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Most Hong Kong Chinese worship both Buddhist and Taoist deities, something they do not find at all incongruous. They also worship their family ancestors. Ancestral altars are commonplace in homes, and certain days are set aside for visiting ancestral graves. Many temples have large tablet halls, where Hong Kong families can worship the memorialized photographs of their dead. About 360 temples are scattered throughout Hong Kong; some embody a mixture of both Buddhist and Taoist principles.

While Buddhism is concerned with the afterlife, Taoism is a folk faith whose devotees believe in luck and in currying its favor. Fortunetellers, therefore, are usually found only at Taoist temples. Tao, essentially, is the way of the universe, the spirit of all things, and cannot be perceived. However, Taoist gods must be worshipped and Taoist spirits appeased. Most popular in Hong Kong is Tin Hau, goddess of the sea and protectress of fishermen. Hong Kong has at least 24 temples that were erected in her honor. But each profession or trade has its own god -- ironically, policemen and gangsters have the same one.

If you look for them, you'll find shrines dedicated to the earth god, Tou Ti, at the entrance to almost every store or restaurant in Hong Kong. They're usually below knee level, so that everyone pays homage upon entering and departing. Restaurants also have shrines dedicated to the kitchen god, Kwan Kung, to protect workers from knives and other sharp objects.

Although not a religion as such, another guiding principle in Chinese thought is Confucianism. Confucius, who lived in the 5th century B.C., devised a strict set of rules designed to create the perfect human being. Kindness, selflessness, obedience, and courtesy were preached, with carefully prescribed rules of how people should interact with one another. Because the masses were largely illiterate, Confucius communicated by means of easy-to-remember proverbs.

Despite the fact that many Hong Kong Chinese are both Buddhist and Taoist, they are not a particularly religious people in the Western sense of the word. There is no special day for worship, so devotees simply visit a temple whenever they want to pay their respects or feel the need for spiritual guidance. Otherwise, religion in Hong Kong plays a subtle role and is evident more in philosophy and action than in pious ceremony. To the Chinese, religion is a way of life and thus affects everyday living.

Almost every home has a small shrine, where lighted joss sticks are thought to bring good luck. In New Year celebrations, door gods are placed on the front door for good luck, and all lights are switched on to discourage monster spirits. On New Year's Day, homes are not swept for fear of whisking away good luck. And during a full moon or major festival, housewives may set fire to paper creations of homes, cars, or fake money to bring good luck.

But no one can ever have too much good luck; superstitions abound in Hong Kong. Certain numbers, for example, have positive or negative connotations. The most auspicious number is 8, because its pronunciation (baht) is similar to the word for wealth (faht). Likewise, the most inauspicious number is 4, since it sounds almost exactly like the Cantonese word for death. Thirteen is also an unlucky number, so many Hong Kong buildings simply skip it in their floor-numbering scheme. License plates with lucky numbers have sold for high prices in Hong Kong. In 2007, a man paid HK$7.1 million (US$920,000) for a license plate with the number 12, which sounds like "certainly easy" in Cantonese. The most expensive so far was in 1994 for a license plate with number 9 (which sounds like "everlasting" in Cantonese) -- HK$13 million (US$1.7 million). Certain foods, too, are considered auspicious. For New Year's, noodles are considered good for longevity, while fish is eaten for success. A half-eaten fish is never turned over to get to the other side, however, in the belief that doing so means a fishing boat will capsize (you're supposed to lift the spine or remove it to get to the other side). Red is considered a lucky color, making it popular for weddings and New Year celebrations. Sharp objects, such as scissors, should not be used during New Year's, because they will cut away good luck.

To be on the safe side, Hong Kong Chinese will also visit fortunetellers. Some read palms, while others study facial features, consult astrological birth charts, or let a little bird select a fortune card from a deck.

Chinese Gods

The Chinese world has many gods, each with different functions and abilities: For example, the kitchen god reigns in the household, various occupations have their own patron gods, and gods protect worshippers through certain stages of their lives; there is an earth god, goddess of pregnant women, 60 gods representing each year of the 60-year Chinese calendar, a god of riches popular with shopkeepers, and a scholar god whose favor is curried by students -- to highlight a few.

Most popular in Hong Kong is Tin Hau, goddess of the sea and protector of seafarers (in Macau she is known as A-Ma). As the patron goddess of fisher folk, Tin Hau is honored by fishing communities throughout Hong Kong with more than two dozen Tin Hau temples, including those at Yau Ma Tei, Causeway Bay, Stanley, and Cheung Chau. According to popular lore, Tin Hau is the deification of a real girl who lived in Fujian Province around A.D. 900 or 1000 and who saved a group of fishermen during a storm. Her birthday is celebrated annually with gaily decorated junks and lion dances. Another popular goddess is Kuan Yin (called Kun Iam in Macau), the goddess of mercy, capable of delivering people from suffering or misery.

Several temples in Hong Kong are devoted to Man (the god of literature and the patron of civil servants) and Mo (the god of war). Mo was a great warrior of the Han dynasty, deified not only for his integrity but also his ability to protect from the misfortunes of war. Ironically, for this reason Mo is worshipped not only by soldiers and the Hong Kong police force but also by gang members of the underworld. Hong Kong's most famous Man Mo Temple is in the Western District on Hollywood Road.

One of the most popular gods in Hong Kong is Wong Tai Sin, believed to generously grant the wishes of his followers, cure sickness, and -- best of all -- dispense horse-racing tips. The Wong Tai Sin Temple, located in a district by the same name, is always crowded with worshippers, as well as fortunetellers, making this one of the most interesting temple destinations in Hong Kong.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.