Updated: Apr 11, 2020

We’re seated in a San Marino, California home office furnished with the all too familiar cherry wood furnishings you were bound to see in most Chinese homes of that era. Chinese symbols of fortune decorate the walls as well as scrolls written with Chinese characters I can’t read. Inside the cherry wood glass cabinets, seated behind the man we’re here to see, are gilded Buddhas, lucky cats, money trees and jade statues of cabbage and fish. I take in the familiar totems of my culture and my eyes become fixated on a framed photo of the man seated across me shaking hands with Bill Clinton.

I’m twenty-one years old and about to go into my last year at UCLA. Mom has set up this appointment with the man seated across from us, a Chinese fortune-teller. She says it’s a pivotal time in my life as I’m close to embarking on a professional career. We are seeking information on what type of professional work will be the most fortuitous. We also want to get a sense of what the rest of my life fortune will bring. I’m skeptical. But, if I’m being honest, part of me is curious. This isn’t the first time I’ve sat across this man. Twelve years prior, both my older brother and I sat in a much more modest version of this office waiting the two hours it took for the man to tell my mom her fortune. His home office was in Rosemead then. I take stock of my surroundings and note that in the last twelve years, he’s done well for himself.

I settle in and Mom does all the talking. I hear the click of the tape recorder and the whir of the tape as he begins to record, asking for my Chinese name, my birthday and my time of birth. I watch as he takes note in the upper right-hand corner of a ledger-sized, soft pink sheet of paper that has preset lines for each of the sections he’ll dive into. Lucky numbers, lucky colors, health, optimal career choices and mate compatibility are amongst some of the topics.

We begin. I try to take in what he’s saying but the truth is I’m unable to understand nearly all of it. The entire session is in Cantonese. Growing up as a second-generation Chinese American, as I got older, our family didn’t put a heavy emphasis on keeping the Chinese language alive with us. We were Americans after all, so we should speak English. This, I learned years later, was Mom’s philosophy. Because of this, I only understand a small fraction of what is foretold. I’d equate my stunted vocabulary to the Sunday dim sum cart proficiency. Understanding the complexity of my future personal health, career, love life and potential wealth? Not a chance. So I remain dutifully engaged for the next two hours and get an abbreviated summary once Mom and I pile into her black 2004 Honda Accord.

Mom translated the headlines in the car that afternoon. From the two hour reading, there were only a few things I took away:

1) I would have car trouble in that particular year.

2) I would not end up with the person I was dating at the time.

3) I would be twenty eight years old when I got married.

a) Note: age references in the fortune are the lunar age, add one year.

4) Related to my career, I should stay away from fire.

5) Related to my future children, if I had a girl, she would be in the middle.

I carried these fragments with me for years not bothering to think about the dimension and detail on the cassette tape. Fourteen years later, in November of 2019, Dad translated the entire two-hour session for me. The audio covered events from birth until the age of seventy-six. Mind racing, I listened to Dad’s translation, connecting the dots to events of the past that actually transpired. After Dad concluded the translation, my buzzing mind went to all the future events that haven’t happened yet. How much of those would come true? At the top of the tape, the man behind the cherry wood desk opened with, “When you are born, you will make three cries and your life is already ordained.” In his line of work, there is no alternative to the belief that your fate is already sealed the minute you’re born. But are our lives predestined? Over the years, my stance on this has become further complicated by the session with the man behind the cherry wood desk. Events that he foretold have come to fruition. The notion of a predetermined, unalterable life leaves my body tense. My breath stalls and I feel suffocated knowing that I’ve already been given a partial view into the future. I take some comfort in knowing, in his view, the best years of my life are yet to come. Not far into the two hours session, the man behind the cherry wood desk said, “The good will come, so focus on the bad in this reading to avoid it.”

To be continued….