feng shui

feng_shuithe office is the top floor of a converted row home in the french concession. every inch of this place is well designed for yoga classes. an open floor plan, space to chill, and a few big bright studios where we all sweat and twist our way to inner bliss. for the teachers, the office is the only good place to hide between classes.  it’s peaceful, it’s air conditioned, there’s internet. every day’s pretty much the same.

he said nothing when he walked in. just sat down, and quietly ate the box of kfc chicken he’d brought. not a word. not a wink. nothing. like one of the guys that delivers fruit, he’s dressed in suit pants and jacket, far more formal than us foreign slobs but still very average. he looked like a thousand other men you’ll see on a shanghai street. ‘i’m a friend of the boss’ is all he says as i introduce myself. simple, polite, totally uninterested in impressing anyone. that alone is impressive.

before my next class, i see him step into a black benz on the street below, chauffeured away in style. i find out later this man is a feng shui master from hong kong. my boss and his business partners fly him in, put him in the nicest hotel, and treat him with utmost respect. all the investors in this studio are very well-connected. wealthy, stylish, well-educated, they are an elite group in hong kong, successful by any modern measure. and this man to whom they bow is the yin to all that yang. he is without polish, no need. his role is to step in, see the project, and adjust whatever offends the flow of fortune, observing rules these worldy men never mastered.

call it superstition, or pure aesthetic if you like, the art of geomancy is alive and well in chinese society. considered somewhat archaic in the post-revolution mainland, it is still very much present though discrete in the mind of anyone raised here. this is the magic that drew me to the far east. the ritual culture, the historical thread. it flows through the proverbs, the tai qi, the wind, and the water.

a master of feng shui is present to the forces of nature. his role is to enter the mysterious and point the way to others who have lost balance. in modern times, this often equates to superstition, design consulting, and fortune telling. what is the best date to get married? and my lucky winning numbers? when moving into a great new apartment in shanghai’s swank french concession, we invited a feng shui master in to advise us on some renovation. his advice? hang a rubber chicken on the exposed pipe above the kitchen sink, move the toilet to another room, and light 100 firecrackers on the kitchen floor on a certain date. in retrospect, we probably should have kept that from the landlord… his wife found out our plans and rented the place to someone else:(


it can be a bit silly, BUT there are impressive stories of these masters in modern times. when shanghai was constructing it’s massive elevated highway through the downtown, the engineers met a rock at a critical point of intersection. they hit it with tools, bulldozers, explosives… everything they had. it wouldn’t budge. finally, the abbot from a local temple was called in. he sat in prayer at the site, and finally came to the conclusion that there was a dragon lair beneath the ground. to appease the dragon, an offering should be made. city planning arranged an artist to create a sculpture covered in dragons, phoenix, sun and moon to cover the pillar and appease the sleeping dragon. as the story goes, once the artwork was begun, all drilling on the site proceeded without a problem. and now, you find the dragon pillar supporting a massive confluence of highway just west of people’s square.

these folk tales are cute. they seem silly, or antiquated from a certain perspective, a relic from the old world that we don’t need in our modern times. but these things are happening all around us, east, west, north, and south. a few months ago, we had to have a plumbing line replaced in the yard at my mother’s house in smalltown, american suburbia. hardly the mystic far east. i saw the guy from the utility company out in the yard. it’s his job to consult the map, find the line, and mark it so the plumber can come in and dig without worry of striking a gas line. he had a fancy electric metal detector, but what he was actually using was a bent wire coat hanger. with this divining technique, you just bend the hanger at 90 degrees and hold it in a lightly closed fist. walking slowly over an area, you watch the hanger. when it moves, it points in the direction of plumbing below the ground. i saw this happening, so (of course) i went out for a chat. turns out, the guy knows very little about magnetic influence, geomancy, lay lines, feng shui, or any other paranormal explanation. he is content with the fact that it simply works better than the fancy machine. we exchanged a few stories. i told him of a buddy who made a very good living in england doing similar work with a pendulum. my friend finds gas lines, rocks, tree roots, and auspicious sites for major development projects… but he hides the pendulum preferring to just call it intuition.

so what paranormal things are worth investigating? and which are still used without admission? why is there so little training in this sort of stuff in the mainstream. it’s mostly relegated to fairy tales and fiction. why not shine a light on this stuff and celebrate the tools even though we may not fully understand them? in the words of eden phillpotts, ‘the universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.’

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