HOW did the first few days of the Year of the Monkey turn out for you? If you have been reading what the soothsayers have foretold, you could be jumping for joy.

Apparently, this will be a good year, some believers have told me. I don’t know what their confidence is based on but it is good to be hopeful at a time when the country’s economy is hardest hit.

Maybe there is some truth that things will get better. A day after Lap Chun (the symbolic start of the new lunar year on Feb 5), the ringgit strengthened to RM4.16 to the dollar. Could this be a glimpse of the good tidings we can expect? It would be wonderful if we knew.

Twelve years ago, on the Seventh Day of the Lunar New Year celebration, a friend came running to me like he had just struck a lottery. In a lot of ways, it was to him.

He had just been promoted to the position of manager in charge of state sales for a car dealership.

His boss had also given him four months’ bonus that year. I remember it well because that was the Year of the Monkey and the chap, who was born in the Year of the Ram, was 48.

The good fortune that fell on his laps was long awaited. He was almost 75% through paying up for his house and the youngest of his three girls had just entered secondary school. His eldest child was taking SPM that year. It was a time of hard career decisions and growing financial burden.

“It couldn’t have come at the right time,” he told me over dinner as he let me into his little secret. Apparently, he had gone to a fortuneteller to find out when he might be freed of financial encumbrances.

For RM180, he was told that his luck would change in that Year of the Monkey. For another RM88, he was taught how to usher in the good luck with an arsenal of feng shui tools.

Believe it or not, he played along because he thought there was no harm trying. And he had apparently forgotten about it until he received the promotion letter and the bonus.

I had told him it was a mere coincidence. The good fortune he was experiencing was probably due to the hard work he had put in all those years.

Even if his past efforts did not amount to anything at that company, a rival employer would have spotted him and lured him away.

There was also an equally strong possibility that he would have sought a new job to meet his financial obligations. It was only natural to seek betterment in life, I had told him. The human spirit is programmed to improve and progress.

That year, I also remember, many fortune tellers had been upbeat over the coming of that Year of the Monkey. Associating the primate as the heavenly creature in the Journey to the West classic which protected all things good, some soothsayers had gone as far as predicting that it would be a year of few natural disasters. Unfortunately, at the end of 2004, the Boxing Day Tsunami took everyone by surprise.

Just last weekend in the city, a souvenir shop operator stopped me and my wife while we were window shopping. He had asked if I wanted some feng shui items to harness the good luck this year. The old timer showed us the current mascot, a life-size monkey toy dressed like the God of Prosperity, which was going for RM68. I told him I was not interested in cluttering the home with more toys as my children were all grown up.

He then showed me some golden wind chimes, red lanterns with the word luck emblazoned over them, and other luck-generating stuff. I told him we were only looking for smaller festive items to replace some of ours that had been broken. Out of curiosity, I asked him how his business had fared so far compared with past years.

“Too many window shoppers, few customers,” he replied.

“Don’t worry, the troop of Fortune Monkeys in your shop will bring you good luck and prosperity soon,” I said, hoping to elicit a smile. It didn’t.

“You make your own luck, my friend,” he replied with the sternness of a man who had seen life more than I had.

“No one can say when it will come and how much of it will be yours. You can only do your best and hope for the better. Bad times don’t last but when the good times come, you must not forget what you went through.”

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