Hong Kong’s picturesque temples are hubs of activity, whether it’s devout locals burning incense or sightseers busy taking snaps. Much of the goings-on are various Taoist and Buddhist spiritual practices — and one of these is kau cim, or “lottery poetry.” Even if you don’t know of it by name, if you’ve been to any local temple, you’ve seen visitors shake a red-tipped, flat stick out of a bamboo tube while in front of an altar.
Kau cim is a type of fortune-telling that dates back to the 12th century, where a question is asked to the deities. The querent purifies the cylinder by revolving it around an incense burner, mixes the sticks by hand, then kneels and asks their question. Upon shaking the cylinder, a single stick will fall out, marked with the number. The number corresponds to one of 100 unique oracles, which provide the answer to the question.