HONG KONG/BANGKOK – Asia’s feng shui masters are thanking their lucky numbers as the ancient Chinese practice gains in popularity and the region’s property markets are on the upturn.
Feng shui has become so popular among Asia’s ethnic-Chinese business elite from Bangkok to Beijing that Western investors are hiring practitioners, partly to please staff and local partners.
For example, self-styled Singapore “queen of feng shui” Lyn Yap, who counts Oracle Systems, Citibank and ICI Paint among her clients, said IBM paid $6,000 for her services.
She ensured the positioning and characteristics of IBM’s seven-story office conformed to the principles of feng shui – which means wind and water – to maximize energy flows and improve the fortunes of the firm and its staff.
According to The Feng Shui Society (www.fengshuisociety.org.uk), the underlying philosophy recognizes that people and their environment are sustained by an invisible energy called chi. It moves like wind, but can eddy and become trapped like water and stagnate.
The skill of a Feng Shui consultant lies in creating space for chi to flow and to remove obstacles, the society says.
Yap, comparing the office to a mythical creature, says: “It really looked like a Kirin, which has a dragon’s head, the body of a horse, scales of a carp and usually stands on gold ingots.
“So I told them to put yellow lights around the building to represent the gold and switch them on every evening.” She also shifted water tanks on the roof because their position would have made women employees ill, and redesigned entrances so cars would pass in front of the building.
“Cars can carry a lot of good energy to the place,” Yap said.
BLAME THE BANK OF CHINA
Feng shui is a matter of high politics beneath Hong Kong’s steely skyline, a feast of modern design thanks to famed architects such as I.M. Pei, Sir Norman Foster and Cesar Pelli.
The city’s incoming chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, set up a temporary office ahead of the British handover to Chinese rule in 1997 but complained that the feng shui was no good and moved.
The wealthy businessman then refused to occupy Government House, a sprawling colonial-era building where British governors lived and entertained, saying the feng shui was obliterated by a new Bank of China skyscraper.
Feng shui experts said the building was shaped like a knife to “cut” the last British governor, Chris Patten, and some blamed it for a 1997 economic crisis.
“It’s becoming quite common practice for big corporations to engage a feng shui master when they embark on a major project,” said Edward Shen, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects. “The costs can run into unimaginable figures.”
American architect I.M. Pei defended his design for the Bank of China building, saying it replicated a bamboo stalk to symbolize enterprising spirit and future growth.
After years in the doldrums, Hong Kong’s property market appears to have turned the corner this year. As the city begins to revel in its role as a financial center for mainland Chinese deals, luxury homes are selling briskly.
Property prices are seen rising by 20 percent in 2004, having dropped up to 65 percent since 1997.
“It’s a settling energy period and the general property market will pick up,” said Feng Shui consultant Jill Lander, a former hairdresser who went to Hong Kong as the wife of a colonial policeman.
“If you buy now you will reap considerable returns,” she said, adding that her consultation fees for homes start at HK$2,500 dollars (US$320).
Shen said home buyers could save cash by doing some simple feng shui checks themselves.
You avoid sharp objects facing your main window and you should not be able to see through a home from the main door – money coming through the front door would slip straight out.
“I know friends who would knock down walls and re-plan entire units based on the advice of a feng shui master,” Shen said.
Feng Shui masters say the practice is making a comeback in a construction boom in its birthplace, China, although Communist authorities look on it with some disdain.
“There’s a sort of underground network that utilizes feng shui experts and a lot of the newest buildings use it,” said California-based James Jay, who runs feng shui study tours to Beijing’s Forbidden City.
“It’s accepted as a social or historical study, but to practice is frowned upon,” he said. “I’ve heard it’s not wise to advertise you do it because there could be some backlash. Masters I know practice strictly by word of mouth.”
Although the feng shui business lifts with property booms, practitioners say they can also do well in a cyclical downturn.
Yap is one of around 30 full-time feng shui practitioners in Singapore who are busy despite a property market that is still struggling to emerge from the Asian economic crisis and the bursting of the tech industry bubble.