spending over $50 on lunch, IMG_1558it was worth it. It was a great experience and I would not take it back or alter it in any way.

IMG_1552The woman beside me, and really all the people around, seemed to basically  be writhing in excitement to eat this sushi. It seemed to me like it was like a genuine treat and experience for them also, knowing, perhaps, it was going to be the best sushi they would ever taste I their lives! I had the feeling that some of the people around me had come from other parts of Japan or had

saved up money to come here, and that this was actually a life event for them, just as it was for me. All of this made me feel glad that I decided to come here, thankful that I had the

IMG_1551opportunity to do so, and vow that I would come back again in the future. I also had the distinct feeling that, because I had tasted such superb sushi, I would never be truly satisfied with sushi below this level of excellence. Alas, the double-edged sword of indulging in excellence!

Also, randomly while I was here, a family sat next to me, of which I struck up a conversation with the father who told me that he went to the University of Alabama in 1974-5, as a sports photographer for the football team! This is so ironic because it is exactly the same time in which my father was at the University of Alabama. It was so random and beautifully ironic. Once again, I am struck by feeling that life is such a funny, ironic place.

Harajuku & the Material Mind

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On my second day in Tokyo I visited Harajuku. I was told that Sunday is a good day to go there because the young people who dress up in crazy outfits and cosplay gear come and and stand around for people to watch, take photos, etc. So I headed out, intent to see the spectacle.

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What I didn’t expect was to go there, spend several long hours, and not even see it. When I arrived at the station I moved, piecemeal and gradual, with the crowd’s procession pinning me on all sides. If you want to see group mind at its finest unison, then you must come no further than here. Where bodies sway with the movements of the mob, where from above we’d appear as one organism, writhing and swaying as if kelp in the ocean, you cannot help but feel a distinct sense of mindless oneness.

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From out of the station I looked around, was unsure of exactly where to go, and so, I did the thing on which I’ve come to rely, and let the mob move me. I joined in the direction of the mass and moved with them. It took me down what must have been the main shopping street of Harajuku. Tons of people were there, young and old, tourists, locals, nearly everyone carrying a shopping bag, people pulling little, hard-sided suitcases that must have housed their shopping.

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Everyone seemed to be there for some acquisition. The tourists hungrily witnessed the New Orleans, Atlantic City, Venice Beach, type kitschy-ness, where wares and neon lights, cheap clothes and sunglasses, souvenir shirts, greasy street foods and good times seemed to abound. As the throng pushed rhythmically down the little street like a gesticulating colon, all eyes are accosted with so much light, color, and variety that, like binging on food, makes your head feel dense and foggy, beckoning the odd urge to steal away in an alley and vomit, purging this encumbrance supplanted on your mind.

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But this is a hard view of it. It was not all bad. In fact, the farther along, the more I enjoyed my mindless journey along the river of sights. At all times, and now looking back on it, it was like drifting through a valley of temptation, where at every corner something yells out to be bought or consumed.

What had started as a simple journey to see novel things had turned out, inevitably as it does, to be a test of my will to hold under external pressure. And let me be the first to say that I am not perfect. As I so often do, I indulged myself a little too much, and awarded myself more than I probably deserved, all in the name of living experience, or “yolo,” as the kids say, I suppose.

So, yes, I did break down and purchase a few things and eat some indulgent treats. But still, as much as I want to feel guilty or chastise myself for not having an iron will. I think, rather, that my will speaks more clearly to me; and it is a good thing that I listen. Maybe, as has repeatedly been the case in my journeys, that by listening to my will and voice, I am continually led to places I want to be and to people I care to meet. And because I trust my inner guiding voice, rather than the voice from without, I believe I’ll be lead to somewhere great, even if it means buying unnecessary jewelry and eating too many sweets along the way!

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Red Bean Paste Ball

Pork Bun

Pork Bun

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Cat Rings

Tokyo Days 1-2

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My first day in Tokyo was challenging. I spent all day basically walking around aimlessly, frustrated, hot, and a little bitter at the fact that I had underestimated the communication issue of absolutely no one speaking English. Yes, I was, indeed, lost in translation. I suppose it was naive of me to think that everyone took English as children in school like they do in Europe. I had no desire even to speak to the native English people in my hostel. I imagine they thought me rather antisocial, if not rude, because as they were hanging out and being friendly, I simply came in the side gate of the

Ryokan and went to sleep early the two nights I was there. And then when they were all having breakfast together the second morning, talking, laughing, and close as a family, I felt rather like an outcast intruding on their personal space. But I had to leave early that morning anyway because I wanted to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market and Harajuku. And my reservation was up there anyway, requiring me to move on to my next accommodation.

It is very awkward, by the way, walking around with a huge backpack in subways and on the streets when regular people pull around rolling suitcases in crowded areas such as Harajuku (a major shopping area) or Tsukiji Fish Market (market with infinite different foods and cooking accessories) simply to house their shopping. They do a ton of shopping here! So much so that it puts my shopping habit to shame and makes me feel a little better, yet also worse in that everyone at all times of day and all areas of town are dressed up immaculately. Not to mention, everyone here is so very thin, like sickly model thin, both males and females! I imagine they thought me an insane, disheveled, chunky white person.

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So, on the second day, I put in my earphones, donned all-black attire, stifled my insecurity about being the fattest and worst dressed human around and made a better plan. Yes, a plan is almost necessary in Tokyo, if you speak no Japanese and can’t just ask directions or you have no cellular capacity and can’t just look at google maps. Much of the time the street signs are not even in English, so you can’t even navigate by them if you wanted. Whereas my first day I simply walked around going whichever way suited my fancy, my plan the second day was to ride the subway to stops of notable name and simply move in the direction of the crowd, gravitating with them towards bright lights, like moths to a flame. (This plan worked out pretty well.)

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Perhaps I should have befriended the British, Lebanese, or Australians from my hostel and either asked their advice or went around with them. But something about them was not a feeling of freedom and independent open-mindedness that enabled them to venture around the world seeing exotic places, what I felt from them was a slight sense of desperation. It’s as if there was something wrong about each of them. Either they were a little old or single, a little young or awkward, or possessed some over flaw that rendered them abnormal and thus outcasted in their own society. As if they were here not by choice, necessarily, but because they couldn’t stay where they were and just had to go somewhere. Now, even if this is the case, I commend them for venturing out in the world. And, normally, these are my kinds of people. But, I don’t know, here it had the opposite effect on me. I could feel their longing for connection. It was something in this neediness, I suppose, that kept me from connecting with them, as if they wanted something from me that I couldn’t give. And me, being here only a few days, and purposefully unhinging from connectedness in life right now anyway, simply stayed distant with them and remained alone.

A lighter bag, a nice shower, and listening to music helped me to get around on Day 2 without feeling too overwhelmed. There’s something bolstering about being alone, a free radical, unnerved or swayed by anyone. There’s something dangerous and powerful about it, about being able to go anywhere and do anything without help from others. There is something about having confidence in oneself, even if that confidence is wholly or partially unfounded. Simply having the courage to go at things alone, possessing assurance inside you, and wanting for nothing external is liberating. You are what you think you are. And when you lose yourself and your sense of confidence and direction to do things alone, with only your own mind, then you’ve lost all. Having a firm grasp on one’s own visage, desires, and direction is the goal and purpose of a meaningful life. Anything other than that is simply to live a life with no home or soul.