A matter of fengshui
It may not be enough that you are an accomplished businessman and have the best location in town. Without the blessing and guidance of a fengshui master, all of your work may come to naught because of a misplaced window or chair
By Lisa Chiu / CONTRIBUTING REPORTER
The science of fengshui (風水), also called geomancy, has been practiced since time immemorial. At its simplest, it is a study and manipulation of the environment to provide mankind with greater felicity in his life. It is still practiced in Taiwan today, and although its practitioners now wear Western dress, the fundamentals of the art remain unchanged.
\nIn the past, without the modern conveniences of double-glazing, air-conditioners and convection heaters, people had to rely on the blessings of nature for their comfort or even survival. For example, the principles of fengshui often dictate that the door of a building should face north, avoiding the glare of the rising sun and the direct heat of summer.
\nWhile this and many other principles of fengshui may have made perfectly good sense when building a mud brick house on the alluvial plains of the Yangtze River, they don't always seem to make sense in the modern world.
\n"Things have changed and many of the traditional fengshui applications are not practical and sometimes conflict with modern architecture," Lin Hung-ming (林弘敏), an interior designer said. He also said that interior designers often prefer to build more or larger windows to make buildings brighter and happier, but many fengshui masters object to such ideas as conflicting with fengshui taboos. "And most of them have not been trained in interior design," said Lin.
\nDuring the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), fengshui became popular among fortunetellers, who liked to draw connections between the place a person lived and that person's luck. The practice of fengshui drew heavily on the lore of divination and developed a complex system of rules and taboos that may seem quaint to the skeptical but still influence people today.
\nFor example, the front door of a house must not be in a direct line with the back door, for it is believed that good fortune will not remain in your house. The toilet, no matter how clean it is, should never face the front entrance. A bed should never be placed under a load-bearing wall, and you should never sleep with your feet pointing towards the bedroom door.
\nThis may seem simple enough, but the subtleties of the art are known only to the practitioners, and their skills do not come cheap. To have a house inspected by a professional in the field costs about NT$30,000 to NT$50,000, and this does not include alterations that the fengshui master might recommend.
\nWhen Lin Chuo-kung (林卓功), the owner of Sara House (莎諾義大利餐廳), an Italian restaurant in the up-market district of Tienmu chose his location, he consulted a fengshui master who recommended that he alter the position of the front door. "It was facing the Veterans Hospital (榮總) where the master said it was open to bad karma," Lin said, pointing to the new door that is no longer facing the hospital. The hospital has sick and dying people in it, and the chi, or energy, was bad, he said. Besides work to the doorway, Lin also spent an additional NT$2 million to make other alterations to the cashiers' counter and bathroom.
\nTseng Chung-sen (曾中森), a fengshui master, explained that the practice of fengshui is like the study of human anatomy and that chi circulates through the house like blood in the human body. A doorway is considered as a person's mouth, "therefore, you must watch out what goes into your mouth," he said.
\n"Although the fengshui masters do not necessarily make radical suggestions to the owner, it can be quite challenging doing interior design for a client when he is a strong believer of fengshui," interior designer Lin said. He added that it was surprising how many of his clients who believe strongly in fengshui are well-educated, successful business executives. He himself started studying fengshui six years ago.
\nAlthough not all fengshui methods are applicable to modern buildings because of the limitations of space in big cities, many land developers and designers will still consult a fengshui master. Although few will admit to believing everything about fengshui, they feel it is better to be safe than sorry.
\nKao Hung-yuan (高弘銘), an architect who has designed many commercial buildings around the island said that he will take into account fengshui fundamentals regarding the location and frontage of the building, but that there are few other taboos regarding the external appearance of the building.
\nLi You-peng (李宥朋), a civil engineer with the International Steel Company (理成工業), pointed out that many elements of fengshui have a practical or scientific explanation. "As an example, he pointed to the taboo against placing a mirror at the foot of a bed. Long ago when artificial light was poor, "you might wake up in the middle of the night and mistake your reflection for a ghost and scare yourself to death."
\nPlacement is key
\n"I believe in fengshui but I am also a sensible person," said Lin of Sara House. "It's all about making more money and providing a better life for my family," he said. Although he is not superstitious, Lin said that he'd rather not gamble with his NT$10 million investment in his restaurant. "I see the money I put into fengshui as part of the investment," he says.
\nFor many others, fengshui also means the difference between success and failure, health and death. Weng Yuan-pu (翁源甫) says the failure of his first business was because he didn't listen to the advice of his fengshui master, Yang Tseng-chang (楊贈蒼). Even now that business has improved after relocating an air conditioner and putting in a fish tank, Yang continues to give advice on matters of placement.
\nAt a small gathering at Weng's restaurant, Yang upbraids Weng for letting a guest sit in the seat behind the aquarium.
\n"I have specifically told you not to let anyone sit in that seat because that is where your money spot is," Yang says. Weng apologizes and asks the occupant to find another place to sit.
\n"I am happy that I met Master Yang," he said. Weng is now in the process of shopping for a larger place to expand his restaurant, "but of course, I have to see if Yang will help me locate a lucky place that suits my fengshui."
Many of Yang Tseng-chang's clients are well educated and hip urbanites.
PHOTO: LISA CHIU
Placement of objects at key locations can alter the flow of "chi" within a building.
PHOTO: LISA CHIU
Tseng Chung-sen, a modern-day fengshui consultant, demonstrates how the tools of the trade are used.
PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES
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