Jim stepped out of his hotel into the muggy heat of a Hong Kong summer in the midst of a typhoon. The cacophony of sights sounds and smells was overwhelming for a guy from Gary, Indiana who had never been away from home before. Looking around, trying to decide where to go he spied an interesting looking alley just at the end of the street and made his way there. All around him the colorful old buildings were chockablock with advertising, posters competing with neon signs that overhung the street, blocking out the sky, no patch of brick or window had been neglected as usable space. He admired the tenacity of vendors, but quickly found himself overloaded with sensation.
Finally, he ducked into what appeared to be an antique shop. Maybe he could find something to bring back to his wife. He strolled along the aisles hoping to find a nice piece of jade when he came to a counter with two strange looking animal carvings on pedestals that stood out from everything else. An old man came through a beaded curtain just in back of the counter, smiling and smoking a long clay pipe.
“Are they not magnificent?” he inquired in near perfect English.
Jim was taken aback; everyone who spoke any English at all since he had landed did so poorly at best. The old man read his face.
“Oh, I have travelled much, and I learned your language before you were born,” he stated matter-of-factly. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Well, I was just looking. I thought maybe i’d find something to take home to my wife.” He glanced again at the carvings. “Maybe some jade?”
“Certainly, perhaps a nice necklace?” The old man moved behind the counter and brought out a tray of jewelery.
“Maybe.” Jim looked them over but couldn’t decide. “What are these carvings here? How much are they?”
The old man regarded the carvings for a moment. “The Pi Xiu? Oh no, they are not for sale. They are priceless.”
With his curiosity piqued, Jim needed to know more. “What did you call them pee what?”
The old man laughed. “For you it is pronounced pee-zhoo. They are mythical animals. They have the head of a dragon and body of a lion. They are very good fung shui.”
“Good luck. Pi Xiu are guardians, and they attract wealth. If you believe in them and ask for blessings, they will grant you good fortune.”
Jim was sceptical. Just some Chinese superstition, he figured. The old man read his face once again.
“I can prove it to you. Do you like to gamble?”
“Well, yeah, I play poker with my buddies.”
“Excellent. There is a gambling parlour across the street. If I show you how to make obeisance to the Pi Xui, and you go immediately to gamble, you will make money.”
Jim snorted and then covered his mouth and apologised. The old man held up his palms. “Please, not to worry. I can prove what I say. In fact, if you buy one of these necklaces, I will give you half the money back and you can go gamble it. You will win. That is, if you believe in the Pi Xiu and do as I say.”
Jim was doubtful, but decided he’d give it a go. “Alright, what do I do?”
The old man became gravely serious. “You must face them and bow, asking them for their blessing. Do this with sincerity. You will not be sorry.”
Jim did as he was told, bowing and asking the creatures to bless him with luck. This is silly, he thought to himself, but what the hell, i’m in Hong Kong. The old man directed him to gambling parlour and advised him to stop when he was $300 ahead and come back to the shop to report what had happened.
This is goofy, Jim thought to himself crossing the street, but he went in and did as he was told. Within twenty minutes he was $300 ahead. He couldn’t believe his luck. It was as if he couldn’t lose. He hurried back across the street and thanked the old man. “Wow! It worked. I just can’t believe it.”
The old man smiled. “Now you know the power of Pi Xiu.”
Jim was still sceptical. “Why would you show me how to have this luck, what’s in it for you?”
“Ah, I am a very wealthy man. The way the Pi Xiu work, I must help others to continue to receive their blessing. I haven’t done so for a while. When you walked in I felt that you should be the one. Come back tomorrow and we can do this again, if you like.” He turned and re-entered the back of the shop without another word.
Making his way back to the hotel Jim was tingling with excitement. He could hardly sleep that night, and went straight back to the shop in the morning. The old man seemed to be waiting for him. “You look excited. I suppose you would like to ask Pi Xiu for another blessing?”
Jim nodded his assent, and the old man gestured for him to do as he had done the day before. He did so, and the old man told to go back to the gambling den and do the same as the day before, and this time he should stop at $750. He ran across the street and returned forty-minutes later. “I can’t believe it! $750! He held the money up in front of the old man’s face. “Here, I want you to have some of it!”
The old man held up his hands. “No, no, it would soil the blessing. Keep it. Tell you what, how much money can you get by tomorrow? You can do this one more time, and I think you should make as much as you can.”
Jim thought it through. He could bet a cash advance on his credit card, and he had a fair bit of cash with him. “Um, I can come up with $10,000, I guess, but…”
“Just do it. You won’t be sorry. Go now, come back in the morning.”
Feeling like he was walking on air, Jim headed back to the hotel. The next morning he was back bright and early. “Ok, I managed to get $12,000 altogether. But i’m nervous about gambling all this, you know?”
The old man nodded his head. “You must be very sincere to the Pi Xiu and all will be well.”
Jim did as he was told and headed out the door. The old man watched him go and picked up the telephone and dialled.
When he re-entered the shop two hours later, Jim looked like a man who had lost his best friend. He was sweating and bedraggled. “I lost. I lost it all. $12,000. What happened? You said the Pi Xiu would bless me again if I was sincere.”
The old man turned toward the mythical animals and pointed. They were no longer facing toward each other, but away. “I am so sorry. I went to the back to do some work and only came out a few minutes ago to see that they had moved. When they do this, it means they have reversed their blessing. I’m afraid they found you to be insincere. Can you really say you believed in your heart?”
Jim bowed his head. “Well, I mean…I thought…” He couldn’t.
The old man shook his head. “I am so very sorry.”
Jim shuffled out of the shop, wondering what he was going to tell Molly, and how he was going to get through the rest of the trip. When he was gone the old man picked up the phone and called the gambling den. “You will bring me my $6,000 soon?” He listened to his cohort on the other end. “Good. It’s still the high season. There should be another tourist along any day now.” He hung up the phone and repositioned the Pi Xiu.