Feng shui evaluations
Prior to construction, local developers often call in a geomancer, should you follow suit before buying or renting an apartment? Alex Frew McMillan reports
Sceptics may dismiss it but just like Chinese medicine, feng shui is based on millennia of practice, and it’s hard to write it off entirely.
“Feng shui is the science of nature,” says Edwin Cheung, a local master of the luk yum school. “All the fundamental principles are really based on ancient writings and ancient theories. Then modern people adopt it.”
Despite its many current proponents, the science – or art, depending on your point of view — has been through a lot. Christians in colonial-era days said feng shui had more in common with sorcery than science. And after the 1949 revolution on the mainland, the atheist Communist administration ruled it a “feudalistic superstitious practice” and a “social evil”.
The crackdown was particularly harsh during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Feng shui was considered part of the ‘Four Olds’ – old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas – that had to be abolished. Practitioners were persecuted and their works burned.
Registering as a feng shui consultant is still illegal in mainland China to this day, and the Communist Party officially discourages it. But like different faiths, the PRC is learning to live with feng shui again, and academics are allowed to study it once more. Keep it to yourself, but Communist Party officials are said to visit the many underground consultants in China.
There is no such confusion in Hong Kong, where feng shui is above board and going strong. Turn on the TV or the radio, and you can find any number of shows advising the audience on how to interpret it.
But feng shui is often misapplied, and those TV shows, as well as New Age interior designers, are partly to blame.
“The major misconception provided by the media is that people think if you put in a lot of feng shui decoration, the feng shui will be great,” Cheung says. “That is not true. If you have a flat with great feng shui, you don’t need to put anything there.”
So it is vital to pick the right apartment in the first place. And here, Cheung points out some people simply have good luck.
“Another principle in feng shui is called fate,” he says. “Someone with luck will go to a place with good feng shui. It is automatic.”
Harold L, a banker, and Elsa W, both of whom work in finance for a media company, decided to use feng shui to help them pick an apartment to rent. The couple, who asked for their last names not to be used in this article, consulted Cheung.
They put the principles of feng shui to use in selecting a flat in Aberdeen, and recently moved in. They say they used fundamental rules to help them pick their new home, as well as a personalised approach based on their individual circumstances, dates of birth and so on.
Common sense applies, first of all.
“One of the first criteria is your feeling when you get into the flat, whether you feel comfortable or not,” Cheung says.
There are also basic tenets that apply. The fundamentals suggest that you should pick a home that backs onto a mountain and that faces the sea, giving you a firm foundation – and a good view, to boot!
While Cheung points out that you can use a well-placed crystal to substitute a mountain view, and a glass of water to emulate the sea, proximity to the real thing is much more beneficial.
Property facing east is generally the best because it faces the direction of the sunrise. That means it will be warm and feel comfortable, attracting people in and making them feel good. By comparison a north-facing flat may be cold, a south- or west-facing flat too hot.
It is also a basic tenet of feng shui that the best shape for an apartment is a square; a rectangle is next-best and also acceptable, a triangular layout is to be avoided.
Most exponents of feng shui also take into account the flow of water and traffic around an apartment. Properties at the junction of a T-street or at the end of a cul-de-sac should be avoided, as should those with a straight road leading directly to the entrance. Proximity to a temple or church is not advisable, while it’s a good idea to live near a school or kindergarten.
Beyond those basic rules, things get a lot more complicated. Each individual also has their own dominant characteristics, based on the five elements: earth, gold (metal), water, wood and fire. These factors combine with the specific time and place to determine if a location is good or bad for you.
“Each particular flat has characteristics,” Cheung says, “but feng shui is tailor made for each person. It is endless if we go into details.”
On an individual level, Elsa and Harold were advised to find a home that faces southeast – that direction suits their birthdates and the current phase of the feng shui calendar that we are in. And it got more specific than that.
“To be exact, we can accept only the 30 degree ranging from south anti-clockwise 22.5 degree to 52.5 degree,” the couple said, noting that they had 24 different directions to pick from.
“What makes it more difficult is that buildings nowadays are made from highly magnetic materials so that even if the real direction is southeast, when you go inside the apartment and measure the direction with the feng shui compass, you sometimes — in fact pretty often — do not get the direction you measure outside the building,” they added.
They gave up an apartment in the building they initially favoured because the needle on the feng shui compass moved every step they took inside it.
“The most extreme case we experienced is that we moved one step forward from the centre of the apartment, and the needle moved by 180 degrees!” they recall.
There were plenty of non-feng-shui considerations, too – they both wanted to live on Hong Kong Island and this restricted them in feng shui terms to Ap Lei Chau. The other major neighbourhoods on the island that face southeast – Repulse Bay, Deep Water Bay and Shouson Hill, for example – were all out of their price range.
Internally, the couple had other smaller feng shui ‘suggestions’ about the location of the kitchen, the bedrooms, the bathroom, the direction that the oven and toilet face, and so on. But at some point, the criteria became too restrictive.
“We couldn’t really take care of them all if we were to find a flat realistically,” they say.
The couple only recently moved into the new apartment. But they say they have noticed improvements in their lives – for instance Harold has already got a new job.
“It is working so far,” they say. “We noted things changing, but it is difficult to tell whether they are all purely attributed to feng shui.”
Perhaps it is most important that they feel it is working.
“My view is that feng shui is very scientific and is a profound school of knowledge from ancient China,” Harold says. “However, unlike other natural sciences such as physics and chemistry, feng shui is very difficult to verify, and hence very difficult to understand and apply in practice.”
He says that feng shui is underdeveloped, despite its long history, and has been harmed by bad teaching, malpractice and charlatans.
Though many Hong Kong buildings are famously built on feng shui precepts, the art hasn’t been done any favours by scandals such as the contested will of Nina Wang, Asia’s richest woman. A court hearing is due to start next February to hear whether she left her US$4.2 billion fortune to part-time feng shui master Tony Chan Chun-cheun. That’s a claim both her family and foundation both contest.
“Many feng shui practitioners and users apply and promote feng shui in the wrong way, which leads to misunderstandings and sceptics in the community,” Harold says.
Conventional science and technology has also had its own controversies, he notes. Debate and scepticism over feng shui practices is also to be expected but has been particularly harsh.
Cheung thinks feng shui is getting more popular in Hong Kong. But he cautions against it becoming a pop phenomenon.
“There are a lot of feng shui celebrities teaching around some feng shui principles, when in fact it is not that simple,” Cheung says. “It is not just a trendy thing.”