SCMP Saturday, September 22, 2001

'I wondered if Jesus was similar to Buddha - the same god in disguise'


Back in the 1960s, Hong Kong's economy was not very strong and going to kindergarten was a luxury to many people. But my parents insisted on sending all eight of their children to school at the earliest opportunity. They were convinced a proper education was essential for our development.
The kindergarten I attended in Yau Ma Tei - long since pulled down - cost $4 a month, which at the time was a lot of money. It was a Protestant kindergarten and although I was taught Buddhism at home, I did not find conflict between the two.
I treated morning prayers and choir practice as part of the school routine and Bible studies as a philosophy - a reflection on life - not a religion. I remember wondering at the time whether Jesus was similar to Buddha - the same God in a different disguise.
I spent my primary and secondary years at a Chinese-medium school - Lai Chek Middle School, in Canton Road. One thing that fascinated me about it was its parades, as we were drilled to use a mixture of Taiwanese and English steps.
It was a whole-day school and there were lots of activities to keep us occupied, but it was extremely strict - the boys' heads had to be shaved while the girls had to have uniforms long enough to cover their knees.
From Primary Three we learnt classical Chinese - something I now appreciate as it gave me a solid foundation for when I had to read classical texts and scrolls while studying fung shui.
My Chinese teacher would let us sample different philosophical works, like Sun Tzu's The Art of War and the sayings of Confucius and Mengzhi. He would open topics of discussion and let us choose ideas to follow. I was a good student and, by Form Four, I had been chosen as a prefect. If a lesson was boring, though, I would often daydream or doze off.
But it was my Form Three maths teacher, the son of well known Chinese mathematician Hou Guanghang, who left a real mark on me - I will always be indebted to him. Under his guidance I became a whizkid at algebra and I later realised that calculation not only trains the brain but also disciplines the mind. You had to solve a problem under constraints - that is, work out the answer within the framework of an equation, which I think is an allegory of life itself. This training also proved valuable when I eventually had to calculate the movement of the stars in Chinese astrology.
Poor English results meant that I was forced to leave the school after Form Five. I then worked as a shipping clerk in the clothing industry and at the Hong Kong Jockey Club where I sorted the betting tickets. While there I often wondered why people were so greedy and fatalistic. I could not understand why they wasted all their hard-earned money on futile gambling.
After working for two years, I started night school and gained a higher certificate in clothing through the Polytechnic.
I then went on to gain a diploma in textiles through a fellowship programme organised by Kwung Tong Technical Institute and the Society of Business in the UK. In 1989 I started my own knitwear trading business, but I lost many US contracts after the Tiananmen Square incident.
I eventually closed the business as the mainland factory that supplied me with the goods was unable to export products due to the political situation.
A favourite pastime of mine has always been people-watching. Since childhood I have enjoyed studying people in public places and trying to decipher the personality that lies hidden beneath a facial expression. So with my newfound free time, I decided to follow my heart and I enrolled in a facial reading class organised by a local continuing education centre.
When the course ended, the master said I was gifted and took me on as his disciple and initiated me into my present world, the art of fung shui and Chinese astrology.
Fung shui master Edwin Ma Lai-wah, 44, vice-president of the Universal Metaphysical Institute, was talking to Florence Ng.