“Travel? Don’t expect much this year,” replies Master Joseph Wong, one of Hong Kong’s most famous fortune tellers and feng shui experts. “Travel will be very slow to recover everywhere. I don’t think we will have any tourists in Hong Kong for some time.”
It’s not the answer anyone wants to hear, especially not this travel journalist.
My personal reading for the upcoming Year of the Ox is little better: “You will have an accident – but don’t worry, you won’t die,” he tells me cheerfully, followed by a colourful anecdote about kitchen knives.
Dressed in a yellow silk tunic, Master Wong is one of 161 clairvoyants who ply their trade at Wong Tai Sin Temple, a large Crayola-coloured Taoist temple that has been a part of Hong Kong life for over 100 years. Before the pandemic, it would receive about 10,000 visitors a day, a mixture of both locals and tourists who would come for race readings, palm readings, astrological readings, prayers and advice for the year ahead. In the run up to Chinese New Year it would usually be bursting at the seams. This year is obviously going to be different.
Hong Kong has fared well as far as Covid goes (the oppressive political situation is another matter), suffering 177 deaths so far, and while most of the Lunar New Year celebrations have been drastically scaled back as part of the ongoing restrictions there’s still plenty of spectacle to be found around town.
Restaurants remain closed in the evening so I began my homage to the Ox year (which falls on February 12-15 2021) with a CNY set lunch at Yung’s Bistro. The younger, hipper, newly-opened offshoot of one of Hong Kong’s oldest Chinese restaurants, Yung Kee, it has jade green walls and a huge terrace overlooking the harbour.
On the menu are a variety of delicious traditional dishes thought to be auspicious: chrysanthemum shrimp dumplings (their yellow-gold colour symbolising wealth in the coming year); three types of barbecued meats to represent the gods of Fortune (Fu), Prosperity (Lu), and Longevity (Shou); scallops with fat choi black moss (the pronunciation of ‘fat’ is the same as the Chinese word for ‘making lots of money’). There’s also rice to keep our stomachs full for the year ahead and a baked almond dessert to keep our relationships sweet.
After six heavenly courses and in need of a good walk, I meet my guide Vida from Jebsen Holidays. I’m the first guest she’s has in months yet she remains upbeat as we begin out our fortune telling tour at Yau Ma Tei’s Jade Market where a few dozen hardy hawkers continue flog bracelets, necklaces, trinkets and figurines.
“Normally you would consult your feng shui master first, then you would come here to buy the things you need,” says Vida as we stroll between cascades of green, cream and purple stones. “At the end of the year, local people like to buy carvings of dragons, lions, and pixiu (a muscular winged lion) to enhance their energy.”
The quality of the jade is questionable (you have to go to Hong Kong’s high-end jewellers for the real deal) but the prices are reasonable and even if you’re not interested in feng shui there are plenty of stylish souvenirs. I leave with a tasselled black stone pendant (£12) – purely decorative – and a small rat amulet to hang off my phone (£2), which I’m told will ward off any bad ox vibes.
From here, we scoot across Kowloon, passing displays of peach blossom, bobbing lanterns and red and gold banners outside malls and office blocks, to Shatin Che Kung Temple. Named after a Song Dynasty general who is said to have rid Shatin of the plague, I can smell incense and hear bells ringing before I see the temple’s imposing gate. Inside, there’s a courtyard with stalls selling ornately decorated packs of incense, candles and joss paper money (costing anywhere from £7 to £350).
A peak roofed hall houses a giant golden statue of the fearsome-looking general. “Most people come here on the third day of the New Year to spin the pin wheel,” says Vida pointing to an old copper windmill. “To keep your luck spin clockwise or to change your luck spin anti-clockwise.” I image that a lot of people will be wearing gloves to do it this year.
There are fortune tellers at Che Kung too, but the tour takes us on to Master Joseph at Wong Tai Sin, before heading to Mongkok Flower Market. Spread around three blocks, there are dozens and dozens of shops, each with a forest of plants and greenery spilling out onto the pavement. It feels like a little Technicolor world amid Mongkok’s grey skyscrapers.
Vida and I walk through a grove of mandarin orange trees. “In Mandarin, the pronunciation sounds similar to the word for good luck,” Vida tells me. There are also lucky bamboo for prosperity and career success, money trees for – you guessed it – and orchids for love and fertility. After my reading with Master Wong, my flat now looks like Kew Gardens.
Find out more at discoverhongkong.com/UK