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Avoiding the ‘Two-Faced Blade Demon’ as the Year of the Ox looms | Arts and Culture News



Inside the underground mall adjacent to Taipei’s renowned Lungshan Temple, a chubby white bird pecks at a box of orange and red envelopes under the watchful gaze of his owner Chin-yuan Chang.

He picks at one, and then another and finally decides on an orange envelope, which he pulls out with his small beak.

Chang opens the envelope to pull out a card and lays it out next to two others to form a triptych of predictions for the world in the upcoming Year of the Ox, which officially begins on Friday.

“This [first card] is good. It denotes upward movement. In terms of work it means there will be an opportunity for promotion. Since we’re asking about the entire world, it means the whole economy will go up. However, as the economy improves you’ll have this [second card]. Things will get better but it won’t be easy. At every pass there will be difficulties. Now for the final card…” Chang says and suddenly becomes agitated.

In front of her is a card depicting the “Two-Faced Blade Demon”, which stands for duplicity, treachery and double dealing – perhaps a sign of how the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out will end.

Chang is displeased with this ending, and the birds are encouraged to pick an extra card.

The two plump birds of Chin-yuan Chang, a fortune teller, at Lungshan Temple ready to choose one of the brightly-coloured envelopes [Erin Hale/Al Jazeera]

The bird selects a card depicting a Song Dynasty tale of two star-crossed lovers with a happy ending and Chang appears relieved. Perhaps the Year of the Ox will prove better than the calamitous Year of the Rat, whose arrival last January inadvertently spread COVID-19 around the world as tourists from Wuhan, where the outbreak was already accelerating, flew overseas to celebrate the holidays.

By this Sunday, the third day of the new year holiday, Chang expects the shopping mall will be filled with Taiwanese asking similar questions of herself and other fortune tellers; a key part of the traditional festivities.

Known to many in the West as “Chinese New Year,” the start of the lunar new year is celebrated across Asia, from Japan to Southeast Asia, and among the Asian diaspora in places like London, New York, Vancouver and Melbourne.

In Taiwan, where most of the island’s non-indigenous population traces its roots back to China, many people practice traditional Chinese customs, including those that were largely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in the mainland of the 1960s and 1970s.

Worldwide, however, preparations will include customary house cleaning before travelling home to attend a family feast, known as the reunion dinner, on the eve of the new year. In China, the holiday typically marks the largest annual human migration in the world and a major boom time for tourism, but this year’s celebrations in China and elsewhere will be more muted with travel restrictions and limits on public gatherings in place.

In Taiwan, however, where COVID-19 has been largely contained, lunar new year will continue largely unchanged from years past with train tickets sold out and shrines to popular gods filled with new year’s offerings of food, flowers and incense.

Love, marriage, TSMC

For those seeking their fortune for the upcoming year, they may rely on methods dating back hundreds if not thousands of years, but their questions, said Chang, are often decidedly modern.

One of the most popular queries is for investment advice, particularly the fate of TSMC, Taiwan’s top chip manufacturer, whose shares have rallied over the past year.

Other questions, though, may be less unexpected, such as predictions for marriage and romantic relationships.

The ‘Two Faced Blade Demon’ stands for duplicity, treachery and double dealing [Erin Hale/Al Jazeera]
Chang was relieved when her bird instead picked a card depicting a Song Dynasty tale of two star-crossed lovers that has a happy ending [Erin Hale/Al Jazeera]

For those who want to avoid holiday crowds and the still-lingering threat of COVID-19, predictions fo the upcoming year are also printed in newspapers and special new year’s magazines available at most convenience stores.

Newspapers, however, also include advice for world leaders including Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, born under the monkey sign of zodiac, who may have a “a lucky year with help from friends” and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a snake, who could see “opportunities for development and making money, but both allies and enemies will appear at the same time,” according to Wealth Magazine.

The left-leaning Apple Daily, the Hong Kong-based newspaper, predicted that COVID-19 would ease by March 20 when the economy will begin to recover and advised praying to the earth god for luck, while the right-leaning China Times recommended readers buy high-yield bonds, Japanese Yen and US dollars.

At her cubicle at Lungshan Temple, Chang said the Year of the Ox will be challenging one worldwide, including for investors, but it should end on a higher note than it began.

The Lungshan temple is one of Taiwan’s most renowned temples and usually packed with people over the Lunar New Year [File: Ritchie B Tongo/EPA]

And things might begin to turnaround in a few months time.

“There will be many difficulties that need to be overcome and this will lead to everyone locking horns to get things, to get money. People may get hurt. Because business is so bad now, every industry is doing poorly. There will be conflicts between people. This is relatively bad,” she said.

“In economic terms, everyone’s business will be all right. Everyone will be able to make money. Each card corresponds to a month, so around mid-June things will begin to get better.”

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NY officials altered count of COVID nursing home deaths: Reports | Coronavirus pandemic News



NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s aides allegedly pushed health officials to alter report on COVID deaths, US media report.

Top aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo altered a state health department report to obscure the true number of people killed by COVID-19 in the state’s nursing homes, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported.

The aides, including the secretary to the governor, Melissa DeRosa, allegedly pushed state health officials to edit the July report so only residents who died inside long-term care facilities, and not those who became ill there and later died at a hospital, were counted, the newspapers reported, citing documents and people with knowledge of the administration’s internal discussions.

The report was designed and released to rebut criticism of Cuomo over a March 25 directive that barred nursing homes from rejecting recovering coronavirus patients being discharged from hospitals.

Some nursing homes complained at the time that the policy could help spread the virus.

The state’s health department report concluded the policy played no role in spreading infection. The analysis by authorities was based partly on what officials acknowledged at the time was an imprecise statistic.

The report said 6,432 people had died in the state’s nursing homes.

Suppression of deaths

State officials acknowledged that the true number of deaths was higher because of the exclusion of patients who died in hospitals, but they declined at the time to give any estimate of that larger number of deaths, saying the numbers still needed to be verified.

The Times and Journal reported that, in fact, the original drafts of the report had included that number, then more than 9,200 deaths, until Cuomo’s aides said it should be taken out.

State officials insisted on Thursday that the edits were made because of concerns about accuracy, not to protect Cuomo’s reputation.

“While early versions of the report included out of facility deaths, the COVID task force was not satisfied that the data had been verified against hospital data and so the final report used only data for in facility deaths, which was disclosed in the report,” Department of Health Spokesperson Gary Holmes said.

Scientists, healthcare professionals and elected officials assailed the report at the time for flawed methodology and selective statistics that sidestepped the actual effect of the directive.

Cuomo defends the move

Cuomo had refused for months to release complete data on how the early stages of the pandemic hit nursing home residents.

A court order and state attorney general’s report in January forced the state to acknowledge the nursing home resident death toll was higher than the count previously made public.

DeRosa told politicians earlier this month that the administration did not turn over the data to legislators in August because of worries the information would be used against them by the Trump administration, which had recently launched a Justice Department investigation of nursing home deaths.

“Basically, we froze, because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys, what we start saying was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” DeRosa said.

Cuomo and his health commissioner recently defended the March directive, saying it was the best option at the time to help free up desperately needed beds at the state’s hospitals.

“We made the right public health decision at the time. And faced with the same facts, we would make the same decision again,” Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said on February 19.

The state now acknowledges that at least 15,000 long-term care residents died, compared with a figure of 8,700 it had publicised as of late January that did not include residents who died after being transferred to hospitals.

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