Friday, June 10, 2005

The Decline of Chinese Fortune Cookies

THE NEW YORKER - [When Wonton Food, Inc. expanded into the fortune cookie business in the 1980s], it soon became apparent that its antiquated catalogue of fortunes would have to be updated. (“Find someone as gay as you are,” one leftover from the nineteen-forties read.) “We knew we needed to add new sayings,” Lau said. “I was chosen because my English was the best of the group, not because I’m a poet.”

At first, the writing came easily. Finding inspiration in sources ranging from the I Ching to the Post, Lau cranked out three or four maxims a day, between scrutinizing spreadsheets and monitoring the company’s inventory of chow mein. “I’d be on the subway and look up at the signs and think, Hey, that would make a great fortune,” he said. (One such adage: “Beware of odors from unfamiliar sources.”) “I’d keep a small notebook and jot down whatever came to me. I don’t think I ever sat in front of the computer and said, ‘I am going to write ten fortunes right now.’ It has to come naturally.”

Love, riches, power: there is a limited range of experience that can be expressed in one sentence, and, about eleven years into his tenure, Lau began to run out of ideas. He leaned increasingly on traditional Chinese sayings, which offer insight (along the lines of “True gold fears no fire”) but not foresight (“Your income will increase”), and in 1995 he gave up altogether. “I’ve written thousands of fortunes, but the inspiration is gone,” Lau said. “Have you heard of writer’s block? That is what happened to me.”

2 Comments:

At 8:01 PM, Anonymous Sam said...

how do you run out of fortune cookie sayings?!
I think i would piss myself if i found "Find someone as gay as you are" in my cookie! hahahaha!

 
At 2:15 PM, Blogger Luke said...

Agreed. :^D

 

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