The other day I was in Chua Chu Kang station, getting some lunch before jumping on the LRT. There was a display, discreetly sponsored by two organisations I didn’t recognise, of horoscopes for the current year of the Snake. It’s quite common, around the new year, for shopping malls to host this sort of display. There are common themes across each of them, which is reassuring. People born in the year of the Rat, for example, have similar warnings to this one in other displays I’ve seen:
Compared to English horoscopes, these have a more specific turn of phrase. The translation makes it seem unfairly quaint. I like the way that the author’s desire to see the reader in full possession of the facts regarding their future has overcome anything that might look like delicacy. Much less ego-massage than I remember horoscopes offering when I was small.
“However, there will be no family life, and the unhappiness of your significant other will continue to accumulate…The Rabbit may prevent disruptions from vile characters by wearing a pair of glasses of having short hair”
“This year, the Tiger is advised not to place too much wooden furniture at home, and where there is a piano at home, the Tiger must play for at least ten minutes every day, otherwise the excessive ‘Wood’ in the home may cause the Tiger and your family to be susceptible to painful ailments in joints, muscles and nerves.”
“The Snake should keep a low profile when handling matters, so as to avoid attracting vile characters that aim to thwart your efforts when you handle matters too overtly or too flagrantly…the left side of the Snake’s body is prone to injuries or rheumatism…the Snake needs to take special care of your kidneys and urinary tract this year, and drink more plain water”
I’m a Snake. I need to watch out. In another public horoscope I read that I need to wear more wood colours. I’m wearing green and brown, and the floor here is painted floorboards.
“When wearing new clothes, the Horse should cut a small hole in the pocket or the corner of the new clothes to prevent mysterious financial losses”
I would have thought anyone with holes in their pockets might expect to experience financial losses, but perhaps that’s exactly the connection people are being asked to make here. Maybe it’s a reminder to buy a wallet and keep your receipts.
I wonder what sort of purpose is served by having such specific details feature in so broad a future scope? Perhaps they’re just examples of how a particular stance towards the world might manifest itself, a more detailed and helpful version of those self-help books that recommend more abstract positions to take up.
I saw some other sorts of futures sharing the same space. Here’s one future offered by a sign by the escalator down to the food court:
It’s about risk, and helping people ensure that a bad possible future – one with a mangled flip-flop – doesn’t come to pass. In that way, it seems kin to the horoscopes standing next to it, though it arose from a different technological context.
They’re selling insurance – specifically, offering protection against rising medical costs. This has more in common with the escalator advice, I think, certainly in terms of its history as a product of the technical management of society. It’s a bit more proactive than some of the advice offered by the horoscopes – perhaps you could draw a line from those that goes through the sign warning about the edges of the moving stairs and ends up at this specific technique for managing the future. But in some senses they’re still related, I think: the certificate might hold a sort of propitiatory or talismanic quality for the person who bought it, in the same way as the little model gourd they might hang from their handphone. Spending some money now to increase your chances later. I suppose there’s more appetite for that sort of thinking in religion over here – where I come from selling indulgences was looked on quite badly. But maybe it is here too, and I only see the people who do it anyway.
The future turned up here too:
What’s interesting is that it’s the materials’ future that’s being discussed, with the drinks containers and newspaper aspiring to be more complex things, and the reader enlisted to help them achieve this dream. To be there seems to be a class narrative in there as well, with the mundane items that feature in the hands of the proletariat here all wanting to be part of a more middle-class life – books and wine-glasses and computers, at least. Though the wine bottle might already be in there. Perhaps they just want to be more permanently embedded in that life. We can help them become fixed, not transitory, which is the sort of future security we might all approve of.
On the way out of the LRT I saw this sign, advertising an opportunity to talk to government representatives about development plans in the district:
The notice shares space with two other kinds of future-facing activity, both less material perhaps than the land use discussion. There’s a qigong group offering to arrest bone loss, and another government-sponsored group promoting potential new friendships.
This last picture seems a bit less explicitly related to the future, perhaps, but for me it seemed to resonate with a general background concern with climate change, part of the same sort of thinking that urges people standing by the printer in offices to ‘think GREEN!!’. It has a polar bear swimming, not standing on anything, and some ice – I assumed it would have been put up in a public place as part of this general exhortation to think about rising sea levels. Perhaps it’s just a picture of a polar bear enjoying a swim.
What all of these have in common, for me, is that they demonstrate some of the ways in which a concern with the future is written into and discernible within everyday spaces. They point to the possibility of reading futures, of providing evidence for some sort of archeology of the future, and that makes them interesting for anyone who wants to see how abstract futures have real effects in the present. Like me.