HONG KONG – Every day during his lunch break, Sean Cheng, a fortune teller, pulls out his cell phone, logs into Instagram, and checks his messages for new customer appointments.
Responding to comments from online followers, he gets ready to run his business on the divination side right after being fired from work at a Hong Kong marketing firm.
Cheng, 25, began teaching himself to read tarot cards in college a few years ago and started his own online fortune telling business in February. He says he has reached a growing audience of young digital natives who are starving for spiritual guidance with important life choices.
“The reason they come to me is because people don’t trust themselves. They hope they can get the correct answers from me,” Cheng told NBC News.
His side hype has decreased.
Cheng has given mental readings to more than 80 clients in the past two months alone, he said.
The cultural shift in the ancient art of divination in Southeast Asia from face-to-face consultations to online platforms has opened up new opportunities for fast connections via smartphones and introduced the practice to a young, tech-savvy generation.
The popularity of social media coupled with growing economic uncertainty has also resulted in business booming.
Before each appointment, Cheng meditates for at least 45 minutes to prepare to read a tarot card. He then sends his customer a list of available services with charges between $ 9 and $ 25. Once the customer has made the payment online, they shuffle their cards, take a picture and send it to you via Instagram. He then analyzes the cards and answers your questions.
“I am happy when I hear people comment after divination that it is correct and that it really helps,” he said.
The pandemic has also proven to be a good time to start his business, Cheng added, as people spend more time online. It has also changed lives and led many to think deeper about life, love and career choices, he said, calling fortune telling a pandemic-resilient direction of work.
Constantly feeling insecure after losing his job last December, 26-year-old Wong Fung turned to online fortune tellers for advice.
“If you know your future fate anytime, anywhere on just HKD 100 (USD 13), why not?” he said. “I’m more comfortable typing behind the screen. It’s easier to talk about what you’re thinking deep down inside.”
Wong, like many in Hong Kong, has childhood memories of attending incense-filled ancestral worship ceremonies to show respect to deceased family members and has incorporated spirituality into his daily life since he became a Buddhist at the age of 11.
Alongside Taoism, Confucianism and Christianity, Buddhism is the most common religious belief in the region Hong Kong government, with divination a historical part of social culture.
Like millions of others, Wong attends Chinese New Year celebrations on television each year, where a Hong Kong government official participates in a divination ritual called “Kau Chim,” which involves drawing Chinese lucky sticks. A Feng Shui master then interprets the message that the official has extracted, which is intended to determine the fate of the city for the coming year.
“When a person is in a relatively negative state, they want to seek advice from the fortune-teller. When you are unsure of the future and you are having trouble, you want to know what will happen next,” said Wong. “Or maybe we want to look into our future to find solutions to our current problems.”
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For the fortune teller Cheng, about 80 percent of people who want to read an online tarot card ask about career choices.
“People always ask me if they should change jobs or try looking for directions on tarot cards,” Cheng said. “The lack of security makes them want to find something they can rely on.”
The unemployment rate in Hong Kong rose to a seasonally adjusted 7.2 percent from December to February this year, after 7 percent from November to January Government data – the highest level since 2004.
For Vivian Leung, 28, online fortune telling has become a monthly routine.
She regularly consults two fortune tellers on Facebook and spends about $ 100 each month on her services.
“I see divination as spiritual comfort,” said Leung. “A fortune teller is someone who can walk in my shoes and understand my struggles. She gives me great support and helps me make some tough decisions in my life.”
Trapped in a complicated romantic relationship, Leung had her first consultation with an online tarot card reader two years ago. Instead of talking to family and friends, she said she felt safer talking to a stranger and leaving her fate to what she called “spiritual energies”.
Historically, fortune telling has been an important part of everyday life in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China since it was written down – it is about the oracle bones of the Shang Dynasty from 1600 to 1046 BC. BC, which the ancient kings used in finding divine guidance, said William Matthews, a fellow in Chinese anthropology at the London School of Economics.
Although the concept may feel unfamiliar in the West, where people are familiar with fortune cookies and newspaper horoscopes, fortune telling is much deeper and based on dates of birth, cosmic principles, and ancient books like the Yijing or the “Book of Changes”. a divination text at least 2,000 years old, said Matthews.
Fortune telling usually consists of tossing coins, drawing lines, annotating graphs, palm or face readings, and relying on lunar calendars to help people assess compatibility with a prospective spouse or decide whether to have one accept a new job or move into a new house. he said and is not the same as spirit mediumship.
“People really use it as a decision-making technique about important life events,” added Matthews. Most fortune tellers are men, and its urban popularity is in part driving the demand for fast online services.
Despite centuries of fortune-telling, China experienced a tumultuous period during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) after the ruling Communist Party officially regarded it as “superstition”. That drove the practice underground or concentrated it in certain parts of the city, Matthews said.
It was “suppressed” under the leader Mao Zedong, who sent many fortune tellers to re-education camps. Although it is still “frowned upon,” Matthews said, it is now more tolerated and freely practiced and recognized in Hong Kong.
The main factor for online use is most likely convenience combined with functionality. Digital users like Wong were looking for quick solutions to everyday problems.
“Fortune telling is like shooting in the arm when decisions are made,” said Wong. “When you live in an unsafe environment, you try to find at least some certainty in yourself.”