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Dragon, Toads and Me
seems everyone - from car designers to the lovelorn- is turning to the
Chinese art of feng shui. WENDY TUOHY finds out why Buddhas, lucky
money and fish are so fashionable.
THE GUY IN THE COUCH SHOP was having trouble in the love
department. He was struggling, so he called in feng shui help. Feng
shui- "wind and water" - is the Chinese system that organizes
environments to enhance and use the earth's natural energy. Its
practitioners, whose main tool is the compass, consider it a science.
It was originally used to establish a site for the tombs of Chinese
emperors, but lately it is so much in vogue in the West that it is
being tried by everyone from carmakers to software developers to
enhance business - and to aid romance, apparently.
After following the advice to remove photos of his child from a
previous relationship from his bedroom and to place in a certain corner
of it a love bowl - including precious stones, water, a floating candle
and flower - the sofa man's romantic life bloomed.
He was telling us this, me and my feng shui-cynic friend, after we
noticed the shop had its own tiny fountain (the sound of water attracts
money). It turned out the owner had also had the shop's feng shui done.
"I have to go out and buy candles for the oil burner this morning
or I won't make a sale all day," said the happy salesman, who believes
his private life turned around as a direct result of feng shui. My
friend the cynic left the shop grinding her teeth quietly. "I bet the
person who came up with feng shui wasn't thinking electrical-buzzing
water fountains with ugly cords in mass-produced plastic," she growled.
But more evidence of the reach and trans-generational appeal of the
4,000-year-old system came in the very next shop. The saleswoman in
this designer home store was about to have her home feng shui-ed as a
gift from her mother, who had told her, "I don't think you are happy in
Feng shui's feng shui must be strong at the moment because many of
us notoriously sceptical Australians are placing a great deal of faith
- and money - in it. Such is our interest in feng shui, which would
tell us the best places for our beds, mirrors, televisions, doors,
stairs and desks, that the Malaysian-Chinese feng shui author Lillian
Too is outselling the Dalai Llama. Last year her book Easy To Use Feng Shui
sold 15,000 copies here, while his The Art Of Living sold 9,000.
Between 1998 and 2000 Too, a former bank CEO, sold 92,000 copies of her pocket-sized guide Lillian Too's Little Book Of Feng Shui
And while feng shui - pronounced fung shway - has been strictly
adhered to by Hong Kong businesses for years, it is now winning over
Australian executives. Some examples: Ford Australia is designing the
2003 interior of its flagship car, the Falcon, using feng shui
principles in the belief that it may help to reduce road rage and
fatigue. Marcus Hotblack, manager of interior design at Ford, says
taking feng shui into account when designing the interior of the new
Barra Falcon (which will be released later this year) was in the
context of "following general principles of good design and harmony".
Ford also had a feng shui expert audit the interior of the current Falcon.
The clothing chain Jeans West has all its new shops checked for
their feng shui, and Vogue Australia has had its Sydney offices
appropriately renovated, as has Grey Worldwide
"You cannot isolate a pair of slippers as the single thing causing you misfortune, but the public believes these things."
advertising agency at its Melbourne headquarters. It added a large
water feature, and the general manager, Jane Emery, needed to move
office to place her in the right feng shui "money position" for her
role. "We thought it might help us win more new business," says Emery.
The Sydney Property Expo has included feng shui among its sessions
on property tax and investment portfolios, and the Sydney company Blue
Haven Pools has reported that since it started offering free feng shui
advice on pool placement, 20 per cent of the 2,000 buyers yearly have
Crown Casino is perhaps the most famous large business to have used
feng shui, though the Melbourne feng shui master Yu Gui Feng says it
failed to observe southern hemisphere conditions. Feng, who teaches at
his Australian Feng Shui and Qui Gong Centre in the Melbourne CBD, does
a lot of corporate work and is often called upon to assess company
Feng says he has a lot of internationally famous business clients
who take enormous trouble to get their feng shui right: "Sometimes for
the whole consultation clients will spend tens of thousands of dollars,
and I can give them a couple of simple pieces of advice."
The ANZ Bank's headquarters in Sydney were refurbished using its
principles, and the measures included rounding off sharp desk edges-
which are said to create negative arrows of energy - using shades of
red and avoiding the number four.
Obviously it's not foolproof. One.Tel spent thousands introducing
feng shui to its offices, adding fish, crystals and dragons - though
one feng shui consultant I spoke to said even that could not counteract
the actions of the bosses.
