A little over four years ago on the day we were going to interview the Venerable Phong Samaleuk, President of the Lao Buddhist Fellowship Organization at Wat Ong Teu, Bai first wanted to try her luck with fortune telling sticks seen at almost all temples in Vientiane, indeed a fun way for devotees to give alms. It may seem strange but an important component to Buddhist worship is fortune telling. Called Kau Cim (or often referred to as as Chien Tung), it is rooted in the Chinese fortune telling practice of requesting answers from the dieties. It is based on the Book of Changes (I Ching, Yijing). The fortune telling begins with a cup storing a collection of numbered sticks. As you sit before the altar, you are supposed to think silently or whisper questions to the deity. You then shake the cylinder, eventually causing one stick to fall to the ground. The number on the stick corresponds to an answer, or fortune, which can be interpreted by a temple priest or read on a corresponding strip of paper.
When we entered the sim Bai went and knelt down in front of an old wooden display case with 15 small bins with numbered slips of paper inside each bin, the case set next to a small altar in the back of the sim, away from the front display of Buddha images. As Bai knelt before the display case and altar, she first made a donation of kip in a slotted locked wooden box and then made a silent wish holding a cylinder, an old fruit juice container, with all fifteen fortune sticks in a gesture of respect in front of her. After making a wish she shook the container and chose one of the sticks. Each number on a stick corresponded to one of the numbered pieces of paper, and in this instance Bai drew #11 and proceeded to read the fortune. It seemed almost miraculous to us that that the fortune she chose stated in part that “Tuk bon Sinxay”, literally stating we were in the Zone (literally “section”) of Sinxay and that with our courageous merit we would be assured of achieving victory. Peter Koret would say we’re elaborating a “bit,” and that it really just means “your luck is to have chosen the fortune related to Sinxai.” Whatever, it’s still coincidental!