Chinese Fortunes: Vice or Virtue?

By Melinda VanLone | Photos

Mar 04

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We ordered take-out Chinese food this weekend, which usually wouldn’t be cause for comment except for two things.

First, I ordered something I’d never ordered before, and it reeked. It literally stank to the proverbial high heaven. You could smell the stench for days in the hallway. Even our neighbors mentioned it, although they didn’t know the horrific smell came from our take-out, and I didn’t tell them. (Shhhh)

In case you’re wondering, it was Szechuan Chicken. I have no idea why it smelled that bad, but I know I won’t be ordering it for delivery again. On the plus side it allowed for an entire conversation with a neighbor I’d only nodded to in passing before. He told me about an excellent Chinese food place right across the street that I hadn’t tried but is apparently the best in the area. Score one for smelly food!

Second (you’ve already forgotten there were two things, haven’t you), obligatory fortune cookies accompanied my odorific meal. I love opening fortune cookies. I love being adolescent and adding the words “in bed” to whatever the fortune is. Mostly I love the cookie itself, but the real story here is the fortune which was wrapped inside.

 

“What’s vice today may be virtue tomorrow.”

 

That threw me. I turned that phrase over in my head, then wrote it down and stared at it. What the heck is that supposed to mean? Is there some person tucked away in a corner in China somewhere giggling over that phrase right now? “I’ll write something they’ll never figure out and thus take over civilization as we know it.”

I tried dissecting the phrase. What’s vice today? What, exactly, is a vice? The dictionary says it’s an immoral or evil habit. At first I was going to say smoking. Or maybe doing drugs. Or binge drinking. But are those things truly evil? For the sake of argument, let’s say they are. Let’s say smoking is immoral, and evil. (Just for the sake of argument remember, this is not the opportunity for someone to start yelling at me or to get all defensive about their smoking habit.)

Will there ever come a time when smoking is a virtue? In the next few years will it be revealed that smoking really is not only good for your health, but causes super intelligence in little children and second-hand smoke has the ability to cure disease? Never mind that I believe smoking could have been said to be a virtue back in the day, and is now a vice. In other words, I see clearly how it works the other way around. Something “good” becomes “bad” in the blink of an eye these days.

How about something more simple. My vice could be said to be dark chocolate. I love it; can’t get enough of it. I have to ration it out to myself, or I’ll eat the whole bag. It’s my own personal vice, although I’d argue that it’s neither evil, nor immoral, but for the sake of argument let’s say it is. How will it become a virtue, for me, tomorrow?

How will any vice become a virtue? Has there ever been a case of something society thought of as immoral, suddenly becoming a virtue—something righteous and good?

Can you think of anything? I couldn’t.

But just in case, I’ll keep eating the dark chocolate. I hear it’s good for you heart, so it’s well on the way to becoming a virtue. Right?

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