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Superstition 


Tuesday, May 18, 2004

An inventory of superstitions that govern my daily comings and goings reveals that there are six to which I most rigourously adhere.

My morning showers are a minefield of danger. The end of my shower signals that I must rememeber to not dry my feet. Feet must air-dry; wiping off one's wet feet is akin to wiping off one's luck. This new superstition entered my life in February 2003 when I translated Romanian beliefs and proverbs: the book wasn't clear from which part of Romania this superstition originated. I spent my entire life before that wiping off my feet - how lucky I am that no steamrollers or anvils felt an attraction to me during those unlucky times!

I don't kill spiders, either. I like rain, but I don't believe weather phenomenon hinges on the lives of spiders. Luck does. My mother raised me to live harmoniously with animals, not just spiders.

"Pest infestations suggest that the infestee is beloved," says my mother. "Otherwise why would thousands of wasps choose our garden for their five hives?"

So I live in peace with animals*. We each have our agreed upon boundaries. As long as no one oversteps these boundaries no one gets hurt. I shuffle spiders outside when their company becomes irksome. Flies and I consult on our boundaries. They know that if I turn off my bedroom light, it is time for the buzzing to cease. The raccoons may ruffle up my garbage, but they may not break down the garage door to get at it. Luck, according to this superstition, will surely knock on my door any day now.

Just in case Luck misplaced my street address, there is another superstition that saves the day: the first busker I pass on any day, I must give him some money and in return my whole day is lucky. Any further buskers do not get my money. Nor do the handicapped or the young whippersnappers with those "Give me money for pot" signs.

A friend asked why I don't give to handicapped beggars.

The answer lies a few years back. [Woozy in the Sands of Time, your vision gets blurry, then it comes into focus. But it is no longer 2004.] It is 1999, the rough-and-tumble Wanhua district of Taipei. I am buying snacks at the neighbourhood beer-and-squid store. Customary chitchat with the store manager turns to the photo of a little missing boy.

"I hope they find the poor little cutie pie," I said.

"They won't. Not in one piece." The store owner explained that he was probably maimed now, and a beggar, due to a practice criminal elements the world over use to make spare change for themselves.

[Horrified gasp, your vision is blurry again, you are travelling through the Sands of Time, and you are back in 2004.]

That can't be conducive to luck.

Throughout my day of Luck-chasing, I avoid red pens. The Chinese say that writing a name in red ink signifies that one is breaking ties with the person who owns that name. My sister takes this one step further and refuses to write anything in red. She was recently quoted: "Red pens should be banned!"

Then, at the end of the day, when I get home, I very carefully place my shoes by the door. The shoes must be side by side, with the left shoe on the left and the right shoe on the right. What happens when shoes reverse position? Nothing less than death.

The right shoe on the left side of the left shoe means death. The left shoe to the right of the right shoe - this will make sense in a moment - means death. The right shoe on the left of the left shoe and pointing in the opposite direction means death. If the left shoe sits on the right of the right shoe and points in the opposite direction means death.

I know what you're thinking, with so much danger, why bother taking off one's shoes? A Japanese superstition warns that only corpses wear their shoes directly from inside the house to the outside. This Japanese supersition** suggests one puts on shoes at the door's threshold. Therefore you can't wear your shoes indoors. That would also be inviting death. I'm afraid the only solution is to take off one's shoes at the door and carefully place the shoes in left-to-right order.

Once safe inside my house, one more superstition troubles me, right before bedtime. In a book of English folklore, I once read that demons and evil fairy types navigate by shoe toe directions. Thus, if the shoe points to the door, demons and evil fairies leave. If the shoe points to the bed, demons and evil fairies come for a visit.

After every sleepless night I've had, I wake up to see my slippers pointing to my bed. Then I realize that nasty fairy fingers have braided my hair to the bedpost.

It's mornings like that that make me wish I had tentacles instead of feet.

*Cockroaches I kill. Yet cockroaches are not animals. They are evil robot creatures. They have little cameras on their heads and they take rude pictures when people think they are picking their noses in private. They swim in pudding and tarnish chocolate cakes.

**There is also a Japanese superstition that regulates the tying of shoelaces. That's just ridiculous.

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