What is it about feng shui that appeals to everyone from the
lovelorn to the proprietors of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, who
just had a feng shui sun painted in the southern dressing room to
address the fact that sports teams using it had lost 11 games straight?
Kaz Cooke, the satirist and writer who released her light-hearted
Little Book Of Dumb Feng Shui the year after Too's Little Book, says
part of the appeal may be that people who have attended religious or
regimented schools continue to find sets of life- rules comforting.
"Another aspect of it is people without spirituality want to buy it
in." She points out that some of feng shui is just commonsense.
The heavy-hitting international feng shui teacher and author Master
Raymond Lo says it is in part the growing recognition that science
cannot explain everything. "People are becoming more open-minded and
accepting alternatives; there are many alternatives proving to be
better than the traditional thing," he says from his Hong Kong office.
He warns, though, that traditional feng shui, concerned with
calculating the harmonious placement of buildings and objects - and
keeping environments clean and clutter-free so their energy is good -
is being re-interpreted and commercialised to the point where some of
the advice is ridiculous.
"There are a lot of books published but 99 per cent are written by
someone who doesn't know the subject. When experts look at such a feng
shui book, they don't recognise those as feng shui books," says Lo.
"I have clients who say, 'I have to throw away all my feng shui
books; they are causing misery in my life. They tell my husband he
can't put his shirt here, his tie here or his slippers here.' How can
feng shui be that superficial?
"You cannot isolate a pair of slippers as the single thing causing
you misfortune, but the public buys these things and believes them…
feng shui actually needs studying like engineering or architecture."
He says that true feng shui does improve the harmony of life, but
cautions, "If you engage feng shui services, you have to be very
sceptical; the person must sound very logical to you, everything must
be explained, supported by solid logic and knowledge.
"Feng shui is talking about how you make the best use of your
energy and how you allocate things. The most important thing is that
you sleep in the right place and work in the right place, and put your
[main] things in the right place. No traditional Chinese book will go
to the point of where to put a pair of slippers."
AS SHE PREPARES TO READ OUR HOME FOR ITS good and bad feng shui,
Clare Austin digs into her handbag for a compass. She produces a
practical-looking orienteering type, which picks the all important
direction our house faces (north-west).
Austin, a teacher at the Feng Shui College of Melbourne, is very
thoughtful as she surveys the two-storey terrace from the street. "The
land is sloping down, which is good, because you want the back higher
than the front," she says. "But the confusion created by the address is
not good feng shui." (Our street has two number 52s.)
The theory is that if taxis, couriers and visitors can fail to find
us, so could the enriching "chi" energy feng shui encourages into the
home. Is it bad that we don't have water at the front, as classical
feng shui recommends? Austin reassures that roads equal rivers of
energy, and the chi moves nicely along ours.
"The form is good," she pronounces of the exterior, which should
look receptive, solid, clean and intact. She suggests we fix the rusted
drainpipe, as leaking water is bad in feng shui, and also keep the
climber on it trimmed so it doesn't give the impression of nature
reclaiming the house.
I am bracing myself for when Austin sees the feng shui equivalent
of shorts with long white socks: stairs facing the door. The chi is
believed to waft straight up them, instead of flowing evenly through
the house. A remedy, such as a pot plant, is often necessary, though in
this case it could land someone in traction.
"That [rule] is relative to how close to the door they are," she
says, adding that ours are passable. Also, she considers the dark
carpet feels like a waterfall, bringing the eye back down. "Chi energy
follows your senses; if the eye is drawn down, the chi will also be
drawn back down."
And what of our lack of three-legged money toads (bring gold in),
money turtles (keep the money in), dragons (breathe fortune) or crystal
chandeliers (bring love, luck),etc, that I've seen in the pop-feng-shui
Luckily, Austin sees past these kinds of charms, and says what
matters is optimising the energy created by all the objects and the
environment itself, and not "the superficial - where [your house] can
end up looking like a Chinese restaurant".
Austin is called in to a lot of homes and businesses - one client
company designs stockmarket data programs - and says that in the past
five years there has been an upsurge of interest. "I think it's
fashionable," she says.
"There are those who want to hedge their bets, who may not
necessarily believe in it but don't want to miss out on the possible
benefits; they want the feng shui stamp of approval. And then there is
a generation of people in their 40s and 50s who have gone through
life's social changes, and are now the people in suits. They are
perhaps also interested in yoga or meditation and are authentically
interested in it.
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