Thanks to a plan devised by Rachel to have fun with a morning treasure hunt described in Time Out Beijing, one of the local magazines, four of us – me, Rachel, Nora, and Sarah – set out to explore the hutong neighborhoods near Lama Temple. It was a brilliant spring day, with blue skies, a brisk wind, and the hutong-ren out in force. A perfect day for an adventure.
The theme of the day turned out to be “weishenme” – or why?
Why did the statue of Confucius at Confucius Temple have his hands crossed over his chest? Nora posited that it was the universal sign for choking and that maybe someone was supposed to perform the Heimlich maneuver.
Why was the Vineyard Café out of baked potatoes when we wanted them for lunch?
Why did that café need seven – seven! – signs in its tiny restroom reminding patrons not to put toilet paper in the loo? We actually had the answer to that, since there WAS paper in the loo.
Why would another hutong restaurant think that “tender stewed potato noodles with duck blood tofu” would draw in hungry diners?
Why, my friends asked me, would I venture to have my qi rechecked in a fortune-tellers’ courtyard? It was hard to resist: for 20 RMB I had a short session with a reflexologist who, according to Time Out, “claims to be able to identify any diseases you have, from touching your hand alone.”
“Debbie, what if she gives you bad news?” Rachel asked.
“I need a second opinion from the fortune teller I had in India a few years back who said I was going to live to 82 and who considered that a good deal,” I said. Yes, I know this is mucking with karma, tempting fate, and challenging the gods. But I sat down anyway.
The woman, a tiny older woman with hair cut in a short pageboy style, sat down and said it was 30 RMB for the session. “No, the sign says 20!” I argued. So she nodded, and took my hands, looking into my open palms.
Suddenly this felt more like fortune telling than a health checkup, but I was game, that is until I realized that whatever English she claimed to have was extremely limited. She resorted to pointing to English words on a sign: hair, stomach, liver, kidney. Everything had a parallel place on the hand. Okay, so I was getting a short lesson in reflexology. But that’s not what I wanted for my 20 RMB.
Eventually, she pulled out a sheet of paper and gave me the diagnosis. She pointed to heart: “hen hao!” She pointed to kidney: “hen hao!” And then she pointed to the word “knees.” “Bu tai hao,” she said (not so good). Well, that was right: my knees have been giving me a bit of trouble lately. Then again, it might be a good guess to take a look at a 56-year-old woman and figure she might have creaky knees.
Even so, I nodded enthusiastically. Then she gave me my prescription, written in English on a faded sheet of paper. I must soak my feet in hot water in the summer and make sure to get enough exercise in the winter. If I did that, she said, I’d live a long life. I might even make it past 90.
Sometimes in China, it’s not necessary to ask weishenme.