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Recession-hit Asians pray for jobs, luck, recovery
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - With the Singapore government warning of a worsening economy, IT administrator Ismarini Ismail is praying the recession won't upset her wedding plans for December.
"I pray harder in times of economic downturn, although my job is not affected this time," the 25-year-old Singaporean told Reuters as Singapore's unemployment rose to the highest in over three years in the first quarter of 2009.
"I'm praying for my fiance that his job is safe."
Ismail is not alone.
As companies shed jobs and governments inject funds to stimulate economies, recession-hit Asians from Taiwan to Thailand are flocking to temples, churches and mosques to seek solace in religion -- and pray for a quick economic recovery.
Analysts say religion is a good refuge for people suffering from an economic downturn.
"People might experience depression and socio-psychological problems as they worry about jobs in a recession. It is through such worries that they turn to religion," said Alexius Pereira, sociologist at the National University of Singapore.
While some may seek supernatural power for help, others look to relieve their stress through meditation, said Tay Sin Wee, a meditation course administrator.
"With the economy in such bad shape, people are finding an avenue to find peace and calm," he said, adding he saw a 20 percent rise in participants in classes at Singapore's Amitabha Buddhist Center this year.
Others echo his views.
"The recession is a wake-up call to remind us to trust in God and not in money," said Timothy Teo, a board member at Singapore's Bartley Christian church which has raised nearly S$16 million ($11 million) to fund its new church facility in the midst of a recession.
In Taiwan, which saw a record economic contraction of 10.24 percent in the first quarter of 2009, a popular temple in capital Taipei has seen a massive rise in visitors, mostly white-collar workers seeking career guidance through an old Chinese tradition.
At Hsing Tien Kung, a 60-year-old hybrid Confucian-Daoist temple in central Taipei, some 2,000 visitors queue up each day to draw a wooden stick carrying a short poetic prediction for the drawer's future, a tradition dating back two millennia.
"The phenomenon we see is that they're asking about work or career because the economy isn't good," temple spokesman Lee Chu-hua said.
"The percentage is up," said Lee, as more than 100 people lined up in the incense-filled temple courtyard to grab sticks.
Whatever the words on the paper say, Lee said: "We give the people some encouragement."
Tech-reliant Taiwan is probably suffering its longest recession with a record seasonally adjusted jobless rate of 5.72 percent in March, compared with 4.14 percent in 2008 and 3.91 percent in 2007, the government said.
In Thailand where the economy has also been hit by a four-year political crisis, the number of visitors to Bangkok's shrine of Grandma Nak has jumped since last year, a shrine keeper said, coinciding with the first wave of factory layoffs in the country.
"From what I can see, people come here to ask Grandma Nak to help resolve their trouble -- all kinds of trouble from jobs, love to lucky numbers," shrine keeper Lek said, as visitors rubbed tree trunks for numbers they hope to win from a lottery.
Legend has it Grandma Nak died during labor a century ago and her spirit faithfully waited for her conscripted husband to return.
Thousands of factory workers have lost their jobs as overseas orders have dried up in Thailand where sporadic street violence has scared away foreign investors and tourists.
The government has pledged to spend billions of baht on the rural and urban poor to simulate the economy, which is expected to shrink 3.5 percent in 2009.
While the recession has strengthened people's faith in many countries, business has slowed for feng shui masters in Hong Kong with the property sector suffering a severe contraction.
Feng shui masters give advice on how to make land and buildings bring wealth and luck.
"From 1991 until about 1998, when the last big economic crisis happened, a lot of people went to geomancers to get help. But the economy never got better and people didn't think feng shui helped them," Edwin Ma, a feng shui consultant to top property firms.
"So a lot of people got disappointed and they would now rather keep their money in their own pockets."
($1 = 1.454 Singapore dollar)
(Additional reporting by Mohaini Ibrahim, Kash Cheong and Laurence Tan in Singapore, Kittipong Soonprasert in Bangkok, Ralph Jennings in Taiwan; Tan Ee Lyn in Hong Kong; Editing by Sugita Katyal)
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