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From the Star Ferry at night, nowhere else on Earth looks as futuristic as Hong Kong. The skyscrapers of Central and Tsim Sha Tsui are images of Blade Runner made real – the dazzling towers and incandescent brand names as close to Ridley Scott’s vision of a cyberpunk future as we’ll hopefully ever get.
Hong Kong sells this vision of itself to outsiders. Victoria Harbour at dusk is the banner image on the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s website. Visitors oooo and aaah at the city’s skyscrapers, marvel at the array of uses one’s Octopus card can be put to and consider the world of tomorrow here today when riding the Mid-Levels Escalator, a mode of transport that wouldn’t look out of place in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
But despite this futuristic façade, Hong Kong remains wedded to old ideas and superstitions. Like its much hyped East/West identity, the city’s futuristic appearance and simultaneous adherence to tradition is one of its appealing dualities. It remains a central irony that Hong Kong, a British colony for nearly 150 years, remains a greater repository of ancient Chinese culture than the Mainland itself.
Nowhere is Hong Kong’s respect for tradition more evident than in its residents’ courting of luck via feng shui. Feng shui master Thierry Chow reckons one in two Hongkongers believes in the practice. She tells us: “I would say that at least half the population believes, on different levels. Some people are just causally interested in knowing their zodiac, but probably as many as 40 percent believe in it on a deeper level.”
Evidence of such adhesion to these beliefs isn’t hard to find. Hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers visit temples during Spring Festival to curry favour with the gods: on Lunar New Year’s Eve Wong Tai Sin Temple stays open all night and hosts some 50,000 visitors. The Jockey Club uses names like Lucky Start and Flourishing Fortune to tempt Hongkongers into having a flutter at this time of year and 79,000 duly attended Sha Tin Racecourse on January 1. The government spends millions compensating communities in the New Territories who claim their feng shui is disturbed by construction projects and the HSBC Building, a hi-tech wonder built according to feng shui principles, was the most expensive building in the world when completed in 1985. Adverts for almanacs written by famous fortunetellers fill billboards and bedeck the sides of buses here, putting these individuals in the company of popstars and famous actors. “Though it’s also popular in Japan and Taiwan, I would say Hong Kong and China are definitely at the top in terms of believing in feng shui,” concludes Chow.
But why? Why Hong Kong more than anywhere else in the world? And how much will Hongkongers spend to try and maximise elusive luck? Read on to find out...